BRIEF BLOG INTRO: I'm a singer/songwriter and actor from Texas who is "Living in the Bonus Round" in New York City-- having cheated death from AIDS. (In a game show, the Bonus Round is where time speeds up and the prizes are better.) Accepting my death changed me. Now, I'm consuming life as quickly and as fully as I can, while still taking time to breathe and appreciate every single day as an utter miracle.
I'm a man on a mission to convince you that music is a Super Power, and that life is worth living, no matter how many obstacles are placed in your way. And that you can accomplish great things if you just push ahead and don't let anyone tell you no.
In 2013, I turned 60 and I created a set of goals, all of which came true, including composing -- and performing in -- a Mass, recording a solo album (selling 10s of copies), headlining to a sold out house at a major night club in New York City (while getting great reviews). Now I'm out to redefine theater and cabaret. I update a few times a month these days, and I don't spam. So it's easier to keep up with me by following by Email. When this blog began, it was to track my death. I'm told it was the first AIDS blog. You can start at the gruesome beginning if you want. Or just jump in and maybe we can learn some life lessons together. Welcome to the Bonus Round. I'm Steve [SHACK-lin] and we're just getting started.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Following in faith, he became a leader of exgay programs, got married, endured this marriage even though he never became opposite sex attracted (but was encouraged to marry by those who said that "God would provide") until he finally lost it completely and ended up doing hard drugs and wasting his life in sex clubs until he contracted HIV and almost died. In fact, they had pulled the plug on him. But, miraculously, his lungs healed and he came back to life.
Now, he's happy as a clam, singing at a Metropolitan Community Church and is partnered with a great guy, and they are deliriously overjoyed at having found each other, and true love.
Now, imagine if he had known from the beginning that he could have by-passed all the snake oil phony exgay theology and the suicidal activity and gone right into a healthy relationship. Unfortunately, the exgay groups don't tell this part of the story. They're too busy pushing their expensive programs and their phony therapies that don't work for anyone.
I stumbled upon an article by Exodus International Vice President, Randy Thomas, where he talks about how a mother sent her 19 year old Christian-raised son into his office to get "fixed."
The boy brought his boyfriend with him and Randy basically told them that they could either be gay or they could be Christian. But that was their only choice. End of story.
In other words, they could choose each other and the love they feel for each other, or they could choose to burn in hell. Naturally, Randy didn't put it to them in just those words. The leaders of Exodus have learned to use more slippery language than that.
But how does a 19 year old tell the difference? Here's what the 19 year old hears in his head: IF YOU ARE ATTRACTED TO THAT BOY SITTING NEXT TO YOU, YOU WILL BURN IN HELL. Randy, of course, doesn't make a distinction to him about the difference, in Baptist theology, of being "saved" and being a "Christian."
In fact, what Randy did tell them was that what they felt for each other wasn't "true" love like perpetual celibate Randy has with his fetishized Jesus figure. (Seriously. You should hear him describe his Penthouse Story version of him and Jesus together in his fantasies). He tells them that what they feel is merely a substitute for the real thing.
This is why so many gay Christian teenagers either try to kill themselves (through drugs and sex or gunshots to the head) or end up depressed. They believe this crap being foisted upon them.
I questioned Randy about whether he meant to imply this in his article but he was uninterested in clarifying. His agenda is solely to sign up recruits, lobby Congress against gay marriage and continue the cult-like teachings of this discredited theology and therapy.
This past summer, Exodus held a national conference and the group Beyond Ex-Gay, which uses language far more kind than I do, held a parallel conference near there where they invited the leaders of Exodus to listen to the stories of the ex-ex-gays, and the damage done to them by the myriad of scattershot "ministries" that fall under their umbrella.
Exodus refused to join in. As I said before, they turn a blind eye to the people they've damaged.
They are afraid to face the truth of the spiritual violence inflicted by their misbegotten programs. They live in this little fantasy world where a Magic Jesus that they conjured up in their mind is going to magically transform them into heteros.
In a way, it's like the lottery. Gay people join these groups with the promise of "change" -- millions of dollars are spent on their advertising campaigns by groups like James Dobsons' -- and the promise of heterosexuality is held out there for them. But it never quite gets achieved. Oh, they hear stories of people who've "changed." Just like we see stories on the news of people who won a billion bucks in the lottery.
But, just as the man who wrote the letter to me testified, no one actually changes into heterosexuals. Randy Thomas is not a heterosexual. Alan Chambers, the President of Exodus International, though married, is not even a heterosexual. He admitted as much in a recent video that he "lives in denial" every single morning. He denies his same sex attraction and goes on in his marriage pretending to be straight, thinking that if he pretends long enough, it will come true.
