Category Archives: LGBT

Pardoning Racism, Banning Trans, Charlottesville

When I was in tenth grade, I heard a rumor that a group of football players had beaten another student to death because he was gay.

Fights were common in my high school. Gangs fought rival gangs. Boys fought over girls. Girls fought over boys. Gay students were targeted constantly.

This particular rumor was about a boy I knew by sight, but not by name. We shared no classes, had no friends in common. I noticed him in the sea of 3000 students, because he had the most astonishing blond hair I’d ever seen. As he stood in the quad, his yellow mane tumbled down his back in a stop-in-your-tracks river of gold. He was six feet tall, string-bean thin, dressed in white laced up pants, platform shoes, gauzy shirts.

One day he was gone.

My high school had a transient population, a significant number living on the streets, so this boy’s disappearance was unremarkable. Still, I felt haunted by the rumor itself, and equally by the casual way the rumor circulated. I began to ask about him, but nobody knew anything. Most chilling of all — nobody knew his name.

Decades later, I told a journalist friend that I was writing a novel about that rumor. She suggested that I visit the archives, do some research, find out if the murder actually took place. I hesitated and to my surprise, I heard myself telling her that I wasn’t writing about the real person. As the words came out of my mouth, I realized I had carried this boy deep within me since I was 15 years old, and he had taken on mythical proportions. I was writing about a fantasy figure – a homeless, undocumented, street kid — a parentless boy, who died of homophobia.  During that conversation, my novel’s silent hero was born.

As I wrote the book, I considered what to call him. I knew he’d be a curious combination of an extremely minor character, and simultaneously the most powerful presence in the novel. Should I give him a catchy nickname like Dash? A stately name like Hamilton? A likable name like Timmy? A powerful name like Rex? As I rejected one name after another, I realized that his character was grounded in his namelessness. So I kept him nameless, and built the entire plot around his namelessness.

The novel was published in 2013, years before Donald Trump was on my radar screen as a serious political figure. But now, as I watch the post election culture unfold, the divisive values that my novel fights against — a mentality of hatred and rage, of  Us vs. Them — those values have become our day-to-day reality. Living in hiding from the ICE raids. Dreamers. Families torn apart. Refugees blocked. Latinos, Muslims, women, Jews, Blacks, LGBTQ+.  My country’s Commander-In-Chief actively legitimizes a process of divisiveness, which is also a process of dehumanization.

And it gets worse. Now our president has pardoned Joe Arpaio, a racist who used his position as sheriff to target the Latino population, to spit on immigrants. Almost in the same breath, our president has banned transgender troops, relegating the trans population to a lesser than full-human status. He gave a tepid (at best) response to the white supremacist fiasco in Charlottesville, betraying everyone who rejects the idea of a master race.  It’s been quite a week.

And it gets even worse, because each of these acts goes beyond the act itself. Our president is endorsing and perpetuating ideas which diametrically oppose the foundation of our country. In the newly Divided States Of America, all people are not created equal.

It’s another form of taking away their names.

I wish the election results had been different. I wish our administration didn’t define empathy and decency as a self-interested power surge. I wish so many people in my homeland weren’t hurt by their statements, their policies, their actions.  I wish the people in charge understood that gaining power by stepping on others never works for long. Eventually, they’ll fall and as they fall, they’ll drag several innocent people with them. They’ll all land hard, and some will survive while others won’t. Donald Trump’s name will be remembered, but most of the names of the innocent casualties will be forgotten, caught in a crossfire of dehumanization.

I wish for a day when nobody has to live without a name.

___

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

A 15-year-old girl, Caroline Black, leaves her college prep academy for the local public high school, which opens her world. Written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school, and in gratitude to the enriching diversity of my high school.

Tightwire

Caroline Black, now a rookie psychology intern, goes through her first year of training, working with a young man who is stormy, seductive, brilliant and complex. Written with respect for the human capacity to heal, in support of same-sex parents, and as a voice against the stigma of psychotherapy.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Charlottesville, Joe Arpaio, LGBT, racism, Trans Troops, Uncategorized

From GRID To AIDS

July, early 1980s, San Francisco.

A month before my 25th birthday, I began my clinical training in mental health. I was doing a rotation in a crisis clinic, a small psych emergency room affiliated with a larger hospital. I was eager to get out of the classroom and start working with clients. I had no idea that the nation’s health care community was at a crossroads, entirely unprepared for what was about to unfold.

