Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My life is not my own....and that's ok

Due to life circumstances, I have often been called upon to meet the needs of others. Looking back, I am amazed that I have achieved as much as I have given the many obstacles my family and I have experienced. Being an only child for seven years, I was pretty used to having everything for myself. Once my mother started bearing additional children, I struggled with key concepts, namely compromising and sharing. Like any child, I was accustomed to my parents providing me with all of my basic necessities. I enjoyed being engulfed by the cocoon of security. That all changed in the summer of 1992.

Once my father left, everything that I knew about life went out the window. Now, at 14, I was the coveted "man of the house." God it was draining. While my mother purused her education, I often cooked meals, bought clothing, assisted with homework, provided childcare, and beat ass when necessary (my favorite, just kidding). Despite all of the familial expectations, I was heavily involved in many high school activities and graduated near the top of my class, which isn't say too much when many of your classmates could care less about their education. I digress.

Fast-forward to today. Life is good, and it's getting better. My family still relies on me for financial and emotional support. In all fairness, I rely on them as well, just not as much. As an introspective person, I am very selfish with my time, especially if I'm writing or reading. Time has taught me that MY life does not belong to me. As I unlearn negative habits, God continues to guide, protect, and bless me. While I was not born to live a complete life of servitude, I serve many purposes in the lives of others. As I become less concerned with holding on to my resources, God provides me with gifts that cannot be quantified. As I dutifly enter into His presence every day, God soothes my soul and massages my mind. Oh, I'm about to shout right in this chair!

My point is this: Give of yourself. Be patient with people who may not be as established as you are presently. Let your life be a reflection of God's unconditional love and compassion. Forgive yourself and those who treat you unfairly. Share your experiences -good and bad- with others. Resolve conflicts as quickly as possible. Most importantly, remember that a synergistic relationship can exist between individual achievement and collective empowerment. May we all be blessed from this moment until infinity.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Defined by others

One of the things I've learned is that in order to have a dialogue, objectivity is a must. So, while I do not like scapegoating anyone, I think it goes without saying that most of the resistance the LGBT community faces comes from religious institutions. I've said it before and I'll say it again: It is ok for people to view the homosexual lifestyle negatively. However, the problem is that clergypersons are adding to the existing homophobia by using pulpits as platforms of hatred and confusion. To preach a sermon about the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah is fine with me because it is not applicable to me as a gay man. However, once you go beyond what is written, you betray trust and become less credible. Let me explain.

I recall watching one of my mother's Juanita Bynum tapes a few years back. She actually used the words "bulldaggers" and "dykes" in her sermon. She asserted that any church-going man who wore earrings was a homosexual. The interesting thing is that the people in the congregation hung onto evey word she said. A Youtube video I saw a while back featured a minister who said "sissies cannot speak in tongues." Again, the people in the congregation high-fived each other, ran to the alter, and yelled "Preach it, pastor!" I heard an audio tape of a DC minister describing sexual acts in the presence of his entire congregation (which included children). Despite their intentions, this sort of irresponsible behavior legitimizes the overall negative perception of the LGBT community.

What I despise more than anything is being demonized and classified as anything other than a competent, caring, compassionate, educated, flawed, man. Since the inception of the gay rights movement, people have used propaganda to prevent LGBT persons from experiencing complete, absolute freedom. Anita Bryant, the former Florida beauty queen, started an organization in the late 70s or early 80s -called Save our Children- and was instrumental in having legislation protecting LGBT people in Dade County, Florida repealed. Her position was that the homosexual agenda centered on LGBT persons being in intimate contact with impressionable children. Her famous quote, which has remained in existence, is "They can't reproduce, so they recruit." This type of behavior formed the template for what we are still seeing today (i.e. Proposition 8).

There's only one expectation I have of clergypersons: objectivity. If you are going to preach from the Word of God, preach EVERYTHING and spare no one's feelings. When it comes to sacred texts, I truly am an all-or-nothing man. Either everything is true or nothing is. That may make me extreme, but it's fair. Encourage your members to own other human beings, teach your women to remain silent in the church, and require those who have sinned to cut off the offending body part. These statements may sound delusional, but it is no different from what members of the LGBT community are being subjected to on a daily basis. We are told to feel bad about ourselves. We are made to swallow Leviticus whole. It's complete hypocrisy and an unfair double standard.

