Category Archives: Straight Ally

Ally Week

It’s been a while since I’ve done a ‘Straight Ally‘ feature, and that’s my fault for being lazy. Well, busy and lazy. And it turns out this isn’t a new ‘Straight Ally’ post, but rather a recap of those that came before in honor of Ally Week. Let it also serve as a call-out for any allies you might have in mind that are worthy of a feature post. I’d like to get back into my interview/profile pieces.

It all began with my friend Skip Montross, who was an important impetus for getting the series started. As such, it was a natural, easy, and fun way to document a singular friendship, as well as looking into its universal components, and the way we operated in a society where gay male/straight male friendships were becoming increasingly common, and interesting.

Next up was fitness superstar Scott Herman, who added some hunkiness to the ally factor. I’m all about a pretty poster boy, especially if the sauce he’s shelling is for equality and acceptance.

Founder of Athlete Ally, Hudson Taylor was an obvious and exemplary choice for a Straight Ally. He’s been dedicating his life to forging the way for equality, especially in the realm of sports.

Along those sporty lines, Ben Cohen has been one of the staunchest straight allies the world has known. His rugby roots paved the way for his social activism, and his very personal tragedy involving bullying has given him a touching credence that makes his work all the more meaningful.

A very big round of thanks needs to go out to all of my friends who have proven to be straight allies over the years. Being an ally doesn’t necessarily mean making a public spectacle of yourself or instituting grand sweeping reform – sometimes being a friend is all you need to do.

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Hunk of the Day: Joe Santagato

Straight vlogger Joe Santagato is the Hunk of the Day, as much for his handsomeness as for his hilarity. Being funny has long been a key aspect of being sexy, and Mr. Santagato has both in spades. Cloaked in his recent video, however, that wise-ass humor is capable of bringing a rather serious and weighty argument against the naysayers of marriage equality. Check out the powerful, and laugh-out-loud, adult-language of Santagato’s riotous blog below – then seek out his previous videos for more entertainment.

 

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Hella Cute

A simple story like this is sometimes enough to bring a tear to the eye and re-affirm my belief in humanity. A very cool straight guy, Jacob Lescenski, just asked his best friend Anthony Martinez, an openly gay guy, to the prom. This would have been unthinkable when I was prom age, and it’s thrilling to see it happen in my lifetime.

Friends ask friends to the prom all the time – hell, I once took a girl to her prom when there was clearly no romantic interest on either side, and it was one of the best nights I ever had – so to see a gay guy/straight guy friendship take such a matter-of-fact turn is some way no big deal. In another way, it is huge, and it has me grinning from ear to ear. Thank you to Jacob Lescenski and Anthony Martinez to showing the world what it means to be a friend and an ally.

A straight ally is a heterosexual man or woman who has contributed in some way to fostering equality for all human beings, particularly in regards to battling homophobia, ending discrimination, and supporting marriage equality. A straight ally fights for human rights, especially those denied gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, with the knowledge that to deny equality to one segment of the population is to diminish all of us as human beings.

It’s not enough to stand alone, because no matter how tall one may stand this sort of social revolution will not be accomplished by one person. It will take a collective effort from all of us – gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, male and female – and change ~ true, lasting, meaningful change ~ can only begin with understanding and kindness, friendship and love.

We stand on the precipice of something great – a moment that matters. We have in our reach the power to make a difference, to make a change, to make the world a better place – whether that’s in something as simple as a shared laugh, or as deeply felt as a new way of thinking about what you may hold closest to your heart.”

UPDATE: An even happier ending than one could have imagined. Check out a video encapsulating this entire moving experience. Simply awesome.

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Hunk of the Day: Luke Watson

Some silly fads fade in meaning and intent, but others touch a deeper chord, especially when the support comes from an unexpected and unlikely place. Though my husband is a retired police officer, I don’t know too many other policemen willing to so openly and publicly declare their support for the LGBT community and the anti-bullying movement, but that’s exactly what happened in Toronto this past week.

Police Constable Luke Watson wanted to do something to raise awareness for the bullying that the LGBT community faces, but rather than simply Tweet about it, he went so far as to dye his hair pink. There is a more powerful meaning to the color than simple fabulousness: it references the The International Day of Pink, which originated in Nova Scotia when two high school students stood up for a gay peer who was being bullied for wearing a pink shirt. That was in 2007. Today it is a Canadian anti-bullying and LGBT awareness event held on the second Wednesday of April.

This post salutes Officer Watson for his own charming way of showing support, and having the sexiness and guts to pull that shade of pink off. (And here’s hoping that Ellen DeGeneres gets him on her show, as he’s promised to keep the pink for six months if that happens. Hey, I’m all for it – I love pink!)

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Hunk of the Day: Laurence Hulse

Good sportsmen in Europe get naked far more freely than their American counterparts. This conservative country could use such unfettered matter-of-fact dealings with nudity. The Warwick Rowers are famous for their naked calendar, originally created in an effort to raise money for their club, but then it turned into something with far greater meaning, as they joined the brigade against homophobia as Sport Allies. This is the future, and a powerful testament to where the world has been headed for some time.

One of the standouts on the team, at least from the photos, is Laurence Hulse, who is now being honored as Hunk of the Day. Mr. Hulse has gone on to do several photo shoots since then. A naked calendar can do wonders for expanding one’s career outlook. No doubt he has a few team-mates who will soon join him in such a vaunted category – we’re always on the lookout for fresh hunks.

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Hunk of the Day: Hudson Taylor

Any good man can be a Hunk of the Day, but only a great one can be a straight ally. Hudson Taylor is amazing enough to be both, and this officially crowns him as the former. Being honored as a Hunk of the Day may bring a blush to his chiseled cheeks, and he will no doubt find this rather silly and superficial, but Mr. Taylor is being selected not only for good looks and charm, but for his unfailing support for equality. His ‘Athlete Ally‘ is an organization that strives to foster inclusion and equality in sports, a realm that has historically gone to great lengths to hide and shame any gay men or women in its ranks. Taylor’s consistently dedicated work for his organization deserves something fun once in a while, so let this be a little pat on his sexy back for the legacy he’s creating – a legacy that will be golden thanks to his fervent fight for all of us.

PS – Bonus points for his No Pants Subway ride ensemble. Cowboy boots + briefs = HOT.

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Man Dates with Alan: Special Guest Blog

[This is a guest blog written by my pal Skip. We go back almost a decade, ever since his lovely, long-suffering wife Sherri brought him to one of my parties. Since then, he’s become a friend in his own right, and a cherished one at that. In the following post, he describes the evolution of our friendship, along with some keen social observations about the dynamics of a gay male/straight male relationship. For instance, I didn’t even realize there was an extra-seat clause when straight guys go to the movies. Read and learn.]

Man Dates with Alan

By Skip Montross

I go to the movies a lot, usually with one of my closest friends. He happens to be gay. I happen to be a straight, doughy, middle-aged, married stay-at-home dad. My wife calls them my “Man-Dates.” Often times when I tell people this, as I’m wont to do while recalling a humorous story from one of our outings, they seem slightly taken aback. As if the thought of it is foreign to them. A gay man and a straight man seeing a movie together. It’s typically a widening of the eyes or a quiet “huh.” A barely-noticeable gesture that tells you they find the thought somehow weird. Though it shouldn’t, this always manages to surprise me. Each time I’m reminded of the fact that what is perfectly normal to me is still viewed as, dare I say, queer to some folks. In fairness though, there was a time where it was new to me too. And I’d wager for Alan as well.

