Tag Archives: LGBT

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.

____

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

Coming Out In A Novel

When I finished writing my first novel, I was ambivalent — should I put it up as an indie book, or try to find an agent and publisher? I liked the autonomy of self-publishing, but the validation of an established literary endorsement was undeniable. So I sent the manuscript to a few people, who passed on it. Then I struck gold: someone in the publishing world was interested. I had not sent a formal query, and our connection was tenuous at best, along the lines of a-friend-of-a cousin-of-an-acquaintance. Still, he had taken a look at my novel, and thought the book had “great potential”. He would, however, require “just one change”.

Just one change? No problem.

I wrote the book in reaction to seeing gay boys bullied in high school. As terrible as the bullying was, the indifference of most students was just as upsetting. At fifteen years old, I knew I’d write about it some day.

The novel tracks a group of friends through one year of high school. As I wrote, I wanted several characters to begin with different brands of homophobia – some subtle, some overt, some violent. I wanted to model many paths to acceptance — some extremely rocky and some relatively smooth. I decided that the story would hold two key LGBT characters – one lesbian girl and one gay boy, both in high school.

I chose to make the girl’s character easy for readers to identify with. She would defy every stereotype, and readers would like her for several chapters before finding out she was gay. Her family’s struggle would model how fine people can make hurtful mistakes, and then get back on a supportive track, stronger than before.

I decided to portray the gay boy from a different angle. I wanted to challenge readers, to paint this boy in a way that was tougher to identify with. My goal was to get my readers behind that character, guiding them to like him and by the end, to respect and admire him. On the surface, he looks like a stereotype, which sets him up as a target for other characters in the story. But as the reader gets to know him, he shatters one stereotype after another.

When I finished the manuscript and received that glimmer of interest from the publishing world, I was extremely ready to make “just one change”. Our email exchange took place toward the end of the gargantuan success of the Twilight movies, and our messages were zooming back and forth with growing enthusiasm. Then he revealed the “just one change”: instead of coming out as a lesbian, my character needed to “come out as a vampire”.

My first thought was that he was joking. (I was wrong.) My second thought was that this would be a great dinner-party-story. (I was right.) My third thought was narcissistic outrage – how rude to boil my writing down to a cost-benefit analysis, to conclude that a key-character-vampire was a better financial bet than a key-character-lesbian. (Get over it; cost-benefit analysis is his job.) My fourth thought was healthy outrage: does this person view himself as respectful of LGBTQIA issues? (I’ll never know.)

I sent a polite message, thanking him for his interest, explaining that I’d take my chances as an indie author and stand by my character — my entirely and imperfectly human character. My writing crosses gay/straight lines, not human/vampire lines.

Did I miss an opportunity when I chose to stick by my original character? Yeah, possibly.

Am I okay with that? Yeah, definitely.

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Novels by Amy Kaufman Burk

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

Caroline Black, 15 years old, leaves her college prep academy for the local public high school, which opens her world. Written in reaction to witnessing gay students bullied in high school.

Tightwire

Caroline Black, now a rookie psychology intern, goes through one year of training, working with her first patient – a young man who is stormy, seductive, brilliant and troubled. Written in support of healthy sex and sexuality, in support of same-sex parents, and as a voice against the stigma of therapy.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

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

 

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Spectrum Of Normal

LGBTQIA.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning (Queer), Intersexual, Asexual (Ally). Pansexual, as well. More words will follow, and I’m ready to learn them all. Each letter, each word, is important, deserving respect, opening our minds to the full spectrum of sex and sexuality.

Yet, it’s not the “full” spectrum. When people talk about sexuality, Straight seems to have its own separate “spectrum” – more accurately, its own separate throne. There are The Heterosexuals and there are The Others.

My perspective is different. I was raised by a straight mother and father (born in 1922 and 1917) who were absolutely comfortable with gay men and lesbian women. My earliest memories include my parents’ closest friends, couples comprised of a woman and a man, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. This was a part of my life from the cradle. This was, is, and always will be my Spectrum of Normal.

I was eight years old when I learned there were separate words for “straight”, “gay” and “lesbian” couples. I also learned that none of the gay and lesbian couples I knew were married, because they weren’t allowed. I knew the ban on same-sex marriage was just plain wrong, but my reaction to the separate words was mixed. I was comfortable with the words as descriptive language, but extremely uncomfortable with the words as a divisive force. Couples were couples, love was love, people were people. I didn’t have a gay/straight litmus test, and I still don’t.

I hope to see the day when there’s just one sexual spectrum, which will include “S” for “Straight”. This new spectrum will give each letter and each word equal emphasis, equal respect, equal everything. This will be a spectrum of acceptance of the many shades of normal. I don’t categorize Straight Sexuality as separate from Other Sexuality. All of us are individuals on the Spectrum of Normal.

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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 two men, one gay and one straight — as well as a same-sex couple (two women), raising a daughter and a son, who become role model parents to the main character. Amy’s blog has several posts in strong support of LGBTQ+. Check out Amy’s Author Page on Amazon.

