Category Archives: 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 LGBTQ 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 LGBTQ 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+. 

Click on the link to read reviews, buy a novel. https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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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 therapist-turned-author in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, in a school with over forty languages spoken among the students. The story deals with homophobic bullying, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Amy’s second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case. This novel was written in support of same-sex parents, to fight the stigma of mental issues, and with deep respect for the human capacity to heal.

Amy’s Author Page

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

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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 written in ally support of LGBTQ+. 

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

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

 

 

 

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

I Wish He Had Told Me

Greg was the boy I’d been waiting to find – bright, funny, and he didn’t think I was weird because I read a ton and liked Latin. He had thick, black curls and best of all, a hint of facial hair. We were both sixteen.

We sat in my family’s living room, sipping Ginger Ale, and I told him about my public high school with over forty native languages. He told me about his Catholic school, affiliated with his church. I told him how upset I was by the violence targeting gay boys. He said his school had no gay students. I stated that was impossible, that maybe the environment didn’t allow students to feel okay coming out. He looked down, then faced me and said quietly, “It would be okay with me”.

I talked about growing up in the film industry with a screenwriter dad – how my parents’ actor friends, haute couture mavens, were alarmed because I refused to wear make-up. He talked about his family, observant in a way I’d never experienced — with his grandfather jetting around the world, helping priests interpret tricky passages of the Bible. He grinned, describing his parents’ horror when he snuck into a community theatre audition and scored the lead in Hair — which included several references to sex and singing the word “ass”.

I wondered if I had found my first boyfriend. I was such a good girl – excellent grades, never smoked pot, always polite. I would have loved to date a guy who belted out “ASS” for a packed auditorium, and still thought it was cool that I took Latin. He confessed that our friendship would be seen as a form of “rebellion”. I smiled, liking the idea of being his rebellion.

But even as we connected, I could sense that Greg held back. We said goodnight, and as I prepared to experience my first “real” kiss, he put out his hand to shake. I closed the door and 15 seconds later, he knocked. He kissed me, and asked if he could take me to dinner the following night.

The next day, he called to say he “had to tell me something” when we met that evening, but he didn’t want to say it over the phone. An hour later, he called to cancel. I never saw him again.

Years later, I learned Greg was gay. I’ll never know for sure what the “something” was he wanted to tell me, but I can guess. Growing up in his home, at his school, coming out was not a safe option. The irony is that if he had visited my home that night, he would have met my parents’ two dinner guests: a gay couple.

When I became pregnant with my first child, my thoughts turned to Greg. I promised myself that my husband and I would build a home where our children and their friends could be their full selves. The first time a boy from their high school came out to me, I felt honored by his trust. Recently, a high school senior, questioning her sexuality, called my home “safe”, and I found myself thinking of Greg again. I wish I could thank him for his guidance, helping me create a home of acceptance. I wonder if he found a safe person as a teen, or if he had to carry an important part of himself as a secret. I hope he found someone he could trust. I gladly would have given up being his girlfriend, in exchange for being his someone.

I wish he had told me.

All names and identifying information in this piece 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 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 two women, a couple raising 2 children, 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Ally Support, coming out, LGBT, LGBT Pride Month, Teen

Huge Mistake

The “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” was signed by Governor Mike Pence. If you’re behind the counter at a coffee shop in Indiana, you can refuse to sell a double macchiato and a cup of decaf to two men, because…well, just because. Two women who were looking forward to sitting at the corner table, reading the New York Times with a latte and a croissant…well, they can take their New York Times elsewhere.

I hope that at some point, Governor Pence will realize that he has made a mistake. A huge mistake. I hope that over time, he’ll think back to the day he put his signature on that paper, and feel painfully embarrassed. Sadly, I doubt it.

The title of this bill bothers me. Including the word “religious” is an insult to any belief system promoting values of decency. I live in The South, with the majority worshipping some form of Christianity. I’m Jewish. Whether you believe Jesus was a man or a God, he was a good guy, with exemplary values of acceptance, decent to the bone. To attach the word “religious” to this bill is blatantly disrespectful to the teachings of Jesus.

