Thursday, May 22, 2008

We're Better Off Without You

Last week, the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality. “Separate but equal” is not constitutional. Yesterday, according to an article from the Associated Press, a federal appeals court took another step forward ruling that the military can’t automatically discharge people because they are gay.

It wasn’t a ruling against the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy requiring the discharge of service men and women who acknowledge being gay or engage in homosexual activity. However, the court placed the burden on the military saying that they must prove that the “dismissal furthers the military’s goals of troop readiness and unit cohesion”. The article added that military officials “need to prove that having this particular gay person in the unit really hurts morale, and the only way to improve morale is to discharge this person.” It sounds to me that this will require justification for every application of the policy.

Yes, because this person is gay and in our presence, none of us can do our jobs. None of us are safe!

Um yeah, prove that. We’ll see how long that will last before someone up there figures out that this policy doesn’t make sense, is unjust, and/or these court cases challenging dismissals due to the policy are costing a lot of money. It’s been suggested in the article that because of this court ruling, the days of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” are numbered.

Read the article here: "Federal Court Rules Against Military Gays Policy"

It's interesting how sometimes we'll sacrifice truly valuable members of our family, organization, community, or society for the sake of other people's discomfort. We'll be willing to release them from communion in order to preserve The Communion. I don't think injustice to preserve justice makes any sense to me . . . .

I'm not simply talking about asking a disruptive voice to leave the room. I'm talking about ejecting someone from fellowship or service for the sake of morale citing race, gender, or orientation as the cause for diminishing morale.

In 1995-ish, I was part of a co-ed fraternity. I joined this fraternity with a close friend of mine. Actually, she was an ex-girlfriend from high school. At the time we had realized that “it wasn’t working” and our break up led to the development of a pretty strong friendship. So when we got to college joining the co-ed frat was something we could do together. We learned about fraternal bonds of friendship and we got to participate in community service and we got to exhibit leadership and we were both viewed as assets to our fraternal community. Then she began a personal journey of her own and started dating a female to male transgendered person “in transition” (taking hormones and had plans for surgery).

This whole thing was new to everyone and the reaction and responses weren’t something to be proud about. I liked the person my friend started dating. I had never met someone like “him” before and I learned a ton. We became friends and it was my first exposure to the GLBT world. My friend had never experienced those feelings before and at the time she viewed it as a heterosexual relationship, albeit different and unconventional. Our fraternity brothers and sisters had never experienced this before and so the conversation during the official business meeting was about what to do about our “lesbian” sister. Emotions got pretty heated and people took divided stances on this “issue.” But since I was in the closet and Side X, I stayed silent. Neutral.

But I should have spoken up for my friend regardless of the position I took on the issue for myself. I can choose to be Side X for myself but that doesn’t mean my friend should be denied the right to make her own choices or that she should be disrespected for the choices she made. Being in the closet, I was pretty confused about the situation. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself or the dark secret that I held – especially after seeing which of my fraternity brothers and sisters would not have been supportive. It hit way too close to home for me and I needed to stay invisible.

My silence wasn’t my neutrality. By not speaking up in defense of my friend and fraternity sister, I catered to my own discomfort and I catered to the discomfort of my fraternity brothers and sisters. We were having a discussion that shouldn’t have taken place in the first place – that is, to consider disowning someone from our fraternal family because some were uncomfortable about whom she chose to date.

Who cares if they felt uncomfortable? What about her discomfort with being judged? Why was she dismissed so easily for the sake of the majority?

I can see that my journey didn’t begin in 2005 when I chose to try reconciling my faith and sexuality. I was on my journey, even back then 10 years prior, when I was seeing firsthand the injustice towards the marginalized. I’m ashamed that I participated in it.

The sad part to our journeys and stories that I wish the mainstream would begin to empathize with is that many of us have little options but to live a life in the closet, in secret and in hiding out of fear of being rejected only to be proven right when we’re released, dismissed or discharged from communion or service when the news is “out”.

What we hear is: “We’re better off without you.”


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Proposals and Conversations and Rulings, Oh My!

I was speaking to my mom this past Sunday (Mother's Day) about getting married (some day). Like she often does, she talked about me finding a good filipino woman. I proceeded to tell my mom very casually, as I often do (in recent years), "Mama, I'm not going to marry a woman. I'm going to marry a man."

The conversation typically cycles through whether or not I'm sure and the fact that I can "arrange" to marry a woman from the Philippines (as if I couldn't find and marry a woman on my own! jeesh! =P ). But this time I told her that I don't want to do that because I want to be happy. I'm not going to be happy marrying a woman and besides the fact that it's not fair for her. Plus, I don't want to bring someone else into "our family" who I don't even care about (referring to some random filipino gal). I told her that the person I bring into "our family" is going to be someone I love and care about. It's going to mean something when he's part of "our family".