I’m not entirely sure what the first film Alan and I went to see together was. What I do remember was how funny it was when we went to take our seats. Alan didn’t know at the time, nor did I really, that I had become a practitioner of Straight-Guy Movie Etiquette. Something ingrained through years upon years of seeing films with other straight guy friends. When Alan sat I realized that my first inclination was to leave an empty seat between us. As I reflected on this later on I would come to understand a practice that straight men might refer to as the “Homophobia Seat.” You see, in the life of most straight men there are few moments as uncomfortable as sitting right next to another dude in a theater where additional space is available. If it’s a full crowd, of course we’re fine filling all available seats in a row. But when the theater is wide open the threat of incidental elbow contact is too much. Hence the open seat reserved for our mutual discomfort.

As I took my seat next to Alan I vaguely recall explaining the concept to him. It’s one of those things. The little minutiae ~ slight but well-defined differences in culture. Like the first time I went to the bathroom at Alan’s home and realized that when two men live together no one worries about the seat being up. I mean, how cool is that? For what it’s worth, even when it’s an open theater with plenty of space we still sit side by side like Siskel and Ebert. We’re probably more like those two old guys from the Muppet Show if I’m being perfectly honest.

Sometimes it’s a packed house. On more than one occasion we’ve gone to a midnight showing of a new blockbuster, the kind of film that has a line around the lobby. One such night happened last year. I had gone into Alan’s to pick him up for the film. Pretty sure it was the sequel to “Thor.” He was sitting at his dining room table in front of his overpriced MacBook. [Editor’s note: it’s a MacBook Air, thank you, also known as the prettiest girl in the room.] A tab was open to Fandango. He was insistent that we buy our tickets ahead of time. As it was a late Thursday night in the deep cold of a New York November I managed to convince him that it wouldn’t be necessary. There would be plenty of seats. I was wrong. So very wrong.

As we approached the pasty 17-year-old kid who would rip our tickets I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. It was a line of people that looked as if it were 1000 deep. It began about 10 feet to the kid’s right and extended down the hall, around the corner and doubling back again. By my estimation the man up front had probably been waiting a couple hours at best. He eyeballed me. He was big enough to be scary. I don’t believe Alan noticed him. Or the giant line behind him. The ticket boy looked at us and said something I’ll never forget: “I’m just about to let them in. I’m not going to make you wait in line. Go ahead in.” Alan began to walk to the theater and for a brief moment, I’m not afraid to admit, I panicked a little bit. I didn’t know what to say so I started to follow Alan. As I did the line began to open and follow us into the theater. I’ll never forget what I heard the man behind me say as he followed. You see, to him, he had just waited two-plus hours and here we were just cutting the entire goddamned line!

I heard him say, “These two motherfuckers right here better not take my fucking seat I swear to God.” Sometimes at night I wake up in a cold sweat thinking about this man and the utter rage he must have felt inside watching us walk in front of him. But Alan just kept walking. Blissfully ignorant of the fact that rage incarnate was marching 10 feet behind us. Of course as we entered the theater Alan started zeroing in on the best seats in the house. Why not? No one was in front of us to stop us. He went right towards them. I had no idea what to do. With no other valid option I just made a bee-line over to the shitty seats in that weird side row and said, “Hey, let’s sit here!” I was emphatic but Alan was utterly confused. He looked at me like I had confessed that I enjoy backrubs from goats.

“What?!”  He replied incredulously.

“Dude these are great seats…” I attempted.

“Uh no… they’re not.  What are you talking about?” he inquired.

“Dude. Just sit over here man. Please. Dude. Please.” I begged.

He finally acquiesced but until a few weeks ago had no idea why.  I couldn’t explain it to him then.  We were surrounded on every side by people who wanted to kill us.  To him it was just a weird night where I inexplicably had horrible taste in seats. But to me that will always be the night where we were villains who almost incited a hate mob. We would laugh at it later when I explained what really happened. A lot, in fact.

And that’s part of the reason why I dig seeing movies with Alan.

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Profile of a Straight Ally: Ben Cohen

straight ally is a heterosexual man or woman who has contributed in some way to fostering equality for all human beings, particularly in regards to battling homophobia, ending discrimination, and supporting marriage equality. A straight ally fights for human rights, particularly those denied gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, with the knowledge that to deny equality to one segment of the population is to diminish all of us as human beings.

Unless you’ve been alone and ostracized from society, you’ll never know what it’s like to feel that kind of fear and loneliness. If you’ve never been attacked for your sexuality or the color of your skin, your religion or creed, or simply for being different, you’ll never know the penetrating isolation that accompanies every following interaction with the world. The same goes for those who have been bullied. It’s a fear you don’t ever forget. It stays with you forever, no matter how much you might be able to forgive. The result is more than just sadness – it’s an eradication of hope, a mark of emptiness – where something should be but isn’t.

To see someone stand up for you – someone who doesn’t even know you but is doing so because it’s the right thing to do, can galvanize the heart in ways no known loved one can. For that reason, Ben Cohen is one of the finest examples of a straight ally the world has come to know.

Bullying and homophobia have long been intertwined. Before we ever put a name to it, gay people have been enduring such abuse throughout history. School taunts of ‘faggot’ and ‘sissy’ go back to childhood for some of us. Even if we’re not the direct recipient, they affect everyone. A diminishing of one person is a degradation of all. It may not seem that way at the time, especially when it’s easy to be the attacker rather than the attacked, but in the end both parties ultimately suffer. I have had my own moments of shame on both sides of the bullying scene. It’s never pretty, and it always ends up destroying something. When it comes to bullying there is never a winner; the giver and the receiver are both robbed.

Ben Cohen’s fight against bullying comes from a very personal place. A few years ago his father was killed while standing up for someone else. That act of violence, and the resulting loss, fuels the younger Cohen on a daily basis. He’s seen the worst that can come of bullying. He’s been directly affected by its brutality and pain. Rather than turn a bitter eye away from the issue, he’s confronted it head-on, brandishing hope and outreach against hatred and violence.

Going hand in hand with bullying, and often a direct cause of it, is homophobia. Cohen has made his cause two-fold: combating bullying and fighting homophobia. Such genuine support for equality and anti-bullying efforts led to the creation of his StandUp Foundation, an organization that aims to bring about LGBT equality, particularly in sports, as well as getting to the root cause of bullying issues.

To become a rugby world champion required a strong body. To remove bullying from schools and sports requires all of us to have strong characters. – Ben Cohen

His background in sports has given Cohen a tangible knowledge base of the importance of working together as a team. There is strength and power in the efforts of a group versus the power of a single individual. One of the highpoints of his rugby career was his part in winning the 2003 Rugby World Cup. That sense of camaraderie and team spirit also plays a part in his successful StandUp Foundation efforts. His anti-bullying stance and pro-equality beliefs are the two issues that form the crux of Cohen’s motivation and purpose.

 

He is probably the most recognized straight ally in the world. David Beckham has a bit more fame, and certainly does his best to appeal to a gay fan base, but never so directly. (You won’t see Mr. Beckham at a gay club, taking off his shirt and throwing it to a starstruck fan, for example.) And while others are making their own play for gay fans (Tom Daley in his coming out fashion, Nick Jonas in his gay-baiting way, and Lady Gaga in her continual support for the gay community) no one has done so with such dedication and genuine earnestness in their execution. Cohen is the real deal, and he stands behind his words.