As for “freedom,” I just don’t get it. I’m reading through the lines, between the lines, above and below the lines. I’m searching for “freedom,” even a hint. I’m certain that over time, this bill will be viewed with the same contempt as the efforts to fight Women Suffragists. Mike Pence will be grouped with the people who tripped and shoved the women marching for the right to vote. The governor of Indiana and his bill are nowhere close to “freedom.”

And “restoration” – often that word has a positive connotation, like preserving historical artifacts. But in this case, the word just means that Governor Pence and his followers are moving backwards.

Yes, I’m angry. But I’m also hopeful and determined. When I was in high school, my U.S. History class studied Magellan and Columbus. The unit was called “Great Explorers”; now, my children study those same men in a unit called “Pirates.” I learned nothing in school about Lucy Stone or Julia Ward Howe (women suffragists), but my children know their names well. My children and I both studied the Civil Rights Movement, although I hope my children’s children will never see the Confederate Flags that still fly in The South.

Progressive change is inevitable, as are those who fight for oppression in the name of “religious freedom.” But as I said, for every pound of anger I carry, I hold equal amounts of hope and determination. I believe that if my children have children, when they study U.S. history, there will be a section on the Gay Rights Movement. The unit will include the Stonewall Riots and Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco who legalized Same Sex Marriage in 2004. Teachers will guide their students to understand the roles of Harvey Milk and Larry Kramer, speaking their names with the same respect as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Every step toward LGBTQ+ rights will be taught as progress toward “freedom.”

We’ll get there.

____

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 two women, a couple raising 2 children, 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

 

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Filed under Ally Support, LGBT, Mike Pence

LGBTQ+ Posts

Dear Reader,

Before I decided to write fiction, I was a psychologist for 25 years. I’ve always been drawn to the process of self-discovery and personal transformation – first as a therapist, and now as a writer. Our culture often makes this process extremely difficult for people on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, and I hope my writing can help.

As I write each post for my blog, I’m drawn to the same underlying themes. My blog includes a body of work on LGBTQ issues, which focus on different aspects of self-discovery, personal transformation and ally support.

Below is a “hit list” of these posts.

Thanks for reading!

Amy

 

“Imagine”

Written in support of trans students, and to try to help people understand why bathroom issues are so harmful.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2017/02/23/imagine/

 

“More Bathroom Bills”

A trans ally is fed up with bathroom bills.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2017/02/18/more-bathroom-bills/

 

“GLSEN 100 Days Of Kindness”

In high school, a friend stopped a bullying incident with one simple question.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/glsen-100-days-of-kindness/

 

“Amy vs. Chapter 37 — GLSEN No Name Calling Week”

Writing as a form of healing from words used as weapons.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/amy-vs-chapter-37-glsen-no-name-calling-week/

 

“GLSEN Ally Week — Let’s Open The Conversation”

A 91-year-old woman’s path to becoming an LGBT ally.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2016/09/26/glsen-ally-week-lets-open-the-conversation/

 

“Use Restroom, Wash Hands, Leave”

Written in response to HB2, signed by North Carolina’s Governor Pat McCrory.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2016/04/07/use-restroom-wash-hands-leave/

 

“Confused Children (Or Not…)”

In support of same-sex parents.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2015/10/24/confused-children-or-not/

 

“Rainbow Cake”

A celebration of the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold same-sex marriage.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2015/06/29/rainbow-cake/

 

“LGBT Pride Month: Yale Has Come A Long Way”

An experience in college that taught me how to be a better ally.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/lgbt-pride-month-yale-has-come-a-long-way/

 

“LGBT Pride Month: I Wish He Had Told Me”

About a boy I knew when I was in high school, who didn’t feel safe coming out.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2015/06/01/lgbt-pride-month-i-wish-he-had-told-me/

 

“Huge Mistake”

Written in response to the homophobic Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed by Indiana’s Governor Mike Pence.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2015/04/02/huge-mistake/

 

“Same-Sex Parents”

In support of gay dads and lesbian moms — addresses some common concerns and misconceptions.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2015/02/07/same-sex-parents/

 

“If My Child Came Out As Trans”

To help families handle this situation with togetherness and support.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2015/01/29/if-my-child-came-out-as-trans/

