June 26, 2018
Most likely, we’ve all heard something like this on some commentary show or in some news clip.
Protestor: “You want civility and decorum? Talk to them.”
Apologist: “It has to start somewhere. You can’t sink to their level.”
So a century of Jim Crow, centuries of violence being perpetrated upon you, and your peaceful protest becomes incivility and lack of decorum? Fear of a second holocaust, calls for civility and decorum? Years or in some cases, decades, or centuries, or millennia of laws trying to dehumanize us whether gay or black, Jewish, whatever minority you happen to be somewhere on the planet that doesn’t like you, that hates you, and you want us to behave? Demand that we behave? You separate children from their parents, and you want us to be calm? You perpetuate inhuman cruelty, and we have to conduct ourselves according to your arbitrary standards of civility? Are you mad? We can’t sink to your level? It’s another form of bullying. What they’re saying is, “Not only can I act upon you however I wish to act, I can dictate your response to my actions. Acting any other way than I have dictated is not acceptable.” Have you lost your minds? Silence only favors the bully. I haven’t called for violence. Others have. The man in the White House has. We’ve all seen the clips. But yes, I call for protest. Peaceful protests. Speaking out relentlessly and continuously. And public shaming.
Sure some in white America fear losing power when they are no longer a majority. Is what some in white America are really afraid of, that once in the minority, the rest of us will treat them the way they have been treating us? Can we reason with, talk to the irrationally afraid? How much good does that do when we try it? We’ve seen reporters trying to present facts to these mad people. We’ve sat across holiday tables and tried to reason with them. It doesn’t work. Yes, we should tread carefully among the irrationally afraid, but their fears cannot silence us or stop peaceful protests.
June 22, 2018
In light of the horror and tragedy along our southern border, one of the things that most frightens me are the crimes against humanity that ordinary people are committing. My questions are these: The border agents who take a child from a mother's hands, what are they thinking at that very moment? What kind of person must you be to take a child from a mother's arms? What plans and discussions did you have beforehand about the lies you were going to tell - as in 'we're just taking the child for a shower'? Did you discuss the lies with your supervisor? What did he or she say? On your way to work, did you think about what you were going to be doing? How did you feel as you were carrying the child away? As you heard parent and child crying, screaming, calling out? When you get home after doing such a horror, what do you say to your husband or wife? When they ask how was your day dear, what do you say? How can they sleep at night? I think what happened in the Mexican restaurant to HSS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is the least that should happen to anyone that engages in such activity. These are crimes against humanity. They are war crimes. Trial and imprisonment should be among their worries. Yes, yes, I know this isn't the first time in history such questions could be asked. Yes, I'm thinking about the Nazis. I'm thinking about two books. Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, and Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt. I was thirteen and saw and read the coverage of Eichmann's trial. I remember the horror and revulsion. That we've chronicled and philosophized about this kind of evil, in these books and many others, doesn't make the current horror any easier to stomach. What if I met one of these criminals on the street? Can anything really be said? Can anyone walk away fast enough? So far they are all walking free. Yes, I know the orange monster in the White House is ultimately responsible. Yes, I know many in the cheering throngs at his rallies would happily commit these crimes. There is a whole chain of evil here. We all know about the Nuremburg trials. And even about concentration camp guards in their nineties who should be and are put on trial to this day. I wonder will we get so far that these people committing crimes against humanity today will ever be brought to justice? I wish I knew. And not knowing that frightens me as well.
What Motivates me as a Writer
June 11, 2018
I just posted this to the Mystery Writers of America thread on what motivates authors.
I have three basic motivations for writing. First, in my mysteries, I'm busy getting even with people I don't like. In my books, if you are sexist, racist, homophobic, or a school administrator, you are quite likely the corpse. And if you aren't the corpse, I don't hold out much hope for things going well for you by the end of the book. And if you manage to keep breathing through all this and you are one of those things, you are quite likely the villain, and bad things have happened or will happen to you. (Think M. C. Beaton with her Hamish Macbeth books: Death of a Cad, Death of a Nag, Death of a Bore, etc.) When I started writing my mysteries, four decades ago, quite often I was getting even with people persecuting LGBTQ people. We had few outlets back then, and I was lucky enough to have a small one in which I could fight back. For an up-to-date example, I'm currently working on three projects at once. Quite rare for me, but what the heck. And I've got the villains. Oh, my yes. One book has an orange complexioned, real estate developer, another a lawyer who goes around teaching small business owners how to hide behind religion when they want to discriminate, and the last a professor who teaches a most mean economic theory far to the right of Freidman, Rand, and Hayek. So, tons of motivation right there. Alive and the villain? It's not going to pretty. My amateur sleuths, police detectives, and private investigator are up to their eye-teeth in all three. Second motivation, money. As Samuel Johnson said, "No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money." I'm lucky in so far as all seventeen of my yachts, all purchased with the proceeds from my royalty checks, still fit in the tub with me. Okay, maybe I make enough to keep me in chocolate each week. But one of them could be a best seller. It could happen. Third, it's an addiction. I get done with one project and I figure, great, I can take a break, a few days, a week or two, and then I find myself within hours, restless, and then, most often that same day if not the next, back at work. There's a lot of people to make suffer. Or as my dad put it many years ago about my addiction to writing, "It's better than drugs and alcohol."
