On Coming Out, On Being LGBTQ

A young fan asked to interview me about LGBTQ issues. Following is that Q&A. Thanks to Caitlyn for the questions!

1. How do you feel about people who use “gay” as a derogatory term? What would you tell them?

I’ve been hearing people use “gay” as a derogatory term so long, and I’ve been fighting that usage so long, that I’m amazed when I meet people who still don’t understand why that’s not okay. I mean, who wants their label to be used to mean “bad”? It doesn’t make sense. I would tell those who still do that to substitute any other label and see whether they still think it’s fine. “That’s so Irish”? “That’s so black”? “That’s so cheerleader”? No group likes to be denigrated.

2. Have you been personally discriminated for your sexual orientation or gender identity? What does discrimination mean to you?

I have been personally discriminated against for my sexual orientation ever since I was very young. So many examples come to mind, and what they have in common is that I have been treated differently–worse–because of my sexual orientation. For instance, I remember moving to Billings, Montana, and our neighbor coming out and saying a friendly hello when we arrived. I could see him figuring out that we were a gay couple as we talked, and that was the last time we ever spoke. He actively ignored us after that, and he even made his children come inside the house whenever we were out in the backyard.
3. What would you say to people who are closeted and fear coming out?  To people who are open and want to “recloset” themselves as Rafe did in Openly Straight?

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Look for the Helpers

Earlier this year, I sat in a classroom of 8th and 9th graders in Washington State. A boy started crying. He was so afraid because North Korea had just put out a video threatening to nuke an American city. The boy’s sister lives in Seattle, and he was so scared that his sister would die in a nuclear attack.
 
It reminded me of being 12 and watching the movie THE DAY AFTER, and not being able to sleep for a week. To this day, even seeing a screenshot of that movie scares the shit out of me.
Notice I’m not putting a nuclear cloud up here. I’m not doing it because it’s terror porn. And you know what? The world is scary enough without terror porn. I don’t want to see a nuclear explosion, and you don’t, either. I linked the above article because it talks about how it terrified a generation of kids, not because I wish to terrify anyone else.
 
I didn’t know what to say to make him feel better. It is scary. And to say, “Yeah, it’s scary, but it was scary when I was a kid, too, and nothing happened, so don’t worry,” is the kind of bullshit that gets kids to not listen to adults in their lives.
 
I watched the news this morning about the newest North Korean missile launch and yeah, it’s scary. I’m not alone in lacking confidence about the man in the White House, and his ability to be an adult in the face of difficult decisions. I hope he will be, but his immaturity scares me. A lot.
And thinking about how to comfort myself and how to comfort any young people who are scared made me think of what Mr. Rogers would say. Because no one has ever been more comforting to me than Mr. Rogers.
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For those of you who didn’t grow up with Fred Rogers, he had a show on PBS called Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. He had a voice like strawberry yogurt, and his manner was as gentle as a down comforter.

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Honestly…

My friend David Levithan, the amazing author of books like Every Day, Boy Meets Boy, and Two Boys Kissing, was introducing me at a talk late last year when he said literally the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me.

Speaking as an editor at Scholastic, my publishing house, he said that I make it easy on them there because with authors they need to find index words, buzz words that describe what we write about. Mine, he said, are always in my titles.

Out of the Pocket

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Openly Straight

Openly Straight cover

The Porcupine of Truth

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Honestly Ben

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Out. Openly. Truth. Honestly. This, he said, is the essence of what I write about.

I like things like that, because they’re simple and understandable and they teach me something about myself that I didn’t know. And I felt it was a great compliment because I do believe that being out, open, truthful and honest–authentic, in other words–is my life’s work.

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Becoming a Man

What does it mean to be a man?

What is a man?

Think about it for a bit. What’s your definition? When you think of a person who embodies a man to you, who is it? And why? What qualities do they have that make you think they are manly?

My thinking about this remains incomplete, but I will tell you that I’ve thought tons more about it in the last six months than I had in probably the previous 46 years. I think my idea of a man was both caricatured by what Hollywood told us, and self-denigrating. That definition, I believe, really left me out of the picture. And I wouldn’t have told anyone that, had it crossed my mind.