 

“Heartbeat of AIDS”

About being a psych trainee, in San Francisco, in the early 1980s, trying to figure out why healthy young men were inexplicably dying.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/heartbeat-of-aids/

 

“Spectrum Of Normal”

A perspective on the LGBTQIA spectrum.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2015/01/03/spectrum-of-normal/

 

“Everyone Can Be An Ally”

The bullying incident in high school that motivated me to write my first novel.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2013/12/14/everyone-can-be-an-ally/

 

“Two Weddings And A Novel”

How my first novel was influenced by Gavin Newsom’s legalizing same-sex marriage in San Francisco.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/two-weddings-and-a-novel-2/

 

“All Love Is Created Equal”

A a child, realizing that gay and straight couples were viewed differently.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2014/05/15/all-love-is-created-equal/

 

“They Came Out And Gay Fills The Room”

Support for families when a daughter or son comes out, and suddenly all the parents can see is GAY.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2014/03/28/they-came-out-and-gay-fills-the-room/

 

“When Your Daughter Or Son Comes Out”

Support for families, a model of togetherness.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2014/02/14/when-your-daughter-or-son-comes-out/

 

“Speak Gay With Pride”

About the homophobic expression “It’s so gay”, and how parents can handle it.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2013/12/14/speak-gay-with-pride/

 

“Reading Guides for Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable and Tightwire”

Both of my novels have LGBTQ themes central to the plots. Without the gay and lesbian characters, the stories could not exist. As I wrote the reading guides, I included several questions inviting readers to share their experiences. Understanding diverse perspectives creates a path to acceptance and support. Let’s open the conversation.

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2014/12/31/reading-guides-for-hollywood-high-achieve-the-honorable-and-tightwire/

____

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 two women, a couple raising 2 children, who become role model parents to the main character. 

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

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

 

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Filed under AIDS awareness, bullying, coming out, Equality, family, gay and lesbian parents, LGBT, parenting, Transgender

Same-Sex Parents

Several years ago, a close friend asked if I thought he’d be a good father. I said of course. Laurents was (and still is) dedicated, loyal, playful, responsible, loving, funny, caring, bright, successful. But back then, he remained worried. Laurents worried he’d make mistakes. (As a mother of three, I assured him that yes, he’d certainly make mistakes, that the only “perfect parents” are the folks who have never raised children.) He worried that he was athletic, but not at all artistic, and what would he do if his daughter or son turned out to be a young Picasso? (I told him I was in his camp, except I was an abysmal athlete and a worse artist. We all have strengths and limitations.) He worried that he always forgot to get a haircut, that he’d bake inedible birthday cakes, that he never learned to waltz. He worried that he was a worrier.

Finally, I took him by the shoulders. “Laurents, what’s on your mind?” He looked at me with tears in his eyes: “I’m gay. My wife is a husband, except we can’t legally marry. Last night, we were at a dinner party and a mom asked why in the world Mark and I thought we could be good parents?”

We sat in my kitchen, with two gigantic cups of coffee. First, we vented our outrage. Next, we had a grand time coming up with responses to the Supreme Homophobe Party Animal, answers that slammed her, which she well-deserved. Finally, we settled down and began to think it through. This Leader Of The Heterosexual Parent Brigade was absolutely sincere – obnoxious for sure, but firm in her beliefs. So we began to brainstorm the questions same-sex parents are forced to field — the thoughtlessly cruel doubt, the homophobia disguised as concern, the pseudo-helpful suggestions stemming from the assumption that a gay parent is, by definition, less qualified than a straight parent. From that conversation so many years ago, these are the questions and answers I remember.

Should gay parents be more scared than straight parents?

I’m a straight mom, married to a straight dad, who is the father of my children. One of the most frightening moments in our lives was after the birth of our first child, a healthy baby boy. My doctor examined me, and a pediatrician examined our son. My doctor then smiled at us and said six of the most terrifying words I’ve ever heard: “You can take your baby home.” Suddenly, my husband and I were responsible for a tiny person, a human life. Our eyes locked as we skyrocketed past “worried”, soared beyond “scared”, and landed gracelessly on our butts in the Land of Petrified. Being scared isn’t about LGBTQ+/straight; it’s about parenthood.

