Father Tony

He's 20 And He's Worried

Filed By Father Tony | October 01, 2009 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: gay activists, gay florida, gay youth

Dear Father Tony,

I've been a reader on Bilerico for a few months. I've read previous letters that you have received and posted on the Bilerico website and wondered if I could do the same.

I am a 20 year old gay male, living in Florida. Even though here where I live, there is not much bigotry I read different articles from multiple gay press website (ex. The Advocate, Bilerico, Washington Blade) and I can't help but feel that eventually something is going to happen. I mean, with how the fight that is going on in Maine, I fear that someday, that battle will come here. I know that eventually it's going to happen in all states, but what is there to do when the National Organization for Marriage and all the anti-gay groups decide to come here?...I said to my boyfriend that I want to move out of this country and live in a place where we can be happy. I know it seems like a big rant or that I think negatively, and I apologize. But I can't seem to shake the feeling that this country can't have an wide view of the different people that live in it.

What do you think Father Tony? Do you have any suggestions on what you think will happen to this country in the future?

Thank you for reading this,


Dear Michael,

I am pleased to receive your letter considering the fact that you are surrounded in Florida by some of most apathetic gay men in America. I am refreshed to know that someone as young as are you is wrestling with his gay future to an extent beyond the timing of the next drink. Also, I've to admit that when I was your age, I was worried too, but mostly about my hair. Was it long enough, straight enough and shiny enough? When it thinned and whitened, I learned the futility of fussing over that which is transitory. (Sigh.) Here's my take on your future.

1) We are in for some tough times. My own husband is among those who feel that the dark clouds are gathering over America and that an unsettling eruption will soon shake us all to our roots. I am beginning to think that you and he may be right, but that the eruption will ultimately be corrective and purgative and regenerative.

2) We need to look at cultural patterns if we are to understand our own troubling times. My husband has been reading me sections of a book on Weimar Germany between the wars. An actor I recently interviewed spoke with surety about the ridiculous Puritanism of the middle classes reacting to recurrent Bohemia. Recently, men like Gore Vidal bitterly claim that there are no heroes and that we should not be looking for them. Our neighbors beyond our borders have devalued us. Permanently. Read Gibbons for the recipes of cultural rise and fall just as one would read Julia Child for the truth about the rise and fall of souffles. One wonders about the fearsome premise that "there are no second acts". Everything is now viral. As the song goes "Nowhere to run to, baby, nowhere to hide". Museums silently present us with the toys of empires not unlike our own. Things change by nature, Michael. It's important to learn the patterns. Read the gay authors. Edmund White, for instance, in his new book City Boy writes about a New York City in the 1970s redolent with uncollected garbage and wonderful gay life. Gay gentrification and assimilation seems good when we first pursue it, but it turns out to be deadly. Gay culture, by its own efforts can turn its own wonderful neighborhoods into valleys of the dolls. These random thoughts may be tied up into a package labeled "Unsafe repetitions that may probably be impossible to avoid because nobody lives long enough to see them through to correction".

3) Moving to a place such as Montreal is immensely tempting but is to be avoided until even our domestic water becomes as unimbibable as our biblethumpers' rivers of hate. No, we've to stick it out, we've to plant things that grow slowly and are winter hardy, and more, we've to be happy in our passage through chaos because we only get one journey through this world, and every generation has its trials and its troubles. As Ella Grasso said while she was governor of Connecticut, "Bloom where you are planted."

4) I've learned to be pessimistic about human nature and its twisted DNA, but I mark myself with the invincible warpaint of the optimist. Gay pessimists can never be activists (and an activist is surely what you will become). They are at best complainers. The optimistic activists are the surgeons who understand the need for bloodshed in order to make the sick healthy. I think Larry Kramer is of that breed in our gay community. I think Cleve Jones is of that breed. I think you ought to borrow the best of guys like that and form strong opinions about the way the world should be, and then choose a path of action whether quiet or loud, dramatic or shy that will be guided only by your informed inner sense of right and wrong.

5) Expose yourself to a wide range of scholarship. Read Ben Franklin. Read Macchiavelli. Read Sartre and Heidegger and Kafka and Edith Wharton and Flannery O'Connor and the metaphysically Floridian Andrew Holleran, and don't overlook Eva Gabor who once said of the arabs "They'll steal the ring off your finger." If she had been in charge of America's foreign policy we wouldn't be in the ridiculous circumstances that currently bind us and drain our national wealth. Seriously.

6) Focus on your backyard in Florida, an amazing mix of air-conditioned retirees welded to their remotes, South Americans with money to hide, gorgeous Cubans and Puerto Ricans, dazed gays, and Madoff victims. I think Florida is up for grabs. Recently I heard Cleve Jones urge people to be vociferous locally wherever bad legislation percolates. His words were something along the lines of "Knock on your neighbor's door. Tell him I'm your neighbor. I'm gay. This law will hurt me. Please don't vote for it. " The wisdom behind his exhortation is that no one can appeal to your neighbor as can you.

7) I hope you will go to Washington for the March and that you will have a wonderful time and that you will meet other young men who think like you, and some older ones who think like me, and that you will always remember never to take the plight of the moment too seriously. We were born also to have some fun. Lots of it, actually.

8) And for God's sake, please stay healthy.


Father Tony

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Very moving, Father Tony, and I think you're right about blooming where I'm planted, but what was that part about Eva Gabor and the Arabs? I didn't get it and it made me kind of wonder about you. Can you elaborate a bit?