So, these closet gays in admitted denial are leading others in a classic case of serial denial.
And why do they do this?
Because someone convinced them that if they don't turn straight, they won't get to heaven.
So, they practice their deceit. They wage their war against us. And they get to stand in a room full of everstraights, getting pats on the backs. Uncle Toms who've betrayed their own people in order to score a few good points with a group of folks who, otherwise, wouldn't give them the time of day -- the same way they won't give the time of day to the people they've injured.
Meanwhile, I can only hope that those two 19 year old kids who experienced the emotional and spiritual abuse from Randy Thomas cling as closely to each other as they can. The phony gay-hating Jesus created by Exodus International exists only in the minds of those whose paychecks depend on this fake monstrous creation.
UPDATE: If you think this hate-filled Jesus is not a huge part of the world of Exodus and its supporters, read this account of a man going back to his childhood Baptist church.
But yesterday, I finally got to the turning point. I literally slept the entire day and about midnight, when I woke up, my t-shirt was drenched in sweat and the pressure in my head had finally let up.
The worst was finally over. Yay team!
So, today I'm going to keep on drinking hot liquids, keeping still, and enjoying this relief. It's not over, but it feels so good to reach the peak and hit the other side.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
My daddy's family is pure hillbilly -- and I mean that in both the best possible way, and the most literal. They were very proud to be hillbillies. My dad was raised in a cabin in the Ozarks. I've been there once.
With Mike Huckabee's continuing surge, the Republican Party now has an Iowa front-runner whose religious beliefs are virtually identical to those of George Bush. He's anti-choice, born-again, against gay-marriage, and gets political advice directly from God.
So why is the Republican establishment suddenly in a state of near-apoplexy about Mike Huckabee? Shouldn't they be happy? They've been cultivating evangelicals and fundamentalists for 30 years. Now they finally have a candidate who's truly part of the movement. So what's the problem?
Actually, that is the problem. The evangelical crowd was fine when it was just a resource to be cynically exploited every few years in demagogic anti-gay get-out-the-vote campaigns. But now the holy-rolling monster the GOP's Dr. Frankensteins have created has thrown off the shackles, fled the lab, and is currently leading in Iowa. And the party doesn't know what to do.It's actually fun to watch the consternation.
I love my Arkansas family. They are warm and beautiful, will give you the shirt off their backs kind of people. Seriously. It's a code of life there.
We never knew I was part of a lower class. And since nobody told me this, I have never felt like a lower class person who needs to remain there. Everyone is equal in my eyes.
If the Queen of England walked into the room, as Dolly Parton put it to Quentin Crisp's great gasp, I'd say howdy and shake her hand.
People raised with the class system ingrained in their heads don't always appreciate, I think, the power that comes with this kind of naivete. I agree with Arianna. This is going to be a fun one to watch. Because I can tell you now, if they really start beating up on him, he will win the nomination. Martyrdom is part of the myth.
Monday, December 17, 2007
I still have a zero viral load, so the HIV is under control thanks to the (occasionally mind-bending) drug Atripla, which is a combination of three anti-virals combined into one tablet. A lot of people can't tolerate the Sustiva, which is one of those anti-virals. It can cause a lot of sleeplessness along with nightmares.
My foot has been okay lately, but I can feel that nerve just waiting for me to step wrong. It's amazing how instantaneous the searing pain can hit. So, I kind of feel like an old man when I walk since I favor that foot. This has also made it difficult for me to exercise. However, I've gotten a few good long walks in.
The test we were going to do on my kidneys didn't happen. I gave them a full day's worth of urine, but the person at the doctor's office who received the jug didn't know they were supposed to do a blood draw -- and I didn't know it, either. So, it was a waste of energy. I'm going to do it again after I get back from our Christmas break (which starts on Friday).
Still, overall, I feel I'm doing very well. I'm strong and relatively healthy (compared to "normals") but I have a few tests coming up to see what's up with my kidneys (or if it's about my kidneys at all -- I have too much protein in my urine).
Anyway, today I'm down and staying still. The cats are lying on me. Jim is feeding me hot soups, chilis and tea. And I love Christmas time.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
First, their daughter, Anne, sang. My favorite songs were written by Leonard Cohen. I hadn't heard much of Leonard Cohen before and it's always great to be introduced to amazing songs by a writer I've always read about but hadn't explored much. He has a terrific way with words. And Anne did a wonderful job on them.