Within a few weeks, we began to see a new presentation, which quickly developed into a dreadful pattern. A young man would be brought in, overtly psychotic or confused and delirious. We’d ask questions and find out that he had a steady job, a strong friendship group, sometimes a partner, and no psych history. Further questions would rule out recreational drugs as the cause. He’d also have a recent medical history that made no sense – sometimes a rare form of cancer, sometimes terrible skin lesions, sometimes a parasite only seen in sheep. He would have lost an alarming amount of weight in a startlingly short period of time. He would be in his 20s and gay. He was a healthy young man, who was inexplicably dying.

Initially, we didn’t understand the cause (single agent? combination?), or how the virus was transmitted (sexual contact? airborne? insect bite?). Until that point, “Safe Sex” meant preventing pregnancy; the idea of gay men using “protection” during sex was ludicrous. As the medical community realized that HIV was sexually transmitted, many people put up huge resistance to precautions like using condoms and closing the famous San Francisco bath houses. With our nation’s bruised history of homophobia (which is sadly ongoing), with self-proclaimed religious leaders ranting that AIDS was a “scourge” from God, folks in the gay community understandably wondered if these “protective measures” were the actually the next bigoted attempts to shut down gay sex.

I remember having lunch with a group of residents at the hospital. We were all in training, in different fields of medicine. One woman in pediatrics – bright, dedicated and decent to the bone — asked if the patients I had seen were truly all gay men, or if that was homophobic propaganda. I assured her it was true — which made no sense to any of us. We sat around our table and brainstormed, wondering if there could be some sort of Andromeda Strain phenomenon, making males in their 20s more vulnerable than females in their 90s. But that didn’t help us understand the gay factor or the sheep. One of the residents grew up on a farm, and we questioned him about rare illnesses in animals…which of course clarified nothing.  In all of the patients I had seen, 100% were gay and male; 0% had contact with sheep. Looking back, it seems like an idiotic discussion; at that time, we were scrambling – sharply aware that as we ate our sandwiches, people were dying.

Over time, the diagnosis evolved from Gay Cancer or GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency) to AIDS. But we still had no medication to manage the condition. AIDS was a death sentence, and the path from diagnosis to death was brutal.

The following year, my training program offered the opportunity to work on the “AIDS Ward” at San Francisco General Hospital. This unit was set up solely for AIDS patients, staffed entirely by people who chose to be there. Even as a trainee, I was given the choice to opt out, because everyone was so frightened. But I figured if I asked my patients to step up and deal with their fear, then the least I could do was step up and deal with my own. To this day, I’ve never seen a better-run unit in any hospital. I’ve never been in an environment with a stronger sense of teamwork, with more exemplary patient care. Working on the AIDS Ward was a privilege.

It was also a heart-break. As a psych trainee, I was called in for mental health issues. Some patients needed meds when the virus attacked their brain, but most needed to talk. They asked questions, trying to understand. Sometimes I had answers; usually I didn’t. I listened to their stories, each unique, each the same.

My main role was to help them catch up to themselves. AIDS had slammed them, a blitzkrieg assault with such force that they had no time to adjust. Some showed me photographs, pre-AIDS, smiling and strong.  The pictures captured an experience that defied language, as they grieved for their former selves. I helped them build an emotional bridge between their then and their now.

I’ll always remember those young men who lived, loved, fought, lost. I’m grateful to them, to their friends and to their families for allowing me into their lives and into their deaths. I wish I could tell them, all these years later, that they paved the way for others to survive. I hope they know how valuable they were to me. I dedicate this post to them.

____

Amy’s Novels:

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable deals with homophobic bullying at school, and follows a girl’s journey after she comes out to her family. The story tracks a group of diverse high school friends as they confront homophobia in themselves and others, and find individual paths to becoming LGBT allies.

Tightwire follows a rookie psych intern through her first year of clinical training, treating a stormy and talented young man. This book tracks a strong friendship between two men, one gay and one straight. Two other important characters are a lesbian couple, raising two children, who become role model parents to the main character. This is a story of the importance of becoming your full self.

Click here to check out Amy’s recent blog posts, read reviews, purchase her novels.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

Leave a comment

Filed under AIDS awareness, LGBT, LGBT Pride Month, Uncategorized

They

I never realized how crucial awkwardness was to being a true LGBTQ+ ally. Recently, the pronoun they changed my mind. They has evolved beyond plural, into a singular pronoun for an individual with a non-binary gender identity. For some folks, they works well, while she or he doesn’t. But the word they, used in this way, seems to cause discomfort. I’ve heard many complaints and (in my admittedly limited experience) these are the most common.

