Monthly Archives: July 2012

Why Blocking Chick-Fil-A Is Fine

Yesterday, James Peron wrote a thoughtful piece on the Huffington Post about shutting down Chick-Fil-A the right way. His basic argument is that the appropriate way to hit Chik-Fil-A is through boycotts, and that when people like Mayor Menino of Boston say they will try to block Chick-Fil-A’s expansion efforts, it smacks of First Amendment violations, threatens our freedom, and hurts everyone. His argument is solid, and you should really go read it. I’ll wait, and we can talk some more in the next paragraph, once you get back.

Ok, so now we’re all caught up, right? You’re probably feeling a little bad about having smiled when you read Menino’s letter now, since it tramples the Constitution and threatens the very foundation of our free society. But don’t worry, because I have some good news for you — it doesn’t.

What Peron’s piece (and everyone who is making a similar argument) seems to miss is that business deals are complicated things. It’s not like buying a house, where someone has a building to sell, you make an offer, you agree on a price, and suddenly there’s anti-gay chicken sandwiches being sold from the kitchen where your mom measured your growth on the door frame.

Opening a new business (or expanding an existing business) is a complicated negotiation, and it often requires buy-in from the larger community. And that buy-in is entirely optional. It’s up to a community to decide whether or not they want to help a business expand.

I’ll give you an example. I live in a moderately-sized suburb in southeastern Massachusetts, and we have a couple of large industrial parks here in town. On the whole, these office parks are a boon for the community. They pay taxes. They provide jobs. Pretty good jobs, even. They participate in the community.

A couple of years ago, one of those companies, a medical product supplier, wanted to expand. Expanding here in Massachusetts may not have been the most efficient way for them to expand. I’m sure that it’s cheaper to run a business in a state where the cost of living is lower, where there are fewer regulations, or where the taxes are lower. But they’re already here, so expanding in Massachusetts was an attractive idea, if they could make it work.

So this company came to the town and made some requests. The biggest thing they wanted was a pretty long term tax break. They made presentations, they talked to our selectmen (a town council, if that’s an unfamiliar term to people outside Massachusetts). Eventually, they hammered out a deal and brought it to the town meeting, presented it, and the people who live here in town voted on it.

If the business didn’t have a good reputation here in town, that negotiation could have gone sour at any number of points. The selectmen might have decided to oppose a deal, and that would have been the end of it. If they had, that would be ok. It wouldn’t be stifling free speech, it would be not going out of your way to help a business. Which, last I checked, isn’t in the Constitution. There’s no Amendment Nine and Three Quarters, where you have to run through the wall to help local businesses you don’t like.

And that’s the story with Mayor Menino and Chick-Fil-A. If Chick-Fil-A wants to lease a property, get the required permits, and open up their hateful little shop in Boston, there’s probably very little Tom Menino can do to stop it. But that’s not how business works. For Chick-Fil-A to open a new location in Boston, they’d probably need favors. They’d want permits expedited. They’d want an exemption from some sort of zoning regulation so that their big red ugly chicken sign could be lit up at all hours of the night. They’d want to be part of a job training initiative or something for hiring and training new workers.

At the end of the day, that’s all that Mayor Menino has done. He’s made it clear that he’s not going to do Chick-Fil-A any favors. He’s the mayor, not some sort of dictator. When he says that he’ll block Chick-Fil-A, he’s saying that he will not do any of the optional things he could do to help them open a Boston location.

And that’s just fine.

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Setting Goals

I’ve mentioned on twitter that I’ve been feeling a little conflicted about the professional successes of some of my college classmates. We’re at an age now where people’s careers are really starting to take off — one of my classmates has landed a great role on a critically acclaimed television show, another is on the writing team for a new series on HBO, two of my classmates have had novels published in the last couple of years … you get the idea.

Let me be clear. I am thrilled for them. (Especially one of the novelists, who I’m really glad to be able to count among my friends.) I am proud of them. I know that they’ve worked really hard for these successes, and had to struggle to achieve them.

But their successes, through absolutely no one’s fault but my own, kind of make me feel like a failure. Sure, I’m a stay-at-home dad. By choice. But I stopped working well in advance of the kids moving in. A decade out of school, my career was in exactly the same place it was three months after I graduated. I had moved across the country, and wasn’t at the same company, but at 30, I was doing the exact same thing, in the exact same position (for the exact same pay!) I had done at 20. So leaving behind my “career” to be a stay-at-home dad didn’t really feel like I was giving anything up.

I don’t want this to sound like a “woe is me” kind of post. If there’s someone to blame for a stagnated, dead-end career, it is me. (And maybe, if I’m being completely honest, a certain amount of anxiety.) But mostly me. Certainly no one else. I didn’t push. I shied away from advancement opportunities that were outside my comfort zone. For a really miserable year in New Jersey, I pretty much only left the house to go to work. (And here’s some free advice — if you don’t like living somewhere, you can make it a whole lot worse by refusing to leave your apartment.)