Publicity and Pride
April 26, 2015
on being an author
Recently there's been some discussion about author self-promotion and whether or not it is worth it. Here's my perspective. I think there are several sides to self-promotion. Much of publishing, as far as I can see, is pure serendipitous chance. Finding a publisher who wants to buy your book? I know one friend who got his first book contract because he forgot his car keys. True story, too long for right here. As for finding an agent - after thirty-one books I still don't have one. As for getting people interested in buying the books. Let me start with friends and relatives - they all presume they should be getting free copies connected to their status as friends and relatives, or at least that was my experience with many of my friends and almost all relatives. And if I had the chance to do it all again, I would, in fact, give them all free copies - prevents a lot of pointless agonizing on both sides. Their connection to you is far more important than any profit that you'd make from selling them an actual book. The rest of the world? A bit of a story. When I was starting out, we were told any number of pearls of wisdom about getting our books sold. Some of them: Go to bookstores, we were told. Go to writers conferences! Set up book signings and tours! Make bookmarks pushing your books! Send out notifications to every library in your state! Except this was mostly kind of backwards. For example, people saw big time authors doing readings and signings and the crowds that would line up around the block. But see, the mistake made was presuming it was the signings and readings and appearances that made one famous. This might happen, I suppose, but most often people go to signings, readings, and appearances because the author is already famous. The causality was mixed up. And then if there is a magic spell to get a big time publisher to fork out big time money to get an author on big time network morning shows, I'm not aware of what that spell might be. My guess is, there is no such spell. We're back to pure serendipitous luck. Then there was the article not that long ago that made the claim that at least some editors in New York were laughing themselves silly about the poor mid-list authors rushing about the countryside trying to sell their books. True? I have no idea. My editors are and were always most kind, gracious, and encouraging. I've spent a great deal of tax-deductible money on taking out ads in the past few years. I keep track of sales at the author central section on amazon. You can keep track in any number of ways including by geography. I have yet to come remotely close to showing a profit from an increase in sales compared to what it cost to run the ads. In terms of all the Internet networking, I know some swear by it, and I've been to a couple seminars at conferences that push getting yourself onto the Net. But I'm afraid it's the same catch-22 as above. Those who are famous have huge followings already. Being on the Internet doesn't get you the following. If you're famous, then the following is there. All of the above said, what is an author to do? I think two things. The most important is three fold - shut up, sit down, and write. But at the same time, it really is important to do as much publicity as you can. You never know what bit of activity you might engage in that might lead you to your 'Susan Boyle' moment. That is that magic few seconds that turn you from not-famous to a star. But even more, there were a number of us who started out about the same time in the late 80s, early 90s. Those of us who madly rushed about and continue to rush about, are still being published. Those who did not rush about doing publicity are mostly not being published. Is there a direct cause and effect to all this that I can prove? No. I can only give anecdotal evidence. And so what I've done here, for example, is taken a chunk of time away from getting tonight's writing done to write this. Worth it? I know I feel better. And when I write my books, I know I feel enjoyment, pride, and great satisfaction. That has to be enough, I think, because all the rest, as far as I can see, is mostly pure serendipitous chance.
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The Indiana pro-discrimination law
March 27, 2015
From Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg dated March 26
Before I begin today’s column, I have to ask any menstruating women to stop reading.
No offense. But my faith believes you are unclean — it’s written somewhere, I’m sure; I’m not going to bother digging out chapter and verse. So if you would set your device down, and go sit in the Hut of Shame for a few days and wait for it to pass, well, then I would feel better. You are welcome to read this column later, after you perform certain ablutionary rituals I will not describe here.
There, now my religious scruples are honored, I can cluck over Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signing a law Thursday that allows Indianapolis photographers and Bloomington bakers, Evansville owners of Grange Halls and Fort Wayne barbershop quartets, to refuse to serve gay weddings because, well, God wants it that way, in their estimation.
As far as why this should be limited to gays — why anybody of any faith should not use any religion as a reason to refuse any kind of service to just about anybody — has not been sufficiently explained. We have to take it on faith, I suppose.
I could use this as an opportunity to sneer at Indiana. The state where, in the mid-1920s, half the members of the same General Assembly that passed this law, and its governor at the time, belonged to the Klu Klux Klan, along with 30 percent of the white Protestant men. I assume that’s no longer the case, but I haven’t hard evidence.
The truth is a dozen other states are in the process of passing similar laws. We have our own in Illinois, the 1998 “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” (I guess religious freedom needed restoring because it went away when all those hellbound sinners and false religions — and you know who you are — started strutting about, pretending they had equal rights to equal treatment).
“Government should not substantially burden the exercise of religion without compelling justification,” it reads.
Hmmm, “substantially burden.” That sounds familiar.
“A governmental entity may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability,” the new Indiana law reads, also echoing a federal law passed in 1993.
So civil rights must bow to religion. No need to provide flowers for gay weddings, and if there’s a reason Jewish weddings aren’t next, I can’t think of it.