The grammar is wrong.

Let’s weigh this issue on the scales of social justice. On one side, let’s place the weight of the traditional Rules of Grammar. On the other side, let’s place a language evolving to match a deeper understanding of the gender identity spectrum. C’mon — although life often presents us with close calls, this isn’t one of them.

I can’t get used to it.

Have you ever been in a relationship with someone who likes classic movies while you prefer sports events, and you get used to it? Have you ever been diagnosed with an allergy, and you can no longer eat your favorite foods, and you get used to it? How about having kids — that’s an average of an adjustment every 10 minutes, for 18 years, and you get used to it. And now you’re saying you can’t get used to a new definition of a pronoun. Really.

It’s not proper English.

Language is continuously evolving. Language — like life — is a dynamic process, not a static state of immobility. And yeah, that even applies to pronouns.

It’s awkward.

I agree, I feel awkward, and I’m still learning how to use they as a singular pronoun in a sentence. But this isn’t about my awkwardness. Actually, this isn’t about me at all. It’s about expanding language, stretching words to match a spectrum of gender identity that wasn’t fully articulated until now. Healthy growing and healthy stretching are often awkward, so maybe feeling awkward is a sign that we’re on a healthy track.

When I’m comfortable, it’s easy to be an ally. However, when I feel awkward, I’ve found that I can turn to the LGBTQ+ community for help. Without fail, 100% of the time, my LGBTQ+ friends have answered my questions with respect. They’ve supported my need to learn, never once disparaging the gaps in my knowledge. If I’ve said I’m uncomfortable but want to grow comfortable, they’ve reached out.

I’ve never formally studied linguistics, but They has shown me how a word can serve as a catalyst, expanding language to promote values of equality. They has also enriched my personal growth, adding another dimension to my definition of myself as an ally. Now, I think LGBTQ+  ally support includes a willingness to stand awkward. Feeling awkward no longer seems negative. Actually, I’m growing more comfortable every day, as I embrace my own awkwardness.

Thank you, They.

___

Amy’s Novels:

Hollywood HIgh: Achieve The Honorable  and Tightwire both have been on Amazon’s best sellers list for LGBT fiction and literature. Each novel costs only $2.99. They’re available as ebooks and can be put directly on a Kindle, or on any device (iPad, iPhone, laptop, desktop, etc.) using Amazon’s Free Reading Apps.

Amy’s Author Page — read reviews, check out recent blog posts, purchase a book.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

 

Leave a comment

Filed under LGBT, non-binary, social justice, They, Them, Their, Uncategorized

Bridges and LGBTQ+

“Over our 22 years of service to this campus we have been privileged to work with community leaders, alumni, administrators, students of all sorts and, with some regularity, parents who appreciate the way in which we try to build bridges in a world where walls are still too common.”                                                                                                                          Doug Bauder, Director                                                                                                              LGBTQ+ Culture Center, Indiana University, Bloomington

My LGBTQ+ friends are scared and I’m angry. If you’re going to target my friends, you go through me. I’m under no delusions of my own grandeur — 5’4”, small boned, late 50s, gray hair, not the person you dread meeting in a dark alley. But my laptop is my sword and I’m committed.

It’s been a terrible few months, filled with betrayal, and my friends are afraid. They’re afraid that laws will pronounce them lesser. They feel unsafe doing something as simple as holding hands. They’re frightened that “equality” will no longer apply. They’re afraid to be themselves.

Hatred, rage and fear are reaching epidemic proportions in the United States. It’s a dangerous combination, fire and oil, flaring out of control. The beast is unleashed.

With hostility running rampant, I decided to donate 50% of my April book sale profits to an organization supporting the LGBTQ+ community. I needed to choose among several worthy organizations, and I thought long and hard. At first, I had no idea how to begin my search. Then I realized I needed to begin at the beginning: hatred, rage and fear.