Then to seal the deal, I told her, "Well, when did you find out that Papa was gay? Wouldn't you have wanted to know? I don't want to do that. I want to be happy."

She couldn't argue with that. In fact, she seemed to receive it in a way that was a bit different - as if she was shifting from the denial and accepting the truth about her son . . . .

I told my mom and the rest of my siblings in November 2001 that I was struggling with same-sex attractions then on Christmas 2005 that I was no longer "struggling" and that I've found peace with God regarding me being gay. Since then my mom has been in the closet (we switched) about having a gay son, saying that she didn't want her sister (my aunt) to know about me.

During the conversation this past Sunday with my mom, I concluded with asking her to tell my aunt. The family had gathered at my aunt's place and so less than an hour upon my arrival I was bombarded with the usual interrogation from my aunt. You know, the "Sooooooo, when are you going to get married?" *insert high pitched inflection at the end with a filipino accent*

So I told my mom, "you've gotta tell her." I took the opportunity to tell my mom that I just want to be real and myself when I'm with the family. Plus I want her to be able to think of me - the normal and gay, sweet and good nephew that she loves - when she thinks of gay people. If she doesn't know, then she'll continue believing her stereotypes.

I hope my mom tells her sister about me. That would be a step forward for her. She said she would later in the day after I left. I'm proud of her though. She's been through a lot. Remember "my parent's before the divorce"?

I know that I'm very fortunate to have a family so loving and accepting of me. I'm proud of them!

I've also been proud of my city - Long Beach, CA - this place in which I live. Last September, in "One Man's Change of Heart" I made reference to how my own city council unanimously passed a resolution in support of marriage equality. It was amazing at the time because there had been two or three previous failed attempts to pass such a resolution in the city council. Here we are a city with an estimated 80,000 GLBT residents (according to census) , 20% of our city population, and it was still controversial. But then something shifted and the council at the time passed it unanimously. They took a step forward.

And now today, I'm sure you've heard the news and the buzz - the California Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to deny same sex couples the right - the freedom - to marry.

Article from CNN
Article from LA Times

CNN Report (video)
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome Speech (video)

Mayor Newsome Interview (video)

The pursuit for marriage equality isn't over as I'm sure opposing forces are mobilizing for a State Constitutional Amendment banning same sex marriage on the November ballot. Who knows how this drama will continue to unfold. My prayer is that justice will prevail.

It's not about politics for me. It's about justice. I'm not about to get die-hard political activist-y right now (since my approach is to be a catalyst over being an activist) but it just seems clear to me that we ought to support an individual's rights as a fellow citizen - not deny certain rights because of the kind of citizen they are. I know people have varying views about civil unions and domestic partnerships and stuff and how those have "some or most" of the civil rights, obligations, and responsibilities as marriages do, but "marriage-like" rights aren't the same as having the same rights of marriage.

Didn't some other high court in U.S. history rule regarding another hot topic at the time that "separate but equal" was unconstitutional?

I'm just saying.

Our civilization continues to take steps forward. I take steps forward. My mom takes steps forward. My family takes steps forward. My community and my city takes steps forward. My state is and is trying to take steps forward.

But at the end of the day, whether or not certain types of relationships should be deemed legal and allowable or not, I think we ought to focus on the fact that these are people who are in relationships and want to honor them. Whether gay or straight, our community needs healthy relationships. Those who are currently in long-term committed relationships set an example for those of us who barely know how to stay in a relationship (much less get into one!).

I have no doubt that one day I will have the right to marry. So how do I stay married?

Friday, May 09, 2008

Hiding Behind An Alias

I decided to take another step out of hiding. It took nearly a week but it was finally approved. It had been years since I first started using the alias. I was discovering the Internet and began to present myself with the name. Funny thing about the Web . . . . it's easy to be anonymous and even easier to wear a mask. It's a two-dimensional thing, this computer screen and peripherals - and as connected as people can be online, each individual can choose just how connected they want to be. Or rather, you can choose just how much you want people to connect with you.

So after years of keeping the alias "Johnson" for a last name, I decided last week to update my name on Facebook. I am now . . . . Eric Leocadio. Yes, that's me. No, the alias isn't referencing a body part. Why I chose to adopt that last name is another story for another time . . . perhaps over a drink if someone really wants to know. =P

However, keeping the alias began more for anonymity. I could be a different person . . . .

