Category Archives: LGBT

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

 

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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

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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

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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

 

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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 in strong support of LGBTQ+. To learn more about Amy, visit her website and find links to her blog and to her novels on Amazon.

http://amykaufmanburk.com

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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.

 

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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 in strong support of LGBTQ+. To learn more about Amy, visit her website and find links to her blog and to her novels on Amazon.

http://amykaufmanburk.com

 

 

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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, gender equality, LGBTQ+ and a Rolling Stones concert. Amy also collaborates with educators who use her books in their curriculum. To learn more about Amy, visit her website.

http://amykaufmanburk.com

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

Use Restroom, Wash Hands, Leave

I live in North Carolina, where Pat McCrory signed his name to legalize discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. Now several states have their own versions of HB2. The immediate target appears to be the transgender population and more specifically, public restrooms. It’s ridiculous, but amazingly, it’s also real. Sure, I’m outraged, incredulous, saddened. But I’m also puzzled. I just don’t get it.

Whenever I just don’t get it, whatever “it” happens to be, I go back to basics: my education. In college, I majored in psychology, preparing to become a therapist. I was fascinated by the progression of thinking in developmental psych, by the ways the mind can go off course in abnormal psych, by the dialogue between the individual and society in social psych. But I was equally drawn to the English Department for reasons I couldn’t articulate.

I began with a course on British poets: Chaucer, Milton, Wordsworth, Eliot. Then I moved on to a smorgasbord of seemingly unrelated topics — 19th Century American Writers, Medieval Plays, 20th Century American Poets, Greek Tragedies. I felt a strong internal pull, a compulsion to study literature. I was particularly drawn to the writings I found most incomprehensible.

I had fine professors who created classroom environments designed to build understanding from ignorance. Medieval plays made no sense whatsoever, until my teacher explained the lives of both the playwrights and the audience. Interpreting poetry felt awkward, even pretentious, until my professor invited us to react on a gut level – “Don’t overthink it; feel it.” Writing my assigned papers felt stilted, until I was advised that ideas were more important than perfect grammar and immaculate syntax; “Break the rules a little bit,” my professor smiled.

I began reading and writing differently – not only to understand material on an intellectual level, but also to experience learning on an emotional level. With each poem, each novel, each play, my learning and thinking changed. As I read Emily Dickinson’s poetry, I explored her inner world, vastly different from my own. I battled the sea, cold and hungry, clutching the sides of “The Open Boat,” as I wrote a paper on Stephen Crane. I forged my own pilgrimage into The Canterbury Tales, following Geoffrey Chaucer as his story wandered from beautiful, to bawdy, to funny, to arduous – mirroring the experience of The Middle Ages. To get it, I had to live it. Once I lived it, even for a moment, I understood it on a new level.

Years later, when I began working with psychotherapy patients, I discovered that my English courses were as useful as my psych courses. The psych theory helped structure my thinking; the English courses taught me to make sense of each patient’s unique voice. The words of every writer I studied, like the words of every client I treated, were the keys to their selves.

I wish Pat McCrory and his followers had shared my curriculum back in college. I wish they had felt my initial lack of empathy when I read Portrait of a Lady (Henry James); I was irritated by Isabel Archer’s self-destructive choices, until my professor spoke about her impossible dilemma, from a personal and societal perspective, and I found myself (to my adolescent horror) in tears in the middle of a lecture hall. I wish those  against transgender rights had experienced my professor of Greek tragedies whose lectures were so compelling I’m amazed I remembered to breathe; in one lecture which I’ll always carry with me, he transformed a Greek Chorus from contrived and ridiculous, into the collective mind of Ancient Greece.

As Pat McCrory and too many others sign away the civil rights of their fellow citizens, I wonder if they ever made the effort to learn about the experience of being transgender. I don’t mean memorizing a definition in a dictionary, or engaging in a mutual admiration society with others who are equally uncomfortable with the transgender population. I mean talking to someone who identifies as transgender – asking questions, sharing concerns, open to learning. If Pat McCrory is truly worried about what a transgender person does in a bathroom, then just ask. I’m quite confident that the answer would be something like: “Use restroom; wash hands; leave.” If people are frightened of how the transgender population behaves in public restrooms, then they need the guidance of a teacher.

I was in graduate school before I realized that during college, the specific subjects I studied were a means to an end. While I loved my courses, the heart of my education wasn’t English or psychology. At core, I was learning to learn, learning to think, and I still am.

How I wish Pat McCrory and his supporters would join me.


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 in strong support of LGBTQ+. To learn more about Amy, visit her website and find links to her blog and to her novels on Amazon.

http://amykaufmanburk.com

 

 

 

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Filed under Civil Rights, LGBT, Transgender

Confused Children (Or Not…)

What is it about lesbian moms and gay dads that sends thoughtful and rational folks off the rails? I’ve had versions of the following conversations too many times.

Conversation #1

I draw the line at gay parents.”

Why?

“Because the children will be confused.”

Conversation #2

Children need a mom and a dad.”

Why?

Because the children will be confused.

Conversation #3

“It’s one thing to be gay, and another thing to impose it on children.”

Why?

“Because the children will be confused.”

At this point, faced with a National Epidemic of Confused Children, I ask the same question: “Do you know any same-sex parents?” Almost always, the answer is NO.

But I do. I know families with two dads and two moms. Down the line, the kids are quite clear about the identities of each parent, about their own identities, about their places in their families. Of course the kids have issues, and if you’re bound and determined to Blame The Gay, then I can’t stop you. But honestly, all kids have issues; it’s the nature of growing up.

So let’s reconsider. Are these children truly confused?

NO. And YES.

As a parent of three, I’ve seen the world through the eyes of two developing boys and one developing girl. I’ve learned that the world is a confusing place. Why do we eat in one room, but not another? Why are some words fine at home, but forbidden at school? Why do we say “thank you” to a friend for candy, and the same “thank you” to our doctor for a shot? If kicking is wrong, why isn’t soccer illegal? How can bite and sight possibly rhyme, and what in the world is an irregular verb?

Every day presents challenges, and many are confusing. But the issues that confuse a child are not always the same issues that confuse an adult. If you know any kids who have two moms or two dads, then you know that these children are not at all confused by their family constellation. However, other people’s reactions are quite problematic. Other adults look in, hunting with determined tenacity until they find a sign that the child is somehow at risk, or the parents are somehow deficient. The issue here is not a confused child, but rather a confused adult. What confuses the child are the baffling reactions of these adults, and of the children who follow their cues.

Each subculture has its own set of unspoken, unwritten, complex rules and expectations. But same-sex parents are just moms and dads, raising their kids, forming a family. As a mother of three grown children, I can count on parenthood to remain extremely straightforward and totally confusing. I’ll always welcome all parents of any gender to help me figure it out.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is an author and blogger. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, was written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school, and follows one family’s journey after their daughter comes out. Her second novel, Tightwire, includes a strong friendship between a gay man and a straight man, as well as a two women, a couple raising 2 children, who become role model parents to the main character. Amy’s blog has several posts in strong support of LGBTQ+. Check out Amy’s website to find links to her blog and her novels on Amazon.

 http://amykaufmanburk.com

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under family, LGBT, Marriage Equality, parenthood, same-sex parents