This week, something happened that made me feel pretty good about myself. (And as a bonus, it had nothing to do with being a parent.) A pretty big website was interested in running my blog post about Josh Weed and my uncle. It didn’t work out, which shouldn’t be a big surprise, because in that post I basically called Josh Weed a murderer and outed my uncle. (These would be liabilities!) But the editor seems interested in some of my ideas for future posts, so hopefully I can make that work out. And really, just the fact that he thought people might be interested in reading something I had to say was pretty huge for me.

It definitely got me thinking, though. I need some goals that are about me, not my kids, and I need to start making them happen. I’ve been 34 for a month, which gives me 11 months on a “Things to Accomplish Before 35” list. That seems like a good amount of time, and 35 is starting to feel like something that’s looming on the horizon. (Which is ridiculous, I realize, but maybe sometime before I become eligible for AARP, I will maybe feel like an adult.)

So here goes:

  1. Update this blog regularly. Like, at least weekly. Once a week, I should be able to find something interesting to say. Tweets (and tweet-length blog posts) don’t count.
  2. Finish a first draft of my novel. Outlines aren’t enough. It’s time to put the fingers to the keyboard and really make this happen. Eleven months is plenty of time to turn an outline into a draft.
  3. Lose at least 30 pounds. It needs to happen. My weight has gone up every year for the last decade, and I’ve been avoiding buying clothes because I hate the way I look in everything.
  4. See a dermatologist. One who isn’t an asshole. (Does such a thing exist? This probably deserves its own blog post.) I’ve had acne for more than twenty years, and have pretty much given up on ever having decent skin. I’m tired of having to wear a t-shirt under every shirt I wear so that I don’t get blood on my shirts (that might be more information than anyone has ever wanted to know), and I’m tired of wanting to hide my face.
  5. Do something about my hair. There’s not much hair left, but I’ve been avoiding shaving my head or something like that because I use what little hair I have to hide the acne on my head! I have gotten dangerously close to a combover, and I really can’t let that happen. Really.
  6. Exercise regularly. This one shouldn’t be that hard, either. I don’t have any lofty goals, just to exercise regularly in a way that will increase my overall health and well-being.

Ok, six items. I’ll try to expand on some of these more in-depth going forward, and I will definitely make sure to post updates on my progress. Wish me luck, because I think it’s going to be a busy year.

Time for Some Weeding

I wasn’t going to talk about Josh Weed. I tried really hard not to talk about Josh Weed when all the gay blogs were talking about him a couple of months ago. And I didn’t talk about him at all this week — not even in snide remarks to my husband! — when he was in the news again, and about to appear on Nightline.

But then Gay Family Values put up this really thoughtful post about Josh Weed, and suddenly I need to talk about Josh Weed.

When I read about Josh Weed the first time, I felt this awful feeling in the pit of my stomach. The kind where you think maybe you’d feel better if you threw up? Not that angry, frustrated feeling I get when I read about something awful Bryan Fischer said, but the kind of sick, awful feeling that usually only comes when I can’t sleep because I’m worrying about my kids. I’m unaccustomed to getting that feeling from reading about strangers.

There are the base level reactions to reading about Josh Weed that I feel as a gay man. First, it makes me sad. Really sad. Like, go sit on my bed and cry for a little while sad. I see myself as a scared teenager, knowing that I was gay and certain that meant my life was over. I thought I would be alone forever. And without a support network of really good friends telling me that I could have the life I wanted, maybe I would have been like Josh Weed.

Then it makes me angry. So angry. He’s on television, telling people that gay men can just choose to be married to women. And he’s happy! What kind of message will that send to families who are struggling with accepting a gay kid? How many kids are going to kill themselves because Josh Weed went on Nightline? Probably not a lot, but you know what? The number will be more than zero. As sad as I feel for Josh Weed, there will be blood on his hands.

I have an uncle who made the same choices as Josh Weed. He’s Josh Weed, thirty years later. When he was in college, about a decade before I was born, he came out of the closet. And then, for lack of a better term, he went back in. His wedding is one of my earliest childhood memories. The wedding was held out of state, and my parents hosted a large party in our home a few weeks later. It’s really only image I remember — all of the furniture taken out of the first floor of our house and replaced with folding tables covered with white table cloths.

My uncle and his wife became more and more extreme in their Christian faith with each passing year. They had two children, and became afraid that schools would try to brainwash them. So my aunt homeschooled the kids, and they moved to increasingly more and more rural areas. Eventually, my uncle — a psychologist — began working for an enormous Christian organization with a large anti-gay operation.

It was around this time that I started to take my first steps out of the closet. I was sixteen. I thought I was ready to talk to my parents. I had prepared. I was not, however, prepared to hear what I did.

“Did you know that your uncle was gay, Mark?” my dad asked. He then explained that my uncle, too, had struggled with thinking that he was gay. But with prayer, and love, and whatever else, he had married my aunt. And they had two beautiful children. “Isn’t that what you want for your life, Mark? That’s what your mom and I want for you.”