It's not that I had shady intentions, just that it kept me at a safe distance. It was safe not being known. Being in the closet, that's what I wanted. However, prolonged time in the closet takes its toll. Eventually, that safe place of anonymity became a hiding place. The closet was a place where no one could find me. I didn't want to be found. When I lived dualistically, I could craft exactly how I wanted people to see me - the straight over-achieving more mature for his age charming sensitive smart faithful godly guy. Since my world was immersed in church culture, it wasn't safe for me to sort out what it meant to be gay. Ironically and sadly, the church wasn't a refuge for me. In fact, in many ways it was an emotionally painful environment. In my opinion, we ought to be able to be safe to understand our sexuality with our spiritual community, trusted friends and mentors. Not having that safe place, both the closet and the Internet were my escape. Porn was an outlet.

As God continued to guide my journey, He proved to be the safest place for me (despite the church culture). With my Lord, I could be myself because I knew He already knew everything about me. And the more we grew in this interactive relationship with each other, the more I learn what it means to be a gay man. I'm not learning this from the gay community and I am most definitely not learning this from the church community nor am I learning it from the Internet and many of its unhealthy outlets.

I have been learning what it means to be a gay man from the Lord. *dodges the stones being hurled because of such blasphemy*

What I mean is that the Lord is teaching me what unconditional love looks like. I know He already knows me completely. And yet His love is offered, accepted, and experienced despite the things about me that both He and I know. And so, being given the freedom to not only approach the Lord authentically but also to remain in His presence authentically, I am allowed to begin a process of loving myself the way that my Lord does. Yeah, I know I don't always do that. But this interactive relationship with the Lord keeps reminding me of that ongoing lesson.

So what does it mean for me to be gay, Lord?

Here's the thing . . . . as a gay man, it's not about sex and it's not about men and it's not about sexuality and it's not about gender. For me, the Lord has granted me a lens for which to see the world that He loves. As a gay man, I understand prejudice. I understand insecurity. I understand vanity. I understand suffering. I understand being misunderstood. I understand the desire to give up and attempt death prematurely. I understand the need for intimacy in a broader culture that defines it by gender or holiness or unholiness. I understand the gray areas. I understand the hot zone.

It is because I am a gay man that I can empathize. But the catalyst for my empathy for others is my own authenticity. Because as long as I remain in the closet, in one way or another, whether online with an alias or at work or in church or among family and friends, I remain detached, disconnected, separated and unknown - unable to fully love others in the context of their journey, struggle and experiences because, being in the closet, I was unable to fully love myself in the context of my journey - being gay, being non-white, being un-super-modelish. Who could love the real me? Not me. And so I hid. My loved ones were denied the opportunity to really empathize because I wasn't even presenting the real me. So what was there to empathize with?

As I often say, coming out isn't about expressing myself as gay but rather expressing myself as Eric. Eric Leocadio. Because as I learn to love me the way He loves me, with all of my imperfections and HUGE mistakes of the past (present and future too) and forgiving myself the way He has already forgiven me, He shows me how to love past what we see or judge from the surface. He shows me how to experience empathy for others through my own authenticity. He shows me how to love.

The blessing of being gay, authentically, is the lens in which I have to see the world.

This doesn't mean I have 20/20 vision. Since I tread the path of my journey for the rest of my life, I am learning still how not to hide. I hid for so many years - it's a familiar habit, one that can be a default mode when my "issues" resurface.

But when I am hiding from Him, the mirror, the world, that's when the Lord approaches me, when He comes and finds me. And as I allow Him to love me as I am, He prompts me to come out, step into the light, so that I may be exposed and loved.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Happy Bonzai Birthday Buddy!

Today I celebrated my buddy's birthday! His bf organized a surprise party for him tonight and it was fun seeing him laugh so much with all his girlfriends from work. I chose to honor our friendship this year with the gift of a bonzai tree. It's significant because he is always examining his character so that he may better himself and grow as a person. I respect the way he cares for his mind, body and spirit, and so I thought that the bonzai is an awesome representation of who he is - always pruning, always sculpting, always exemplifying art and beauty.

I've mentioned my buddy numerous times before here on TWC. He is someone who constantly inspires me towards growth and authenticity. We've been friends for almost 3 years and room mates for the past 2 years almost. At times, it seems we live very independent lives as we both do our own thing and our paths cross in the apartment occasionally. We both work; he's at the tail end of finishing his master's degree; I'm always working on the Catalyst website; he spends quality time with his bf; i'm often out having coffee/lunch/dinner meetings with people. But even as busy as it gets, we do get to connect and catch up and we have awesome and many times meaningful conversations. Our friendship is refreshing because we both have some kind of passion that we each strive to live out in our lives. He is a catalyst in my life and I thank God for his friendship.

Happy Birthday buddy!