The hot topic on everyone's lips these days is teenage bullying. Having been subjected to it myself during my youth, I feel compelled to do everything in my ability to end the cycle of despair that it causes. This includes battling another, very prevalent form of bullying to which I have recently been exposed, known as parental alienation. My partner of two years, Martin Berusch, has two wonderful children whom he loves with more fervor than I have ever witnessed. In the case of parental alienation that Martin is enduring, Christian dogma is being used as a tool to prevent him from seeing his own children.
Several years ago, Martin wanted to have a family, and so the saga begins. He met a woman, who, despite having full knowledge of Martin's sexual orientation, was willing to marry him and have children. This was Martin's attempt to have a nuclear family. After two children and eight years of marriage, the relationship ended, for the obvious reasons -- blurred boundaries and unfulfilled needs prevailed.
Undoubtedly, far less complicated attempts at maintaining a solid relationship have failed in much less time. In this instance, no one is to blame. However, it is very sad that mounting ill feelings toward Martin intensified over time, which would result in a hostile court battle that would last for years. Finally, after succumbing to the financial and emotional toll of the legal process, Martin acquiesced to an agreement that would leave him with limited rights with regard to his children. This is when his relationship with his kids began to erode.
Martin overlooked so many breeches of the divorce agreement in order to not rock the boat, but when my relationship with him began to deepen, we suddenly found ourselves slowly watching the demeanor of the children change toward us. They would say the oddest things, which were very out of character and often hurtful. Before long, the children began resisting visits altogether if I was around, culminating in a crescendo of confusion that ended Martin's visitation rights with his kids. So began a 14-month-long legal battle to prevent the mother from keeping Martin's children from him, an issue that continues to this day.
The pervasiveness of unabated anti-gay rhetoric and mounting polarization that we are experiencing in our society today is just fueling me to want to expose what people otherwise dismiss as unfortunate behavior. I'm here to tell you that it's not acceptable to tolerate any form of bullying, because people kill themselves over this kind of stuff. As in my partner's case, people's entire lives become derailed as they find themselves mired in the complex bureaucracy of the justice system. There's no telling what can happen to them as they suffer through this kind of treatment.
In desperation, many unfortunate people who do not have a voice or the resources -- human, emotional or financial -- some with the educational background and emotional fortitude like Martin, will go to any lengths to fight for their rights, all the while subjecting themselves to the humiliation and intransigence of alternate forms of belittlement. In Martin's case, he happened to go to the priest of the church that his children attend to appeal to his humanity and ask for his help and guidance in finding a resolution to the estrangement between his children and him.
What came out of this priest's mouth was nothing short of horrific, albeit not altogether shocking. And so, I stifle a chuckle, as I know that my partner can "hold his own." But nevertheless, I find it disturbing that many impressionable minds are being fed such ignorant generalizations by someone who claims to be a purveyor of tolerance and acceptance. Here is Martin's account in his own words...
Needless to say, I had to muster every ounce of will as I bit my tongue, not to mention draw from the deepest recesses of my gentlest self to not "learn" the priest, who was, most assuredly yet again, pointing out the Catholic Church's position on homosexuality. After all, it was I who had gone to the parish to speak to the Reverend on a somewhat unrelated matter...
As it turns out, I have known this priest for many years, as he was the pastor of the church I attended with my ex-wife. Yes, I am gay, and yes, I did marry a woman and did have children. A lot of gay men and women do this sort of thing. The problem is that not unlike hundreds, if not thousands, of others just like me, I have been alienated from my children -- but that's a whole other story. I digress.
In my dialogue with the priest, I had told him of my plight and how my former spouse was using the doctrine of the Church as a weapon, to drive a wedge between my children and me. All this stems from her homophobic beliefs, exacerbated by my sexual orientation. This otherwise charming and scholarly man managed to navigate through the conversation in a way that, at first blush, would have been construed as having been sensitive to my position. Nevertheless, and unsurprisingly so, he did speak about how the Catholic teachings view homosexuality as being a psychiatric condition. And thus began the slippery slope into the Middle Ages. Midway through our conversation, I was wondering if I might make it out alive or whether I would succumb to the fate of my Spanish forefathers, who in the 1500s were tortured in the most creative of ways. Remember the Inquisition...
Given that I was not there to point/counterpoint this argument, but rather sought to find a creative way of my own to finally reestablish my relationship with my children, I sat politely in the stifling room, hoping to appeal to the Father's humanity and get advice on how to mend fences with my former wife -- all the while swatting away a particularly annoying fly.
By the time the priest had taken a breath and paused momentarily, which happened to be halfway through our conversation, I had volunteered that despite his opinion (which I told him I respected), after many years of unresolved feelings and self doubt, I was finally happy. I was living my truth. I had found a man that I love deeply and dearly and that my feelings were reciprocated. I further went on to tell him that despite all the pain and suffering over not having seen my children for over a year now, I was never more empowered in my entire life. I counted on the love, respect, trust and honor of my partner and the full support of my friends, gay and straight alike. I have had high hopes that this goodwill would eventually spread and spill over into my relationship with my children.
This comment seemed to have touched a nerve, because immediately, the priest became ever so slightly more impassioned, describing how people in my age group and of similar mindsets are entrenched in their way of thinking. He segued quite abruptly into some negative stereotypes, which might have been said in order to unhinge me. I sat there quietly and intently, listening to his every word, studying his body language and intonations. It was priceless.
He spat out his disdain for that horrific Gay Pride parade that took place this past June in New York City, where "there were men wearing Carmen Miranda outfits" prancing around half-naked and being oh-so-loud (hey, wait a minute, I was there, on a float, with my partner, fully clothed, supporting the Gay Men's Health Crisis [GMHC] and proudly chanting their catchphrase: "love life, fight AIDS!") -- and all this during his Sunday sermons! How dare we! He continued on: homosexuals are a vain, greedy, materialistic, stingy and lonely bunch. He said that we gays are a frustrated people who are frozen in our adolescence because we are unable to cope with societal pressures and our own self-loathing. OMG [said with much affectation], my ex-wife must be a gay man, then! (That, again, was my internal dialogue.)
You see where this is going. No, it didn't become a throwdown, but I did manage to interject that despite all those beliefs, I was still that same person he had met close to 15 years ago. I still have my values intact, and I'm still a good guy with a sense of social responsibility and civic duty. So, in the end, we agreed to disagree -- or so I believe.
On my way back home, I kept thinking how lucky I am to not be (too) vain, greedy, materialistic or stingy, and not in the least bit lonely. However, I was stumped by his comment about the gay community's prolonged adolescence. Is it true that we might have a "Peter Pan" complex? And why is that? Is it possible that, as we identified ourselves as a group and subsequently were marginalized (albeit decreasingly so), we have in effect limited our growth? Are we, to some extent, in the enviable position of not being held accountable for becoming "adults," given our collective abolishment from the mainstream and all that comes with it, good and bad?
I wonder if equal rights and federally recognized same-gender marriage will be the watershed that brings us to bear upon more mainstream and "mature" responsibilities. That does seem plausible. However, forcing us all to dispose of our "Carmen Miranda" drag into countless garment bags and toss them back into the closet? To succumb to that can of beer, scratch our bellies, sitting on the couch, being loud as hell, watching the game as it cuts to a commercial with a bunch of hot babes prancing their "unmentionables"? My cornucopia-of-fruit headdress doesn't think so. We are just too fabulous for that.
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