One of the great things about Facebook is the ability to reread posts made in the spur of the moment and quickly forgotten. I tend to forget some of the funny things our kids say, and it’s great to have the ability to look back and remember. As two white gay dads raising two amazing African American boys, our house is always hopping. Here are quotes from our 13-year-old, Mason, and our 10-year-old , Marcus, in another edition of Sh*t My Kids Say.
Me: “Marcus, it is 6AM. What are you doing up, trying to get in to that ice cream?!?”
Marcus: “I need energy.”
Marcus: “Do babies have balls when they’re born?”
Me: “Well, boy babies do.”
Marcus: “Yeah, I know… Girls have cracks.”
Me: “I sure hope I’m there to see you when you find someone you love and maybe have kids.”
Marcus: “But if you’re not, I’ll do the funeral and dig and put you in there.”
Mason: “You know that woman with the voice? On The Nanny?… It’s an old time show.”
Me: “The thing Mason feels most passionately about is football.”
Marcus: “And sagging his jeans.”
Marcus: “My hair has lots of great qualities. It is soft, and curly, and, uh…” Deep sigh. “Maybe that’s it.”
Chaperoning a field trip to Disneyland, on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, going through the bayou swamp…
Me: “I can’t imagine any place I would like to live less than a swamp.”
Mason: “I’d even live in New York.”
Marcus, accompanying me on a run: “Keep going, Daddy! Don’t give up! If you don’t stop running, you’ll get a big kissy from me when we get home!” #BestCoachEver
Mason: “Girls have smellier farts than guys.”
Me: “What makes you think so?”
Mason: “Cuz they hold ‘em in for the longest time…”
Me, weeks before Christmas: “Guess what I just did? Wrapped presents for you two. They’re under the tree.”
Marcus: “If it was a puppy, it would die, right?”
Mason: “Are you Santa?”
Me: “What makes you ask?”
Mason: “I just want to know.”
Me: “Santa has many helpers.”
Mason: “I always thought Santa was African-American.”
Me: “Why do you say that?”
Mason: “He’s so jolly, with the big belly and all. Maybe I can be him next Halloween.”
Me: “All I know is, people who believe in Santa get presents. The rest don’t.”
Mason: “So can you get me an iPad?”
Me: “You smell like chocolate.”
Marcus: “That’s cuz I’m brown.”
Note from Mason:
“Dear Dad, Thank you for showing me that life isn’t boring and being my dad. I wish there was no such thing as dying so you could be with me forever. You are a very nice dad and I love you. Thank you for encouraging me in doing big things. You are a cool dad. I wish you could make Marcus the same as you. Love you, Mason. P.S. Don’t show this to Marcus”
Marcus: “I had a very sad dream last night. Want to hear it?”
Marcus: “We were Ninjas, well–good Ninjas, fighting the bad Ninjas. And we had penguins. But they wandered away from us, and me and Mason couldn’t find them, so we were sad.”
Marcus, to a friend: “Yeah, our vacation this year is at a place with a really short name: P-town. Get it? Pee-town???”
Me: “Mason, I want to ask you something–”
Mason: “No, Dad! NOT ‘the talk’. Not again…”
Marcus, watching the Darren Criss/Matthew Bomer duet on Glee of “Somebody That I Used to Know”: “They probably fart, right–in real life?”
Me: “Do you know what a syllable is?”
Marcus: “Yes… Butt” (clap) “Hole!” (clap)
And, lastly, my favorite:
“So tonight, for Russ‘ birthday dinner, Marcus made a sign which he put on the table, directing ‘Praisetents here!’ My first reaction was to correct him, but the more I thought about it, with the emphasis on ‘praise,’ the more I liked it. From now on, whenever I give a gift, I’m really giving a praisetent.”
Have you ever had a question on which you needed straight-shooting, professional advice? Dr. Darcy Sterling, a licensed clinical social worker based in the SoHo section of New York City, dishes up just that on a regular basis through her blog, YouTube channel, and her work with her wife, Stephanie Sterling, at Alternatives Counseling.
As a writer for Psychology Today and as a columnist for GO Magazine (which profiled Darcy and Stephanie’s wedding in 2009), Dr. Darcy has increasingly been tapped by media for commentary, such as for E! Entertainment’s When Women Kill. While certainly media-savvy, Darcy also has the credentials to back up her observations, having received a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Columbia University in 1996, and a Ph.D. from New York University in 2006.