“Religious liberty is fully protected under Indiana law.” Pence said in a statement. “The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion, but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.”
Of course they do.
Time was, they felt under attack just because there was a pope in Rome and Jews selling cheap suits across the tracks. There is a certain sort of religious folk who feel under attack by the mere existence of anybody who lives or thinks, loves or believes differently than they do — and they manifest that sense of being attacked however they can get away with it.
If they can force you to pray their prayer in school, fine. If they can yank your magazine off the stands or close your play down, fine. Right now hounding gays and restricting the rights of women is in vogue, so they do that. Because they can.
I guarantee you, if Omar’s Falafel Pit in Elnora said that the Holy Quran, blessed be it, demands that they refuse to serve babaganoosh to infidels, there would be a stir. If Morty’s Deli in Zionsville stopped serving corned beef to Catholics — and if you can refuse a wedding cake to gays based on your religious faith, what’s the difference? — there would be an outcry. Because just as prayer in school assumes it’ll be your prayer, so Indiana’s codification of religious bigotry only works until the untermenschen decide to get in on the fun. No wonder conservatives are terrified of the concept of Sharia law: they’re jealous.
For the moment, Adam and Steve have to be careful where they buy the rice to be tossed after their nuptials, because they might end up getting the bum’s rush.
Add another law we’ll look back on someday and cringe. But nothing Chicago should feel smug about. We’re a city that once had an “Ugly Law” which read:
“No person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated or in any way deformed so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object or improper person to be allowed in or on the public ways or other public places in this city, or shall therein or thereon expose himself to public view, under a penalty of not less than one dollar nor more than fifty dollars for each offense.”
Of course we repealed that law. In 1974.
I saw another one of those lists today. Those things with ten, twenty, thirty, fifty, a million places to see before you die. With people competing to see who had been to more of them. As if some how counting up and competition, about who had more toys than the rest of us really made much of a difference.
A number of years ago, someone asked me, of all the places you’ve been and all the places you’ve seen where would you want to be most.
My response was instant, “In my chair in my home with a book open and reading.”
I know, kind of Wizard of Oz-ish.
I have seen some beautiful sights. The stars of the Milky Way at night over the desert years before pollution began to obscure the cosmos over the desert. Sitting on the shore of Lake Superior one night with the moon and stars shining directly above and reflecting off the lapping lake water, while on three sides thunderstorms, climbing to the heavens, roared in the distance, the lighting reflecting and illuming the night sky of a wondrous world. Interstate 70 on the last pass over the last set of mountains before it intersects with Interstate 15 in the valley below, a moonscape of mountain and shadow, jagged peaks and stone, and distant, sun-drenched valley in the distance to the east.
And yet we have lists. And it’s kind of harmless fun. And I do enjoy seeing new places and having new experiences. But somehow this notion of counting up and competition seems strange to me.
Perhaps I’ve known for a long time that I’m not going to die with more toys than any billionaire, or millionaire, or, for that matter any kind of ‘moneyaire’ of any kind.
That notion, I’ve seen this and this and this and so what have you seen? I’ll see your Eiffel Tower and raise you several pyramids? Really, this is what it comes to?
Like I said, it’s harmless.
And kind of a pointless competition. Do we compare a butterflies wings to the Eiffel Tower? Of course, not. A child sleeping peacefully in his father's arms to, well, really, is there a sight that we could or should compare to that? Each has beauty in it’s own way. And can be appreciated each to each. But do we make a list then of butterflies seen, of sights visited, of compassion shone. It’s best we don’t, I think. But really, it is harmless.
It’s the lists that bother me. The competition, implied or direct. The setting of a standard, one to another, with always the implication that this life is better than that one. Really, and we are to judge and make lists and say go here go there? You do this and you do that? To bid and command, implied or direct? I think not.
But really who is harmed by these lists?
What I’d be interested in knowing is, how kind were you at every possibility that came to you today? How much did you listen today? What did you do today to make the world a more kind and gentle place?
And no, I don’t want you to count them up. I don’t want you to justify yourself to me. Not that you had to in the first place.
But this whole counting up notion - of places visited, of movies seen, of books read, of degrees earned. And we count all this stuff up and that equals a good life?
As I’ve said, I know, it’s all pretty innocent fun. But it strikes me as just a bit of bullying in a sad way. I’ve been to these places, and you haven’t? I’ve been to more of these places then my life is worth more than yours? I’m rich and you’re not?
Congratulations. I hope that makes you feel better, and even more leads to you leaving those of us who are not as rich, alone. Then, indeed, there is less harm.
You know, I was there. Sitting in the back row next to the windows.
If I sat in the back near the windows, then at recess, when I stayed in for whatever excuse I could dream up, I could watch you and the guys, you and your friends play sports. I could watch you be strong and athletic and what passed for masculine to my grade school eyes.
I wouldn’t have called it masculine. I didn’t know the word. All I know is I liked watching and I wanted to be part of what you were doing. I didn’t have the skills. And when I was out in the playground, and you were picking sides for teams, and you were always one of the captains who was doing the choosing, I knew I was no good, and I prayed I wouldn’t be the very last picked, but even more I prayed that you would notice me and pick me for your team. Because, well, then you would have noticed me. For a few seconds of delirious fantasy, I could picture us being friends.
