Hate Mail From Sharon Kass: ‘Zack Ford, Captive of Gay-ness’

My best approximation of Sharon Kass.

My best approximation of Sharon Kass.

I got some very amusing hate mail this week!

Many folks out in the LGBT activism world are familiar with Sharon Kass. She regularly trolls advocates of equality with emails extolling ex-gay therapy and the ex-gay group NARTH. In fact, Truth Wins Out has been tracking her for some time, and she’s also had run-ins with my friends at The Bilerico Project, Good As You, and others. She contributes occasionally to some uber-conservative sites like WorldNetDaily, where her schtick is the same.

Most recently, Kass targeted Tennessee 11-year-old Marcel Neergaard, who successfully petitioned Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst group to rescind an education award from state Rep. John Ragan (R), sponsor of the pro-bullying “Don’t Say Gay” bill. (I met Marcel’s mom, Misty, this summer at Netroots Nation, and let me just say that the world would be lucky to have more moms like her.) Kass wrote to Marcel’s dad telling him that he was responsible for Marcel’s homosexuality, which she called a “disorder of deep-seated gender self-alienation.” She went on to explain how the family clearly didn’t want a second boy and so the distance between father and son is what caused Marcel to be gay. “The ex-gay truth,” she wrote, “will prevail in this country.”

A Change.org petition asking Kass to stop sending hate mail currently has over 600 signatures.

I’ve heard from Kass plenty of times myself. Back in September, she even suggested that we hold a public debate. After exchanging a few emails, she decided I was not a “worthy opponent” because I sneer at “Christians” (her quotes, not mine) and ignore “original sources” (those quotes are mine) like NARTH, Joseph use-gay-porn-to-cure-homosexuality Nicolosi, and Richard hit-a-pillow-with-a-tennis-racket Cohen.

I was disappointed, actually, because I don’t know if “Sharon Kass” is a real person. I’ve never seen a picture of her anywhere. I’ve never seen her make a public appearance anywhere. Her name outside of her hate mail might not even be Sharon — she might not even be a she. (That would be disappointing, because I hate misgendering people.) During the should-we-have-a-debate debate, I asked to see a picture of her, and I think that may have put her off.

But this week, I heard from her out of the blue! And this time, she wrote a custom article about me! It includes some quite random quotes from here at ZackFord Blogs as well as over at ThinkProgress. I replied to ask her if it was published anywhere, but her only reply was, “To quote Hillary… what difference does it make?” I sure hope that my sexual identity doesn’t become an overblown fake scandal like Benghazi, but I assume — with some Google confirmation — that she meant “no.” So, I’ll solve her that problem and print it here because I think it’s just so amusing. To be nice, I’ll even toss in some links to my posts and her sources (since she only included the reference list at the bottom). Here is a direct copy and paste of her email:

Zack Ford, Captive of Gayness

Sharon Kass
October 29, 2013

I’m just a regular guy, I think.  Well, maybe.–Zack Ford, “Who is Zack Ford?”  ZackFordBlogs.com

He’s young.  He’s Leftist.  He’s gay.

Welcome to the world of Zack Ford, head gay at the Leftist D.C. think tank the Center for American Progress.

He’s a self-described atheist.  Psychologist Paul Vitz, in his Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism, explains how an early troubled relationship (or nonrelationship) with the father contributes to a lifelong troubled relationship with authority.  God, of course, is the Ultimate Authority.

Male homosexuality originates in faulty bonding and identification with the father, starting at or before age two.  Psychologist Joseph Nicolosi discusses this in his article “Fathers of Male Homosexuals: A Collective Clinical Profile.”  To the male homosexual, with his insecure masculinity, the male object of desire is not the object of mature erotic love but a source of a masculine fix.  (A “gay” relationship may have an element of true friendship, but the erotic part is neurotic.)

He says, of himself, that being adopted is “just kind of cool.”  He’s in denial.  Being casual about family ties is a pose he puts on in order to escape his feeling of hurt.  Deep down, he wonders what role his having been adopted played in his father’s difficulty relating to him.

He loves knocking ex-gays and critics of homosexuality.  But he’s got no opposing case.  He’s very invested in being a “sexual minority” because then he gets to be part of a “protected class” like blacks and gets to force his fellow Americans to affirm his “gay identity.”  Nicolosi’s “Gay as Self-Reinvention” explains this.

More Fordisms:

It [the assertion that “gay” is psychotherapeutically treatable]’s the latest evidence that all of these groups [such as Parents & Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays and the Family Research Council] are actively working against the lives of LGBT people ….

How to Invalidate Gays: Validate Ex-Gays

Ex-gay Rich Wyler, founder of People Can Change, had the opportunity to reiterate many untrue ex-gay talking points, including unfounded “causes” for a gay orientation, the misguided notion that it’s ethical to support a patient who wants ex-gay therapy, and a completely inaccurate comparison between ex-gay and transgender patients.  ….  NPR [National Public Radio] has no obligation to highlight their [ex-gays’] harmful, anti-scientific, and anti-gay views as having any merit.

Ford lives in a bubble of denial, a Leftist bubble.  All his life, he has been among the millions of Americans who have been used for bogus civil rights cache.  He makes his living repeating unsubstantiated talking points.  He is a captive of gay-ness.