It certainly doesn’t harm his cause that he is presenting his product in such a handsome package. His bear-like hairy chest and handsome features initially gained him notice, but it was his dedication to the cause that won our hearts. Today he straddles the roles of activist and pin-up icon with good-natured aplomb. His upcoming 2015 calendar features his first-ever centerfold, and he seems to understand what some of his fans want, while pushing a worthwhile agenda everyone can get behind.

It’s all cheeky fun, if you will pardon the pun. But, mostly, that fun is done for a serious cause that I feel incredibly passionate about, and I am glad the products help us do so much good.” ~ Ben Cohen

Those products include the aforementioned calendar, along with a line of underwear that Cohen has somewhat modestly modeled, and that has no doubt has gone a great way toward getting his mission noticed.

Mission: To raise awareness of the long-term, damaging effects of bullying and to raise funds to support those doing real-world work to stop it.

He is nothing if not a good sport, and a good sportsman, but he’s a good businessman too, and it would be a mistake to conclude that he is merely the pretty-boy front-man for his organization. In fact, in addition to his mission statement is a vision: “to build a highly collaborative organization funded by social business models that help connect communities and create a world of understanding and kindness.” It’s rare and refreshing to find a company that values compassion, but it’s the key to future success. The companies with good hearts tend to be those that inspire the most customer loyalty.

For me, however, the StandUp Foundation, and Ben Cohen himself, are more than a do-good organization and its handsome spokesperson. They symbolize a sense of hope for those of us who have ever needed to know that we are not alone. You cannot know the power and significance of that unless you’ve been shut out or bullied or simply called out for being different. That someone like Ben Cohen is on our side can make all the difference in the world.

{For more information on Ben Cohen and his StandUp Foundation, please visit his website. For more Straight Ally Profiles, please see Adam Montross, Scott Herman, and Hudson Taylor.}

 

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Profile of a Straight Ally: Hudson Taylor

First, there is that physique. Strong, broad shoulders, thick, muscled thighs – it is the sculpted body of an athlete in peak form. Second, there is that face. Puppy dog eyes that make all the girls (and more than a few of the boys) swoon in dreamy abeyance. Third, there is that skill – the years of honed muscles, practiced execution, intensity and focus. The championships, trophies and medals proof of his excellence, his current position as coach proof of his endurance. Finally, there is that soul – the spirit that has given rise to such a movement – a revolution in effect – the starting motion to a generation of acceptance. The athlete, then, at his prime. He has nothing left to prove, and yet he strives for justice and equality. This is the hope of the future, and no one embodies that more than Hudson Taylor.

Taylor is the founder of Athlete Ally, an organization that aims to support inclusion and make all sports a safe playing ground for all people – particularly LGBTQ athletes. As the Executive Director, he also acts as the face of the mission, traveling to colleges and spreading his message in person. Eloquent and articulate, Taylor talks of “educating and empowering straight allies” and “creating an inclusive culture.” These are powerful, deep-reaching words, the manifestation of which could mean more for a cultural shift in eradicating homophobia than countless gay pride parades.

It’s one thing for a straight sports star to stand up at the end of his or her career and champion LGBTQ rights – it’s quite another for someone just starting out. That takes quite a bit more bravery, a courageous commitment, and a steely resolve. They are the real champions, they are the true heroes. Hudson Taylor did that on the college circuit – an almost-unthinkable act of bravery and courage that most of us can only imagine mustering.

On the larger celebrity scale, there are few straight men who have taken up the mantle of equality, especially in the sports world. One of the main tenets of being popular is to maintain a mainstream fan-base. We don’t want our sports stars to be all that different from us, except in the way they play the game. Yet every once in a while someone stands up for those of us without a voice and gives their support to our cause. They openly condemn homophobia, and fight for equality across all their public forums.

Coming from a straight athlete, the message can be of greater consequence. When a gay person fights for his or her rights, it’s the expected, obvious, and assumed stance. In a sense, it means less coming from one of us. But in the mouth of someone like Mr. Taylor, it gains something different, something more penetrating and significant. To a gay kid, it’s the voice of reassurance and affirmation from the majority, a message of inclusion, the emboldening feeling of love in realizing that there is, indeed, a place for us – all of us.

 

 

“I’m OK with people thinking I’m gay, because I know I’m doing the right thing,” Taylor says. It’s familiar territory for any straight ally: the assumption that only a gay person can fight for equality. It’s also the mark of someone supremely self-aware that others’ assumptions mean nothing in the face of what is right and just and true. It should come as no surprise that Taylor, along with having the soul of a poet, also has the soul of an artist. Aside from majoring in Performance Art, he dabbles in photography, experiments with imagery, messes around with Photoshop, and occasionally sings on YouTube (a sweet version of ‘Piano Man’.) He also has a magic touch – literally. Magic tricks – sleights of hand, particularly involving cards – are a favorite hobby, and he finds they work brilliantly as ice-breakers. Not that he needs any sort of social lubrication whatsoever: he speaks on a busy circuit, traveling and giving talks across the country, where his engaging presence breaks down centuries of barriers and resistance.

Most of us don’t have as open and accepting a mind and heart as Taylor has demonstrated from a young age. We close ourselves off to difference, we get comfortable in our own little cliques, and we surround ourselves with similar people. I’m guilty of it myself, and I’m always fascinated and impressed by those who look outside of themselves to find ways of connecting to people who aren’t necessarily like them. Taylor has mentioned that his father instilled a sort of moral compass in him, an integrity that could be found in sports, and he took that idea and ran with it.

A few months ago, the Winter Olympics took place in Sochi, Russia, which was instantly condemned for its anti-gay legislation. Taylor was there in the thick of it, spreading his message of acceptance and inclusion in a peaceful yet effective way. His analysis on the importance of diversity among athletes was especially moving. It reminded me of the thrill I’ve always felt when watching the athletes march in the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. There’s something very reaffirming about seeing all the countries of the world come together in the name of athletic competition. According to Taylor, “Athletes become worthy of the greatest respect not when they win at their sport but when they stand up for the dignity of others and represent something bigger than themselves.” It was about respect and honor, and this was a part of sports that was rarely talked about, but proved integral to success both on and off the field.

Athletes in this country are revered and idolized, from the top-grossing baseball player to the ten-year-old girl on the local soccer team. We adore our athletes, and look to them, whether it’s right or wrong, to be an example and an inspiration for the rest of us. When I think back to high school, I remember the power and sway the football players had. Many boys looked up to them, many girls wanted to date them, and most of the teachers loved them. They were respected, honored, and, most importantly, heard. 

Yet I avoided sports like the plague, even the repeated recruiting efforts of the track coach and the tennis coach and the swim coach, and, yes, the wrestling coach. The latter cornered me a few times, most likely looking for someone in the ultra-light-weight class. When I voiced my trepidations (I’m too weak, too small, not-athletic enough) he countered at every excuse, and even went so far as to appeal to my intelligence. Wrestling is one sport that is largely played out in the head, requiring strategy and quick-thinking, he said. The smartest kids made the best wrestlers. It almost worked, but I wasn’t buying it. I ran the risk of getting a beat down every day I wore whatever I wore to school – I didn’t need to guarantee a scheduled one.