Can LGBTQ+ parents “turn” their kid gay?

There are 2 issues here. First, nobody can “turn” anyone’s sexuality or gender identity in any direction. Your child’s sexuality and gender identity belong to your child, not to you, and you don’t get a vote. Second, there’s an underlying assumption that being straight/cisgender is best and superior. That attitude is hurtful, damaging, dangerous — and false.

How can two men talk to a girl about her period?

The same way they talk about anything else – with respect, care and love. Our culture has an odd attitude toward menstruation; often, the mere mention of a girl’s monthly cycle stops a guy in his tracks. But honestly, that seems rather silly. If a dad doesn’t know how to put in a tampon (and gay, bi or straight — why should he know?), then he can ask a woman for help. My husband and I have turned to our It-Takes-A-Village friends several times. For example: we don’t wear make-up, but our daughter does. She learned to apply it from another adult, since neither of her parents had ever so much as put on lipstick. She’s tolerant of our woeful ignorance, and more importantly, shows no signs of being scarred for life. The point here: No parent can be everything for her or his or their children. It’s not about being LGBTQ+/straight; it’s about being human.

With two moms or two dads, will the kid get confused about which parent is which?

Nope. Not an issue.

Will the child feel bad that he/she doesn’t have a mom/dad?

Maybe, as a phase, just like my kids have wished for a more athletic dad, or a mom who was a “cool firefighter” like a classmate’s mom. These wishes aren’t about LGBTQ+/straight; wishes are a part of healthy development, as children, over time, let go of the superhero view of their parents, and see them more realistically.

Will my kids get teased for having two moms/dads?

Possibly. Or possibly for being short, or tall, or good at math, or bad at math, or…. In other words, if you try to set up a situation where your kids get exempt status from ever being mistreated by another child…well, best of luck with that. Instead, how about helping kids learn how to stand up to bullies? It’s terribly unfair for any child to be forced to deal with homophobia. But it’s absolutely no reason for two fine people to disbar themselves from parenthood. Bigotry is a terrible fact of life. It’s not a LGBTQ+/straight/parent issue; it’s a cultural/social/playground issue.

How will other parents react at school?

If they’re decent, responsible parents who are hoping to meet other decent, responsible parents, then they’ll smile, put out their hands, and introduce themselves. If they don’t, then they’re probably not the ones you (or I) want in a friendship group.

Your child just fell and skinned his knee! Where’s his MOM??? A mom would never have let that happen!

Scientific Factoid: Only the children of gay parents skin their knees.

Final question: What happened to Laurents and Mark? Did they become parents?

Laurents and Mark adopted twin boys at birth, who are now in fourth grade. One plays baseball, and is proud that he has read the entire Harry Potter series 3 times. The other plays soccer, and has turned their garage into a science lab. They have two cats and two dogs. Their boys dream of Olympic gold medals. Laurents and Mark dream of a five-minute stretch with absolutely nothing to do. It’s not a dream about LGBTQ+/straight; it’s a dream about parenthood.

Laurents and Mark were married last year. Their sons were their “Best Men.”

 

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

____

Amy Kaufman Burk is an author, blogger and mother of three grown children. 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 two women, a couple raising 2 children, who become role model parents to the main character. Amy’s blog has several posts written in ally support of LGBTQ+. 

Click on the link to check out reviews, buy a novel. https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Filed under gay parents, lesbian parents, LGBT, parenting, same-sex parents

If My Child Came Out As Trans

I wonder how I’d react if my child came out as Transgender.

I don’t have experience with this, either in my own family or with close friends, and I won’t pretend to be an expert. But recently the world lost Leelah Alcorn, a trans girl who felt too unsupported, too misunderstood, too tormented to go forward. Leelah died of homophobia, specifically transphobia, and bluntly: that’s wrong on more levels than I can count. Sure, I feel judgmental toward her parents for their lack of support for their daughter. But it’s relatively easy to feel judgmental, and much harder to figure out how to help. I want to try to help. So I’m imagining one possible scenario, step by step. To avoid a confusing array of pronouns, I’ve chosen to write about a young person with the body of a boy, whose gender identity is female. However, I think the issues will hold true for a transgender boy or girl, female or male, and for his or her family.