Her style is direct and focused, both with media and clients alike, and Dr. Darcy graciously recently took time to chat with me about her tell-it-like-it-is “straight talk” and issues she sees within the LGBT community.
Kergan Edwards-Stout: I’m so glad we’re finally able to talk! I’ve been looking forward to this.
Dr. Darcy: Me too!
Kergan: I’m really curious about you and your approach to therapy. First, though, tell me a bit about yourself.
Darcy: I’m a Jersey girl! (laughing) I’m from Roseland, New Jersey, which is about 45 minutes from New York. When you grow up just outside the city, you tend to think that you’re a New Yorker. But once you’re here, living the life, you realize just how “off” you were! When I was younger, I didn’t have to strap my day’s belongings to me, and take subways and cabs, through all kinds of weather… It is a very different world than what I’d thought!
Kergan: What made you decide to make the move into the city?
Darcy: Both my graduate and post-graduate work was here, and I knew it was where I’d end up. Before I moved to New York, I was married–to a man. We were together over 13 years, but eventually we parted ways, and afterward, I knew I’d never date a man again. I’d always known I was bicurious, but hadn’t explored it until my 30s. So I moved to New York and started dating Steph. Moving to New York was empowering in many ways.
Kergan: How did you meet Stephanie?
I’m so grateful that a reader emailed me, noting they’d first discovered my novel by reading an excerpt in Provincetown Magazine. As I hadn’t seen the excerpt in print, this was a very pleasant surprise. I’ve always loved the time I’ve spent in P-town. It has given me both a sense of peace and community, and my vacations there have provided many memories. In fact, one of my new short stories, The Cape, which is in my forthcoming collection, Gifts Not Yet Given, takes place in Provincetown.
This past summer, Russ and I were fortunate enough to be able to take our kids to the Cape, and that wonderful week in P-town was the highlight. Thank you, Provincetown Magazine, and thanks to the wonderful reader who alerted me!
Very grateful for a new review in Arts & Understanding, a magazine devoted to HIV/AIDS, on Songs for the New Depression. The review (found on page 48) notes “the laughs make the book deceptively breezy. SONGS shines with psychological truth and historical accuracy.” Love it when folks “get it!”
I’m so grateful for Out in Print Reviews including Songs for the New Depression in their wrap up of the top books of the year; it is a career highlight for me. Not only does it affirm my instinct to write, but it also means that others may eventually discover my tale, and hopefully it will inspire and resonate.
Out in Print wrote, in part: “Brilliantly conceived and masterfully written… You’ll read this once for its emotional impact and again to see how the author achieves it. But no matter how many times you dive in, you’ll be impressed.”
My Christmas gift came early this year!
I’m so thankful to GSHRadio’s Rainbow Hour for including me on yesterday’s show, in honor of World AIDS Day. What fun, to follow the hysterical “America’s #1 Tupperware salesgal” Dixie Longate! The hosts, Victor, Otto, Gregory, Steve, and I chat about HIV/AIDS, my novel, as well as my piece on Huffington Post, “Please Defriend Me,” which has had almost 130,000 facebook likes.
My section starts at 48:28!
Thank you all!
On March 5, 1995, the day I turned 30, I admitted my then-partner Shane Sawick into the hospital. He would not come out alive, dying just two weeks later, on March 22. While AIDS was the war he battled, he was ultimately done in by a skirmish with PML (Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy), a rare but usually fatal disease, which quickly took away Shane’s ability to speak, move, or even blink at will, though his brain continued to think, and process, and feel. It was devastating to watch a loved one undergo such a debilitating experience, and yet that act, of being both lover and caregiver, thoroughly transformed me as a human being. Indeed, I would not be the husband, father, writer, or person that I am were it not for that period of crisis during which my partner and friends died. As we head towards World AIDS Day, I find it perplexing that few seem willing to embrace, or even mention, the epidemic which so greatly impacted and altered the LGBT community. What is it about that era that frightens us so?
The easy answer might be that disease and death make people uncomfortable, which, to some degree, is understandable. Prior to Shane’s death, my best friend of eight years and I were inseparable (I’ll call him Pete.) At the time, I couldn’t have imagined a better friend. Pete made me laugh, kept me company, and ushered me through my West Hollywood “coming out.” Once Shane got sick, however, Pete disappeared. He never called, or came to visit us in the hospital, despite knowing that I was there 24/7. Whenever queried by friends as to his absence, Pete would say, “Oh, you know–me and hospitals. I just don’t like the idea of sickness.”