GayScam could end as soon as 2021.  If Zack Ford is smart, he’ll get real help and start working on learning who is really is.  No time to waste.  ///

Sources:  http://thinkprogress.org.feedsportal.com, www.zackfordblogs.com.  For real information, see www.narth.com, www.gaytostraight.org, www.peoplecanchange.com, www.jonahweb.org, www.janellehallman.com, www.josephnicolosi.com, www.voiceofthevoiceless.info, and www.pfox.org.  The 2013 meeting of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality is November 8-9 in Phoenix.  

So, a couple quick thoughts:

  • I don’t think I’m the “head gay” at CAP. Lots of other people are doing great LGBT work there, and they definitely do not report to me.
  • If gay sex is “neurotic,” so what?
  • Why is GayScam, whatever it is, going to end in 2021? I didn’t get any memos.
  • Why is everything my dad’s fault? Is it his fault I also don’t like peanut butter?

Speaking of my dad, I showed him Kass’s letter. He wrote me the following response:


Tell her the next meeting of the National Association of “Hypocrites of America” is on November 3, 2013, at your local church. Remember Ms. Sharon, Jesus despised the hypocrites and the money lenders (rich white right wing bankers).



My dad always jokes that he likes to read the last lines of my posts (which he reads daily, by the way), because he enjoys how I drive home whatever point I’m trying to make. I think I’ll let his be the final point here, though.

Being Adopted Does Not Mean My Parents Bought Me As ‘Chattel’

It’s been a long time since I’ve written here at ZFb, because I find my role as LGBT Editor at ThinkProgress provides me the venue to say most of what I feel needs to be said. Today is an exception, as I feel the need to write a personal response to an attack I received on me and my family from a semi-prominent spokesperson for the anti-equality movement.

This past week, the Republican National Committee approved a resolution affirming its opposition to same-sex marriage. I debunked that resolution earlier in the week, pointing out that its only foundation was the “bullshitjunk-science study on gay parenting by Mark Regnerus as well as a number of assertions that simply amount to declarations of heterosexual supremacy. This provoked a fairly heated response from one Robert Oscar Lopez.

Here’s what I know about Lopez’s story: he identifies as bisexual but has disowned his gay side, he blames his lesbian parents for his social ineptness, and he seems all too happy to help out groups who oppose same-sex marriage — at the state, federal, and international levels. Notably, he was among the featured speakers at the National Organization for Marriage’s “March for Marriage” last month.

Lopez’s primary talking point is that he was damaged by same-sex parenting and he wants to save other children the same fate. As my fellow blogger Joe Jervis describes his argument, “Nobody Likes Me,” and he makes it over and over. His argument against my “reckless dismissal” of the RNC resolution was similar:

 If you don’t see flashing red lights and a gigantic billboard saying “BAD IDEA” when you contemplate gay couples buying other adults out of their offspring and then raising kids as if one of the biological parents never existed, then there’s really no point in discussing the ethics of parenting. Please don’t call in the APA to settle the matter for you.

Zack Ford discredits Doug Mainwaring’s line that the same-sex marriage movement is turning children into “chattel” to serve the selfish demands of adults. Zack, how do gay men and lesbians come to be exclusive parents of children? They pay men for their sperm and women for use of their wombs, then pay them to go away. This is essentially buying other human beings as property because certain adults — not always gays, but here we are talking about gay adults — care more about having kids than about the kids’ right to half their ancestry. What part of “chattel” or “selfish” is unclear?

Mainwaring, I should point out, is another of NOM’s go-to “gays against gay marriage” — except they like to leave out the part that he’s a Tea Party activist essentially living an ex-gay life with a wife and children. Mainwaring and Lopez may both have sexual orientations that aren’t exclusively heterosexual, but if they’ve disavowed those identities except when it’s politically expedient, it’s hard to credit them as members of the LGBT community.

At any rate, I think Lopez’s argument is pretty offensive on its face and doesn’t require a whole lot of analysis on my part. It’s worth noting that he pits his own testimony and one fraudulent sociologist against the consensus of all psychological, psychiatric, and sociological groups. To prove his point, he made the following suggestion to me and my colleagues at ThinkProgress:

Maybe Zack’s compadres should talk to adoptees and people conceived with anonymous sperm donors or surrogate mothers.  While some are unaffected by the dislocation from their biological origins, many are haunted and scarred.  (As a descendant of slaves, I am haunted and scarred because my ancestors were cut off from me.)

But here’s the thing: I was adopted. I’ve also gotten to know a lot of other people who were adopted, as well as children of same-sex couples. As far as I know, none of us are “haunted and scarred.” I know essentially nothing about my blood-parents, but you know what? I know a lot about my actual parents — the ones I’ve known my whole life — and about their ancestors and whatnot. Just because I don’t share their genes doesn’t make me scarred. It’s actually just kind of cool. When I go to my cousin’s wedding next month, I’m not going to feel somehow ostracized from everyone there just because we have a few different strands of DNA. Family is family.

And I’ll be honest, while I think knowing about your past can be interesting and fulfilling, I don’t know that it’s healthy to feel like you need that information to define yourself and live your own life. I feel bad that Lopez doesn’t know anything about his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather — and obviously slavery was an egregious human atrocity — but is that what’s really holding him back in life?