 

I’m not delusional, and I can’t pretend that my sexuality alone kept me from playing; my disinterest in sports was probably less a fear of my homosexuality and more of an interest in just about anything else. Yet looking back, I now wonder if the excessively-macho attitude of the sports world kept me even more at bay. As a small, slight kid, I was scrappy yet coordinated. I could hit a mean softball, was always one of the last ones standing in any dodge-ball game, and climbed up to the top of the gymnasium on those big thick ropes. What I lacked in brawn I made up for in speed, agility and accuracy. I’d rather be lounging by the pool on any given day, but if need be I could smoke most of my classmates in a few laps. In other words, I’ve always been pretty fit, I just never quite fit in. Sports scared me. The locker room talk, the incessant teasing, the macho atmosphere that seemingly left no place for those with the slightest sense of sensitivity – taken together they conspired to instill a sense of fear. Had I heard someone – anyone – say something the least bit encouraging, an offer of the slightest solidarity, inclusion, or support, I might have stepped onto the track team, or picked up a tennis racket, or dove into the pool. Instead, I feigned loftier goals until I convinced myself of them. 

When I listen to Hudson Taylor, I remember the scared boy I used to be, and I think how wonderful it would have been to hear someone say there was room for me on the team. That’s all any of us wants to hear. It’s what we need to hear. I’m grateful that there are people like Hudson in the world today, people who have the courage and the conviction to give a voice to those of us who aren’t quite sure we can use ours.

“When we diminish others, we only diminish ourselves.” ~ Hudson Taylor

{Previous Straight Ally Profiles include Scott Herman and Skip Montross.}

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The Daddy Dad Blog

My friend Skip runs the very cool DaddyDadBlog.com, and he just posted a pair of posts that almost melted my icy heart. It’s his personal take on what it’s like to be friends with a gay guy, but it carries some universal truths, and some hilarious and touching moments. His blog is a must-read if you have children, or know any, as it feature the chronicles of his stay-at-home parenting adventures. (I have the good fortune of working with his amazing wife, so I get to see the best of both worlds.)

Skip has been a long-time friend of mine, and one of my closest straight guy pals. A more detailed and thoughtful summary of what he means to me can be found here, as the first in our Straight Ally series. Part One of his witty list of what a gay guy makes a good friend can be found here, and it’s a funny touchstone of some familiar (and true) common perceptions. Part 2, which delves a little deeper while simultaneously exploding stereotypes, is here. Together, they are a nifty summation of the highlights of a friendship between a gay guy and straight guy.

The best part about having a friend like Skip, aside from getting to see a grown-man climb aboard a kid’s ride, is having my occasionally-cloistered life enriched by someone whose passion and intelligence is rivaled only by his integrity. To that end, I’ve asked (begged) Skip to write a couple of guest posts for this blog, because in addition to being a great friend, he’s also a brilliant writer. Be ready to be dazzled. (And head on over to DaddyDadBlog.com for further brilliance.)

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Gratuitously Shirtless Good Guy Ben Cohen

One day soon I’ll write a Straight Ally piece on Ben Cohen for all the work he’s done for equality. Until then, you’ll just have to feast on these shots and the multitude of past posts (here, here, here, here, here, and here) where Mr. Cohen has appeared in equally glorious stages of undress (and underwear). The most appealing thing about him, as hard as it is to narrow it down, is his heart. He’s a true believer in his mission (the admirable Stand Up foundation) and he backs up his words with his actions. (He also Tweeted me a Happy Birthday, and if the guy can make that kind of effort for a nobody, he’s pretty damn amazing.)

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Justice

He was the star quarterback of the Amsterdam Rams. He had a winning smile, broad shoulders, and a genuinely-nice demeanor. His name, fittingly, was Justice. And he was my first room-mate on a high school trip to the then-Soviet Union.

At that point, I was not comfortable with straight guys. My personality was much more aligned and in tune with girls my age – so when I realized I’d be rooming with the biggest jock of Amsterdam High School, I was just slightly less than terrified.

That first night, as I climbed onto the top bunk, we said maybe two words to each other. Literally, it was that quiet. No radio, no television, no small talk. Just silence – a long awkward night of silence. I look back at that night and wistfully wish I could have it back, because it was such a waste. The next day, in the company of others, we started talking.

For the first few days, we had a crash-course in American/Soviet history, visiting museums in Washington, DC, and sitting through hours of lectures that had us all nodding off right and left. Yet there was in-between time, on the bus or in our dorm rooms, where we could relax and just hang out, and in those pockets of waiting we slowly started to forge a friendship.

It turned out that my image of Justice as all-powerful sports star and high school jock was mostly in my head. In person, he was soft-spoken, quietly confident in his ability, yet also seemingly aware we were all on equal footing in a strange land. My intimidation gradually melted away.

At the end of the trip, I passed around a notebook for everyone to sign. For his entry he wrote that he really appreciated how much I opened up to him. It was the smallest of signs, but one that began the fissure that would lead me to be all right with being myself in front of others. That was so incredibly important, because one of the most damaging things a kid can be told, whether explicitly or implicitly, is that they are not free to be themselves.

Justice was never mean to me, and had anyone troubled me in his presence I’m hopeful he would have stopped it. Luckily, that never happened when he was around.

It seems strange to include him as a straight ally, since at the time I hadn’t even admitted to myself that I was gay, but I’d like to think that if I had, he would have been supportive.

Sometimes being an ally is as simple as saying a few kind words, and sometimes being a friend is even better.

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Profile of a Straight Ally: Scott Herman

A straight ally is a heterosexual man or woman who has contributed in some way to fostering equality for all human beings, particularly in regards to battling homophobia, ending discrimination, and supporting marriage equality. A straight ally fights for human rights, particularly those denied gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, with the knowledge that to deny equality to one segment of the population is to diminish all of us as human beings. 

It is unwise to divide the world into such limited camps as Super Heroes or Villains, but sometimes these designations can be accurate, especially when the former is a good guy fighting for equality and the latter are those against it. It always amazes me to think of the lengths to which homophobes will go in order to foster their intolerance and quell a group of innocent people. Imagine if the efforts to be so hateful were turned in the opposite direction, if the negative energy was turned into something positive and life-affirming. Think of what might be accomplished if the power of all that hate was harnessed and transformed into a force of good. The result may be someone as exceptional as Scott Herman. Originally a reality star from ‘The Real World Brooklyn’, Mr. Herman is one of the few who made something more out of his life than a quick blip on the MTV screen, and he used that springboard to become a prominent straight ally.

A fitness guru, personal trainer, model, and actor, Scott is conquering the world one hyphenate at a time. With the recent revamping of his website,www.ScottHermanFitness.com, and a new and improved work-out studio, he is poised to explore the next phase of his life, taking with him the fans and following he has gained as a friend to the gay community.

It takes a certain fortitude and bravery to be a straight ally. It takes more than a casual belief that gay people deserve the same rights as everyone else. It takes a commitment, and a great deal of confidence in who you are, to so strongly stand up against what is wrong, yet there are those who do it on a daily basis. What always moves me most about straight allies – especially those who don’t have a close relative who is gay – is the fact that they don’t have to be so supportive. There’s no one forcing them to do this. It’s an active choice, and often a difficult one, especially when so much of society can be against it. Why does it mean so much to him?