It wasn’t until the day of Shane’s memorial that I next saw Pete. He came up, noting “Great service!,” before the next words came out of his mouth: “Wanna hit Happy Hour later?” Needless to say, I chose to end that friendship, as well as others in which people could not grasp the emotional magnitude of what had happened to me, and others like me. The depth of my experiences caused a change within, which required a new support system willing and able to tackle the “hard stuff,” no matter how unpleasant.
For some, the era of losing friends and loved ones has been difficult to revisit, due to the emotional toll taken. Many have gone to great lengths to separate themselves from the pain, moving from the most-hit urban centers to smaller, more rural towns. Others have gone into emotional hiding, losing themselves in drug or drink, or in simply shutting down, so as not to feel the ache of such loss. And some have, by necessity, focused on rebuilding their broken circle of friends.
New causes, such as marriage equality, have replaced AIDS as our community’s priority, and it is hard to argue that rallying for wedding cake isn’t more fun that protesting for HIV drugs. Still, we should not have to choose between the two.
These days, activism for many means little more than clicking “like” on a Facebook post. While thousands stepped into the streets in the aftermath of Prop 8, we’ve not seen anything on that scale for HIV/AIDS in years. At what point did we become complacent? Is having a drug that makes the disease “manageable” really all we want? What happened to a cure–or a vaccine?
Today, people still die from AIDS. While drug advancements have substantially decreased that number, it has also created the false-belief that contracting the disease is essentially meaningless. To some, taking one pill a day is an easy trade-off to having to wear condoms.
Most disturbing, however, is the sheer number to whom AIDS just doesn’t matter, having relegated it to a page in history. When I mention having lost a partner or friends, I’m most often met with a blank stare or a cursory nod, with no real emotional acknowledgement of what that time meant, and continues to mean.
During the AIDS crisis, the LGBT community rose to the occasion, stepping in to take care of our own when the government, pharmaceutical companies, and other organizations couldn’t–or wouldn’t. LGBT people exhibited incredible bravery, tackling huge monoliths with acts of daring creativity and passion. Were it not for our take-no-prisoners approach, we would not have the HIV drugs we do today.
The crisis temporarily brought together both genders, as women stepped into vacant leadership roles and helped those stricken by acting as caregivers. Today, that gender divide has returned, with little reciprocity from gay men for the causes dear to lesbians, such as breast or cervical cancer. In many ways, we’ve gone back to being strangers, with a debt left unpaid.
Other communities, devastated by tragedy, have managed to turn such markers into rallying cries, and the LGBT community must find a way to do the same with AIDS. Just as the Jewish people dealt with the Holocaust, and the African American community responded to slavery and the civil rights struggle, so too must our community find a way to embrace that era, fully honoring both those we lost and what we gained.
For we did gain much. We learned that, far from being the weak and passive individuals many of us had been stereotyped, we actually had strength, passion, and guts, and we fully demonstrated that to the world. We took on “the powers that be” and created real, tangible change. We literally bloodied ourselves for the cause, and yet today, speaking of AIDS feels almost taboo.
Does that have anything to do with the disease being sexually transmitted? Having worked so hard to combat the myth that being gay is to be “sick,” did the emergence of a sexually transmitted disease take us back to a place of shame? Does that shame still linger?
To be clear, I am not remotely nostalgic for the days of the AIDS crisis. I lost too many, and it hurt too much. But at the same time, I’m thankful that I was able to play a part in helping to educate others about HIV, through my work at AIDS Project Los Angeles. I’m grateful to my dear friends who allowed me to be with them during their final days. I’m profoundly changed, for the better, for having ushered my partner Shane to his death. And I’m forever in awe of the efforts our community took to respond to the crisis in unimaginably creative and lasting, impactful ways.
I just wished others cared as well.
Kergan Edwards-Stout’s debut novel, Songs for the New Depression, was loosely inspired by his partner, Shane Sawick, and his experiences during the AIDS crisis. It won the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Award in the LGBTQ category, and was shortlisted for the Independent Literary Awards in the same category.
PLEASE DE-FRIEND ME.