And there weren’t any commandments that I could see that applied to what I was feeling. Where the instinct came to be guarded came from, I have no idea. There were no list or rules. No list of ten notions, or ideas, or concepts, or commandments that said don’t do this.
I could picture being the one sitting across from you at lunch.
But I didn’t have any friends, and certainly wasn’t going to confide in anyone. I had no one who would rush to you and whisper that I wanted to sit with you or next to you or across from you. And no one who would come up to you or me and tell us in our inept, grade-school way that we wanted to date. Because little gay grade school boys wanted the same thing as little straight grade school boys. Except we wanted all the emotional, oblivious, icky, touching, not-touching, don’t think about it, it just happens, and we’re not really paying attention, but we were sort of dating… but with another boy.
So during class I watched you from my seat in the back near the windows. I tried desperately to make sure you didn’t notice me noticing, and that no one else noticed me noticing. I knew even then, that as I watched you and the other boys, you were all different than me. You snickered under your breaths, and poked each other knowingly, and giggled in silly ways, and noticed the girls. And it was a world far away from me.
But I wanted to do those things with you. No, I was never going to tell you. Or try to make a fool of myself. I was terrified especially of you noticing and you making fun of me.
I’d go to your sports games, but I’d be way in the back, or out of the way so no one would notice. I’d see you in your gym shorts, and t-shirts, or uniforms. I had no notion of naked or doing sexual stuff. I didn’t know what sexual stuff was, but I’d wonder what it was like wearing those uniforms or maybe someday I could watch you change into your uniform, if you’d let me.
And I’d watch you and your friends be happy with your wins and be able to touch each other and bump each other and horse around with each other. And I wondered if I’d ever touch you like that.
And once you noticed me at one of your games. And you said something kind to me. And I was in heaven. But I knew I couldn’t say anything back. So I just mumbled.
What about maybe finding other guys like me? Maybe I’d be able to touch them. I didn’t know any other guys like me. I wanted masculine guys, not wimpy guys like me. Again, I didn’t know the word masculine. When I watched baseball and football on television, I wanted to be like those strong tough guys. I wanted them to be my friend.
I didn’t know what it would take, in grade school, for you to notice me. I’d never sit across from you. I knew that. Sort of. But I still wanted to. I figured maybe, like in the old television commercial, for a soft drink, when, wasn’t it some tough football player, was nice to that kid who gave him a soda pop. That’s what I wanted from you. I didn’t know what I could do that was a favor to you. Even more I didn’t know what I could do as a favor to you that wouldn’t be interpreted correctly as inappropriate interest. Or at least inappropriate to our grade school minds. What gesture could I make?
I walked with one of your friends one time, just the two of us, across the parking lot to do a favor for a teacher. It wasn’t you, but I was thrilled to be alone and walking with one of the popular boys, with one of the ones who didn’t get picked on. And that time when it was just me and the other boy, he didn’t pick on me. And for a brief moment, a stunningly brief moment, I was a normal boy.
Because I definitely wanted to be a normal boy. Forget the definitions we have and understandings we have of abusing and misusing the term normal as adults. This was then and I was in the back of the room, desperate to be normal. And what you were doing with that little girl was normal. I wanted to be normal like that. To have that interest in someone and have another boy be interested in me like that.
But some instinct told me to keep my mouth shut. To keep myself guarded. And I must not have succeeded that much, because kids called me ‘sissy’ and ‘girl’ and other stuff. But you never did. You were never mean. I wanted to be like that. I wanted to be in love with someone like you.
I suppose if this were now days, it might be different. Maybe I could say something to you. But you’d still be straight. And I’d still be gay. And we’d never sit across from each other at lunch and feel that inarticulate grade school yearning for each other.
I almost vacuumed this weekend. I used to do it once a year whether the apartment needed it or not. I was fairly faithful about the once-a-year-chore back when it used to be my turn to host the poker games with the guys from work. But the poker games long since faded. One guy retired from teaching and moved far away. Two died young years ago, in their fifties, one from cancer, one from complications from diabetes, both good friends. The guys did tease on occasion that I didn't have dust bunnies, but dust elephants. Then again, I haven't dusted since 1966 when I went away to college. I've lived in this place since 1976 and still haven't dusted. I think it was Quentin Crisp, an old drag queen who died in England not that long ago who said, if you don't dust, after three years, it doesn't get any deeper. This is, in fact, true.
Why vacuum? These years, I tend to do it in times of stress. It all started last Friday morning. Because of a confluence of luck and hard work over many, many years, a number of writing projects are coming to fruition at the same time.
Why is this stressful? I've found that finishing each book, that responding to edits on each book causes me to lose all confidence in myself and my writing. And then I get angry at myself for letting myself be stressed at such moments which should actually be cause for great celebration. And angry at myself for losing confidence. Why bother with being angry? It's a cycle of stress escalation that I find myself doing and I find myself not breaking.
