This editorial appeared in my first book, "You Can't Say That." It was brought to mind by a caller to my radio show Thursday, October 21st, 2010. The audio is here . In the call, the mother says to me on air, "my gay son at 17 has come to me and said 'life isn't worth living any more if he has to be gay...' Karel, what do I say to him?"
I thought of this editorial, this letter. I thought of October 20th, 2010, a day set aside to remember those GLBT youth (and adults) that have killed themselves, succumbing to some unseen or unimaginable pressure or attitudes, on that day the Obama administration made an argument to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that the military needed time to integrate gays. What are we, animals? Aliens? What do you and Gates need to do, build breeding pens and security areas for the gays first? The greatest fighting force in the world can handle 19,000 or so open soldiers? That sends a bad message to the kids. And the adults. It hurts them, even if you mean well, and that has yet to be seen.
So as I think of things to tell mothers like the one who called or kids like this one who wrote below, this essay comes to mind.
I wouldn't change a thing. And that's reason enough to go on.
Below is a letter from the mailbag written by a 16-year-old listener living as a foreign exchange student in Germany at the time. I've left it just the way I received it:
Subject: Changing Homosexuality
Okay the subject of my email is a little interesting huh? Well I have been researching these "cure homosexuality" therapists. And what they are saying is VERY convincing (kind of like how we homosexuals try to convince THEM that we're totally NORMAL!) I'm comfortable to be who I am. Gay. But see I'm 16. And I have many friends who are straight. I'm so jealous. Why can't I have that "normal" heterosexual life?
I don't want to lose friends because of my sexuality. And you know what, you probably think that if I loose them, then they weren't really my friends. Well you know what... I love my friends. And do I really need my sexuality to potentially make my life difficult in so many aspects?
My friend in USA asked me yesterday that if I could have the choice to wake up tomorrow gay or straight what would I choose. I scared myself. I would really choose straight. I think that I really shocked myself. I had been looking at this therapy and wondering does it really work? CAN homosexuality really be CHANGED!?!?! Can one's orientation be reversed? I'm intrigued. I'm boarder line here. I really am. It's scary. Throw me a bone here...
I have heard a lot of horror stories about "treatments" but do you know of anyone this actually worked for? And you know... it's just. I don't know if I would or would not do it. It would make things a lot easier. Much of my depression and thinking revolves around homosexuality. I told myself for the past two years that it's normal! It's okay! I know it is. But... God I can't even put my thoughts into perspective... can you help, you're good at this kind of thing.
Signed: Your Listener in Germany
To My German Friend:
First, by all accounts from the psychological community, NO, homosexuality cannot be "changed." It is not a psychological disorder. Research into so-called "conversion" therapies is somewhat skewed, since it is not seen as legitimate, which means that no one is investigating it except those who are determined to prove that it works. Those doing the therapy say they have a great success rate. But I remember a case where a big proponent for this therapy ended up in a gay bar after appearing on the cover of Time magazine with his legal wife, both of them claiming to have been cured and happily heterosexual. But there he was, the poster boy for conversion therapy, an icon of the anti-gay Christian far right, in a gay bar. In other words, a queer is a queer is a queer.
As for the grass always being greener, you're 16. Trust me, at 40, if someone asked me straight or gay, I'd take gay, thank you very much. My partner Andrew was the best thing that EVER could have happened to me, and I wouldn't have wanted to miss him for the world. Also, I love not having the confines of society breathing down my neck as to what is a real "man." I love being able to be the "man" I want to be.
Yes, when Rosie O'Donnell was asked if she could choose straight or gay for her children, she said straight. That bothered me, because I think it sent a dangerous message, one you obviously received. But, in truth, who wouldn't make that choice for their children, given the climate in the U.S. and rest of the world? No one wants their children to struggle and suffer and be treated as second-class citizens. But it is that climate that must change, not gays and lesbians.
What you are is a gift, not a curse. Always remember that.