In closing, I would like to take the opportunity to refute as many myths as I can. I am NOT a pedophile, mentally ill (at least not because of my sexuality), satanic, demonic, immoral, or hellbound. What I am is a complex man who is interested in developing a romantic, emotional, physical relationship with another MAN. I do not want anyone's acceptance, validation, or approval. As a budding activist, I am not preoccupied with forcing churches or any other religious institution to perform same-sex marriages. I want the government to provide me and my kind with the same RIGHTS and OPPORTUNITIES that my heterosexual counterparts have. I want complete, absolute, unconditional democracy. Why is that such a liberal idea?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Great finds

So, after chilling with my family ALL Christmas day, I finally got out of the house on Friday. Armed with a gift certificate, I got up early and went to Stonecrest Mall, which is located not too far from my house. Right across the street is Best Buy store. I figured that by getting out of the house early, I could avoid the rush and kill two birds with one stone. After getting to Borders, I was disappointed to learn that they did not have the book I wanted. Driving across Turner Hill Road, I was less than pleased with the cds that were out. So, I bought the movie Beaches instead.

After chilling with my sister-friend, I drove to a Barnes and Noble (BN) bookstore and was pleased to locate the book: Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing up Gay in America. This is one of the longest book titles I have ever seen. What impressed me most about BN is that they have a whole section devoted to LGBT literature. While looking through the cds, I couldn't take my eyes off of one that had a cute girl with a huge afro on the cover. Simply titled Esperanza, I sampled most of the songs and was floored by her talent. A bilingual bassist/singer/songwriter from Oregon, this young lady puts it down with class and remains true to the jazz genre. Check out her website for more information and to sample the songs.

Despite not really celebrating the economic/commercial aspect of the holiday (I didn't buy anybody ANYTHING), these were the best gifts I could have bought for myself. Check them out.

Happiness deferred

I've been thinking about this topic for a while. Why is it that we choose to believe we can only be happy when certain parameters are met? Why can't we choose to embrace happiness each day? I myself am guilty of this type of thinking. I thought hapiness involved earning a master's degree, landing my dream job, living in an upscale community, publishing my book(s), developing a romantic relationship, and the eradication of all forms of hatred. I've accomplished some of my goals, while others are still in-progress. What I've learned is that happiness is an INTRINSIC quality. It has nothing to do with possessions, relationships, money, education, or anything else we can think of. Our accomplishments should not define us; rather, they should add to our existing joy. Further, in the absence of accomplishments and possessions, the peace and joy we feel should not be diminished at all.

Think of all the opportunities we miss because we are not in the place we want to be. Come to think of it, who's to say that our expectations will be met once we arrive or "make it?" I have met countless people who are deferring their happiness for a plethora of reasons: they don't make enough money, they are unemployed, they don't like their job(s), they don't like their geographic location, they are in unhealthy relationships, they are not in relationships, they are upset about past events, they are overweight/underweight, they have not made sufficient progress (i.e. education), they are addicted to drugs/food/sex, they are unhappy with their physical appearance, and they lack mental clarity. The list could go on forever. Y'all get the idea.

When I hear a person say they cannot be happy until they have accomplished ALL of their goals, it saddens me. It often takes a person years to become the whole, complete, integrated individual she/he is destined to become. Further, developing the ability to deal with setbacks and adversity is absolutely essentail to continued personal growth. A good friend of mine likened growth to the shedding process snakes endure. She said "Baby, that snake has to rub up against rocks, sticks, and all kind of sharp things. We don't see that. We only see the finished product." It makes perfect sense. Many of us are still walking around with dead skin attached to our bodies.

I encourage anyone who reads this blog to live FULLY. Take risks. Get knocked down. Pursue your dreams, so long as they are realistic. Share your experiences with others. Most of all, be PRESENT each and every day.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Single and somewhat satisfied

Being single definitely has its benefits. I come and go as I please, answer to no one, and pretty much do whatever I want to. The only issue is that when all of the running around is done, I am alone. Always. Most days I'm ok with my living situation, and today is one of them. However, there are days when I would like to have a warm body to lay next to. Someone to have silly conversations with. Someone to make love to. Someone to plan a future with. You get the drift.

Being a member of the LGBT community, I have found it difficult to find men of substance. When I was in my 20s and had first relocated to the Atlanta area, I went through this stage where I would meet guys on the internet or chatlines, go to the clubs a few times, and attempt to form relationships. Without fail, each dude I met wanted to become sexual after a few weeks. Desperate though I was, I never gave in. Once they saw that my drawers were comfortable attached to my waist, the phonecalls, IMs, and e-mails abruptly stopped.

That's part of the problem. Unlike our heterosexual counterparts, it is very rare that we can have encounters in non-gay places. What I am suggesting is that we almost HAVE to go to the clubs in order to meet people. I've seen plenty of hot guys that I would have loved to initiate contact. However, given that I absolutely lack gaydar, I can never determine if the man is gay or not. We all know that guessing incorrectly can have serious consequences. Supposedly, there's this look that people "in the life" give one another. Personally, I think it's bullshit.

So the question is, where are all of the employed, goal-oriented, spiritual, loving, compassionate, committment-focused, monogamous, gay men? In Atlanta, we seem to be a dying breed. What's a man to do? Return to the tired-ass clubs and hang out with the tweens? Spend $3.99/minute to hear bogus messages left by dudes who are looking for hookups? Not at all. I think I'll wait for E-Harmony to create the gay-friendly sight: Compatible

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Marriage Equality: A Basic Human Right

Here's a little essay I wrote just before the election.