That might be kind of a harsh personal challenge, but he did just insinuate that my parents were the equivalent slave-traders for adopting me. And given I’m also a gay man who someday hopes to have my own family, he also seems to think that I’m going to “buy” children for selfish reasons that will somehow impede their identity development.

Here are a couple questions I have for Lopez:

  • Were my (heterosexual) parents “selfish” for wanting to have a child in the first place?
  • Was my mom “selfish” when she put her body through hell (a.k.a. in vitro fertilization) trying to have a child?
  • Were my parents “selfish” when they adopted me after my mother failed to conceive?
  • Given you apparently oppose adoption, does that mean you fervently support a woman’s right to choose an abortion?

What I find most interesting about arguments like Lopez’s is how easy it is to see how they are the last remnants of past anti-gay talking points. It used to be that same-sex couples would either abuse their children or somehow turn them gay. Nowadays, the supposed threat to children is that they might just learn in school that same-sex families exist. The Regnerus study — and its knock-off imitations — are a last-ditch effort to try to convince people that there are consequences for the kids of same-sex couples. Now NOM is stuck arguing against adoption, suggesting the children of same-sex couples will resent their parents, and Lopez’s icing on the cake is that they will be deprived of “half their ancestry.” Is that compelling to anybody?

It just strikes me as sad that these groups have such antipathy against gays and lesbians that they actually have lost sight of what’s best for children. Adoption and foster care are good for children who don’t have parents to care for them. Marriage is good for same-sex couples and their children so that they have the same legal and financial protections as other families. Perhaps Lopez is just so troubled by the conflicting values he’s faced throughout his life that he’s lost sight of these common sense realities. I sincerely hope he can find a way to feel better about himself, his past, and his identity that doesn’t require attacking families like mine — both the one in which I was raised and the one I plan to raise myself one day.


Living A Through-Composed Life (A Short Birthday Reflection)

Me at age 14 with friend, Esther. (2000)

I’ve always been anal. I’ve always liked there to be a time and place for everything, and I can get frustrated when things don’t fit together, like a song that has no chorus. There was a time in my life when a drastic shift in theme, character, or setting between seasons was enough for me to stop watching a beloved television show. And there used to be a time when I assumed the theme, characters, and setting of my life would be exactly as I had planned them out. I don’t really buy these preferences anymore, and I feel like I’m all the wiser for it.

Today I mark the big 26. What is that, late-mid 20’s? I insist it’s still mid-20’s. It’s not that I have any problem with getting old—it’s just that life feels so new this year that I prefer the “younger” framing. Twenty-six isn’t really “big” or “the”-worthy either, but this birthday feels significant, because it’s my first in a new era of my existence.

Last year at 25 should have been significant. A perfect square, a quarter of a century. But who cares about numbers?I was unemployed and living in complete uncertainty for what my future held. Boy was I surprised at just what 25 would bring with it.

Now I have a job! I’m living on my own! And I’m part of a big city for the first time in my life. And that job? Totally not what I thought it would be. I wrote back in March that this new life course made little sense to me when compared to my previous life plan, and I’m still not sure it does. But it’s the path I’m on now… and it’s just peachy.

So here’s a little thought on the passage of time. Whatever comes next doesn’t necessarily have to have anything to do with what came before. As individuals, we are the sum total of our experiences. The world presents us with a whole lot of dots and our lives are what connect them. When we die—or at any point along the way—we can look back and measure our lives not just by the quantity of our accomplishments, but by the tapestry we wove, the picture we unknowingly drew.

It’s pretty cheesy and platitudinous, I know. But that’s just where I am with things. When you let go of all those certainties and expectations society provides, life is a whole lot more exciting and surprising.

So cheers to living life as a rhapsody and dropping glitter on all those strophic codgers.

Being The Kind of Blogger One Wants To Be

It is SO weird to think that 26 months ago I started this blog just as a hobby, a little place to synthesize some things that were on my mind and hopefully create some discussion. I never really thought it would become a prominent part of my life and identity, and it seems that now it is very much the defining aspect of who I am.

I spent this weekend in San Francisco communing with 40+ other LGBT bloggers and publishers, as you can see in the photo above. As I felt at Netroots Nation last year, I still had moments where I looked around and still couldn’t believe where I was and with whom I was working. I hope this doesn’t come off as false modesty, but there’s still something crazy about seeing your tweets be retweeted by bloggers that you have always looked to as role models or by mainstream LGBT publishers. I’m still not sure how I got here.

Add to that the fact that after I return east from San Francisco tonight, I will be packing up to move to DC this week to start my full-time job as an LGBT blogger. It’s now going to be my occupation—my primary purpose in life—what I stake my reputation on. It just blows my mind.

And I guess what I want to say is… Go for it. I’m not where I am because there’s anything special about me. I’m not being handed anything on a silver platter. While I’ve certainly been mentored, I don’t think I’ve gotten any special advantages as a result of connections that I’ve made. I just committed myself to my writing and to making the difference I want to make.

Commitment, passion, integrity. That’s what it takes.

The unfortunate truth is that there are a lot of folks out there who think it’s all about just drawing attention to themselves. They provoke just to provoke and complain just to complain. They don’t write their blogs or tweet their tweets for anybody but themselves. They think if they can cause a stink that they mean something and that they’re worth listening to.

