That’s how old I was when my mom and Michael Kearns became friends. Long story short, they were both alumni of The Goodman School of Drama in Chicago, and he was making the rounds of the talk shows. This was back in the Phil Donohue and Tom Snyder days. Talk shows were the only thing my mother watched during the day, and never the Jerry Springer kind. She loathed soap operas (except Dark Shadows, when she was pregnant with me. Hmm….) and wouldn’t have watched a game show if it was the last thing on television. She saw Michael on the t.v. and wrote to him and he wrote back. She was an excellent writer and a real character. Letters turned into phone calls, and visits after performances in Chicago, and eventually into two family trips to L.A. to attend one-man shows that weren’t going to make it to the Windy City. And through all of it, this truth became evident: Michael was kind, talented, both fiercely intelligent and quick, funny, handsome and generous. He could appear happy in the moment but a deep sadness was detectable underneath his words. It wasn’t a stretch to figure out that what was causing him pain was the fact that he was misunderstood by a large portion of the world; that he’d been stereotyped and outright lied about by people who knew only one thing about him, that he was gay.
Harvey Milk was absolutely right. Gay people need to let straight people know that they are gay. I have no recollection of knowing homosexuality existed before my mother told me that Michael happened to be a man who fell in love with other men. I probably didn’t; I was a pretty sheltered kid otherwise, a bookworm who watched Little House on the Prairie (oh, the irony) and still played with Barbies and a dollhouse. (Play that involved complicated backstories and plots for casts of thousands, and almost nothing to do with clothes or shoes or hair.)
After getting to know Michael, in all his glorious complexity, I started noticing – and challenging – anti-gay propaganda. I knew it was bullshit because what they said didn’t match up with who I knew.
Since then I have been honored to know many more gay individuals. All saints? Hardly. For that matter, is Michael a saint? He’ll be the first to tell you no. Every friendship has served to underscore the truth I learned when I was nine, that believing you know a person just because you know one innate fact about them – be it gender, skin color, or sexual orientation — only highlights your own ignorance.
You know that point in your education where you call a person who is already in the professional world and ask them a whole bunch of questions to determine if what you think you want to do is actually what you want to do? Actor/writer/activist Michael Kearns was my someone. He and my mother were friends, and his memoir The Truth is Bad Enough: What Became of the Happy Hustler? is one of the two I recently read. How much fun that book was to read, how great to hear all over again stories I’d begun to believe I only imagined…
As for the career Michael had then and I thought I wanted? It turns out I really did, and still do. After spending nineteen years in professional theatre I’m now focused on my writing. The third piece I ever submitted will be published in Saints and Sinners 2013: New Fiction from the Festival. I’ve also managed to amass some small measure of activist street cred by marching in six Pride parades; having more heated arguments with strangers in person and virtually than I could ever hope to count; and signing every gay-rights petition that’s ever crossed my path. I even had a scandal erupt at my wedding, when a gay male friend caught my bouquet. A certain faction of my in-laws was horrified by this, and we have the photographic evidence to prove it.
At the time, I couldn’t have been more pleased by that turn of events, but now it makes me more than a little pissed off. It’s been almost seventeen years since that day, yet if my friend wanted to wed he still legally could not. Arguments against marriage equality don’t hold water. Is it a religious ceremony? It wasn’t for us, though we did have a minister presiding at our ceremony. Friends of ours, who had a private “committment ceremony” in California, attended by friends and family the year after our wedding, strongly identify as Christian. Yes, they are still together. Is it about raising kids? They don’t have any but neither do we, by choice. Michael Kearns, though, in that same span of time, adopted and raised an intelligent, creative and kind-hearted daughter.
So, if neither religion nor childrearing is the common denominator in defining marriage, and love and committment don’t sway the argument for those opposed to marriage equality, what is the debate about? Why is it that my husband and I enjoy the perks of being first class citizens while other people, just as worthy, continue to be discriminated against?
Who could ask for anything more? Lots of folks. Look around.
My supervisor at work wants to include my acceptance into SAS2013 in our company’s next newsletter. She asked me for a bit about the story itself and the publication. So basically, a press release. This is what I submitted:
When details about the accident that took his best friend’s life emerge and threaten the dead man’s memory, an assistant pastor goes looking for answers, in N. S. Beranek’s “Thou Shalt Not Lie”, one of the works included in Saints and Sinners 2013: New Fiction from the Festival. The fourth offering in a series published by the New Orleans-based Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, the anthology showcases recent works by emerging and established authors in the field of LGBT literature.