“When I was a kid my parents taught me to treat others how I would like them to treat me,” Mr. Herman begins. “But as I grew older and began to go to school I quickly realized that not everyone was taught this simple way of living. I was very quiet as a kid and became a prime target for bullies. In my eyes, whether you are bullied because you are quiet, different or because you are gay, bullying is bullying. As a young man I took action and often got into fights to stand up for myself and others. I looked up to my favorite super-heroes and I wanted to be like them. No-one ever stuck up for me, even when I could clearly see others who “could” do something, do nothing. I decided that if I saw someone being bullied I was going to stick up for them. As a young adult the childish taunts of middle school and high-school were over and I began to see what was happening in society to a group of people who were doing nothing aside from being themselves. It means a lot to me to stand up and be a straight ally because I know how it feels to be singled-out. The only people who should be singled-out are the ones who have evil in their heart, and we have a place for those people to all “hang-out” together.”

One of the threads that unites many straight allies is an inherent generosity of spirit. It’s both something that can be taught, and something intrinsic to their character and make-up. Scott attributes much of this to his parents.

“Growing up my parents were always there for me,” he explains. “I never felt alone. If my Dad ever saw someone in need, he wouldn’t ask them if they needed help. He would just go over to them and do what he could. Simple things like jumping a car, changing a tire, working on a neighbor’s house, or even holding doors. My Dad never expected anything in return and I admired that about him.”

The fight against injustice in the world, and the willingness to take on such a mantle and carry it through to the finish is something learned from example, and at an early age. For Scott, it was something he witnessed at both ends. As he says, “I have witnessed bullying my whole life. The only times I witnessed it being from a “homophobic manner” was when I was on the Real World “Brooklyn”. My roommate Katelynn was a transgendered woman and there were a few times where some people said some disrespectful things to her that I was not happy about and took measures to ensure they would show respect if they were to ever converse with her again.”

It was a distant cry from how he had faced similar situations a few years prior, as he recounts a younger, angrier reaction to bullying. “When I was younger I have to admit that I dealt with bullies with my fists,” he admits. “Nobody would stick up for me and I couldn’t find any other way to make it stop. This resulted in me being in trouble a lot as a kid. In my eyes I was doing what my favorite superheroes did, I was stopping the “bad guys”. But my parents were disappointed in me and I wanted to change that. I needed to find an outlet for my anger and that was when I got into weightlifting at the age of twelve. I learned to just take in the bullying and release it in a positive way with exercise.”

Those years honed his body into a work of art, and while the result may be a superficially-pleasing physique, the origin of his fitness obsession proved life-saving for deeper reasons.

“Fitness gave me a reason to keep going when I was a kid,” Scott says, expounding upon the outlet that would become the driving force in his life. “It didn’t matter what kind of madness was going on at school or anywhere, I always knew I had a place that I could go to and just focus on me. A lot of kids turn to things that could potentially ruin their lives when they are depressed or upset. But fitness is something that “betters” you and it is a gift I hope I can always continue to share with the world.”

That fitness has turned his physical form into an enviable shrine of sorts – a showcase of bodily perfection. He’s done a good amount of modeling, often revealing quite a bit of skin in risqué shots and brazen defiance. There’s a certain tease to it ~ a wink and a nod as he acknowledges his gay fan-base while fighting for their rights ~ and a measureable titillation factor that Mr. Herman judiciously employs. The underwear and skintight clothing that often hug his body, revealing every pronounced curve and developed deltoid, are not that far removed from the wardrobe of the super heroes he emulated as a youth. It is, in a sense, his armor. The sultry come-hither gaze he works for the camera, and the friendly, energetic, tip-filled videos he posts, invite the viewers to watch, to admire, to engage. It is as much about inspiration as it is about aspiration, and such a pretty package has been used to his advantage. Still, it’s one thing to get your foot in the door, quite another to stay in the room ~ and beauty has long been a double-edged sword.

 

Such a physique is bound to impress, but also to inspire jealousy and envy among some. As a society we tend to celebrate someone else’s success as much as we want to tear them down. Being courageous, and refusing to be anyone other than the person you are, will always bring with it some criticism, sometimes from the very community you want only to help.

According to Scott, “When I first became known as a straight ally I was being bashed from both sides. The straight community would say I was gay and the gay community said I was only doing it for attention and I didn’t really care about them. Granted, the “haters” were a very small percentage of people compared to those who believed I was doing something I believed was right. But at the end of the day, if I really cared what people thought, I wouldn’t be the man I am today. My whole life people told me I would never accomplish my goals. I grew up in a small town where the most excitement we got was six feet of snow. I learned at a young age that if I didn’t believe in myself, nobody else would either. So my beliefs on what I think is right are unshakeable, no matter what people might say.”

As for his minions of gay fans and supporters, it’s a symbiotic relationship. “They have faith in me because they believe my actions come from my heart,” Mr. Herman claims. “Nobody wants to see their loved ones in pain and I will always do what I can to be there for them.”

He goes on to say, “As far as becoming a straight ally, well, as I grew up and started to explore the world I made more and more friends and some of them were gay. I didn’t like the treatment that I saw some of them receive. It was bullying and I will not stand for it. My friends, ALL my friends, know that I will be the first person to step up if needed to protect them.”

As much as bullying is a hot-button issue right now, there remains the question of how best to deal with it. Mr. Herman admits that his experiences being bullied formed the man he has become.

“I don’t believe in telling kids “It gets better”,” he contends. “I believe that the best way to give them hope is to take action and show them that it will get better because there are people out there who will take action to make a difference.”

Still, according to him, there are some concrete ways to combat bullying, even if one is afraid to get directly involved. “Not everyone has the courage to take action when the encounter bulling,” he concedes, “But that doesn’t make them a bad person. If you are ever in a position to stop bullying but are afraid, the easiest thing you can do is call the police. “Doing something” doesn’t mean you have to physically get involved. 99% of the time if you threaten to call the police, bullies will stop and most likely [leave] because they are cowards.”

Mr. Herman goes on step beyond what most of us would do, and attempts to see if from the bully’s point of view: “Everyone has had a moment in their lives where they have felt singled out, ignored, and disrespected just for being themselves. I would ask them why if they didn’t like that feeling, why would they act that way toward someone else? Being gay isn’t a choice. It is in your DNA. Just like blonde hair, blue eyes, white skin, black skin, etc. People shouldn’t be punished for something they have no control over.”

It may be his role as a straight ally that is leaving the most lasting impression, as an act that is both admirable and brave. As someone who has been on the forefront of the movement, blazing the trail is not always easy, but it has its own rewards and glory. Not only altruistic on a global scale, it feeds his soul as much as it helps those of us without such a public platform. At its simplest, it’s just a young man who was raised to respect and honor the rights of everyone. Instilled by his parents, and emboldened by his friends and family, it’s the frame of mind for a super hero. In many ways, he’s one of the first Straight Ally Super Heroes, fighting for justice and equality for all.

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The Straight Ally Profile Series Continues…

A straight ally is a heterosexual man or woman who has contributed in some way to fostering equality for all human beings, particularly in regards to battling homophobia, ending discrimination, and supporting marriage equality. A straight ally fights for human rights, especially those denied gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, with the knowledge that to deny equality to one segment of the population is to diminish all of us as human beings.

It’s not enough to stand alone, because no matter how tall one may stand this sort of social revolution will not be accomplished by one person. It will take a collective effort from all of us – gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, male and female – and change ~ true, lasting, meaningful change ~ can only begin with understanding and kindness, friendship and love.

