Thursday, March 6, 2014

Living Out Loud Meets Living In Silence: The Gay Generational Gap

     When I started at Hartnell College in 2011, I made a conscience decision to be open and out about the fact I am a gay man. My colleagues were okay with it. My administrators were okay with it. Most importantly, the students were okay with it.
     I was soon asked to be the faculty sponsor for the Pride Club on campus. Fellow faculty members began asking me to classes for various lectures on gay culture. Jason and I began speaking with the Rainbow Speakers: a regional group dedicated to educating the broader community about LGBTQ issues.
     Being new to campus, I immediately started trying to find the other gay men on campus. In my naivete, I pictured how great it would be to have gay colleagues as an additional sounding board and support.
     One of the first I noticed was an older faculty member I will call "Joe." It was obvious to me Joe was gay. A couple of colleagues even asked me in passing if I had "met" or "talked to Joe." It was clear to me, as it was obviously clear to the campus, that Joe was a gay man.
     In my typical zest (followed by revelations I am over-eager sometimes), I approached Joe, introduced myself, and asked him if he would be willing to talk to the Pride Club. I told him I want to get a mix of generations on a panel so students could understand some of the history and social changes the gay community has endured.
     He became notably uncomfortable, changing the subject. I though it was odd. Later that day, walking across campus, we crossed paths. He stopped, and informed me that he was not "out" on campus and he would appreciate it if I didn't draw attention to him.
     It took me off-guard. I was dumbfounded. Never mind the fact that colleagues were fully aware he was a gay man, but he also had some stereotypical traits that were like a neon sign above his head. He sachets like he is walking a perpetual runway, and when he talks, any doubts are quickly removed.
     Not sure what to say, I said, "Sure. No problem." With that, he walked away.
     In 2 1/2 years, he has barely spoken to me since. His office is located by one of the administrator's I visit frequently, and I attempt to say hello and ask how he is doing. It is regularly met with as little interaction as possible.
     I have been introduced to the reality that no matter how much society changes, or how accepting communities or the workplace becomes, some of the older generation of gay men has had to protect themselves for so long they simply keep their status quo of dealing with the world.
     Another older gay man that I admire deeply, who has been with his partner for years, is out and active in the community and a notable activist of sorts, but in 20+ years has never come out to his kids and family.
     Again, it's not like they don't know. For both of these men, I vacillate between empathy and frustration. For whatever reason, they do not want to admit to all stakeholders in their lives they are gay men. On the one hand, I rationalize it is because of fear, or consequences of trying before, or not wanting to upset the balance each has found. On the other, the brazen part of me is irritated that these men, in their own realms, could help extend, that much further, the acceptance of gay men in the world and they are choosing not to be transparent.
     I wonder if any of my peers that have been out for some time, those approaching or in their 40s, feel the pressure to lead multiple existences?
     As someone who led half a life being two different people, my honest hope is that the answer would be "no." Society and individual viewpoints of homosexuality are changing quickly, but for some, I have realized it just may never be enough to live life vulnerable.
   

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

I'll Be Home for Christmas?

     As my readers will know, I have had a very rocky and mostly cut-off relationship from my parents and my brother since coming out in 2009.
     Family events in the past few months have opened the door for me to reconnect with my family. As a matter of fact, I was going to get to celebrate Christmas with my family and my daughters Saturday, December 21. I fly in to see my girls that weekend, and we were going to make the hour and fifteen minute drive from Tulsa to Siloam Springs, Arkansas to be with my family.
     For no good reason, the girls' mother has declared she is not "comfortable" with me taking my daughters out of state.
     Never mind my parents are the only other people in the decree that I am allowed to have my girls be around.
     Never mind that on my last visit, their mother allowed me to take them to Oklahoma City overnight: a further distance away than my parents.
     Never mind, that for the first time five years, I would once again spend a holiday with my family and my daughters.
     Even though the decree, and ultimately the court, will defend my right to spend time with my parents while I have my girls, the order may not come in time. If not, I will have to meet my parents somewhere in the state of Oklahoma, but not "home."
     Mom, Dad, Bryan: I love you, and I miss you. I hope I get to come home.
     If not, my only solace is from the song:

     I'll be home for Christmas...if only in my dreams.