If you plan to vote for Mitt Romney, you are putting a nail into my civil rights coffin, and I’d rather not have friends who think I deserve anything less than equal treatment under the law. Romney supports DOMA (which directly and negatively impacts me, restricting my partner Russ, our kids, and my federal protections and tax benefits under the law), and has noted his support for an anti-marriage equality amendment as well. While you may see your vote for him as one about the economy (and we can debate who’d be better for that until the cows come home), what you INTEND by your vote really doesn’t matter. Your vote means that you are supporting someone who not only thinks I’m not equal to you, but who works vigorously to ensure my “less-than” legal status. Your vote for him means that you are totally fine with me being treated with disrespect.
Now, you may see this as an indication that I am being too “single minded”, and I’ll admit that when you’re denied even the simplest of human considerations, it makes it difficult to look beyond that. But this is about much more than my treatment under the law. Who I am and what I believe passionately in are also things which Romney discounts. I believe in full and fair treatment of ALL people, but Romney believes that women should not receive equal pay for equal work. I believe we need to take care of our earth, even if it means tightening our belts, but Romney favors further deregulation over environmental concerns. I think it is our duty to support things like art and culture (I view them as essential), but Romney disparages the role these play in enriching our lives; he sees them as extraneous and will cut public funding. I believe, just as education is a right, healthcare is as well, but Romney wants to abolish the Affordable Care Act. I care about those less fortunate and the elderly, and think it is our collective responsibility to ensure their well-being, but in Romney’s eyes, these people are victims and moochers. In short, who I am isn’t just who I love, it is the things I feel passionately about. And Romney stands against almost all of them.
BOTTOM LINE: I don’t care who you are–whether you are my relation by blood or a longtime acquaintance, I don’t want “friends” who don’t think I’m as good as they are. I want friends who value me, who see my worth as a human being, and who fully support my equal protections under the law. So, if you’re voting for Romney, whether you follow me on twitter or facebook, please de-friend me. You won’t hurt my feelings. I won’t cause a big stink. In fact, you’ll be creating space in my life for others to come in who do feel that my being here on the planet matters.
I’M NOT INTERESTED IN DEBATING THIS. PLEASE RESPECT MY WISHES.
The vision stays with me, even after all these years. I’m in junior high, and I’ve just looked into the eyes of an overweight girl, having just delivered a devastatingly cruel blow. Her bright blue eyes, haunted and broken, serve as lingering reminders of how destructive words can be, and I’ve often wished I could take that moment back. Little did I know that girl, Elizabeth Emken, would years later run for public office, in an attempt to unseat California Senator Dianne Feinstein. Today, she campaigns on an anti-gay platform, forcing me to wonder if my cutting remarks played any role in influencing the person she would become, and how she could come to take such a stance, given the many gay friends she once had.
Despite our rocky start, once we arrived at Los Alamitos High School, Elizabeth and I would go on to become friends, and she introduced me to what I called the “choir gang.” This rag-tag band would never be the popular folks, but instead was united by both talent and outsider status. As Cheryl Bhence, now a married mother of two, notes, “We were all misfits, so we all kind of fit together like a puzzle.” While all members of the group were equals, Emken, in many ways, was the wheel’s center spoke.
“I remember that Elizabeth was kind and had the capacity to be vulnerable, a quality I still admire in people,” says Neil Fischer, who now lives in the Bay Area. “There was also something steely and resourceful about her. She laughed easily and seemed utterly accepting of who I was, at the time.”
While Fischer wasn’t yet out to himself, in the years following high school, almost all of the male members of this group would come out as gay, myself included. This long list included Emken’s best friend, David Alexander Diaz, making Emken’s current anti-marriage equality views more than a bit puzzling. David and Elizabeth attended proms and winter formals together, and were so close that Elizabeth even named her son Alex, in his honor.
Diaz first met Elizabeth as a freshman, when he auditioned for the school play, on which she was the student director. “We very quickly connected and bonded, becoming best friends,” Diaz recalls. At that time, Diaz had not yet come out as gay. “While I was aware that I had feelings towards men, I couldn’t imagine that being gay was even an option for me.”
When Emken introduced Diaz to this group of choir folks, he felt immediately welcomed. He wasn’t yet aware that most of the men in the group were gay, but “I knew they were like me on some level. These were guys who loved theater and music, and didn’t much care for sports. We were aware of our commonalities, but our sexuality was never acknowledged.”
“I remember all their smiles,” notes Fisher. “All those guys had such easy, generous smiles.”