As hatred, rage and fear skyrocket on college campuses, during this crucial developmental stage when values solidify, I decided to focus on that age group. I then narrowed my choices to state universities, because those institutions are accessible to more students than private institutions. I wanted to find an LGBTQ+ center that modeled decency and acceptance towards everyone, all of us. I was looking for a safe environment, empowering people to become their full selves. I wanted a place that stands tall to protect people from the worst of human nature, pack mentality,  the primitive urge to exert power by hurting others.  I wanted a place where people can relax and simply be. I also wanted an environment inclusive to the larger community, inviting people of all demographics to form a team against violence, bigotry, marginalization. Finally, I wanted a place committed not only to ongoing teaching, but also to ongoing learning.

I chose Indiana University’s LGBTQ+ Culture Center (Bloomington campus).

With Doug Bauder (Director) at the helm, The LGBTQ+ Culture Center offers a banquet of exemplary support — personal, community, artistic, medical, educational, emotional. They’ve built a culture (and yes, I love their name) where people feel safe questioning, admitting they don’t understand, searching. They welcome allies, including those who want to be allies but need guidance. Their community, within the larger university community, exemplifies educational ideals — an emotionally Safe Space, with a commitment to the No Safe Spaces perspective vital to the free exchange of ideas.

As I said, I’m angry — which distinguishes me not in the slightest. But the next step matters; now I have to choose how to handle my anger. I can pitch a fit, lash out, throw an Olympic caliber tantrum. But then I’d be feeding the culture of hatred, rage and fear. So I’m choosing a different culture. Instead, I’m going to look to Indiana University’s LGBTQ+ Culture Center as my role model. When I feel weary, discouraged, consumed with anger, I’ll remember Doug Bauder’s words: “We try to build bridges in a world where walls are still too common.”

Then I’ll regroup, focus, and write with heart and fire.                                                             ___

To learn more about IU LGBTQ+ Culture Center, click on the link.  http://glbt.indiana.edu/home.php.

Amy’s Novels:                                                                                                                       Hollywood HIgh: Achieve The Honorable  and Tightwire both have been on Amazon’s best sellers list for LGBT fiction and literature. Each novel costs only $2.99. They’re available as ebooks and can be put directly on a Kindle, or on any device (iPad, iPhone, laptop, desktop, etc.) using Amazon’s Free Reading Apps. Throughout April 2017, I’ll donate 50% of my book profits to Indiana University’s LGBTQ+ Culture Center.

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable                                                                             Caroline Black, 15 years old, leaves her wealthy prep school for the local public high school, which opens her world. At Hollywood High, she finds gangs, over 40 native languages, and terrible violence targeting the gay students. The story tracks a group of diverse high school friends as they confront homophobia in themselves and others, and follows one girl’s journey after she comes out to her family. This novel was written in reaction to seeing gay teens bullied in high school.

Tightwire                                                                                                                                    Caroline Black, 10 years later, navigates her first year of clinical training as a psychologist. Chapters in her treatment of a talented but stormy young man are interspersed with chapters of her own personal history. The story includes a strong friendship between two men, one gay and one straight. Two other key characters are a lesbian couple (raising two children) who become role model parents to the main character. This is a story of the importance of becoming your full self.

Amy’s Author Page — read reviews, check out recent blog posts, purchase a book. https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

Leave a comment

Filed under Ally Support, Indiana University, Bloomington, LGBTQ+ Culture Center, LGBT, resistance

Imagine

I’m a cisgender, straight woman. I grew up knowing I was female, inside and out. I’m writing this post as a supportive ally, in response to the new administration’s pulling back protections for transgender students. However, if you’re not an LGBT ally, if you’re not comfortable with the trans population, I invite you to continue to read, because I’m writing this post for you as well.

Imagine.

Imagine a high school version of my adult self. Everything felt unstable — weight, hormones, emotions. I couldn’t rely on anything to stay the same — even my blonde hair was growing darker. I had achieved my height of 5’2” by age twelve, when I was considered a giant; now at fifteen, I was startled to be viewed as “petite.” My one constant, the core of my identity that held me steady: I was female.

One day, changing into my clothes after gym class, I realized my period had arrived early. I didn’t know what to do. A group of girls with nearby lockers saw me anxiously searching through my backpack, and they exchanged knowing glances. I barely knew them, but they immediately stepped in. One offered a tampon, and we all smiled, bonded in our femaleness.

Now imagine a different scenario. Think about how I might have felt if someone called my “gender identity” (my definition of myself as female) threatening, or dangerous, or sick, or a phase I’d grow out of. Suppose that instead of offering support, those girls had yelled at me, ordered me to use the boys’ bathroom.

Imagine what might have followed.