We sat close to Mel Brooks, who we'd met very briefly one time before at the late Stan Freeman's one man show about Oscar Levant.
Brief story: That night, our "dates" were (Dear) Abby Van Buren and Lucille Ball. Lucy kept asking us, in her husky voice, "Which one IS she??" Afterwards, we went out to dinner and Jim totally set Abby up. He told her that Stan loves to get comments about his performance. So, she said to him, "You know, Shtan," (she had this lateral lisp, so all her "s"'s were like "sh"), "I have an idea for your show."So, Anne sang. Then Carl sang a couple of songs, jokingly. And then Mel got up and did a few numbers. It was really cool. Very warm and sweet. They even took video of the crowd saying hello to Estelle, so she could "join" us.
Immediately, Jim jumped in and said, "Well, who are YOU to give advice?"
Jim told Mel about "Zero Hour" and the story about how he had auditioned for the musical of "The Producers" and before he even got in to see the main casting director, he was told that he "wasn't right for the part."
Friday, December 14, 2007
In fact, he may be a victim of the church's ex-gay reparative therapy program. Having failed to find heterosexuality through Jesus it appears that Murray was booted out of the youth program and out of the church. Crushed by this rejection and overwhelmed by rage and despair thanks to the curse of homosexuality, Murray went on a killing spree that ended with himself.People were wondering why he chose THIS particular church, the one recently pastored by Rev. Ted Haggard, who loved doing crystal meth -- and who claimed to be cured of his homosexuality after a month of "treatment." And, as Matthew says, "...was forgiven."
Matthew, unable to change into a hetero, was kicked out of the program and ostracized by the church community (because some conservative Christian groups cannot bear to be in the same room with people who they think might be gay, even if that person is trying not to be.)
In the larger world of Exodus International, I've met more than a few of these "leaders" who have flat out told me that if someone won't stick with the program, they will literally turn their back on them and have nothing to do with them. And they call this "love." As one put it to me, "Hey, if they choose not to go through the program all the way, why should I waste my time on them?"
(Exodus doesn't keep records of how many fail. They can't. If they did, they'd be even more of a laughing stock than they are. As it is, they're content to simply be a political tool of James Dobson).
So, rejected by family. Rejected by friends. Rejected by the group that claims to "love" them, they end up broken and fallen, and usually on the streets of LA, NY or San Francisco, doing drugs, turning tricks and trying to die -- or they take a gun and end it all. The streets of LA are not filled with out, proud gay men. They are filled with the failures of the exgay movement (whose clients are mostly closet cases). First these "Christian counselors" trash the ones they are supposed to love, and then accuse the gay community of being drugged out and promiscuous.
I want to say to them, "Hey! These are YOUR kids out there. YOU were the ones who created this situation and then you throw them out of your little prayer groups and 'Christian homes' and leave us to pick up the pieces of your spiritual violence. So, first you create the problem and then you blame us for the result."
Clearly, this young man had a lot more trouble than merely believing that he's going to burn in hell for merely being gay or bisexual. But if you think and truly believe that you're only going to end up in hell anyway, why not turn that wrath on the pious, self-righteous people who will forgive a meth-snorting hypocrital liar (who's still lying) like Ted Haggard, but have no love for a lost kid who feels he has nothing left to lose?
Addendum: The Southern Poverty Law Center just issued this brilliant overview of the spiritual violence inflicted by exgay programs.
EDIT: And this is a perfect example of their abuse:
Monday, December 10, 2007
Side note: I did not shoot much or any video this weekend. It wasn't that I didn't want to include all of you, but I was dreading the thought of having hours and hours of footage to edit, knowing I would have to put it off given the fact that I'm focused on this big project which is using up all my waking hours.
However, I did manage to put my weary fingers around the camera when Julie got up to sing "Going It Alone" and I will give you fair warning. Do not watch this if you are prone to weeping loudly at incredibly emotional renderings of heart breaking songs -- and you are in an office or some place where you will be embarrassed if someone sees you melting into a river of tears.
I was almost unable to hold the camera. In fact, just after the song, still in a trance, I snapped the camera off, only to look around and find the entire room on its feet, stomping and whistling and applauding. I told Julie the next day that I was going to youtube this and that she should be prepared to insert this number into every single show. Because anyone who sees it is going to want to hear her sing it again. If this is how she does it "off the cuff" while reading the lyrics, just imagine what she will do with this when it's memorized.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Friday, December 07, 2007
This weekend, Jim and I will be the emcees at the Spirit of Broadway Awards in Norwich Connecticut. I'll post lots of pictures and video! Mark Janas and popular NY cabaret singer Julie Reyburn are going to be performing. And, if I'm not mistaken, Julie will be singing "Going It Alone" from The Last Session. The last time she sang this... well, here is the description from my diary:
Then it was time for "Going It Alone." After a brief introduction, Mark began the chords TLS fans know so well. But he was pacing it, carefully breaking the beat and just laying down a sound pallet.