There were times when the group’s outsider status led to name-calling. Cheryl Bhence recalls that the men in the group were often teased about being gay. “At the time, none of them had yet come out, so I remember spending effort to defend their sexuality, which I had assumed was hetero. Knowing they were gay wouldn’t have changed my perspective of any of them; I just wouldn’t have had to stand up for them to the hecklers.”
For most of the men, sexuality was not yet on their radar. “I was not entirely aware of what it meant to have a gay identity, nor that such an identity was developing in me,” says Fischer. “At the time, I had no idea how to explore whatever gay stirrings I allowed to come to the surface of my consciousness. In high school, I had crushes on other boys that did not involve sexual fantasies, because I wouldn’t let my mind go there.”
“I was still pretty innocent back then,” Diaz recalls. “Most of the guys were dating the girls, escorting them to prom and other functions, and I guess I pretty much took things at face value. They were dating girls, so must have been straight, right?”
Part of what allowed such assumptions to continue was that, by and large, the group was both close-knit and wholesome. “I have so many wonderful memories,” says Bhence. “I remember the volleyball-a-thon: we played for 24 hours straight to raise money to pay for our choir tour up the California coast. But probably the weekend nights were the best, when we would hang out at one of our houses, eat M&Ms and chips with onion dip, and play silly kid games like Hide & Seek and Red Rover.”
This was not a party or gossip crowd, where the absence of actual sexual activity might have been noticed, which made it a safe place for the gay men still finding their way. “While other kids might have been out on weekends, getting drunk, we were all at someone’s house, playing Risk all night,” Diaz remembers. “All of our activities were silly, fun-filled, and wholesome.”
“We shared the ability to have fun without substances, like alcohol or drugs,” Bhence notes, going on to elaborate that she “had a terrible crush on [one of the boys], but I never told him in high school, as he always seemed interested in other girls; he took various girls to each of the formal dances.”
This focus on friendship and innocent fun helped give cover to the men, struggling to understand their sexuality, while their attendance with the women at events allowed the women to believe that the men were indeed straight.
“I hoped and wanted to be straight, and just assumed that, at some point, it would happen,” Diaz relates. “I had an ideal woman in my mind, and just felt that I’d meet her and everything would fall into place.”
While that may have been his goal, Diaz found himself confused when Emken expressed her love for him, thinking that the two should be a couple. He elaborates that when he told Emken that he didn’t feel the same, they found their friendship challenged. “Elizabeth is an aggressive and assertive woman, and she was then as well. She couldn’t understand how we could have such a strong bond, and yet me not feel the same desires she did.”
Even with this new challenge, Emken and Diaz didn’t sever ties. Caught between friendship and the question of something deeper, the two pushed through an intense season of figuring out who they were – talking constantly, writing letters, and sharing hopes and dreams.
“I cared deeply for her and would have liked to be what she saw me as,” Diaz said. “But there was a part of me that I compartmentalized, which was the experience of attraction to men.”
Prior to her friendship with Diaz, Emken had a similarly intense friendship with Tim Radi, a fellow member of the group, not realizing that he too would later come out as gay. “It was the same pattern as with me,” Diaz states. “She had intense feelings for him, but he didn’t want to date her. It was as if history were repeating itself.”
While some of their issues were about the degrees of friendship each desired, other obstacles for Emken and Diaz’ friendship included her mother. “Elizabeth’s parents were divorced,” he notes, “and her mother was very difficult. To be perfectly blunt, she was prejudiced, and the fact that I am of Cuban heritage was looked down on in her family. That was the first time in my life I was discriminated against for being Hispanic.”
At the time, Emken was furious with her mother’s treatment of Diaz, and he notes the irony that today Emken herself views him, politically, as a second-class citizen. “She’s become a lot more like her mother than even she’d admit.”
Not only were Emken’s two high school sweethearts unable to return her love, but one of them later died, with Radi’s death from AIDS being the first such death many in the group had experienced. “A bunch of us had a personal memorial for him at his graveside,” Bhence remembers. “At the time, his family didn’t seem ready to accept his diagnosis, so we didn’t pressure them to explain things to us.”
Still, Emken was always supportive of Diaz’s sexual journey. After high school, Diaz began to “act out” sexually through anonymous encounters, leaving Diaz frightened, ashamed and confused, and he sought Emken’s advice. She seemed to believe, as many do, that being gay was something Diaz could control. “She wasn’t judgmental,” Diaz said. “She just saw my actions as something I could simply stop, if I really tried.”