Suppose I entered the boys’ bathroom, probably with the same hesitancy you’d enter the “wrong” restroom. Maybe the boys would be hostile. Maybe they’d make comments about my body, put their hands on me, become violent. Maybe I’d be so upset that I’d promise myself I’d never again use the bathroom during school. But one day I’d really need to, so I’d duck into the girls’ bathroom, because this was where I belonged, because I was female. I’d pray I’d be safe. But the girls whispered, shot comments, pointed.

Somehow, I’d get through the day. I’d return home, needing to regroup, regain my sense of safety. Then I’d turn on the news, and the federal government would announce that I could be forced to use the “wrong” restroom. The way I was treated in the bathrooms by both girls and boys was perfectly fine. If I didn’t like it, then it was my fault for defining myself as female.

Take a moment, and imagine.

This is the message the transgender population has been given by the people who are supposed to be our most powerful protectors. I’ve written this post as if they were me. 

Now imagine that they were you.

___

Amy’s Novels:

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable deals with homophobic bullying at school, and follows a girl’s journey after she comes out to her family. The story tracks a group of diverse high school friends as they confront homophobia in themselves and others, and find individual paths to becoming LGBT allies.

Tightwire follows a rookie psych intern through her first year of clinical training, treating a stormy and talented young man. This book tracks a strong friendship between two men, one gay and one straight. Two other important characters are a lesbian couple, raising two children, who become role model parents to the main character. This is a story of the importance of becoming your full self.

Visit Amy’s Author Page to check out Amy’s recent blog posts, read reviews, purchase her novels.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

Leave a comment

Filed under LGBT, Trans Ally, Transgender

More Bathroom Bills

Folks, please, enough with the Bathroom Bills.

If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of being transgender, please talk it through with people who identify as trans. It’s okay to ask questions, as long as you’re open to their answers. They won’t hurt you, and neither will their ideas.

If you don’t know what transgender means, please ask. Nobody knows everything, and people appreciate a willingness to learn. A general rule: the level of respect in the answer will match the level of respect in the question.

If you doubt that transgender is “real,” please allow someone who is trans to share her/his experience. People are different, sometimes extremely different. My own approach: if I don’t understand another’s experience, then it’s on me to ask, listen and learn. Dismissing another’s experience is unacceptable, as is making assumptions based on my lack of understanding. People can have a wide range of experiences regarding gender identity, all equally valid. You might be surprised to discover that along with your differences, you share some common ground.

If you’re worried about what a transgender person does in a public restroom, please ask. You’ll find they behave remarkably like you — nothing dangerous, nothing even interesting. To turn this into a grand political issue is worse than insulting; it’s an irresponsible drain of resources that are desperately needed elsewhere.

If you’re looking for something to occupy your time, please knit sweaters for the homeless, volunteer at a public library, plant a tree, take an art class. But please don’t waste any more time and money on this offensive and useless crusade.

____

Amy’s Novels:

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

Caroline Black, 15 years old, leaves her wealthy prep school for her local high school, which opens her world. At Hollywood High, she finds a large immigrant population speaking over 40 native languages. Although frightened and intimidated as she navigates this new territory, Caroline thrives in the diversity of her new school.

Tightwire

Caroline Black, 10 years later, navigates her first year of training as a therapist. Chapters in her treatment of a talented but troubled young man are interspersed with chapters of her own personal history. This book explores how the individual and community mutually influence each other, and the importance of becoming your own whole person.

Visit Amy’s Author Page to check out reviews, read the first few chapters, purchase a book.                                                                              https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Bathroom Bill, Civil Rights, LGBT, Trans Ally, Transgender

GLSEN 100 Days Of Kindness

When I was in high school, my friend stopped an incident of bullying with one quiet question.

“Pam” (not her real name) and I were at the beach, standing at the water’s edge, 16 years old. A  group of three guys stood to our right. Another adolescent, male, swam alone in the surf. At the same moment, Pam and I realized the group next to us was angling for our approval.

“Look at him!”

Pam and I exchanged a confused glance.

“Can’t even swim.”

They pointed to the water, where the swimmer navigated the ocean like a dolphin.

“He looks like a total jerk.”

The boy — maybe 17 — caught a wave and rode it to shore. He rose to his feet and headed back out, diving through the breakers. His timing was perfect, a strong swimmer, at home in the crashing surf of the California coast. His skill was clearly a threat to the three fine gentlemen to our right.