They aren’t.

The power of the blogosphere is the passion of individuals to communicate ideas for the benefit of others. We can work together to amplify important messages (like the topics of youth suicide we discussed this weekend in San Francisco) to affect the ideas discussed by society when the mainstream media doesn’t. We can challenge each other and engage with each other, but we also trust and respect each other because we have common goals. None of us live luxuriously off our efforts; it is the difference we can make that propels us.

This weekend, as many of us were connecting and sharing important knowledge with each other, some antagonists posing as “gay activists” tried to interrupt our efforts. Motivated only by their own egos, they attempted to hijack our twitter stream and paint us as a group of uber-privileged brats who want for nothing and are secretly out to destroy the LGBT movement. They attacked us, insulted us, smeared us, bullied us, and victimized themselves despite clearly having no understanding of who many of us are, what we write about, or what the purpose of this meet-up was. They also wanted it to sound like this was some secret exclusive meeting, despite the fact we livetweeted the entire event. It couldn’t have been more transparent.

These individuals have no credibility as advocates, activists, or even as writers, but they feel because they have a platform on the internet that their point of view is valid. It is clear when the only effective way to engage with such individuals is to ignore them that they do not have substantive or meaningful contributions to make towards our supposedly common goals.

It is this selfishly motivated approach to blogging that gets folks nowhere. They do not get respect; their ideas do not get traction. They are not worth a single retort because the attention of such a retort is all they care about.

The blogosphere is a community, and the more that we can work together, the better. To those whose approach is to attack, belittle, and (self-)ostracize, there is no reason to invite them to further engage. It is those who aspire to educate and inform and create a more inclusive society who must be highlighted and promoted.

I continue to be honored that I have been welcomed and promoted in this way in the blogosphere. I admire the brilliant minds that I now get to interact with on a daily basis and look forward to all the opportunities yet ahead to work with them to make society a better place for LGBT people. And to all our detractors; keep trying. I’d rather you waste your time as our petulant trolls than bother other people with your nonsense.

New Job, Blog Changes, Thank-Yous!

When I was in high school, I once thought I was going to double major in psychology and Spanish and be a bilingual psychiatrist. But then, I considered that all my extracurriculars were music, so I should probably study music. I went to college for Music Education.

While a Music Ed major, all my extracurriculars were in student affairs. I went to grad school for Student Affairs.

While in grad school, I thought I had a good balance of music and student affairs, but I also ended up starting a blog.

And now, I will be taking a job in blogging.

This week, I’ve accepted an offer to join the team over at the Center for American Progress as an LGBT researcher and blogger (for Think Progress and The Wonk Room). I’m not sure what my posting regimen there will look like yet, but it’s safe to say that ZFb will not be getting nearly as much attention. More on that to come.

For now, at least, the fine folks I’ll be working with have indicated that this blog doesn’t have to go anywhere. I still may very well write here from time to time when I need to get something out that I can’t really write about over there. At the very least, Peterson and I are committed to maintaining Queer and Queerer on at least a semi-regular basis!

It never occurred to me that this little hobby of mine could turn into a career, and so I have to thank a few folks who made it possible.

First of all, Pete Berg needs to be thanked. He doesn’t do anything for me on a regular basis, but it’s thanks to his generosity that this blog (and its podcast) has a home on the interwebs. Thank you, Pete, for continuing to host ZFb!

Pam Spaulding and Bil Browning: The two of you have been incredible mentors and I truly appreciate all of your encouragement and support. I would not be taking this step forward if it weren’t for your promotion of my writing.

Michael Crawford/Freedom to Marry and Mike Rogers: Thanks to your financial support, I was able to attend Netroots Nation this year, which was surely a turning point for me. It was the first time I stood among other bloggers and felt like I was legitimate and doing something real, and the connections I made there were priceless. Thank you for helping me on this path!

My fabulous readers: Thank you for being here, supporting me, promoting my posts, and commenting!

Lots of exciting change to come and I’m not sure what it all will look like!!!

Sexual Liberation, Desire, and Queer Equality

Note: I’m going to at least allude to aspects of sex and my own sexuality in this post, so if you’re the kind of person who might judge me for that, please do us both a favor and skip this post.

Creating Change offers a huge variety of workshops, academies, and day-long institutes to choose from, which is one of the many reasons it continues to be a rich experience every year. This year, I decided to take a risk by committing to a day-long institute that would be a personal learning opportunity as opposed to just a professional skill-building one.

Geographies of Sex: Mapping our Desire: An Institute for Sexual Liberation

Any time a title has two colons in it, you know it will be intense, and it was, but in really poignant ways.

The goal of the institute was “discovering and reclaiming pivotal experiences that have forged our sexual paths” so that we can map our desire and “move toward a more vibrant, empowered daily expression of our sexualities.” So yes, that meant lots of people talking about their sex lives, and then each of us taking time to reflect on our own sex lives and examine them for themes and understandings of how we think about sex today and make decisions about how to move forward. But no, I’m not going to blog my entire desire map.

Let me start by saying this: sex needs to be demystified. I thought before I attended this institute I had a pretty forward-thinking view on sex (and I certainly haven’t shied away from talking openly about it in positive ways). I was wrong.