Julie entered the song with great care. You could tell her entire heart was wrapped up in it from the first note. The audience went dead silent and we were literally bathed in beauty. Mark stayed with the basic chord structure, but every once in awhile he would find something that gave it a little emotional hit. Julie, meanwhile, was starting to soar. I could feel my throat tighten and, as they got to "What about what you've been through as well," my eyes started to burn and I was absolutely held rock solid frozen for the entirety of the song.
Anyone watching me would have seen the equivalent of a marble statue, transfixed and so happy. Not just happy that Julie was knocking the song out of the ballpark but so happy that she was doing it with my song. There is no higher moment of elation for songwriter than to hear your own song being sung by someone with a beautiful voice who is fully and completely connected emotionally.
It ended in a moment of intense stillness. The audience held its breath and allowed the moment to linger. Then, suddenly, they exploded into an ovation that went on for a minute or longer. It just kept going on and on. I thought the people would never stop applauding. I was in tears, absolutely stunned at her rendition.
Jim and I will sing. And I'll also sing something The Last Session since THEY ARE GOING TO PRODUCE IT THIS YEAR as part of their season. (I'm so excited about the prospect of a first class production of TLS. At last! It's been way too long. I'll always believe that it was a show ahead of its time in the way it deals with today's religious conflicts).
We have lots of wonderful friends at the Spirit of Broadway Theater, so this is going to be fun.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Sunday, December 02, 2007
I found myself in an excerpt from a book published in 1999 telling people how to "make your own Geocities website!" God, that seems like centuries ago.
(This was in the days, pre-blog, back when we early public adopters of the Web were kind of out there on our own. Geocities was one of a handful of experimental sites. At the time, it had an entry level rudimentary website building feature but I taught myself HTML code -- or, rather, how to copy underlying code from a page you like as a template -- and made my own design.)
Since the idea of personal websites were completely new to the non-geek community, people had no idea what to do once they set a website up. The Web was a frontier settlement. It wasn't books, it wasn't TV and it wasn't movies. It was a new artform completely. The early adopters had to make it up as they went along.
In my case, because I was so ill, I found myself inadvertently creating a little virtual community around the diary. People of all ages and sexes hung out with me, read the diary, used the discussion board, got advice, found mates, created friendships, fought, loved, stormed off, fell in love, lost relatives, lost kids and more than a few died -- some of AIDS, some of cancer. We needed each other and it worked.
People now do this in a more sophisticated and connected way at Facebook or MySpace, or at other places. Corporate America has suddenly discovered that creating these networks can be monetarily advantageous. And I suppose that's true. But there was something romantic about our little groups cozying together in little places, seeking shelter from the storm. It was safe. But times have changed. Kids grew up and graduated. Others began focusing on their work or their lives. Got married. And I think that's a good thing. It was a healthy place we created.
And the great thing about having created the Bonus Round space -- which is still centered around the diary, the blog -- is that people can and do drift back into my life all the time, reminding me of those warm nights around the virtual fire.
Back in 1999, as this book was being written, my diary/community was on the cutting edge of a social experiment and we didn't even know it. We just liked each other.
After all, according to the authors of that book, my diary was "enthralling without being visually stunning."
I think that describes me to a T.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
We are well into the third decade of a scourge that has expanded exponentially beyond a small specific group to almost every corner of the globe. Whilst in some areas, incidence may have turned, prevalence continues to rise and will do so for a long time- more young people will be infected, more orphans will occur.
Yet, today still 70% of infected people don’t have access to life saving therapies. Many still face stigma, economic deprivation and rejection because of their infection. Many still don’t have access to basic information or simple interventions that will reduce risk. This is not the time for complacency nor apathy. It is the time for compassionate leadership that recognises that the voiceless are often those who suffer most- who can they turn to if their leaders do not listen and heed their cries.
--Archbishop Emeritus Desmond M Tutu
NY Times blog:
On this World AIDS Day, it may be time to finally recognize AIDS for what it is: another symptom of poverty. The startling statistic that 5 percent of adults in our nation’s capital (roughly the same prevalence rate as in Rwanda, where I live) are HIV positive drives the point home.