   

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Generational Divide: When Being Gay is Just Not a Big Deal

     Last week, I traveled to New Mexico to be with my grandmother. Her husband of thirteen years, Rob Hampton, my step-grandpa, passed from health complications.
     I thought Jason was going to need to tranquilize me leading up to the trip. This was the first family function I would be attending since coming out in 2009. 
     I didn't know what to expect. My parents have cut me off, one of my aunts sent me a text making sure I wasn't going to parade my "sin" at the funeral (that is, not bring my partner) and I wasn't sure how the extended family would treat me.
     Everything with the older members of my family was completely civil. I was graciously tolerated, and I knew as long as I didn't talk about my sinful lifestyle peace would remain.
     However, multiple members of my extended family, particularly the younger generation, not only welcomed me warmly but WANTED to know more about my life, my fiance, when were getting married, the situation with my daughters, etc.
     What I realized is that for most of the younger members of my family, me being gay just is NOT a big deal. Furthermore, the younger members of the family felt they could relate to me because I wasn't going to judge them for decisions they have made in their own lives that have caused family controversy.
     I was allowed to visit, participate and be included more in the family activities of the weekend because of these young family members. It helped center me, relax me and I had a great time.
     The older generation was on their best behavior, including my parents who actually talked to me. However, I was reminded not all is well as I was literally saying my last goodbye. As I hugged my grandma goodbye, she gave me an article the entire family received and she wanted me to read it. Rather than just allowing me to leave respecting the older generation's opinion and they, mine, this article asserted how damaging and threatening gay marriage is to society. It was, quite frankly, a shitty send-off.
     Thanks to the younger supportive members of my family, I took the article in stride and put it to good use. It served as a great coaster for my beer I sipped upon my return, curled up next to the man I loved, hoping there are no more family funerals any time soon. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Four Years Ago: A Letter to the Christian University I Loved

Today, I sent this letter to my former colleagues at John Brown University. JBU is an evangelical, private Christian university that has a Lifestyle Contract for students, faculty, staff and administration forbidding homosexuality:

Four years ago I was one of the most sought after professors at JBU. Students loved my classes and felt challenged, and to this day many continue to seek me out to thank me for my influence.

Four years ago I was respected by most of my peers at JBU. In my 8 years on campus, I helped spearhead multiple initiatives, including a nationally ranked Speech and Debate Team, Film Library, formation of a new minor and major, as well as the Performing Arts Building. For those of you I did not have the privilege of knowing, all you have to do is enter "Jason Hough" and "John Brown University" in Google for pages and proof of the dedication I had to the campus.

Four years ago I was in my tenth year of marriage, having recently celebrated the second birthday of the youngest of my three daughters.

Four years ago, after years of counseling, reparative therapy and even temporary chemical castration with my former spouse's blessing, I finally accepted I was a gay man, divorced my wife and resigned my post at JBU.

Four years ago the majority of Americans did not support gay marriage. Four years ago Exodus International was still the largest international promoter of reparative therapy. Four years ago gay couples had no federal protection. 

Now we are at today. The majority of Americans support gay marriage, Exodus International has closed its doors and issued public apologies for its work, When I marry my partner and fiance next summer we will be recognized in our state and by our country.

I write this not to boast, not to try to persuade you away from your individual theology or to even think any better of me for a decision that hurt many of you as well as the students I loved so dearly. I write this to challenge you to work towards a JBU that leads the discussion in Christian higher education on the place of LGBT students in the church and theology. I write this to challenge you to work towards a JBU that acknowledges it has had gay administration, faculty and staff that not only made JBU a better place in the past, but that there are still gay administration, faculty and staff serving the institution currently in hiding for fear of losing their jobs and ministry.

I made many mistakes during the time I spent hiding my sexuality. I hurt people in the process. But those who knew me also know that in spite of the Jekyll and Hyde existence I lived, I made JBU a better place.

I am now on a tenure track at another institution in California. I am still doing what I love, but there will always be a hole where JBU was. In many ways, I ate, drank and slept JBU. The time for deciding where JBU will go in the future in its theology, standards and treatment of LGBT students, administration, faculty and staff is now, and it is in your hands.

JBU is never far from my thoughts and some of my best memories.