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

 

 

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Reading Guides for Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable and Tightwire

Dear Readers,

I’ve received emails from members of book clubs who are reading my novels. Some asked for a reading guide, so I created one for each novel.

When I give talks, my favorite part is opening the floor to questions. Your ideas always kick-start new ways of thinking within me – and I’m grateful. If you want to respond to the reading guides, feel free to contact me through my website. I love hearing from readers, and I try to respond to every message. http://amykaufmanburk.com

For those of you who are including my novel in your book club, in your classroom, on your  personal list of books to read – thank you so much.

Best,

Amy

READING GUIDES

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

1. As the book opens, Caroline has just transferred from a private school to her local public high school and she is terrified.  But from the start, she shows signs of being much more than scared and intimidated. What are the first signs that Caroline has hidden strengths? Have you ever felt strong inside in ways nobody could see?

2. This novel has lesbian and gay characters, as well as straight characters. Each character adds a vital piece to the story. Yet, unlike many books in the “Gay And Lesbian Literary Fiction” category, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable does not offer explicit details of sex. In writing the story, this was a careful choice I made. What do you think of this decision?

3. A theme of my novel is defying stereotypes. Some of the stereotypes in the story are racial, sexual and gender based. Some are about other kinds of assumptions. For instance, what does it say about a person if he/she is a prostitute, the leader of a gang, a cheerleader, extremely academic? Have you ever felt that others stereotyped you?

4. I wrote my book in reaction to the bullying of gay boys that I witnessed in high school. Have you ever been bullied? Have you ever acted as a bully? Have you ever seen another bullied? How did you handle it? Will you handle it differently next time?

5. A subplot in the book is based on growing up in the film industry. Have you ever been in an environment that was a mismatch for your true self? How did you navigate the situation?

6. From the first chapter, Caroline begins to find friends in her new high school. She builds a friendship group that is racially, sexually and economically diverse. Is that sort of diversity important to you?

7. Several high school characters have secrets – Caroline, The Duke, Valerie. Have you ever held a secret inside, that you were afraid to speak out loud? How does it feel to have a secret?

8. Sexual assault should happen to nobody, but it can happen to anybody. This is a subplot in Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable. Have you ever been assaulted? Have you known someone who has been assaulted? Do you have the support you need to heal? (If not, please contact a rape crisis center near you, or talk to a therapist.)

9. When I speak to gay/straight alliances, I often hear stories of adolescents coming out to their families, and getting unsupportive, hurtful responses. I decided to include in my novel one family’s journey to support and acceptance. Have you ever felt unsupported by your family when you most needed support?

I wrote the following blog posts to help families stay supportive and bonded.

“They Came Out And Gay Fills The Room” https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2014/03/28/they-came-out-and-gay-fills-the-room/

“When Your Daughter Or Son Comes Out” https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2014/02/14/when-your-daughter-or-son-comes-out/

“If My Child Came Out As Trans”     https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2015/01/29/if-my-child-came-out-as-trans/

10. Homophobia can show itself in many forms. It can be subtle, damaging, hurtful, deadly. Through different characters, I decided to demonstrate different kinds of homophobia, and model different paths to support and acceptance. Have you ever seen someone move from homophobia to support and acceptance? Have you taken that journey to becoming an ally?

11. Readers often tell me they have picked a favorite character in Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable. Do you have a favorite character from the book? What draws you to that character?

12. Do you have an idea to add to this study guide? I’d love to hear from you! http://hollywoodhighbook.com/?page_id=70

Tightwire

1. Tightwire tracks Caroline Black through her first year as a psychology intern, working with her first patient, Collier. As the book opens, Collier feels hopeless. As the book progresses, he discovers his capacity to heal. Have you ever felt hopeless? Have you found a way to heal? (If you need help, please reach out to the resources in your community.)

2. People have all sorts of ideas about therapy and therapists, and their ideas sometimes include a stigma. I hope this novel shows how helpful a “talking therapy” can be, and helps to diminish the stigma. Did the story make the idea of therapy less “strange,” possibly more comfortable?

3. Sexuality can feel confusing, even terrifying. At one point in the story, Collier (the patient) questions his sexuality. Have you ever questioned your sexuality or your sexual identity? How did you resolve your questions? Are your questions still ongoing? (If you need support, please contact an LGBTQIA center near your home. The Trevor Project is also an excellent organization to offer support. http://www.thetrevorproject.org)

4. Two important characters in Tightwire are Jeanne and Tracy, a lesbian couple with two children, who become role-model-parents for Collier. Have you met a same-sex couple with children? Are you comfortable with that family constellation? Why or why not? (If you’re open to growing more comfortable, maybe Jeanne and Tracy can help!)

5. One theme of this book is that if you’re motivated, it’s never too late to change. Do you have parts of yourself that you’d like to change?

6. Sexual assault can happen in many forms. People can feel a wide range of emotions including violated, betrayed, contaminated, frightened…also guilty, confused, depressed, doubting the validity of their own experience. Sexual assault is a part of this novel, and the survivor’s healing is a central theme. Have you ever had a sexual experience which left you feeling assaulted? Were you able to trust the validity of your experience, even if the assault fell outside the legal definition of “rape”? Have you ever felt safe enough to tell another person? (If you need help healing, please reach out to a rape crisis center or a therapist.)