Sex is so taboo, and it’s bizarre! We are all sexual beings. We all have sex lives (even abstinent ones). We all have fantasies. We all have desires and our bodies are all capable of experiencing pleasure. And yet conversations about sex have really diminished in our movement.

What’s the one thing that sets apart queer people from the heterosexual/cisgender homogeneity? Our bodies and what we do with them. And as we’ve pushed forward for acceptance, we’ve often done so at the expense of covering up the very things that make us unique.

The problem is that all thoughts related to sex reside in the primal part of our brain. It’s the place where anger and fear are first-responses and it’s quite far removed from our much more evolved intuition and critical thinking skills. So when people are faced with conversations about sex, people go to that very protective place, which makes it difficult to move forward. We’ve moved  toward equality by sacrificing our understanding of our own sexuality.

But honestly… if there is consent and mutual benefit, everything should be fair game.

So let me take my own little step towards a liberated queer community. My name is Zack. I have kinks and fetishes. I am also a romantic and love connecting with sexual partners on deeper levels. And after spending a day examining my sexual history, I realized that I’ve been tentative and insecure with sex in the past. I’ve been afraid of sex, I’ve been afraid of not being desired, and I’ve been afraid to let myself feel pleasure. Moving forward, I am going to try to overcome these insecurities and take a greater ownership of my desires. I’m not ashamed to be a sexual being and I’m not going to let anyone suggest I should be. In fact, I’m going to do my best to encourage others in embracing their own desires as well.

What’s hot for someone is hot for someone.

If shame is in charge, we avoid opportunities for pleasure for ourselves.

If you don’t play out sexual desires, they could take over in other ways.

Those are three quotes from the day. I can’t wait to see how someone tries to use this personal disclosure against me at some point in my life.

Honestly, what I just shared is nothing compared to the kinds of conversations we had at the institute. Here are a few examples of some of the discussions that came up…

It’s not uncommon to have rape fantasies, but what if you’re a rape victim? What kind of sexual paradox is it to still find pleasure in a fantasy that has such a traumatic imprint in your life? I can’t even begin to imagine that conflict, but how liberating it was to have several people in the room who could speak to it. Once you’ve healed, you can play with it. Without undermining the severity of rape, these powerful survivors spoke to reclaiming their sexuality and their desire. How profound to focus on being the survivor instead of always being the victim!

What about consensual incest? I’m talking about two people who have a familial connection but are both capable and willing of giving consent to the other for sexual pleasure. It’s a thought that really racks the brain and makes us think it’s such a horrible thing. What about even just the fantasy of it? What about having a crush on a sibling or a cousin? Given that we’re all sexual beings, don’t we owe it to ourselves to at least consider the question before dismissing it outright for the ick factor it evokes?

Are fantasies in our head meant to stay there or be realized? Sometimes our desires have consequences. Sometimes we spend our whole lives “performing” instead of just “being,” letting go. How do sex workers rediscover what their own sexual desires actually are? How do racial dynamics impact power exchange play? How do we distinguish between our personal sexual feelings and the feelings we have for our partners? How do we ensure that we aren’t just catering to our partner’s desires at the sacrifice of our own?

What is it about monogamy that motivates us to hold it up as an ideal? Is it because we’re just so insecure about expressing our own sexual desires that once we’ve found a single person who pleases us that we aren’t able to trust in an emotional commitment without strict sexual monogamy? I’m asking these questions as someone who identifies quite strongly with monogamy!

One of the panelists discussed a time when he and his partner of then-5 years were having a fight. It had come to light that both of them had had sexual encounters outside of their relationship. But the fight wasn’t working. It was a conditioned response; they weren’t fighting because they actually wanted to fight, but merely because they felt they were supposed to. They soon realized that they were actually both okay with the other’s “indiscretion.” In fact, it kind of made them hot to hear about what each did with the outside person. Eventually their relationship evolved to the point where they could be open and cruise together, and occasionally even welcome a third home with them. They sit on the subway and play the “who would you bang?” game. They are still a committed couple (now 11+ years as I recall), and they are confidently committed enough that they recognize they don’t (and never will) complement each other’s desires perfectly.

I still don’t know if I could ever do that… but how great is that? When we choose to value individuals’ sexuality and desires, it’s not difficult to arrive at a place where his experience with his partner actually sounds quite healthy and vibrant. Still, we have these constructs about what is “right” and “wrong” with sex that are hard to shake. Ultimately, what do we gain from these schemas except limitations to our own sexuality and relationships?

I want to share one more moment of personal learning for me. At one point, I made a comment to the group about how young people (like myself) have absorbed a lot of messages about safe sex that are motivated by fear of HIV and STIs. Later in the day, several different folks in the room disclosed they were HIV+ and that my comment reminded them of the stigma they often face and the way it can really stifle their sexuality. It caused them to shut down a little bit. I had really forgotten about the privilege I have as someone HIV-, and I had indirectly reinforced the stigma against people with HIV. I approached these individuals later to express my regret for the microaggression, and it’s an awareness about creating inclusive spaces that I will carry with me.