Jason Hough, former Assistant Professor of Communication at JBU

Monday, June 17, 2013

No more Samsonite: When Baggage Sticks Around

     It's been almost four years since I came out as a gay man. I have had my share of ups and downs. I have learned so much, not just about myself but other people as well.
     Just about the time I think I have taken care of any baggage left from my former life or my coming out process, something happens that reminds me that some baggage sticks around a lot longer than others.
     I have decided to label these issues as my Samsonite baggage. Growing up, I remember many ads of Samsonite luggage standing up to a beating from a gorilla, being ran over by a truck and dropped off a plane. Again and again, the Samsonite baggage remained intact.
     Just like that luggage, a couple of incidents recently have reminded me I still have (and probably will have) some long-term baggage that colors my interpersonal relationships and personal decision making. Even though I have tried to destroy all the baggage from my past, some of it is very durable.
     I have realized that coming out as late as I did I am "behind" in some areas of gay maturity compared to many of my peers. That would be my Samsonite carry-on. When it comes to really being confident and owning who I am as a gay man I am still often timid. That would be my Samsonite that gets stowed above the seat. Day-to-day living, from my partner to my close friends, and trying to think of the needs of others as I think of my own: I am severely lacking. For so many years, I put all of my own wants and needs aside to meet the expectations of others, I believe sometimes now I am flat out selfish and pig-headed with what I want. This is the big Samsonite bag I have to pay extra for.
     My grandparents had a Samsonite suitcase passed down to my mother and then passed down to me. That luggage lasted across three generations, countless miles and multiple destinations. I would still have that Samsonite if I had not gotten rid of it in a yard sale.
     I know the only way to get rid of some of my current baggage is to get rid of it. If I don't, it will stick around much longer than it should.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing: the Supreme Court Hype

     What a week! News media was abuzz with the Supreme Court cases concerning the California Prop 8 case and the Defense of Marriage Act. Pro-gay marriage friends and family changed their profile pic to the equality symbol; anti-gay marriage friends and family changed their profile pic to something, well, less equal.
     Both sides of this issue have been alternating between shouts of praise and groans of disappointment as the justices heard opening arguments. My gay friends have largely been in knots asking questions. Will they strike down Prop 8? Will D.O.M.A. be found unconstitutional? Will gays be allowed to marry?
     In all of the hoopla, I have tried to emphasize that regardless of what the Supreme Court decides now, gay marriage in the U.S. will be a reality. It is no longer a matter of "if," but a matter of "when."
     Public opinion on the issue continues growing, increasingly supportive of gay marriage. Straight men and women from all walks of life and backgrounds have realized family, friends, neighbors and co-workers are gay. Contrary to the misapplied lesson of Sodom from Scripture, our society has not imploded or crumbled as a result of gay men and women coming out of the shadows and into the light of our culture.
     As with so many other major social shifts in our country (women's right to vote and be educated, desegregation and interracial relationships, etc.) the issue of gay marriage has now reached a "critical mass" of approval from the majority of the American public. Whether it is in the next year or the next several, gay marriage will be allowed and many will be left scratching their heads in the future, wondering, "What was the big deal?"
     For those opposing same-sex marriage from a faith based perspective, this must be a scary time. They are now in the minority. As a result, some who still oppose are now asking tough questions of their leaders, their holy documents and faith in general.
     While I can't speak to all religions, I can comfortably speak from an evangelical Christian perspective. Regardless of your scriptural viewpoint of homosexuality, look to Christ's example. He didn't bludgeon the people into some sort of value-based submission. He didn't rant and rave because people were not living the way he wanted. Christ's example was not one of trying to manipulate culture and make everyone fall in line with "Christian" standards. His way was to model a life of love, living a life differently, and INVITING others to follow him; not forcing.
     Perhaps what I am most excited about is that this issue, so long held captive by evangelical leaders in this country as a tool of fear and propaganda, is slowly losing its sway on the people of this country. Watching the cases play out in the Supreme Court makes for high drama, but I realize the bigger story has already taken place in this country.
     Gay rights are no longer an academic pursuit. Gay rights are now being woven into the fabric of populist American society. Regardless of all the hype this week, the battle has already been won.
   

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Note to My Pastor: A Critique on a "Gay" Sermon

Out of love and respect for my dear friend, I have reduced this post to this:

Pastor, do your job. Not the job that is convenient, not the job you think people want to hear, not the job that will keep you in your church.

You've done it before, you'll do it again.

ALL my love,

Jason