I was lucky. My parents may have wanted to send me to reparative therapy, but we lived in Massachusetts. And they’re too mainstream to have found an extreme enough therapist. They just picked a psychologist who seemed nice. We went a few times, he explained to them that he couldn’t help me be straight any more than he could help me be seven feet tall, and the talk of changing like my uncle had done was over.

The better part of a decade later, my father had finally come to terms with my being gay. He was probably still a little uncomfortable, but he wanted me to be happy. He got a call from my uncle. I don’t know everything that they talked about, but they talked about me being gay. My uncle was “concerned” for me, that I had chosen a “destructive lifestyle.” My dad was having none of it. He told me about their conversation, and told me that he said to my uncle, “It’s different when it’s your child.”

A few more years go by, and my dad gets another call from my uncle. He’s crying. “You were right,” he tells my dad. “It’s different when it’s your own child.” My cousin, a few years younger than me, had just sat her parents down and told them that she is a lesbian.

A few more years go by, and my cousin is visiting with her brother. They are sitting in the living room of the house that my newlywed husband and I had just purchased. We are talking about how her parents are doing, and the progress they’ve made since she came out to them.

“You’ll never believe this,” says my cousin. “When I came out to my parents, they told me that they both thought they were gay, too, but they married each other, and maybe I could do the same thing.”

My husband and I smile, and I laugh a little.

“Oh my god,” she says. “You already knew!”

I explain to her that I heard about her dad when I first came out.

“I wish someone had told us!” says her brother. “It explained so much about our life.”

We were on the other side, and able to laugh about the added struggle we had with our families because they believed gay people could change.

My aunt and uncle are still married. They are probably the kindest, sweetest people I know. I don’t know if they understand how what they chose impacted me and their daughter.

My uncle left the enormous Christian organization. When I saw my aunt and uncle a couple of years ago, they were on their way to meet a couple that they had met online. They believed this couple to be their children from a past life.

I assume that means they are still searching for some kind of meaning. But I haven’t asked.

In the original version of this post, I called the enormous Christian organization with the large anti-gay operation by name. I’ve decided to remove that name in an attempt to preserve the anonymity of my uncle, with whom I have not discussed this blog post.

So, the Neuropsychologist …

In June, our 6-year-old was evaluated by a neuropsychologist. Primarily, we sought the evaluation because his therapist thought it would be helpful. I suspect the evaluation will also be helpful in getting support from our school system, although they’ve been extremely accommodating even without a formal evaluation. Also, and this was a distant third on the list, I thought there was a distant possibility that he might have some useful insight for us as parents.

I have to say that I was surprised how well the neuropsychologist seemed to “get” my son after their meetings. He was able to paint an extremely accurate picture of Andrew during our follow-up meeting.

We’ve spent the last two years believing, and being told by every professional who sees our son (teachers, therapists, behaviorists, social workers) that his trauma history and his neglect are the cause of his issues. The neuropsychologist thinks that’s maybe not so much the case. He suspects that, although the trauma and neglect have certainly impacted Andrew and his development, most of the trouble we’re running into are problems that Andrew would be having now regardless of his history.

He feels that the most helpful description for Andrew right now would be temper dysregulation disorder. (Temper dysregulation disorder is a new diagnosis that will likely be used in DSM 5. You can read (and listen) to this NPR story about temper dysregulation disorder for some additional information.)

We’re now waiting to see a developmental pediatrician to develop a treatment plan for Andrew, since the neuropsychologist strongly recommends treating him medically. At this point I am mostly crossing my fingers. I’m hopeful that medication will be helpful for my son, because nothing else we do as parents seems to have any impact. I want him to be able to get through a school day without having a tantrum or getting into a fight with his peers. I would love to be able to pick him up from school or camp without having to have the same conversation with his teacher for the hundredth time.

Andrew is a very smart little boy (he tested in the 95th to 97th percentile) and I’m terrified that his inability to control his impulses is going to get in the way of his education and hold him back. I’m scared of what happens as he gets a little older and we’re no longer able to monitor all of his interactions.

Also, separate from my concerns about Andrew are my own feelings about this as a parent. I’m tired of feeling like a terrible parent, which is how I feel when nothing I do seems to make any difference. I know, intellectually, that it’s not the case. Obviously, I understand that we’ve been following the recommendations of professionals and that Andrew is actually doing a lot better now emotionally than he was two years ago when he moved into our home. He is much more sure of himself, and he knows that he has a place. These are things he didn’t know two years ago. But the functional difference of that progress seems very small. He has just as much trouble getting through the day now as he did on the day I met him.

And the reality is that no matter how many people tell me I’m doing a good job, no matter who tells me that his behavior is currently beyond his control, I frequently feel like a failure as a parent. Secretly (well, I guess not so secretly now, since I’m writing about it here) I’m sure that some day the religious right is going to put my picture on a poster saying, “This is why gay people shouldn’t be allowed to parent!”

Ugh. I’m going to write about something fun next time, I swear.