We stand on the precipice of something great – a moment that matters. We have in our reach the power to make a difference, to make a change, to make the world a better place – whether that’s in something as simple as a shared laugh, or as deeply felt as a new way of thinking about what you may hold closest to your heart.

Tomorrow the next installment of this series will feature one of the early straight allies, Mr. Scott Herman. In many ways, Mr. Herman is a Straight Ally Super Hero of sorts, fighting for justice and equality both day and night. With his background as a fitness guru, he also has a pretty impeccable body to go with his good heart, and it’s always life-affirming when such a pretty package has some substance within. Stay tuned for Scott’s Straight Ally Profile, coming tomorrow…

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Profile of a Straight Ally: Adam “Skip” Montross

The man sits in the midst of a sea of young girls and a smattering of their gay pals, yet he is alone. It is the 10:20 showing of ‘The Hunger Games’, and a solo gentleman in a baseball cap courting his mid-thirties may make for a suspicious visage to some, but he is relatively unfazed. He checks his phone, as much out of habit as self-conscious distraction, and fires off a quick FaceBook post, both betraying a sophomoric excitement and self-deprecating belittlement of his attendance at such a movie. There’s a certain respect that must be given to those who can retain a sense of boyhood wonder, as well as those with the self-possession to see such a movie alone. That sort of self-possession is why some straight guys don’t have a problem with gay men. It takes a secure, confident, and sure-of-himself guy to not pause at the notion of hanging out with guys who are attracted to other guys. It takes a brave and courageous man to not fear being called or considered ‘gay’ when stepping out of traditionally masculine roles. And it takes a guy with an impressive set of balls to so closely and fiercely align himself with fighting for equality for all. In this premiere installment of the straight ally series, Skip Montross is that guy.

Most of my straight male friends, and more than a few of the gay ones, don’t have that kind of confidence. Sometimes I don’t even have that confidence. Luckily, there are people like Skip who have enough for the rest of us, who inspire us to find that confidence within ourselves, empowering us with their vision of equality. These are our allies – the formidable straight people who realize that this is their fight too, the fight for a better world.

In some ways they are more admirable. They don’t need to do it, but they realize that it’s the right thing to do, that to stay silent is its own form of oppression, and that acquiescence can be a crime in itself, and a more insidious one at that. Skip understands this, and explains his views with passionate reason, making irrefutable points grounded in disciplined intelligence, all the while speaking from the heart:

“You ask why this means a lot to me and I say that it’s for the same reason that it SHOULD mean a lot to everyone; because it is right, because it is just, and because it is fair. Take a good look at our history. Study it well. The heroes whose names we all learn as school children are always those who championed the rights of a minority against the aggressive opposition of those who preached contempt, division, and often hate under the guise of false righteousness. Likewise, the passage of time and the clarity of hindsight is never kind to those who fire-walled progress. Rather, it shines a spotlight on their ignorance and bigotry. Martin Luther King Jr’s defining quote may well be, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Governor George Wallace? “I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Which side of history are you willing to place yourself upon? We are at this place again, having taken far too long to get here. America is ridding herself of an unsightly scar. The process is long and painful but wholly worthy.”

“It is assured that the generations that follow us will view the voices of today, those who say that traditional marriage is a right reserved for only straight couples, with the same bitter disdain that we reserve for those who believed that separate could ever be equal… That is why it means so much to me… not because I benefit but because it is right… I feel the need, nay the duty, to stand up to radical ignorance and hypocrisy. It boils my blood when individuals, or collectives of a like minded ignorance, stand behind obscure passages in the bible and use them as an armor of righteousness with which to cloak and shield their transparent and hateful bigotry. It is reckless and woefully misleading when someone quotes biblical passage as a justification to oppose gay marriage. There are so many philosophical and ideological miscarriages when using the bible as a defense of marriage that it boggles the mind. Freely they cite Leviticus 20:13 as, “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination” as they preach it to the heavens. Yet they freely dismiss the abomination levied upon those who dare eat shellfish or get a tattoo? Protest a gay marriage? “Where and when do we show up.” Protest a Red Lobster? “Aww but man, they have the best cheddar biscuits.” It’s this kind of hypocrisy that tears at me with vicious claws. Clearly, adherence to the bible is flexible enough to ignore instructions that are inconvenient, such as murdering one’s children for disobedience, but when it’s convenient to justify hate… well then it’s gospel. It’s the ultimate in passive aggressive bigotry. If you’re afraid of gay people… we get it. If lesbians creep you out… that’s fine. Just stand up and have the courage to fucking say it. Hiding behind an obscure passage makes you not only a homophobe but a weak one at that.”

In this era of political-correctness, it’s refreshing to find someone so willing to simply state it, to call out the bigots and name the hypocrisy – because, really, that’s what it is: bigotry and hatred. It takes a lot to put that out there, and most of us are too insecure of what might be said back to us to stand behind it. It took Skip a while to reach that point too.

“Like most adolescents and young adults, I wasn’t always supremely confident in myself,” he recalls. “A teenage boy who admits that he cries at earnest and touching character films can take a lot of slack from friends and cliques. While I always knew what I liked, I was sometimes afraid of being honest based on what others might think. I feel like I completely grew into myself somewhere in my early to mid twenties. It was at that point when I realized that I know exactly who I am through and through. I sometimes get the feeling that not everyone enjoys that benefit. I think that once you truly know who you are you find that, with the exception to those that you love and hold close, you couldn’t care less what anyone else in the world thinks. I am a nearly-35-year-old husband and Dad who has been going bald for as long as anyone can remember, who enjoys watching “So You Think You Can Dance” and singing songs from “Wicked” just as much as I enjoy giving fantasy football advice while fixing your computer. I am who I am and I like what I like. Thus, I am afforded the ability to speak loudly about that which I hold true.”

 

That ability also gives him the bravery to sit alone at a showing of ‘The Hunger Games’, as we return to the original scene of this piece. The movie nears its final stretch, and the clock closes in on midnight. At home, his wife and daughter rest in peaceful slumber. A son is on the way too, but for now, for this midnight, he is on his own. Every husband and father has his own way of carving out time alone. The Don Drapers of the world get drunk and skip out on their daughter’s birthday party while others find more innocent and constructive ways of retaining sanity, of holding on to the wild navy nights of their youth.

 

He often references those nights, with a laugh and bravado at how he was able to survive – sometimes with bloody noses, sometimes with bruised limbs, sometimes with suppressed tears. I’ve heard him reminisce about being a part of a group that unfailingly supports one another, bound by oaths and promises and the simple shared dignity of fighting for your country. These days, the macho bonds of brotherhood, instilled by the navy and its fiendishly dichotomous life of regimented strictness and shore-leave abandon, have been supplanted by the comfort and excitement in taking care of his kids – a job that sometimes requires the efficiency and discipline of a navy admiral.

There are terrors and frights that accompany such a family life – resignations and appeals and a bartering system that all married folks realize and master and come to terms with, happily or unhappily, and in the end most of us do what we can to survive, hopefully not hurting the ones we love too much along the way. We both see that, we both love our partners, but we’re not blind to sacrifice, and all that goes along with being loved. It is life’s great balancing act – how to love and be loved, and though difficult at times, we are fortunate enough to have found it amply rewarding as well.