So what actually happened?
On Friday morning I was finishing the edits on my young adult novel, Safe. These were edits done with the editor from MLR press. An email came from the executive editor of MLR with the galley proofs for Alien Quest, which is volume one of my great gay sci fi epic which I've been working on for at least twenty-three years. It is a great joy and a great stress to be at this point with this book. I've worked on it for years, although the vast majority of it was written over twenty years ago. Most of the rest of the time was spent revising it, tinkering with it, and finding someone who wanted to publish it. Now, with the arrival of the galleys, once again, I was starkly reminded that something of mine, I've worked on, hoped about, talked about for years is very close to becoming a published, public reality. And this is my last chance to fix anything before the world sees it and judges it and me, for what it is, for what I've produced. Judged for imagination, for style, for creativity, and I want to fix this and that and the other thing and it's really okay, and I need to let it go.
So I thought about vacuuming.
But I got to work on the galleys and let the editing of the young adult book go.
But the galleys really were pretty okay except for the word earthling/Earthling. Eight of its uses were capitalized. Eight were not. I didn't catch it until this late stage. I find that depressing. I should notice these things. And those fucking adverbs, who put all those fucking adverbs in there, I know better, but there they were and it was mostly too late now. The adverbs live! Drat them.
So I worked all morning and into the afternoon, but I had a previous commitment on Friday late afternoon and evening which took hours when I was supposed to be doing close reading of the galleys, which the galley proof editor wanted back on Monday, today, Aug. 26th. But I got home Friday, and it was late, and I was tired so I went to bed, putting off continuing the close reading until Saturday.
Going over galleys always takes time for me. Plus we have to then use a form, not correct on manuscript, because what I'm actually reading from is the book itself, all formatted and set to go, so the corrections go on a form with columns for page number, paragraph number, line in paragraph, the words as they are, the words they are to be changed to, and a space to comment on the change.
By Saturday night, early Sunday morning two things were reasonably clear. I was well over half done and the knowledge that I'd done this twenty-five times before with actual real published books kept knocking at the back of my head with the message that things would be okay. I would be finished, the book would be done, what could possibly go wrong, and no vacuuming would be required.
So around seven Sunday evening. I finished reading the galleys for Alien Quest. I cried as I finished reading the last thirty pages as I always do, as I did as I was writing them for the very first time so many years ago, as I have every time I've reread it. The ending is so fabulous and moving and wonderful. Not that I'm prejudiced, or because I wrote it.
So it was probably around seven-fifteen Sunday when I was done double checking the form and the ms to make sure I'd done everything correctly. And was thinking I could take a night off and get back to the young adult book the next day, Monday.
Then I clicked on my email and there from my editor were the copy editors latest edits for Pawn of Satan, my new mystery, which my editor had sent, according to the time stamp on the email, at 6:45, just a half hour before. The new mystery should be out this fall as well.
But fortunately, my relief at getting done with Alien Quest was great. The joy that the project is in the final stages of being almost ready to be published, pushed aside all other thoughts. Most importantly, pushed aside the feeling of the need to relieve stress by vacuuming.
So I'll start on the Pawn of Satan copy edit stuff. And then soon after start a 'final' read through of Safe. Final is in quotes here because I dread doing a ‘final’ read through of manuscripts. There are innumerable times I’ve started on a ‘final’ read through of a ms and discovered some horrible mistake that requires mounds and mounds of revisions before I can try once again to do a final-final read through.
Safe has been in the works for eighteen or nineteen years. Another case of mostly being written a long time ago with major revisions along the way and finally finding a publisher willing to publish it.
I'm tired. And yes, I know, many an unpublished author would be green with envy at my good fortune. And, indeed I am immensely grateful. It’s has been many years and taken a lot of hard work, and now mixed with a bit of luck, these are being published.
And yes, I know I wasn't toting barges and lifting bales. I was sitting at a computer. And I could have turned the air conditioning on. But I prefer to work for as long as I can with windows open and fans blowing, and the curtains open so the sun shines in as much as possible, so it reflects off the brilliantly hued, multi-colored steel roses in many nooks and crannies around the apartment.
And I'd rather be writing this than working on more edits.
I shall continue to resist vacuuming. They'll never make me dust!
In interviews with reporters and on panels at mystery conventions, I am occasionally asked if I experienced any discrimination connected with my being an openly gay teacher while having twenty-three gay themed mysteries published. Mostly things were good. Only a couple letters to the superintendent who was very supportive, and lots of positive feedback from my colleagues.
There was one essay from a kid, an eighth grader, who wrote in part the following: “I know he’s gay because I know what his books are about. They’re about gay people. I think my dad is right about what should happen to gay people, a bullet hole in the head.” This student was in my class for a full year. I didn’t read the essay with this comment in it until after the school year was over. I found this more sad than anything else.
So, except for these few blips, I always presumed the overall reaction to my being an openly gay teacher and gay author was reasonably benign.
Then the following occurred in the past few weeks.