I’m imagining the conversation:

“Mom, can we talk?”

“Sure.” (Uh oh. Torpedoed a test? Drugs or alcohol? Speeding ticket?)

“I don’t know how to say this.”

“Okay, whatever it is, I’ll help you through.”

“I know I look like a boy, but I feel like a girl.”

Thud of silence.

In that instant, we’d be launched on a new trajectory, a hairpin turn, a lightning-bolt surprise journey. I imagine my first reaction would be shock that my most basic assumption about my child was wrong, and always had been.

My boy is a girl?

In an instant, my confidence in my parenting would be shaken to the core.

What else have I missed?

The guilt would hit, with anger on its heels. I’d feel guilty that my child had carried this alone for so long, and at the same time angry that she had kept something so huge from me for so long. I’d feel guilty for missing something so fundamental, and furious at her for slamming me with this magnum-force news bulletin.

Breathe. Just breathe.

I’d try to steady myself, because even though something huge would have changed, much would not have changed at all. She would still be my child – the same values of decency, the same wicked sense of humor, the same love for chocolate, the same conviction that okra and garden snails and Vaseline are biologically related and equally unfit for human consumption. She’d complete physics assignments with the same ease, continue her struggle reading music, and remain strikingly unable to complete a sentence without saying “like” or “y’know”. My child would still be my child.

Then the doubts would hit again.

This can’t be happening.

I’d remember my son, actually my daughter, as a newborn. Our first relationship to our children is through their bodies. We hold them, feed them, change them. We feel their foreheads for fever, and rock them to sleep in our arms. We develop a powerful bond with the body of our child, a physical and emotional connection, bone-deep. The foundation of our entire relationship stems from our child’s body.

That foundation misled me, betrayed me.

Then I hope I’d put on the brakes. My daughter did not mislead or betray me, and neither did her body. My own assumptions about her body did. I’d remind myself not to take it out on my child, and in turn, I’d ask her not to blame me for giving her a body that doesn’t match her identity.

We can get through this.

I’d feel a moment of calm, a quiet confidence. Then my emotions would surge, and run rampant. I’d be mortified to find myself up to my eyeballs in “wrong” feelings — politically incorrect, insensitive, hurtful, bigoted.

Did I do something wrong, make a terrible mistake that caused this?

Feelings don’t always make sense, or follow the rules of rationality. I’d try to be patient with my own “wrong” reactions. Does that mean I’d accept these wrong feelings, welcome them? No. But I’d allow myself the time I needed to process this new situation, to blaze an emotional trail. And as I struggled, I’d be surprised to realize that in some ways, my world had become a lot easier.

So much makes sense that I didn’t understand before.

I imagine that part of my reaction would be relief. I’d remember things my son did and said, which puzzled me at the time. I’d now realize that was not my son, but actually my daughter acting and speaking, and her behavior and words would make sense. I’d feel guilty that I didn’t follow up at the time, and possibly save my daughter years of pain and confusion. I’d wonder if I could ever forgive myself.

I never thought I’d be dealing with this.

At that point, I hope I’d pause, and begin to regain perspective, because that sentiment is felt by every parent, many times, in raising children. Kids are full of surprises, and the one sure-bet for parents is the unexpected. I hope my sense of humor would kick back in, to steady me, and I’d be able to smile at my emotional clumsiness. I’d feel the beginnings of a stronger bond with my child, a bond of truth and authenticity.

I love her so much, but I need support, and so does she.

I’d reach out. I’d talk to friends. I’d also find a new community of people who shared my experience. I’d encourage my daughter to do the same. No secrets, no shame. I would certainly encounter ignorance and bigotry. Worse, my child would be hurt at times by misguided people who’d feel a push to lash out. I’d be unable to protect her from being hurt, but I’d make sure our home remained a safe haven.

I hope that if my child ever came out as Transgender, we’d stand side by side. If I needed to cry, that would be okay, as long as I left room for her tears. I would try to accept my full reaction, and support my daughter through her full reaction, not allowing my emotions to eclipse hers.