So, I hope I’ve given you all something to think about. Much thanks to all the presenters and panelists who helped give me something to think about! Sexual liberation is something I think we all deserve. I know I am nowhere close to being liberated, but engaging in these kinds of ideas has had a profound impact on my thinking. As we move forward in achieving LGBT equality, we have to continue creating space for our sexuality and acknowledge that sex can be a very positive thing. I welcome your thoughts about these important ideas as we all challenge the taboo around sexuality and desire together.

At the end of the intense and emotionally draining day, we were invited to share a next step we were going to take upon leaving the workshop. One young man shared simply, “I intend to fuck soon.” He received a boisterous round of applause.

That Post Zack Writes in the Airport After Creating Change (2011)

Well, another fabulous Creating Change conference has come to an end. I’m chilling in the Minneapolis airport—exhausted, emotionally drained, and completely satiated. This would be the kind of feeling a religious believer would probably describe as being well within their soul.

More about religion later this week.

Every year, I feel compelled to write something during this moment of limbo while I leave behind “homotopia” to return to a world of heterosexual privilege and queer social isolation.

After leaving Denver in 2009, I described the awesome and important new connections I made there. Last year, Dallas left me energized to take action by bringing the energy of of the conference home with me. This year, I feel compelled to just say a few words about family.

It’s not used as often these days, but folks still often use “family” to describe members of the queer community. “Are they family?” It’s a little code to recognize a connection between us all and how our lives in this society are different from the heterosexual and cisgender norms.

But despite its purpose as a codeword, it also carries an underlying depth with it. Creating Change really is a big family reunion in a lot of ways. It’s an ever-growing family, and it’s the perfect opportunity to welcome and engage with new members.

I’m sitting in the airport with a new friend I made as we wait for his flight to leave. He’s someone I didn’t know four days ago and someone I’m now very sad to say goodbye to, one of countless new and old connections from the weekend that fit that description. I can’t imagine not cherishing every last second I have to enjoy such wonderful company. And whether or not any of us keep in touch regularly (we will) or see each other again before CC12 in Baltimore, our lives are different because our paths have crossed.

And as we all depart from the land of lakes, we return to lives where we don’t have this family at our immediate disposal, but we are refreshed and energized. We are reminded that we’re not alone, that our struggles locally are not unique and that we have a family to fall back on.

Most days, being queer is just one small facet of our lives that really doesn’t define us. But some days, we remember that it is still a significant part of who we are, a slice of our identities that connects us to others in a unique way we cannot ever truly lose.

Those of us with the privilege of attending Creating Change have a responsibility to bring back that sense of family to our schools and communities. We’ve touched base with that sense of love, support, and dependence that is at the heart of our queerness, and we owe it to the others in our lives to help them feel the same.

I’m tired and very emotionally drained, so I’ll refrain from babbling much more at this point… but to all you folks out there: you are loved. We are all part of a family, and it’s a family who will always be there waiting when we need it.

Cheers from Minneapolis.

Remembering The Moment It Felt Right

Tonight’s amazing Glee episode (“Never Been Kissed”) put me in a sentimental place in my head. I’m just going to speak from personal experience, but I’m sure there will be plenty of you out there who relate.

There is a moment in the coming out process… it’s not part of all the psycho-social identity development theories or anything, but it is the most profound moment in a young gay man’s life.

It is the very first time that you feel the touch of another man. I’m not talking at all about sex, but the very first time you allow yourself to test those waters of intimacy. The first time your legs touch… a little bit too much and a little bit too long for it to mean nothing. And the shivers run up and down your spine as every hair stands on end… and you both know. You both know it’s right but you both know it’s wrong, and so maybe that’s all there ever is.

But eventually, the moment comes when another man first holds you in his arms or kisses you for the first time. And… I don’t know. A lot of you out there reading this will just be like, “WHAT IS ZACK ON?” or you’ll just think I’m being really cheesy.

But I’m not. There is truly something powerful about it. The word “relief” doesn’t do it justice… it’s a wave of peace that just washes over you. And I refuse to believe it’s the same as any old heterosexual first kiss.

There’s so much guilt, so much shame, so much fear… and it can persist and haunt you your whole life… but in that moment, all of it goes away. All of the questions and confusion and frustration just vanishes. And it’s like you exist. And you’re safe. Your love exists. You have a place in the world. It’s a single moment that fills you with hope and happiness like nothing ever can.

And sometimes it’s hard to find that moment again. New loves you find along the way can relieve your burdens in beautiful ways, but none packs the punch as that first one… the first time you knew that another person could truly love you.

Glee reminded me of that moment tonight.

And tomorrow morning, I’ll be going to Brandon Bitner‘s funeral. He was only 14… I don’t know if he ever got the chance to have a moment like that. He might not have even been gay, but I think that’s besides the point.

We all deserve to feel that love, to explore that true expression of ourselves and our bodies with another.

Tomorrow will be a reminder of the way we still deprive so many young people of those moments. We convince them not to love themselves and not to ever consider that another person could ever hold them… or comfort them… or just make them feel safe.

And I just think it’s one of the cruelest things in the world.

(There was a similar moment the first time I ever heard a love song that I knew was written by a man, for a man. It was by Levi Kreis, the first openly gay musician I discovered. Listening to his first album, “One of the Ones,” still reminds me of those moments when I first realized how real the love between two men could be. Here’s a compilation of intimate photos of men someone made to Levi’s song, “Just This Good.”)