Your answer reminds me of this...

"Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns ...."

from: "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front", Wendell Berry

Dear Jillian,
Regarding Eva, my point, ill-delivered, was that our government blundered in its approach to terrorism by following an ignorance of the culture of the Middle East and the Arab world and radical Islam. The ignorance of the Texan and his team would have been better informed with even the addition of Eva Gabor whose summary dismissal of all Arabs may be inaccurate and offensive but would have been more practical guidance as counter-terrorism. I know. I should have just deleted that thought. It's distracting. Too much coffee.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 1, 2009 10:24 PM

Dear Michael,

I always appreciate the advice of Fr. Tony, but there are a few things I would add that I hope you will consider. Firstly, get your full education first. Pile it on and take advantage of everything both practical and inspirational! If a four year degree is impossible to obtain get a two year community college degree. A technical school. If you are thinking of leaving America leave with a skill that is in broad demand. Whether you leave or stay you will be the better for it.

It is lovely to read Kafka, if you can tolerate run on sentences, but as Goldie Hawn said in "The Goodbye Girl" many years ago: "Oh sure, freedom is the first thing I want--after I have eaten."

The message I would hope you take from this is that no matter where you live (and I hope it is America) you take yourself with you. The skills and values you have are what will sustain your life. The more skills you have, the more education, the more options you will enjoy.

Now as for "blooming where you are planted" choosing another state with better laws is a very acceptable choice to me in that I left Indiana, to go to Illinois, because at the time their laws were among the most progressive. If you are in a state where you find the laws oppressive work to change them or "vote with your feet" which has been done repeatedly in the history of America. People who were "different" left locales because of religion, race or lifestyle practice (think Mormons) to settle where the ground was more fertile.

I love America and her best ideals, but I live in Thailand out of necessity of care of my partner of 33 years. But you will get the best education, opportunities and life out of the United States. More education = more options. You never have enough and there is never too much.

Now, have a walk in the Florida sunshine. Consider your options as you go and find the best path for yourself. Oh, and Fr. Tony is right, have a heck of a lot of fun.

Thanks, Father Tony, and Robert. I'm in the same boat as well, so I appreciate these comments.

Florida also has some of the most politically active gay men in America and has several cities with extremely progressive local governments and laws. Key West, for example, has two openly gay city commissioners, an openly gay police chief, a gay county commissioner, openly gay chairman of he Utility Board, openly gay chairman of the Mosquito Control board, openly gay college trustees, and openly gay leaders in the local Democratic AND Republican party organizations. There are strong anti-discrimination laws for employment and housing and a domestic partnership law. There are openly gay officials in Broward County, Miami, and Tampa. St. Pete Pride had over 80,000 attendees this year! Florida is one of the first states to spend taxpayer dollars dollars to strengthen the gay tourism industry.

Also, retirees are leaving Florida in droves as the new trend is to retire closer to one's family. Florida was recently named one of the top five places to start a business. Cities like Tampa are being revitalized as young professionals flock to them.

Florida is probably the most multicultural state in the union. It has more immigrants per capita, and more languages are spoken in Florida than in any other state. Not only does Florida have more Latin immigrants, but it has had a huge influx of Eastern Europeans. It's as diverse as a place can be.

My advice to this young man (I'm also in my 20's) is that there are progressive centers in almost every state, including Florida, but that there are always going to be people who are backward in their thinking living nearby. My other suggestion is that a strong argument can be made that moving to a new place is an incredible learning experience that everyone should have.

I guess my point is that stereotyping Florida based on what you've seen on the Golden Girls is like saying all of Canada is a snowy, moose hunting paradise where everyone ends every sentence in eh, eh?

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 5, 2009 11:09 AM

Ian, you are right that it depends upon the locale. I have been on Duval street to watch the drunks in Key West...no thank you. I think Key West was better off before Henry Flagler built the railroad.

Now despite all these out politicians in Key West if you happen to live one county over from Tampa-St Pete in Lakeland Florida you have a chance of being killed for being Gay as happened to my direct knowledge in 2007.

Florida is a state where the south is extremely "Northern" and the north is extremely "Southern." The bubba factor, or "crackers" as they are better known, permeate the state (Love jesus!) and are gladly a source of trouble to the Gay community for screwing up their "family values."

In Canada Michael could choose to form a relationship, have a job, a mortgage, adopt a child, be with his partner in the hospital, serve in the military, without it being anyone's favor. He would have greater legal protections.

And "The Golden Girls" presented Florida at an idealized best foot forward. Hope people continue to believe that reality and Mickey Mouse.

Great advice FT. Fear can motivate and/or paralyze.

Thank you for the advice Robert. :) I plan on getting my AA degree first by spending two years at a community college, then transferring to a university to finish my education.

To Ian, i've traveled between Florida and Nevada during my childhood. I enjoy traveling because of it. But it's funny, I use to watch the Golden Girls but I don't remember any stereotypes from that about Canada. I've never been there, but i'd want to visit that place just to see what it's like over there.

Fr. Tony, this is a great (and rather pastoral :-) response. It reminds me that too many young gay people don't have friendships with older gay people, and although I don't buy into the notion of a monolithic 'gay community', I think there's a lot we can teach one another.

The end of the Wendell Berry poem that Alan quoted above is something that's come to be a mantra of mine: "Practice resurrection."