It helps that we’ve fostered outlets for such sacrifice through creative expression, and Skip’s skills are more varied than mine; he’s even been known to sculpt a relief of a baseball player for a family member’s birthday gift, or compose a poem for a special occasion. Like my wedding.

If there were any lingering doubts as to our friendship, and Skip’s taking up the mantle of a straight ally, they were obliterated with his wedding gift to Andy and me. Amid a wealth of generous offerings and exquisite gifts, his remains one of our favorites. It was a poem, simply framed and gorgeously rendered, and I’m reprinting it here because it perfectly captures the essence of Skip and what he means to us:

HIS & HIS TOWELS ~ By Skip Montross

 

We searched both high and low,
For the perfect gift to give.
Something that you’d remember,
For as long as you both shall live.
 
 
 
But they don’t make his and his towels you see,
What you’re doing is kind of new.
Sadly the world isn’t there yet,
They’ve not caught up to you.
 
 
 
Some people are convinced,
That theirs is the only way.
They say marriage is not the right of every man,
Especially those who are gay.
 
 
 
But yet you’re both defiant,
And your love you do not hide.
Brave and boastful you share it,
Full of both beauty and of pride.
 
 
 
Those of us who’ve known you,
Through your long and storied past,
Know that yours is the truest of loves,
The kind to ever last.
 
 
 
And as you drink and dance and laugh,
Take a look at your gathered friends,
For in the face of arrogant ignorance,
They stand with you till the end.
 
 
 
But worry not of that this night,
Just bask in joy and glory.
For tonight we choose to celebrate,
The “Andy and Alan” story.

That it was a straight man who so eloquently portrayed our love was proof that this battle for acceptance and equality is one that both gay and straight people will need to take up. But more than that, it cemented Skip’s status as a close friend, one whom I respected both for his heart, as well as his talent. In addition to the occasional foray into poetry and sculpture, Skip is perhaps best known for his stand-up comic skills, having performed from Broadway Joe’s to Waterworks. He’s got an uncanny knack for impressions, and his humor is both smart and sly, clever and witty. Like many comedians, however, Skip is capable of, and often prone to, going dark at times. Not just bad-mood dark, but a darkness that overtakes days and sometimes longer stretches of time. He’ll disappear from FaceBook or the comedy clubs, only to return – re-energized, reinvigorated – with a kick-ass stellar set, and then he’ll be gone again.

Though he claims that nothing embarrasses him, he has a certain undisguised sensitivity in the way the world can hurt people, himself included ~ it’s a heightened sensitivity that goes hand-in-hand with an empathy and understanding of the bullied and the oppressed. When asked how he would address someone who was looking for some way to survive, he offers the following:

“To me the answer is painfully simple yet very difficult for one to accept. At the end of the day it all boils down to understanding, knowing undoubtedly and accepting fully one simple sentence: It’s not you, it’s them. Every time I hear a story about a young person committing suicide because of bullying, I feel a deep swell of utter pity. I pity that they never had a fighting chance. As I said earlier, having a clearly and confidently defined sense of self is one of the keys to a fulfilling life. If you know who you truly are and you can love that person truly then life can be joyful. I imagine a poor soul who is tortured because they are meant to feel ashamed of their identity. I wish that in every instance there was someone who could have said, “You are good and you are worthy and you are loved and you are not wrong for feeling whatever it is that you feel.” Because I’ve enjoyed the great fortune of being surrounded by those who fostered me to be whoever I wanted to be, it is difficult to imagine feeling anything other than support by those closest to me. What a fortified and solitary existence that must create, surrounded by walls of defense and self doubt. Why are there not enough of us who can recognize this and say to them, “It is not you. It is them. You are not wrong or sinful or ugly or less because someone has told you that. When someone tells you that it is because they themselves are afraid and angry. What you are, in fact, is better. You are better than someone who would turn you on yourself in hateful judgment. You are better than you believe yourself to be. Someday in the future you will look back and feel angry that you ever felt this way because you will be proud of, and have faith in, yourself. You just need to know that it is not you, it is them.” To live with constant self-doubt and self-hate is what I imagine to be a dark place. And I imagine that coming out of that place, as it were, must take a warrior’s courage. To risk everything on the chance to simply be okay with yourself is a courageous and, I imagine, frightening endeavor. We’ve progressed as a culture where being different and unique is significantly more accepted than it was as little as a generation ago… but it is still a monumental task.”

“I have never had to experience what the weight of that doubt and fear and shame feels like… but I can imagine. And that is why I have the utmost respect for anyone who has had the courage to openly admit their sexuality and also for those struggling to find it.”

 

Skip makes an interesting analogy of homophobia being the real disease, not homosexuality. He turns the traditional notion of equating gay people with those having an affliction on its head, reversing that vulgar thought. It highlights an important social construction: the problems that many gay people have may not be a failing in the fact that they’re gay, but a failing in the way the world treats them. It’s not being gay that’s killing these kids, it’s the hatred heaped upon them for being gay that makes them kill themselves.

“A friend by definition is someone who you’ve chosen to be company, someone who shares similar ideals and values and someone who’s of value to you as a person,” Skip explains. “Anything that affects that person is something that you should feel by proxy. Say for instance you have a friend who has been diagnosed with a disease such as cancer or Multiple Sclerosis. You’re naturally inclined to learn more about it and become a proponent for its eventual cure. You do this because though its effect on you is indirect, it is still something that means something to you because it means something to them. In this regard, I feel like having several close gay and lesbian friends certainly influences my actions and beliefs. The disease analogy is apt here because my friends do suffer from a disease. Not the disease of their sexual orientation as some segments of society would have you believe. Rather, they all are crippled with the disease that is the intolerance and contempt of a society who, by and large, forces them to be labeled, categorized, identified as different and deemed unworthy of basic rights. It is not their own diagnosis, but the diagnosis of a sometimes hateful society, which nonetheless has symptoms and complications. It is for this reason that I choose to, in much the same way that a friend of someone who has cancer would, speak and actively seek to find a cure. I don’t want to cure my friends of gayness (because a world without gays and lesbians would suck big time). I want to cure others of misguided ignorance and unsubstantiated fear.”

The first time I met him in person was at one of my holiday parties. He arrived with his wife Sherri (then his girlfriend), one of my co-worker friends whom I trusted implicitly not to bring riff-raff into my home. He wore a snazzy newsboy cap and pin-stripe jacket ~ semi-metrosexual bordering on a then-hipster style. Greeting him in red tulle and matching spray-painted hair, I didn’t really have a fashion-leg to stand on – it was my Venetian Vanity party after all. (Insert Skip’s disparaging Cyndi Lauper hair quip here.) As the evening unfolded, I was impressed and ultimately won over by his wit and limitless knowledge of useless trivia and entertainment facts, underscored by a self-effacing sense of humor and a sensitivity hidden just below the surface. 

While he embraces, sometimes ironically, a well-tread suburban dream, one gets the sense that part of him yearns for more. At his soul, he has an artistic temperament, and it finds expression like most artists – in the unlikeliest of places and moments, and in any way possible – the aforementioned plaster reproduction of a sports plaque, a quirky color on the basement man-cave wall, an uproarious FaceBook post that comes out of nowhere, or the gift of a poem for a wedding.

When Sherri later mentioned how happy he was that I had approved of his outfit, something touched me on a deeper level. That’s when I realized that straight guys were just as insecure as gay guys, and required as much, if not more, validation. In that small sliver of a moment, a mind-set was changed, altered forever after, and straight men were suddenly a lot less scary to me.