“He’s a f – -!”

“Total f – -!”

“Definitely a f – -!” They gave each other high fives.

I said quietly, “Let’s go,” but Pam shook her head. Instead, she faced the three boys and spoke softly.

“What if he is?”

They stared at her. Then one pointed to the water. “F – -!”

She shrugged disarmingly and repeated, “What if he is?”

They looked at each other, then back at her. “Well, nothing, I guess.”

She held her ground for a long moment, then turned to me. “Let’s swim.”

For the next hour, we bodysurfed with the swimmer. We left the ocean together, streaming water, warm in the salty sun. He invited us to join his friends, and we feasted on iced tea, veggies, hummus, chips, guacamole. The pack of three glanced at us periodically, but didn’t approach. We never asked if the swimmer and his two friends were gay for the same reason they didn’t ask us: it didn’t matter.

What. If. He. Is.

Four simple words. Mightier than the sword.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is an author and blogger. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, was written in reaction to seeing gay teens bullied in high school, and follows a family’s journey after the daughter comes out. Amy’s second novel, Tightwire, includes a strong friendship between two men, one gay and one straight, as well as a lesbian couple (raising a son and daughter) who become role model parents to the main character. Amy’s blog has several posts written in ally support of LGBTQ+. 

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

Leave a comment

Filed under #KindnessInAction, bullying, GLSEN, high school, LGBT

Amy vs. Chapter 37 – GLSEN No Name Calling Week

 

“You think beating J.D. to death was okay?”

“What’s the big deal? He’s only a fa—”

“Don’t say that word!” 

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

Chapter 37

 

I talked in paragraphs at fourteen months, and I haven’t shut up since. Most people don’t realize, because I usually keep my words inside my head, ready to be tapped. As I created my first novel, I wrote with confidence, trusting my collection of sounds, phrases, suffixes, sentences — until Chapter 37, when I found myself locked in battle with one word.

I chose the title Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable from my high school and its motto. Over the strong objections of my parents, I transferred from a college prep academy to the local public school. Mom and Dad were appalled when I insisted on trading a stellar academic curriculum, a gorgeous campus with state of the art science labs and tennis courts, for a school that struggled to afford textbooks. To this day, I’m grateful to my parents for trusting me at fourteen — sitting before them in ratty jeans, dark blonde hair slightly tangled, fumbling to explain that my horizon needed to stretch.

Hollywood High opened my world — over 40 native languages uniting to form an extremely diverse community. I volunteered to tutor in math and English, and suddenly being a hyper-nerd was viewed by my peers as valuable. Who knew.

But one aspect of Hollywood High haunted me: the violence targeting gay students.

I wrote about high school in reaction to the bullying I witnessed. As I created the fictional story, factual images flooded back full throttle. I remembered the pack of athletes chanting “F – -”, surrounding a boy, shouting until he cried.  I could picture the group of popular teens snickering as two guys walked by in heels. I could see the girl who casually took my arm and told me, smiling sweetly, that she heard a gay student had been beaten to death by football players. Actually she didn’t say “gay student”; she used the same word the pack of athletes chanted.

Decades later, several drafts into writing Hollywood High, Chapter 37 was putting up a fight. I had launched a key character on a homophobic rant, and I decided he needed to speak the same word that the athletes and the gossip-girl had used. No problem — except my hands wouldn’t cooperate. I sat poised, fingers hovering over the keys, unable to type. But like I said, no problem, because I had zillions of words floating around my head. I swapped out the offensive word and tried another, and another. But at that specific moment in the story, at that point in the character’s development, no other word made sense. Again, no problem…except I couldn’t do it.

I gave myself a firm talk: snap out of it — nobody said writing was easy — homophobia is brutal and my language has to match the severity. I hit the “F” key. I steeled myself, and hit the “A”…and I couldn’t complete the word. Every time I tried to type the “G”, I was transported to tenth grade. I felt the same queasy dread, cold-sweat panic, deer-in-headlights paralysis. Caught in a time warp, I could hear that word shouted, see the boy fighting for composure, feel my own composure break when he lost.