The next year, Diaz came out to Emken, acknowledging his orientation in full. “She was very loving and accepting, which makes her stance today hurt all the more,” Diaz said.
Years later, when he became HIV-positive at age 30, Diaz again confided in Emken. Her support never wavered, but their friendship began to wane.
“During that brief window in the Prop 8 battle when gay marriages in California were legal, my partner and I got married. Elizabeth was entirely supportive, treating us as equals.”
Prior to her political debut, Emken was mainly a stay-at-home mom, who both worked with an autism agency, because her son Alex is autistic, and sold Tupperware. “The drive you see in Elizabeth today has always been there. In typical Elizabeth-fashion, she became one of the state’s best Tupperware salespeople. And we ended up having a big gay Tupperware party at our house, including Elizabeth’s college roommate, who is lesbian, and her wife, with Elizabeth presiding over the entire event.”
Given their close relationship and the many life moments they experienced together, it came as a shock to Diaz when he learned of Emken’s candidacy platform. “I got a very timid email from Elizabeth, where she shared, almost apologetically, that she was running for public office. While I normally would have been thrilled, I was thoroughly confused when I went to her website and saw where she stood on the issues. Among her many policy points, she noted that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. I felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach.”
While Diaz had long known of her conservative roots, Emken’s public stance confused him. “I’d always known that she was a Republican,” he acknowledges. “I knew of her mother’s more staunch views, and that Elizabeth was fiscally conservative, but somehow I’d allowed myself to believe that Elizabeth would be a different kind of Republican.”
“I kept thinking, ‘but we’re friends, Elizabeth,’” Diaz recalls. “I couldn’t rationalize how she could have taken that position.”
Diaz reached out, via email, in an attempt to understand her actual belief, only to be met with silence. “I told her I was thrilled for her, seeking a political office, as I’d always known she was meant for great things. Still, I also told her how hurt I was, as part of her platform was designed to deny me my basic rights, and asked her to explain how she’d come to this anti-gay stance. Realizing that she may not want to put such thoughts in writing, I asked her to call me, so we could talk it over, but that phone call never came.”
Given her friendship with those in the group, Diaz was not the only one upset by her viewpoint. “It’s sad to me that she has decided to side with those who want to deny gays the right to legally marry,” says Fischer. “There is the usual cynical assumption: she has taken this position for political expediency; she believes she cannot represent the Republican base of her party without touting one of its most visible platforms; she cannot win the November election unless she shows herself to be as contrary to Feinstein as possible.”
“The list of people she betrayed with this stance is a long one. It includes me, her best friend, as well as every guy in our high school group, and her college roommate. It makes no sense,” Diaz notes. “Still, there was a part of me that held out hope; that I’d misunderstood her, and that there was a more subtle, nuanced approach to her belief that hadn’t been properly expressed.”
“I lost such sleep over this,” he confides. “I cried, late at night, feeling so betrayed.”
It would be over a year until Diaz received a response. “I got an email, with a link to an article titled something like ‘Republicans Finally Coming Around to Gay Marriage,’ with a very short note that said ‘Look–there is progress being made!’”
While Diaz appreciated her support, he wasn’t interested in how other Republicans viewed same-gender marriage; it was her view which mattered, and he again reached out for clarification.
It was only then that Diaz got a more lengthy response. Emken sent an email, saying that she couldn’t understand how her policy points had become an issue between them. “’No matter what your political beliefs,’ she said, ‘I will always be your friend,’” Diaz remembers. “But as I replied to her, ‘Imagine, for a moment, if I were a black person, and you were running on a racist platform. Can you see how that might be an issue?’ No matter what our relationship had been, there are certain things in life that are deal-breakers. As I wrote to her, ‘If you are using a wedge issue like this simply to gain power, I can’t support that. I have more self-esteem than that.’ And that was the end of our communication.”
When asked to describe Emken, as she was when they first met, Diaz uses words such as driven and ambitious. “Her running for office today is not a surprise to me.” In fact, Diaz recounts the moment he first introduced Emken to his mother. “I distinctly recall my mom saying, ‘That girl could be President, if she wants to be.’”