Marriage Equality: A Basic Human Right
By: John W. Brown

While the recent action of the Connecticut Supreme Court is reason to celebrate, it saddens me to witness the continued marginalization and oppression of members of the LGBT (or GLBT, whichever you prefer) community. Being fully aware that marriage has always been conceptualized as a union between ONE man and ONE woman, I understand the resistance we are experiencing. Certainly, very few people ever conceived of the day when same-sex couples would assert their right to marry. However, the rhetoric and actions of certain segments of the population renders maintaining compassion, empathy, and objectivity nearly impossible. I press on anyhow.

As I listen to conservatives and liberals rationalize their discriminatory beliefs, a few common denominators emerge: the belief that God ordained marriage specifically for men and women, the fear that school children will be forced to view homosexuality favorably, the complete fallacy that religious institutions will be mandated to perform same-sex marriages, the notion that employees who refuse to serve LGBT citizens will face termination, and (drum roll) the opinion that the country’s moral fiber will be completely obliterated. Wow!

From my observations, most of the people who support discriminatory measures –such as Proposition 8- are not evil or bigoted; they simply have strong convictions that compel them to protect something they view as sacred and holy. Fair enough. However, they tend to not understand that denying an individual the right to make informed, personal decisions negatively impacts her/his ability to live freely. Recently, close family members told me that if I really wanted to marry a man, I would move to Massachusetts, California, or Connecticut and stay there. Even when I mentioned that those marriages become null and void once state borders are crossed, they still suggested that I might be asking for too much too soon. Be patient, John, they said. What will you do if the country NEVER allows you to get married? It’s just a piece of paper. The love you feel for your partner is what really counts. Just get a will and be happy. Live your life.

The problem is that I cannot accept inequality, whether it is endorsed by religious institutions or not. Contrary to belief, in my humble opinion, the creation of Eve from Adam was not a marriage. If it was, then what heterosexuals and LGBT people in the above-mentioned states have is not. Secondly, nowhere in the sacred text does God mandate individuals to marry. It is a choice. There are scriptures that indicate the dynamics that should exist between husbands and wives (i.e. Genesis 2:24, Proverbs 18:22, 1 Corinthians 7:33, and Ephesians 5:33), which I respect. However, if God does not mandate marriage, who does? The State. Consequently, if the federal government concatenates marriage with rights and privileges, it is obligated to permit all citizens full access to said institution. I don’t care if the only right marriage provided was a free breakfast at IHOP on Sunday mornings between 7-10 A.M. I should be able to have some of those pancakes and waffles (free of charge), too.

But it’s not that cut and dry. People are genuinely fearful of the potential effects of legalizing same-sex marriage. For some people, it goes against everything they have been taught. While I certainly empathize, change is always a difficult process. People who had been taught that God sanctions slavery (Ephesians 6:5) certainly struggled with emancipation. People who were taught that blacks and whites should be separated at all times certainly struggled to accept integration and interracial marriage. People who were taught that homosexuality is vile, disgusting, and just plain nasty certainly struggled when sodomy was decriminalized in 2003. Struggling is a part of the human condition. However, one of the byproducts is progress. So, I welcome the challenge and encourage all of my compatriots to acknowledge that discrimination on the basis of any attribute is unconstitutional, immoral, and inconsistent with the democratic principles we all hold dear.

In closing, I sincerely hope that we all can remain cordial and respectful as we struggle to provide LGBT people with full citizenship and equal protection under the law. I do not hate anyone who has an opinion that differs from mine. Conversely, I love you. Given that the rationale for continued marriage discrimination is often spiritual or religious, I will end by quoting one of my favorite scriptures: 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Be blessed.

I'm back!

I've been gone for more than a minute. Since my last post, I have received my master's degree from LSU, moved back home, buried my beloved step-father, experienced major family drama, nearly sued my employer, and received my social work license (LMSW). Through all of this, I have learned that life is beautifully unpredictable. I've given up control and decided to simply trust in myself, my family, and my creator. So far, everything is working out just fine. As 2009 nears, I am anticipating continued mental clarity and peace of mind. Anything else that God gives me is an added bonus.

I hope anyone who sees this blog will be enlightened and humored. What can you expect? It depends on my mood and what I'm experiencing. I'll probably do a lot of blogging about LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) issues and concerns, as well as other matters of inequality. As a single, gay, black man, I'll also bloviate about the scarcity of men of substance in and around the great city of Atlanta. If my family or anyone else gets on my nerves, you'll hear about that too. If I see some funny shit -which I often do- I'll definitely spill my guts.

I've learned not to take myself too seriously, so comments that are not complimentary are also welcomed. Enjoy!