I wish I could go back, because now I’d know what to do. I’d shoulder my way through the crowd, and stand with that boy. I’d establish a gay-straight alliance, and send the athletes, popular kids and gossip-girl invitations to join. I’d approach the school’s outstanding drama department, and offer to sponsor a play to educate people, try to plant the seeds of empathy. If they couldn’t find a play, I’d write one. I’d coordinate with other organizations at school to stand against bullying, and I’d reach out to other schools as well. I’d ask my friends on the school newspaper if they’d write a piece. I’d bring as many people together as I could. And as I filled my head with wishes, I felt my writing process unlock. My character needed to say that hateful word (actually twice), but I didn’t need to replay the worst of high school. Now, each time my character tried to speak, I’d bring in another character to interrupt him. I needed the “F” and the “A”, but I didn’t need the “G”.

This time, I stopped that word in its tracks.

___

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable deals with homophobic bullying at school, and also follows a girl’s journey after she comes out to her family. The story tracks a group of diverse high school friends as they confront homophobia in themselves and others, and find individual paths to becoming LGBTQ allies. Click on the link below to find Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable on Amazon.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under bullying, GLSEN No Name Calling Week, high school, LGBT

GLSEN Ally Week — Let’s Open The Conversation

At a dinner party, an elderly woman found her path to becoming an LGBTQ ally.

I was seated next to “Erica” – 91-years-old, college educated, Catholic, a “homemaker,” 3 grown children, 5 grandchildren. She asked about my work, and I told her I was an author. She wanted to know what inspired me to write my first novel. I explained that when I was 15 years old, I was extremely upset seeing gay students bullied in my high school. Decades ago, in 10th grade, I knew I’d write about it some day. Erica looked down at her plate, then met my eyes and spoke quietly.

“I’m not comfortable with gay people.”

We had barely sampled our appetizers, and I wondered how in the name of Harvey Milk I was going to get through this meal. But there was something in the way Erica looked at me that made me think twice. She was trying to open a conversation, not close one. So I asked what made her uncomfortable about gay people.

“It’s just,” Erica shifted, painfully embarrassed, “whenever I find out someone is gay, I can’t stop thinking about them having sex, and it makes me kind of sick. Then I don’t want to be around them.”

Erica looked at me expectantly. Was she waiting for me to to agree that gay sex is “kind of sick”? Was I supposed to reassure her that it was okay that she was a bigot? She was 91, and cultural mores would demand that I respond politely, accept her as set in her ways. But apparently I’m not very good at politely accepting homophobia.

“Seems to me, if you can’t look at a gay couple without imagining them in bed, having sex — I can see why that would make you uncomfortable. I mean, if I looked at you and ‘Cameron’ (her 92-year-old husband sitting across the table), and all I could think of was the two of you naked, rocking it out in the sack, then I don’t think I’d want to be around you either.”

Erica stared. I felt myself turning icy, harnessing my anger, ready to turn my back on her for the rest of the evening. Then her lips twitched, and she began to laugh. I don’t know which one of us was more surprised.

A productive series of communications followed over the next several weeks. She asked me to recommend one of my blog posts, to help her “understand being gay.” She read it, and asked for more. Several posts later, she emailed: “I think I get it. It’s not just about being gay. It’s about the whole person.”

A few months later, we ran into each other. Erica told me about meeting a gay couple at a fundraiser for a museum. She started to imagine them in bed, then caught herself. Instead, she asked what they did for a living. It turned out one was in the same field as Cameron (biology professor), and the other had completed a doctoral dissertation on Erica’s favorite author. By the time the evening ended, she had stopped thinking of them as gay and just enjoyed their company.

When many people hear gay, they’re bombarded by sexual images, obliterating the whole person standing in front of them. Many have no interest in challenging themselves to evolve into a new way of thinking. But Erica did. Even though she was embarrassed, she admitted her own homophobia. Next, she allowed the two of us to open the conversation. Then she followed through, asking for more information, trying to learn. Finally, she pushed herself to interact differently with a gay couple, who validated her new perspective.

Many people are unwilling to give up their stereotypes – but not all. Erica now calls herself an LGBT Ally. Sure, for every productive conversation there are many that send me into a fury. I still haven’t figured out how to handle my anger when people cling to their view of LGBT+ as a perversion, their aggressive allegiance to ignorance, their primitive urge to target someone simply for being LGBTQ. But Erica reminded me to give people a chance. If someone is ready to rethink homophobia, then I’m ready to offer support.

Let’s open the conversation.