I walk to the convenience store down the street every day to get my newspapers and so I can claim I’m getting exercise every day. Yes, even in winter, I just bundle up and then bundle up some more and hope I don’t slip on the ice. Tripped and fell once this year as I got distracted by a beautiful dog who was being taken into the animal grooming place two doors down from the convenience store. Just a klutz, no medical issues.
Once in a blue moon I run into former students. At least they introduce themselves as such, since some of them are now in their twenties, thirties, forties or even early fifties.
Two weeks ago on a Saturday a woman in her thirties who was chatting with one of the clerks at the store turned to me and asked the usual, “Aren’t you?” and I said the usual, “I’m sorry I don’t remember your name. Please tell me.”
I wouldn’t have recognized her in a thousand years. She told me her name, and she has a husband, kids and lives in town. So, we chatted less than five minutes, and I walked back home.
That next day, Sunday, she’s there again. She introduces me to the clerks at the store adding that she always liked me as a teacher and said I was always good to her and her friends. That was good. But the conversation quickly lagged, like one of those moments when you kind of don’t want to be talking to this person, or at least can’t think of anything to say, and are starting to feel uncomfortable. I finished the conversation and walked home.
The next Saturday, she was there again. She’d been chatting with the clerk again, but as I turned to go, she followed me out of the store. The weather was nice that day as it has been.
Over the few days brief conversations we’d talked about other students who were in the same year with her. I usually remember the kids from a particular year, if at all, as most teachers do, by the most rotten kids in the class. Since she was in her thirties the people and events we were talking about happened years and years ago.
The most rotten kid that year was Biff.
The woman, Patricia something, I’ve forgotten her name last name, and since she was married her last name wasn’t the same as when she was a kid, said that her husband had gone to a school in the next district over from mine. Her husband had been best friends with Biff and his cronies.
Then she apologized to me. She told me Biff, but not with her husband, maybe I believed that, came to the parking lot of the apartment house where I lived and flipped my car. She said she was so sorry for that, and she always liked me as a teacher.
I told her that no one had ever flipped my car, if she meant as in turned it over on its roof.
She said she’d always wondered if what they’d bragged about had been true. She then listed the other things they’d done.
These were all too true.
One time, my car had been picked up and moved about three feet from the perpendicular. I drove a high mileage, small compact car so it was possible. Two other times the windshield smashed. Nails in tires. A broken window in the apartment. Sand in the gas tank – I got a locking gas cap in all subsequent cars. The list went on.
At the time, I’d called the police for a few of the incidents, but there was nothing to be done. I had no clue as to the identity of the perpetrators.
It didn’t all happen at once, in fact over about a four year span.
Stupid me. All the little things I dismissed or didn't pay attention to. I asked once at the place where I went to get replacement tires, wasn’t it odd that I was getting nails in my tires so often. Couldn’t someone be sabotaging them? The clerk at the time said no, they must be nails from construction sites. Much as I might fantasize about studly construction workers, I’d never so much as gotten close to a construction site, certainly never driven through one.
The woman at the store reiterated that they used to brag about what they’d done.
This all happened after the books had come out.
Teenage homophobia. A form of intimidation and bullying.
I never put it all together. The incidents all happened too far apart for me to connect them.
I think on some of those interviews and panels I may have said something like, oh I was pretty lucky, there wasn’t much of a problem with homophobia, only a few letters from parents, and then I’d tell the story about the letter. Turns out there was constant homophobia of a violent and dangerous kind, and I missed it.
The woman at the store apologized several more times, repeated that her husband wasn’t involved, named the names of kids I’d long forgotten who’d helped Biff.
So, yes, the bullying of a teacher. And I was too naďve or stupid or arrogant to see it. What a fool.
She was so was so nice and so apologetic.
At least now I know more of the reality. An introduction might be in order - real world, this is Mark. Mark, this is the real world. Try to get along.
I ask myself how I couldn’t have put it together. The basic fact is, I didn’t.
I should have been frightened then. It kind of scares me now. I also find it disheartening and depressing.
All of this also makes me angry. I’m a mystery writer after all, and I’m always looking for a few more corpses for my plots. I think I’ve got plenty, probably enough for several books.
I've finally been part of an author event that got protested by the right wing. I’ve had twenty-three books published, five short stories, been to numerous conventions, talked on panels, attended author events in books stores, done a million things for publicity, but it wasn’t until Saturday, June 16, that protesters finally showed up.
Took them long enough.
I was at the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books at the University of Wisconsin – Waukesha. It is a wonderful campus. All the people I met connected with the event were kind, friendly, and helpful. They were a stunningly well-organized group who ran a wonderful event; an excellent example, for intervals between panels that had entertainment such as a bell choir and a brass ensemble. Just an event filled with pleasant amenities and people.
The theme of the festival was Freedom to Read. Every hour and a half from Friday afternoon until Saturday evening there were numerous literary panels to choose from such as: Writing in Wisconsin: A Wisconsin Writers Association Panel; Finding Your voice; Make Room for Romance; Wisconsin Women of Mystery; Defining (And Loving) Literary Fiction, and many many more. It was a literate person’s buffet of delights.