Despite similar upbringings and experiences the “choir gang” has grown into adulthood with varying worldviews and splintered friendships. As one of the women noted, who wishes to remain anonymous, “I think it has a whole lot less to do with being middle class and one’s religious affiliation, as it has to do with early influences, models, experiences and inclinations. In my case, I was raised in a Catholic home by parents who were passionate and active in issues having to do with social justice, and had an embracing attitude towards learning about and welcoming all walks of life. It’s carried me throughout my life.”
Despite the contrary teachings of her faith, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Bhence says she supports marriage equality. “I’m a member of a church that does not support marriage equality, and yet I still love my church. I think about myself being divorced and remarried, and I’m allowed to do that, but my friend, Bill, who has been with his partner since we graduated high school, isn’t. His relationship is a better tribute to marriage than I am.”
Following the passage of California’s anti-marriage equality measure, Prop 8, Bhence shares, “I remember being in church the Sunday after it passed. I was so discouraged, but I was trying to understand. In my church, we sing a hymn prior to partaking of the Sacrament that represents Christ’s body and blood. On this particular Sunday, the hymn’s scripture was Hebrews 13:4. It says ‘Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.’ The message I got from this is that now may not be the time, but take courage, continue the fight, it will happen.”
“A lesbian couple living together devotedly for the 40 years cannot legally marry, though two drunken straight people can meet in Vegas and hours later walk off with a legitimate marriage license,” Fischer notes. “This kind of absurdity appalls me still.”
In Diaz’ view, Emken should understand the importance marriage holds, given the battle Emken herself fought with her mother when it came time for her own nuptials. “When Elizabeth got married, she actually wanted me to be her ‘best man,’ rather than have a maid of honor, as I was her best friend. But her mother refused, saying it would be ridiculous for a man to be part of the bride’s wedding party,” he recalls. “She had to fight her family to get me into her wedding party, where, as a compromise, I ended up on the groom’s side. Instead of me as her ‘best man,’ Elizabeth had a cousin she wasn’t as close to stand in as maid of honor.”
The girl I first met in junior high is very different from the woman that now stands on California’s political stage. Then she was the victim to my thoughtless taunts because of her weight. She was victim to abandonment from her father and to romantic rejection from gay men. She was resilient and a loving friend, supportive of her gay friend’s journey through life and sexuality. But now, she stands publicly against his right to a legitimate marriage with the man he loves.
While Emken won’t comment on how she became the woman she is today, her friends, although angry and confused, still hold kind thoughts of her.
“I don’t demonize her. Mostly, I feel sad for her,” Fischer said. “I’d like to know what happened to that competent, compassionate thinker that I knew. She must still hold within her that high school self, the one that befriended so many gay men.”
Group photo and photo of David Diaz and Elizabeth Emken (1981 Senior Prom) provided by David Diaz. Group photo, top row: Elizabeth Emken, Maria Simeone, David Diaz, Cheryl Bhence, Diana Gregory, Scott Maher. Bottom row: Felicia Weisbrot Berschauer, Bill Boyson, Craig Swartz (now Emken’s husband), Kathy Pierce.
Senate candidacy photo from Elizabeth Emken’s website.
Accompanying a recent Huffington Post article I wrote was a photo of my family, taken by Sara + Ryan Photography. That one photo resulted in so many terrific comments and queries from readers about the duo’s work, which is primarily focused on LGBT families, that I thought it would be fun to learn more about them and their journey to their photographic specialty. Both were happy to share how they became straight allies for LGBT equality and to specialize in photographing our unique community.
Given that you are both straight, how did you come to specialize in photographing LGBT families?
Sara: My sister is gay, as well as my best friend, and both have long term partners, but we didn’t necessarily intend to specialize in LGBT families and couples, though we always knew we would be open to it. With both of these couples, however, we found that neither had ever had professional photos taken, until our sessions with them, as they felt it might be awkward to get pictures taken at a portrait studio.
So they felt more comfortable, given your relationship?
Sara: Yes, because they knew that we were completely comfortable with them being themselves. After that, we started getting a lot of referrals. Of course, we still photograph straight families as well, but most of our clientele is now in the LGBT community.
Ryan: We talked to a lot of same-sex couples who’d had previous experiences, where photographers had assured that they had experience photographing same-sex couples, only to feel that the photographer was a bit uneasy during the shoot, whether being uncomfortable personally, or in attempting to pose the couple as a traditional straight couple might be. (more…)