*All names and identifying information in this post have been changed.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is an author and blogger. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, was written in reaction to seeing gay teens bullied in high school, and follows a family’s journey after the daughter comes out. Amy’s second novel, Tightwire, includes a strong friendship between two men, one gay and one straight, as well as a lesbian couple (raising a son and daughter) who become role model parents to the main character. Amy’s blog has several posts written in ally support of LGBTQ+. 

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Ally Support, Ally Week, LGBT

After Orlando

The first sign of trouble came just before lunch.

I was around eight years old, and my class was writing stories. My elementary school heavily emphasized the creative arts and as a young, budding nerd, I was not admired. But that morning, my academic style came in handy. While my teacher wandered the classroom helping the kids who were “stuck,” the others turned to me for spelling and grammar. I remember a girl asked me to spell dog, a boy was stumped by house, and another forgot the difference between a period and a comma. In appreciation, my teacher gave me the coveted Morning Helper Award. I was pleased with my prize: pick a friend, and return the classroom’s books to the library. I quickly chose Connie, who also loved to read.

As we happily lugged a stack of books through the front office on our way to the library, the adults were acting strange. Roz — our receptionist, who remained calm in the face of anything – was crying. Ruth — our principal, a renowned motor-mouth — stood silent. Libby — our music teacher, who annoyed us with her constant singing — sat mute. Connie and I exchanged a grown-ups-are-weird look, and continued on our mission. As we left, Ruth whispered something to Roz, who covered her face with her hands.

“Did Ruth whisper someone was absent?” I asked.

“I think so,” Connie began to skip.

“The only one absent from our class today was Alan.”

Afternoon carpool was uneventful. Brian stared out the window. Julie crunched potato chips. Eddie sang a round, chasing himself in musical circles. My brother, 2 years younger, mentioned he needed a new square-dance partner because Debbie was absent.

I looked up. “That’s Alan’s sister. He wasn’t in school either.”

As soon as my brother and I opened the front door, we knew something was extremely wrong. My father was ashen, my mother in tears. They sat us down and spoke tenderly, knowing their children’s world was about to crash. That morning, Debbie and Alan’s father had shot his wife, then his children, then himself.

My family talked for a long time. My brother had recently been to Debbie’s birthday party, and met their father. I asked if he was “mean.” My brother thought carefully. “No, it was more like he just didn’t care.” I wondered how much someone needed to “just not care” to murder his family.

Now, decades later, since the massacre in the Orlando nightclub, I find myself thinking of Alan and Debbie. I wish I could tell them that I’m sorry their lives were cut short, and that their deaths were so harsh. I’m sorry their dad “just didn’t care” enough to reign in his worst self. I’m sorry their community didn’t realize they needed protection.

I wish I could speak to the victims in Orlando, and the survivors as well. I wish I could tell them I’m sorry that some people are so filled with rage, so emotionally blunted that they could commit this hate crime. I’m sorry that some people have such a long way to go in understanding that LGBTQ+ is simply a part of the spectrum of normal. I’m sorry that some view Latino heritage as anything other than enriched and enriching for our entire country.

I’ve also been thinking about the Saturday after September 11, 2001. The World Trade Center was down, death toll rising, rescuers pouring into Manhattan to perform acts of courage that would go down in history. I was living in Northern California, and had never been involved in organized religion. But all three of my children wanted to explore their Jewish heritage, so I found myself sitting in synagogue, listening to the head rabbi’s drash (rhymes with wash, a Hebrew word, a comment on scripture). To my surprise, the rabbi didn’t talk. Instead, he sang the entire drash. He paced as he improvised his song of sadness, anger, hope — a quiet dirge as he tried to comprehend the incomprehensible. Somehow his drash made sense.

Since the Orlando murders, I’ve spent days trying to formulate my thoughts, preparing to write this post. But now I’m wondering if I should approach this piece differently. As I grieve in the wake of a terrible wrong, maybe I shouldn’t strive for wisdom. Perhaps in this circumstance, writing with balance and eloquence isn’t important.

Instead, maybe I’ll pace and bring forward my own improvisational dirge of sadness, anger, hope. In this moment, trying to comprehend the incomprehensible, perhaps somehow that will make sense.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a novelist, blogger and mother of three grown children. Amy wrote her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a rookie psychology intern through her first year of training. Amy blogs on a variety of subjects including parenting, LGBTQ+ ally support, gender equality and a Rolling Stones concert. Amy also collaborates with educators who use her books in their curriculum. 

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

Leave a comment

Filed under Grieving, hate crimes, LGBT, Orlando Massacre, Uncategorized