 

In the ensuing years Skip and I forged a sometimes unlikely friendship, with occasional dovetail moments like a shared love of ‘Wicked’ and the Red Sox, and I recognized in him a sort of boundless creativity somewhat tempered by his stereotypical role in the world. Straight guys yearn to be more than just “straight guys” as much as gay guys yearn to be more than just “gay guys”. The binding constraints of stereotypes cut into everyone. We each found ways of breaking through such limiting bounds by pushing against the confines that society wanted so badly to impose upon us. In our shared quest for creative fulfillment there exists a commonality that transcends sexuality. It is upon this common ground that our friendship is based.

Yet we can’t get around the fact that being friends with a gay guy and acting as a straight ally continues to raise questions of one’s own sexuality. There will always be those who assume and believe that any brush with gay issues instantly makes one gay as well. The absurdity of this is not lost on Skip, nor does it bother him.

“I’m sure that there have been people that have thought I was gay on a number of occasions,” he surmises. “One girl I worked with was convinced I was mostly because I wore suit jackets every day for the first week at the job. And I’ll admit that I can see how a guy who openly sings show-tunes and ranks “The Birdcage” among his favorite comedies is someone who you might question. If they think that, it’s not because I’ve showed the slightest inclination towards finding the male physique the least bit enticing. It’s just not the way that my clock ticks. I knew I liked girls from around the time that I kissed my neighbor, a cute Japanese girl named Shawna, when I was about 5 years old. Or when I stumbled upon my first playboy and tried to understand what that new found warm tingling feeling was. They think that because I fit some external stereotypical profile that they’ve set up on ‘who’s gay’ based on a bunch of factors that have nothing to do with sexual preference.”

“I could care less if everyone in the world thought I was gay. For two reasons: A) That’s not a bad thing to me. I’d take it as a compliment because someone thought that I was boisterous and had good taste. B) To me, being angry or defensive about someone thinking I was gay is as absurd as getting angry over being confused for a Shaolin Monk. I’m not. I know that. So why on earth would it adversely affect me what anyone else thinks?”

“I think that often, maybe not always but often, the negative reaction someone has to being called something that they are not is a by-product of the internal fear that maybe they are. So when I read a message board boasting that someone is afraid that a young boy watching two boys kiss on “Glee” will give them gay inclinations I have to just shake my head. Watching two boys kiss when I myself was a boy would illicit no reaction other than perhaps an odd curiosity. It certainly wouldn’t have given me any kind of response based on desire. I feel like when someone indicates that they feel differently than that, like watching this would confuse them or persuade them towards similar exploration, it always makes me wonder how shaky their own sexual inclinations might actually be. I have no issue with someone who could feel a hormonal or sexual response from this type of stimuli and thinks that it could be enticing. I just think that when you suggest that it’s a possibility then you’re announcing something to the world that maybe you didn’t intend if you get my drift. Socrates said that, “From the deepest desires often come the deadliest hate.””

Skip is able to laugh off some of his stereotypically gay traits, but sagely reasons that those traits really have nothing to do with sexuality at all. It’s a reminder that pertains to everyone, and when I took the time to truly think about it, it was startling in its resonance. “I joke about being a ‘few steps away from being a gay man’ because it’s my way of playing off of some people’s misguided perception of me based on what I like,” he explains. “These perceptions seem always to be based off of someone noticing my proclivity for show tunes, my desire to have the interior of my living space present nicely while colors co-ordinate and decorations flourish, my yearly joy during the Oscar Awards or my unabashed love of all things Gaga. To them, these are the things that they consider to be “red flags.” It never ceases to amaze me that the things that make me “a few steps away from being gay” are things that have literally nothing at all to do with sexual preference. They’re just the things I like. And they’re the things that I’ve always liked.”

Such stereotypes run along the same lines of limited reason that makes some people question whether all straight allies are gay. Fortunately, that kind of ignorance is dying out, whether they want to believe it or not. Future generations have made it clear that being gay does not matter to them. They will continue to operate and vote with that in mind. The world is catching up to the fact that marriage equality is one of the last human rights not being afforded to everyone. Righting inequality is never an easy or quick task, but it feels like we are on the tipping point. The next generation will continue this, and largely because of people like Skip – and the children he is raising (even if his propensity for crafting a serviceable French braid in his daughter’s hair raises more eyebrows).

“Having a daughter has seemed to only make people’s questions multiply,” he claims. “I can braid my daughter’s hair, I help her make changes to her various dolls’ wardrobes to enhance their “fashion” (as she likes to put it) and I often serve as the “Reigning Queen” for her tea parties. I do this because it’s what she likes and I like playing with her and having fun. I also do this so that she knows that in this big wide world she’ll experience with age that she’ll run into boys who like dresses and girls who like flannel shirts… and that just makes them different and unique, which are traits that I want my daughter to value in others and even strive for herself.”

It is here where Skip’s value as a straight ally is most admirably pronounced. His greatest accomplishments won’t be in teaching me sports or HTML, but in raising his daughter and son to be loving and accepting of all people. It’s not only a boon to the world as a whole, but to his kids as well. Those who don’t open their children’s minds to the possibility of difference do them a grave disservice in preparing them to be successful and productive members of society. That’s what’s always confused me about those who indoctrinate hate and dissension into their children: those kids are going to grow up unable to successfully navigate a diverse world, trapped by the shackles of ignorance and held back by an inability to get along with others.

Skip and Sherri are giving their children the best start in life, teaching them how to love, and instilling a sense of what it’s like to be loved. Fittingly, that’s where this story ends – with the future. Skip’s legacy will be two more people who don’t see difference as a bad thing, but who accept and embrace it as something of value. He is teaching them to be inquisitive and open, accepting and non-judgmental. It is the basic tenet of a straight ally. That sort of thing will always move me. It’s one thing to say you’re my friend – it’s quite another to put your actions behind it.

He closes with a succinct summation: “If you feel that something as simple as one single trait (of the countless traits that make up a person), the bio-chemically predetermined factor of a human being’s sexual preference, is a tool which you can use to judge or admonish them, then I say that you are either woefully misinformed… or that you are yourself, at heart, simply not a good person. Life is far too short, and is already fraught with far too many heartaches. No human being should waste a solitary thought nor spend a single breath in attempt to make another human being doubt or lament their own identity. Nor can anyone truly believe in earnest that they are afforded a right with which to wrestle, from another, a right which is inalienably theirs. Love, no matter what manifestation it may be found, is the most precious commodity we have on this earth. Don’t shit on it; lest progress and history shit on you.”

His words ring with the blunt edge of inevitable change, the charged future for a better world. It is the sound of a dying branch of shame finally breaking off in the winds of righteousness, the reclaiming of a religion twisted and abused in the name of hatred, and the last gasp of an irrational and unreasonable group of people afraid of anything different. It is a clarion call for honesty, for being the people we were born to be – a demand for acceptance, for equality, for every individual to be afforded the right to love. It is, at its heart, the wish and hope and dream of a better world.

“I believe that there are far too many people who spend time trying to present an image to the world, constantly manicuring a representation of what they think people want or expect to see while never exploring or developing the person they actually are. The moment that you’ve handcuffed perception with identity is the moment that you’ve censored both your voice and your beliefs.” ~ Skip Montross
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