7. In one session with Collier, Caroline (the therapist) has no idea how to handle the situation, and she makes several mistakes. She is certain that she has torpedoed both the treatment and her career. She expects her supervisor to kick her out of her psych internship, and her patient to quit. But to her surprise, her supervisor is supportive and helpful, and her patient comes back to continue working. What does Caroline do that earns the respect of her supervisor, and allows Collier to return to his treatment? Have you ever made a big mistake, and then been given a second chance?

8. Tightwire is structured with chapters that alternate between Caroline’s sessions with Collier, and Caroline’s life as she grows up. Did you find the structure engaging? Why or why not?

9. Do you have an idea to add to this study guide? I’d love to hear from you! http://amykaufmanburk.com

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Novels By Amy Kaufman Burk

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

Caroline Black, 15 years old, leaves her college prep academy for the local public high school, which opens her world. Written in reaction to the bullying of gay students I witnessed in high school.

Tightwire

Caroline Black, now a rookie psychology intern, goes through one year of training, working with her first patient – a young man who is stormy, seductive, complex and troubled. Written in support of healthy sex and sexuality, in support of same-sex parents, and as a voice against the stigma of psychotherapy.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

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

 

 

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Filed under Ally Support, bullying, LGBT, Marriage Equality, NoMore, psychological, Stereotypes, therapy, writing

Assuming An Ally Must Be Gay

I read a post on Facebook supporting the marriage of two men. Someone commented that while he supported gay marriage, it was time to “stop making such a fuss”. So I wrote, “To respectfully respond, we can ‘stop making such a fuss’ when all 50 states endorse and support Marriage Equality.” The too-much-fuss-person posted another comment saying that “heterosexuals” don’t make a production about being straight, and the rest of us should follow suit.

I was struck by an underlying assumption in his second comment – that anyone who “makes a fuss” in support of Marriage Equality must be gay.

I wrote about this assumption in an earlier blog post called “Speak Gay With Pride”. https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2013/12/14/speak-gay-with-pride/ The piece discusses the derogatory expression “It’s So Gay”, which I’ve heard from some of my children’s friends. I always stopped the conversation, and explained why I don’t allow that expression in my home. Most were polite, but puzzled that I cared. Some assumed I must be gay.

I stepped back from the Facebook exchange because there seemed no point in continuing. Maybe I was wrong. Would the person have given more thought to the issue if I had announced my straight-ness? Did I miss the chance to help someone become a stronger ally?

I don’t have the answer. Maybe there is no answer. But I’ll never stop trying to figure it out.

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Novels by Amy Kaufman Burk

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

Caroline Black, 15 years old, leaves her college prep academy for the local public high school, which opens her world. Written in reaction to witnessing gay students bullied in high school.

Tightwire

Caroline Black, a rookie psychology intern, goes through one year of training, working with her first patient – a young man who is stormy, seductive, complex and troubled. Written in support of healthy sex and sexuality, in support of lesbian and gay parents, and as a voice against the stigma of therapy.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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All Love Is Created Equal

I was raised in a home with straight parents, whose friends were bi, straight, lesbian, gay and one trans couple. All were in committed relationships. Most stayed together for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, until parted by death.

These couples shared homes, triumphs and failures. They celebrated holidays and birthdays. They went out to dinner, to concerts, to sports events. Sometimes they chose a quiet evening at home, reading by firelight. They formed a group of friends who often gathered in my parents’ home. During good times, they relaxed and celebrated. During tough times, they united in support.

One couple gardened. Another lived at the beach and collected sea glass. A third loved antiques. Can you guess which was the gay couple? The lesbian couple? The straight couple? Does it matter?

I was 8 years old when I discovered that I was supposed to view LGBTQ+ folks and LGBTQ+ love as damaged. I remember saying to my parents, over and over, “It doesn’t make sense.” They agreed. They tried to explain ignorance and bigotry, but I became more confused.

To sort it out, I began an observational research study. For two weeks, I watched my parents’ friends — how they behaved, how they spoke, how they interacted. I asked questions: What’s your favorite color? Favorite ice cream? Favorite song? Favorite pizza? I entered my data in a yellow binder with silver glitter, using a color coded system and a new box of crayons. I pored over my results. After several days, I arrived at my conclusion: I couldn’t find one single significant difference between LGBTQ+ love and straight love.

As an adult, my perspective on many aspects of relationships has changed. I now understand that long-lasting love takes work. I now understand the extremely private, powerfully passionate piece that renews the bond again and again. I now understand that each love is a unique, complex, multi-dimensional tapestry. But the view that LGBTQ+ love is fundamentally different from straight love, that it’s somehow lesser, that it’s a distortion of “real” love – that made no sense to me as a kid, and it still doesn’t.

Back then at age 8 and today at age 59, my conclusion remains the same.

All love is created equal.

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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 two 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 — click on the link to check out Amy’s novels.

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

 

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