I was part of two panels. One in the morning, Macho Men of Mystery, had all male panelists with a woman moderator. I think I need more butch lessons to really fit in on that one. The panel consisted of pleasant, intelligent, well-read people, guided by a great moderator into discussing what the real definition of being a macho character in a mystery novel means.
The other panel, in the afternoon, was titled, Outfront: A LBGT Author Panel. The authors were Anne Laughlin, Elizabeth Ridley, C.P. Rowlands, myself, and our moderator Timothy Thering.
We discussed the intricacies of being a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender writer, the prejudiced we dealt with in terms of being published and getting published. The comments were trenchant, well-thought out, and relevant to the issues at hand.
Then about fifty-five minutes into the panel, someone came into the room and told us there was a group outside protesting against us. I'd never been protested. So right after we were done, I hurried out to see the protesters.
I guess protests aren't what they used to be. There were nine protesters seven of whom seemed to be adults.
The protesters had signs about us that read, “Homosexuality is Sin,” “Be Sure Your Sin Will Find You Out,” “Flee Sexual Immorality,” plus one saying something about us being the epitome of sin.
I’ve been working on that epitome of sin thing, trying my best to get it right. Frankly, being the epitome of sin sounds like kind of a lot of fun. As for fleeing sexual immorality, hell, I’d just like to get someone to go home with me from a bar sometime this century. It’s the other guys who keep fleeing.
The protestors stood on a sidewalk across a parking lot from the building we were in. A few cars rode past on the road behind them. The sun shone down.
One of them had a bullhorn being used to call out I’m not sure what. As with most bullhorns used in the outdoors at rallies and events, I’ve found that if you’re more than about ten feet away, whatever is being said sounds like gibberish. Presumably whatever they were saying was in fact gibberish, but the acoustics of outdoor planet Earth were working against them. I caught not a word.
So a few of us stood and looked at them standing in their feeble line. It was pathetic. We talked about how sad they were. We laughed a little bit too. I guess because of the absurdity of what they were doing. Really? Threatened by a gay and lesbian literary panel? But to some, it is, alas, so.
Then somebody took a picture of them. Then we went back inside. Later I couldn’t find anybody who knew when they left because nobody stayed to watch them.
The problem, however, was this. There were no television cameras, no sound trucks, no reporters so no live reports from remote locations, no helicopters circling overhead, no real cops, no campus cops, no fake cops for that matter. Really a genuine mess. Can't these protesters do anything right?
Worse, I’ve never been able to get anyone to denounce my books and their gay characters and gay themes. Better yet, have someone go on national television and call for them to be banned. Sales would soar. No such luck.
But by golly, I've finally done an event that got protested. A good reporter would have rushed across to interview them, gotten their names, the name of their organization, and then represent their views in an article in some kind of fair and balanced way. I didn’t want to get that near them. I was not about to underestimate the vitriol of the rightwing based on the patheticness of this protest. We have seen illogic used against us. We have seen our politeness and attempts to understand used as weapons against us. They would get no forum from me.
I did and do wonder, what did these people expect to gain? What point was there in their being at that spot on this planet at that moment? Did they feel better about themselves? I guess so. Did they feel they’d made their statement? I presume so. Did they make the world a better place? I don’t think so. Did they contribute to making the world a kinder and gentler place where each of us does the best he or she can in a universe that is ultimately indifferent to our existence? Not so much.
And they passed up a chance to make me rich. Sigh.
This whole Chick-Fil-A kerfuffle? It’s not about the First Amendment or fast food chicken. Nope. Sorry. Not a bit.
Recent rants by the former governors of Minnesota and Alaska, Mr. Pawlenty and Ms. Palin, about what elected officials may or may not do about the fast food chain setting up business in their towns, are simply a clarion call to the homophobes, telling them that they have a home in the Republican party.
Why the homophobes need to be reminded of this is a bit of a mystery. Maybe they have short attention spans. Then again this inability seems to come naturally to the reality-challenged.
And did the reporters in the news stories I read ask the correct question? No, they did not. The correct question needs to be formulated something like this, “So by your patronizing this restaurant, you are saying you support homophobia. Why do you support homophobia?”
Which party supports a ban on gay marriage? Which party is home to those who hate us? The homophobes all know the answer to that, the Republicans.
Some of us are old enough to remember Lester Maddox in Atlanta and his Pickrick Restaurant. As with so many, he attempted to cover his racism by claiming constitutional property rights, being pro states rights, and being against giving special protection to minority groups. Sound familiar? The only thing that’s changed is Maddox was a Democrat. The days of a non-racist holding office in the South is long past.
It is very true that not all Republicans are homophobes, or bigots, or racists. It is also very true that if you are a homophobe, a bigot, or a racist, you are almost certainly a Republican.
As with both the coded racist attacks and the blatant racist attacks on President Obama, so too are these Republicans making it clear to their minions that homophobia is okay with them and the Republican party is a safe place for them to be.
If you are not a homophobe, a bigot, or a racist and you are in the Republican party, you have sold your soul and made an unholy and shameful alliance in a desperate bid for power.
And the presumed candidate for president of the Republican party? His calling the violence perpetrated on a classmate in the 1960’s a ‘prank’ is more than troubling. The lack of apology on his part is profoundly disturbing. His inability to recall the incident is alarmingly horrific.