I’d mess up, sometimes badly. If needed, I’d apologize. I’d ask questions. I’d learn. I’d encourage my daughter to do the same. I’d fall so many times I’d leave skid marks. But whether on our feet or on our asses, even shaken to the core, we’d love each other. We’d go forward as a family, a newly configured family – with a daughter instead of a son. Sometimes we’d walk tall; sometimes we’d stumble. We’d hold out our hands, helping each other regain balance. We’d talk. We’d eat our favorite foods, and enjoy our favorite activities. We’d have fun. Like always. Because we’d still be the same people, only we’d understand each other with a new clarity.

We’d figure it out.

Together.

Rest In Peace, Leelah Alcorn.

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Amy Kaufman Burk is an author, blogger and mother of three grown children. 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 two women, a couple raising 2 children, 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

 

 

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Filed under family, Leelah Alcorn, LGBT, parenting, Transgender

Heartbeat Of AIDS

The Normal Heart is an HBO film adapted from Larry Kramer’s play. It’s wonderful, and worth your time. But prepare to feel devastated. Mr. Kramer is an author, a playwright, a public health advocate and LGBT rights activist. Mr. Kramer is also a strong voice for AIDS awareness.

I began to follow Larry Kramer’s work back in the 1980s, when The Normal Heart takes place. I was in my first year as a psych trainee in San Francisco, doing a rotation in a crisis clinic (a small psych emergency room affiliated with a larger hospital). At a certain point, we began to see a new presentation, which 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 steady partner, and no psych history. Further questions would rule out recreational drugs as the cause. But he’d also have a recent medical history we didn’t understand — sometimes a rare form of cancer, sometimes terrible skin lesions. 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 suddenly dying.

During this reign of terror, AIDS ran rampant. Initially, we didn’t understand the cause, or how the virus was transmitted. Even when we began to gain an understanding, we had no medications to manage the condition. AIDS was a death sentence, and the path from diagnosis to death was gruesome. People were terrified, and the early AIDS victims were often treated as pariahs, fearful objects, grim reapers.

But Larry Kramer was different. He raised his voice, loud and unapologetic, in support of gay men infected with HIV. Interestingly, he was revered by some and hated by others for the exact same reason: he stepped forward, stood tall, insisted that bodies (both living and dead) be treated with respect and dignity. He shouted that people needed to pay attention; he was ignored; he shouted louder. He raised his voice for those whose voice had been taken away.

Larry Kramer first wrote The Normal Heart as a play. The story follows the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, from 1981-1984, in New York. I was in a different city, but the issues – medical, political, personal – were exactly what my colleagues and I faced in San Francisco. Watching the film, each hospital scene brought back a flood of memories from being a psych trainee on Jim Dilley’s “AIDS Ward” at San Francisco General Hospital. Dr. Dilley set up a unit solely for AIDS patients, staffed entirely by people who chose to be there. Even as a trainee, I was offered the choice to opt out, because everyone was so frightened. But Dr. Dilley was a rare blend of intelligence, decency, talent and compassion. I trusted him, and I knew I was being offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I figured if I was going to help my patients 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 Dr. Dilley’s AIDS Ward was a privilege.

It was also a heart-break. There’s a camera shot in The Normal Heart, lasting just a few moments: two gaunt and emaciated men, lying in adjacent beds, holding hands. Back on Dr. Dilley’s AIDS Ward, I saw those two men many times.

I never met Larry Kramer, but I hold his work in high esteem, and I admire him for his commitment. He fought for a long time with minimal support, and I can only imagine how alone he must have felt. But he never gave up. He raised awareness, and his work saved lives.

The Normal Heart took me by the throat, as it should. Every personal loss in the story reminded me of San Francisco, in the 1980s, when I knew too many who died too young. I remember the sadness, fear, frustration, defeat. Then I take a deep breath, and inhale a tiny bit of Mr. Kramer’s fire.

I’m grateful to be here to remember.

____

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 two women, a couple raising 2 children, 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

 

 

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Filed under AIDS awareness, Larry Kramer, LGBT, The Normal Heart