The Militant Atheist with a Gay Agenda is Popping Up All Over

So I have this really lovely post up with all my thoughts and feelings about spending my day giving hugs at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. I hope you’ll read it.

I also wanted to track who all wrote about encountering me at the rally. That’s what this post is for. I hope you don’t think it too egotistical or anything. I really wanted to make a difference and get people thinking, so… I don’t know… I’m just kind of curious to see what impact I had. Given how many people dressed as Waldo, you can’t blame me for wondering who found me.

Here are the mentions of me and my sign I’ve found in no particular order. I’ll keep it updated if I find more. I feel like some kind of superhero or something, because I’m nameless in most of these stories.

» I added my sign to the Huffington Post gallery. Won’t you vote for it?

» Chris Johnson of the Washington Blade interviewed me and included me and my sign in his story on the rally.

» Samantha, intern from WYPR’s Midday with Dan Rodricks, interviewed me for Monday’s show.

» Annie Groer of AOL News’ Politics Daily found me. (Her short list of signs also pops up on many comment forums.)

» Jonathan Kay of the Canadian National Post found me.

» New York Magazine found me.

» LA News Monitor found me.

» A blogger named “svalbard” glomped me.

» Some folks on tumblr found me. One reacted to my sign: “Life = made.”

A Thousand Hugs at the Rally to Restore Sanity

I never bought into the “good pain” exercise evangelists pontificate about. If you’re exercising just because you don’t feel like you’re thin enough for society, then the pain isn’t good—it’s just dumb.

But I’m in a good kind of a pain right now, because I spent almost seven hours on my feet giving out hugs at Saturday’s huge Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Aside from a few little press interviews and one five-minute break to eat a snack, I was “on duty” from 9 until almost 4. I didn’t keep count, but this militant atheist with a gay agenda easily gave up to 150 hugs/hour, so I guesstimate I gave around 1000-1200 hugs.

(I’m kind of bummed the Christian Science Monitor didn’t quote me in its story despite interviewing me; I was really curious to see how I would have been portrayed there.)

I had no comprehension of what was happening on the stage at the rally. In fact, I didn’t see any clips until the next day! But I had an amazing time, nonetheless—perhaps the best day of my life. I definitely feel I made a difference, and I had to convince myself to leave when I did, though there was still a steady flow of huggable traffic.

I don’t have any sentimental videos to show you, but let me tell you a little bit about what it’s like to give people hugs all day.

First of all, let me share something kind of depressing. A lot of people are afraid to ask for hugs. I spent the whole day standing in the flow of traffic, but I didn’t shout out to solicit at all. Many stopped to take pictures of me and my sign, most of whom politely asked if they could. I usually replied, “So long as I get a hug out of it,” in which case I always did. But there were so very many who read the sign, smiled, and made extended eye contact… but kept walking. Quite a few said, “Keep up the good work,” and a surprising number gently patted my shoulder as they walked past, as if to say, “I’m with you.”

Every once in a while, when someone made casual contact like that, I would offer, “Do you want one?” or even, “Oh, come on, you know you want one.” And there would be this sense of relief and a smile as they eagerly came in for a hug. I didn’t want to push (or guilt) anyone into a hug they didn’t want, but it was amazing to see how many people wanted hugs but didn’t feel it was their place to ask despite my obvious offer.

This, alone, seems to me a stunning commentary on the state of things in our society. Here was a huge group of people at what had to be the most mild-mannered rally of its size ever, and there were people who still felt reluctant to let themselves enjoy some social contact that was freely offered. Are we afraid of each other? Are we afraid of love? Are we afraid to let ourselves be loved? Do people feel like they don’t deserve hugs? I really wonder about the state of things that so many would feel they couldn’t ask someone as obviously goofy as me for a hug.

Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly folks who don’t like hugs. I happily offered many high fives and (terrorist) fist bumps to folks who didn’t want to be touchy-feely. But what I’m talking about is folks who really wanted to hug, but just didn’t feel comfortable asking. It was also evident that seeing other people hug me set an example that “made it okay,” and so folks would come in clumps, but people who didn’t see me hugging someone else were less apt to ask for a hug themselves. This phenomenon, more than anything else, has me inspired to continue my own Free Hugs campaign in the future.

But let’s put those thoughts aside and focus on the positive. Hugs really are amazing. I had hugs of all kind. I had full-on hugs, one-arm hugs, side hugs (not Christian though), hugs from behind, group hugs, long meaningful hugs, awkwardly long waiting-for-the-friend-to-figure-out-the-camera hugs, running-start pick-up-and-spin-around hugs, and whoa-careful-you-almost-tackled-me-to-the-ground hugs. (Starting to understand why I’m sore now?) Hugs can be awkward if you don’t know where each other’s arms or heads are going, but they all turn out just right in the end. Sometimes I could see hug-wanters coming from many yards away by the look in their eyes and the intense bee line they were making for me. Other times people passed by and then turned around and came back because they just couldn’t pass one up.

I hugged people of all genders (including beyond the binary, as one person disclosed), ethnicities, religions, and ages.