Not recall it? Well, we all recall, I recall, what it was like on the receiving end. No, not of violence back then. I was lucky to not be physically assaulted, not as a child. But the daily verbal bashings and tongue lashings, every vile epithet, oh my, yes, they come back all too often in the sting of pain of old memories unbidden come alive.
No, the message is clear from all their leaders. Those who hate have a home, and its name is the Republican party.
And if they win this November, when I am in the back of the bus, I will point to them and I will point to you, gay Republicans, who will be sitting next to me, that, yes, it is your fault, you willfully ignorant dupes.
Will pointing at those who are to blame then do much good? No. Will pointing out now, while we face very real enemies and that some of our own are making alliance with them, make a difference?
At the very least it may rally the rest of us to rush to vote this November.
With luck, on that day, enough of those others will cower in shame and not appear in public.
I really, really, really would like to feel sorry for gay Republicans. Pat them on the head. Speak in low, soft, calm tones so as not to upset them. Buy them a cool diet beverage under spreading shade trees out of the summer sun.
And you see them occasionally at street fairs at their booth. Either one of two things is happening. They sit there lone and forlorn. Or some Democrat, liberal, left wing person is berating them and trying to get them to see the error of their ways.
It’s almost sad.
But not quite. Were it not for the fact that they are a danger to the rest of us, I would perhaps pity them. Not that they want my pity. And it doesn’t seem that they care what the rest of us think, much less do they seem concerned with facts, logic, sense, and reality.
About President Obama: after he was in office a few days one Republican acquaintance of mine demanded to know why the President hadn’t fulfilled his campaign promises to us. I’m not making this up. Just a few days into his administration and this was this gay Republican’s demand. No matter that W was a menace to us all. Old “get ‘em to the back of the bus” George was no friend to the gay community.
And somehow behind all this is the notion that somehow when we elect a president, we actually elect a dictator, who can just wave a wand and everything changes. Mention this or the other branches of government, and they ignore the comment or change the subject, two of the most often used counter-arguments of the right wing.
Or when President Obama, with Congress, actually accomplishes something, their comment is, “Well, it wasn’t done fast enough.” Have these people no sense of history? From Dred Scott in 1858 up to Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954, African Americans actually lost the vast majority of the cases they took to court. Further, W and the vast, vast majority of the other Republicans worked against us. W accomplished nothing. But that doesn’t seem to turn them against the Republicans.
The argument is often made, we’re working within the party to change them.
But that argument works both ways. What policies is it of the Democrats you don’t like? Fine. Then why don’t you work within the Democratic party to change them? Why work with the Republicans who want to put you in the back of the bus, take away your dignity, and relegate you to second class citizenship?
And don’t even start on that nonsense about lower taxes and lower deficits. It is true from all statistics that in the past administrations it was under the Republicans that the deficits exploded, unfunded wars were waged. And that taxes are lower now under President Obama than they have been in decades.
In response, they tell the lie that the Affordable Care Act is going to raise their taxes. No, it’s not. Except on a small group, which I’ll get to in a minute.
But don’t dare ever put reality in front of gay Republicans. They bring out the tried and true counter-arguments of the right, ignore reality or change the subject.
And the gay Republicans insist they want the government out of their lives. Yet it is those very Republicans who most want to intrude in their lives.
And the gay Republicans talk about smaller government. The few I know or knew who refused to purchase health insurance or didn’t have jobs that offered it as a benefit, ah my, what blatant hypocrites. They pooh-poohed and sneered endlessly about evil health insurance, evil big government. Oh, yeah?
Two things, one, when they got sick, they went to the emergency room. One man with no health insurance I know, who had a bachelor’s degree, and a master’s degree, from prestigious institutions informed me that his treatment was free.
As we in the reality based community know, someone was paying for it, and the person paying for it was we who had health insurance. Why did they think there were outrageous costs in hospitals? Because the rest of us were paying for him. But he did what they all do when faced with this information, changed the subject or ignored the question.
Except when he got old enough for Medicare. That’s the second thing. I can’t count the number of right wing people who’ve railed against evil government intrusion, but put off operations and medical treatment until they were old enough for Medicare. Then they rushed to the government sponsored health system.
In this situation we liberals are stuck by our own kindness, beliefs, and morals. Do we say to these right wing, gay Republican, freeloaders when they get to the hospital door, “You’ve screwed the rest of us for years, turn around and die?”
No, we don’t. We are cursed with caring and consciences. And they know it, and they use it against us.
So their arguments are nonsensical. And if you argue with them, they just get louder and more emotional. As if volume and intensity were the arguments themselves, rather than the signs of emotional inabilities on their part and the lack of logic or sense in their rants.
When their logic falters, they’ve been taught by right wing radio and television to just get louder and more emotional, to ignore the question at hand, to change the subject.
Well, this liberal is fed up. I don’t pity these morally bankrupt, willfully stupid, blind fools. As the gay Republicans rush off to attempt to relegate us to the back of the bus with their allies who preach perdition and hell, I’m going to do all I can to help reelect someone who is on our side.