No, homosexuality isn't "normal" statistically, but abnormal doesn't mean "wrong." Redheads are not normal. Left-handed people are not normal. And you are not normal. Nothing is... billions of people mean billions of sexualities. But you are not wrong. You are just living through a tumultuous time, one you will get through. Trust your heart and listen with your head. Your head knows what is logical. You are not an error, you are not a mistake -- no more so than those redheads or left-handed people. You are, in fact, just the way nature intended. Enjoy your differences instead of wanting them changed. Stop worrying about being like "them" and just be like you. We need individuals in this world, not clones.
Always here if you want to talk.
Sixteen and wanting conversion therapy, what a shame! Yet it's a sentiment shared by many, young and old. Who among us hasn't thought for a moment that just for once they'd like to be accepted for who and what they are and if they can't be, then they want to be like the rest, in the majority? It's not just the whining of a impetuous 16-year-old, it's a thought many gays and lesbians, have young or old. Or Black kids, or Hispanic, Asian or anyone that's "different."
At the time of this writing the the climate in this country was no better -- as my gay leaders said it was getting better and held galas to pat themselves and those who cater to "us" on the back -- a story was in the news about the Supreme Court that blared in my head. It was 2002, and they have announced that they were going to hear a case on the constitutionality of sodomy laws. Can you imagine? Just eight years ago, in 2002, the highest court in the land had to rule on whether the state could regulate what went on in a private bedroom between consenting adults. What's worse is that in 2002 in some states sodomy was still defined as abnormal sex, including anal and oral sex. Nine states banned consensual sodomy for everyone: Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia. If that's not ridiculous enough, blatant homosexual discrimination on a state level was allowed in Texas, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma since they punished only homosexual sodomy. The Supreme Court ruled those sodomy laws unconstitutional, thank goodness. But the country moved right on to "protecting marriage" and violating the civil rights of members of the GLBT community in the military under DADT.
And still, I wouldn't change a thing about who I am. My letter to Germany holds true.
Gays and lesbians have something so many others don't: a fundamental understanding about what love really, truly is, how it has to be fought for, how difficult it can be, and what an elusive prize it remains. Our partnerships don't come easily; we fight for them, fighting with society and often with each other. And we have an innate ability to form families -- not traditional two-kids-and-the-dog type families, but extended families. Look around your queer holiday table -- the "island of misfit toys," as I once called it -- and you'll see how the great despair and oppression we sometimes feel carves out a cavern that we then fill with love and joy, the love and joy of those related by blood and of those related by love.
Yes, my life may have been easier if I had been straight. I wouldn't have had to answer ridiculous questions in my lawsuit over my partner's wrongful death if we could have been legally married. I wouldn't have to read in court papers, "whereas Mr. Bouley is not an immediate family member under the law..." or have had to prove that our domestic partnership agreement mattered (I did, it does, and that suit changed CA State law).
I wouldn't have to jump higher, run faster, and talk more carefully, always doing more than the other talk show hosts, always having to prove I belong on mainstream radio, that my views are, in fact, valid -- a struggle I face simply because I'm gay and to the powers that be in radio that means I have "listener hurdles" to cross. It's why talk host Stephanie Miller stayed in so long, or one of the reasons. Radio is hard enough, being gay in radio? Yet...when Andrew and I came on KFI AM 640 right after Dr. Laura, well, that was some kind of sweet. And who would change that?
But if I weren't gay I wouldn't have known the love of Andrew Howard, of Ken Pearson, of friends like Jason Young or Sean Devereaux, Emily Johnson or Karen Dittman. I wouldn't have known any of the life I hold dear because I wouldn't have been me. I wouldn't have the family I have, the niece Heather, the nephew Jake, the best friend Amspaugh.
I am gay, and no matter who may legislate against it, no matter how much I may question it, it has carved out my very soul, my essence. It has brought love and joy and marvelous friends with me now and many who have gone too soon. It has brought me face to face with devastating illness and shown me courage in so many that I never thought possible. It has shown me what life is really about. It has been a blessing, not a curse, an asset, not a flaw to be fixed.
There's so much in this world that needs to be repaired. Gays and lesbians are not on that list. We're as wonderful, as broken, as perfect, as crazy, as flawed and as caring as each of you.
And about that, I wouldn't change a thing.
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