I actually found a lot of middle-aged and older women were eager to get hugs. One woman said, “I hope you don’t mind grandma hugs.” Who minds grandma hugs?!?! (If there is a People Against Grandma Hugs group out there somewhere, it is officially my mission to destroy you!) Some younger kids were shy about hugs, and one hug with a little kiddo backfired when my shoulder and his head met in an unfortunate way! He jokingly wobbled around as if I’d just knocked him out. Don’t worry, he was okay! Hug mishaps will happen, and we made sure he got a good one.

Two couples insisted their (“progressive,” as one qualified) infants in strollers be photographed with me. In both cases, I double checked to make sure they weren’t worried I’d rub off on the toddlers. I even hugged a few pregnant women, so all the pro-lifers out there will surely count each as two hugs.

Women seemed slightly more interested in hugs than men. Many had their boyfriends photograph them hugging me, but the boyfriends were not as interested in hugging (though plenty did). When posing for pictures with women (particularly older women), it was not uncommon for their hands to just happen to be on my butt. My butt was never squeezed—at no point did I feel violated—but there their hands were. I felt a little dirty, but not in a bad way! I was happy to see that plenty of guys sought out hugs of their own volition, too. One guy, who was presumably straight and quite confident in his sexuality, insisted on a long, sensual hug, adding, “Yeah, just hold me gently.” He was quite handsome and I happily obliged.

Interestingly, many of the guys who wanted hugs gave real hugs, not feeling the need for the 3-pat “I’m-not-gay” hug variety. Some of these guys even made the necessary “I’m straight, but I’ll still hug you” disclaimer (as if my “gay agenda” meant I only gave gay hugs?), but still gave real hugs. I wonder if the “straight” hug only comes into play between guys who know each other, but with a complete stranger, guys feel more comfortable giving the meaningful kind of hugs we all treasure.

Many folks were quite excited about my gay agenda. A few straight folks weren’t sure if they could really be a part of the gay agenda, but offered that they certainly supported it. I told them I was pretty sure they didn’t have to be gay to be part of the gay agenda, but that I’d get in touch with the gay leadership on high and get back to them.

I felt bad that not all the hugs I gave were of the same caliber. Often times I’d be bombarded in all directions by huggers and I didn’t do them all justice, though plenty complimented me on my hugging ability. Other hugs were incredibly meaningful, and you could tell that those folks really needed those hugs. One woman was particularly gracious to get a hug, because she simply hadn’t had one that day. I was quite surprised by the number of people who expressed, “I love you,” and a few added a kiss on the cheek to the encounter.

One girl let me have one of her french fries. Another fed me a bite of her salad. (I’m really hoping she doesn’t have mono.) One gentleman handed me a candy bar, which I promptly “paid forward” to a very young girl who passed by with a sign that says “I want candy.” At some point my sign inherited a pro-birth control sticker, but my favorite takeaway was a pin that said “Christine O’Donnell is not me!”

At one point, a reporter who was doing some live interviews nearby stepped away from his crew for a moment and said, “I couldn’t not give you one.” He didn’t interview me or anything. He just got his hug then rejoined his crew as they moved onto another area of the rally.

I hugged a Cylon (Toasters United Against Teabaggers), a male butterfly, a rodeo cowboy, Cookie Monster, and Bert. Bert informed me that he had just proposed to his now-fiance (who I also hugged) and that they were going to the courthouse Monday morning to get married. After I congratulated them, he told me she likes it when he wears the Bert suit, which she confirmed. I told her I agreed that he looked good in it. I then suggested that she’s into furries, which she also confirmed. (I later spotted them walking hand-in-hand without his Bert-head, and he looked pretty good without it too.)

I hugged Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Catholics, Christians, and probably more. Several Christians (and only Christians) felt the need to disclose their religion when hugging a “militant atheist” such as myself. One gentleman informed me he was a Christian missionary but he still loved me; I told him I loved him back. Several wished blessings upon me. Toward the end of the day, a woman started talking to me all about her integrated church and how it’s great to have so many different perspectives there. She then told me she’d pray for me and I politely invited her to visit my blog and read about why I prefer people not pray for me. I was shocked and impressed when she then volunteered, “Well, I suppose prayer is more for ourselves than for anybody else.” I smiled and nodded.

Of course, there were plenty of atheists. Some were just as visible about it, but for many, it was a dirty little secret they whispered in my ear as we hugged. Clearly, the message of sanity resonated a lot with the free-thinking community, and I was really delighted to see so many proud nonbelievers. I also relished the chance to visit with them afterward at a gathering Hemant Mehta organized. While I didn’t get to talk to too many people there, I really appreciated the connections I did make and the feeling of being in such rational company.

One hug from the day will stick out in my mind for the rest of my life. The woman informed me that her son, now deceased, had been both gay and atheist, and it meant so much to her that I was there. We exchanged no other words, but no more needed said. A tear formed in her eye as she hugged me with all the love she clearly has for her son.

Giving free hugs is not an original idea, and I won’t pretend that there’s anything special about my own effort to give hugs. It was also an exhausting day, and I was so tired I didn’t go out or touch base with any of my other friends who were in town. Nonetheless, it was one of the most amazing days of my life. There is a lot that we all disagree on, but hugs bridge all gaps. Love bridges all gaps. No day might ever compare to the one I just had, but I look forward to the love we can all share in days to come.

If you asked me for a hug, thanks. It meant as much to me as I hope it did to you. If you didn’t get one, there’s always one waiting… and as many more as you need.