That definition involved bravery and courage, and it still does. But it also included unemotional. Stiff upper lip. Nothing bothers this so-called man. They take care of themselves, and they don’t struggle.

The thing they most aren’t, of course, is vulnerable.

How unlike me could this definition be? I’ve struggled lots in my life. I am extremely emotional. Things bug me all the time, self-care hasn’t always come easy, and yeah, I’m totally vulnerable. Being gay has only exacerbated for me a lot of these feelings.

Of course, that’s actually true for ALL men. All people, actually. As a character in my upcoming novel says, “If you’re acting like you’re not vulnerable, that’s all you’re doing. Acting.”

How Hollywood. We never got to see backstage with John Wayne, and I think that may be among the most damaging things about our current society. That we (some of us, anyway) still believe in John Wayne.

One of the things that has me thinking about what it means to be a man is The Mankind Project, a group I joined in May.

MKP quote

It has fundamentally changed me. I know when I say that people get uneasy, like I’ve joined a cult or something. Far from it. This group has no interest in controlling my mind, or telling me what to think. What The Mankind Project is helping me with is figuring out who I am, and what I think a man is, and how I fit that definition.

This is important stuff!

I went on what is called the New Warrior Weekend in May. It was a revelation to me. Scary and challenging and beautiful and fun. I laughed, I cried, I came to understand myself better. I have since continued in Mankind by attending what is known as an i-Group, which is a weekly group where men do work. That work is basically becoming awake about who we are, what’s going on with us, emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually. No answers are foisted upon us. This is all about authenticity, and that’s individual work no one can do for us.

Now I’ve become the community coordinator for the Central Arizona area for this group. I am typically slow to take on roles like this, but the mission statement of this group matches my own:

“We are building and supporting the emotionally mature, accountable, and compassionate male role models that our communities so desperately need.”

That’s who I want to be. The kind of man. One who is in touch with what he’s feeling and doesn’t bluster through, blind to his own emotions. One who is accountable to his community and contributes to its growth. One who has compassion for all, and also compassion for himself.

If you want this in your life and you don’t have it, I can help you find it. There is another New Warrior Weekend coming up in Prescott, Arizona from October 6-8. I will be staffing the weekend. This isn’t for everyone, but it surely was for me a huge, life-altering shift. If you think it might be one for you, too, email me at bkonigsberg@gmail.com and I’ll happily chat with you about my experience, answer your questions, and help get you signed up.

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For the (LGBTQ) Kids

A shout out to my young fans… I’ve been thinking about you this morning!

Thinking about the incredible strength and courage I see on a daily basis, in the emails you send me. You’re choosing to be authentically you in a world that still considers being LGBTQ a “left-handed path.” I’m so proud of you for standing up and telling people who you are.

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As Toby explains so nicely in Honestly Ben, the world is way more comfortable when we stay on certain expected paths. When we veer from expectation, there are people who get very uncomfortable.

But here’s the thing: that’s not about you. That’s about them. They are projecting their own stuff onto you. There will always be people out there who hate the parts of them that are unusual or different. And those people will always be the first to hate on you for the ways you stand out.

One of the best lessons I’ve ever learned is this: the things that make us different? That’s our gold. Cherish your gold. It’s yours. Love it like it’s the most valuable possession you’ve got!

I’m working on another book for y’all right now. I promise to work hard so that it’s the best it can be. Because I want it to mean a lot to you.

That’s all for now!

 

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The Mankind Project

I’ve recently joined a group called The Mankind Project.

MKP.jpg

What I first heard about this group, the thing that intrigued me was the idea that in our society, there are no rites of passage for men, outside of gangs and fraternities. This organization offers such a rite of passage.

The basic purpose of this organization is to empower men to missions of service, supporting men to make a difference in the lives of others – men, women, and children around the world. There is a sister group called The Woman Within. I strongly suggest checking out both organizations. Both are fully inclusive of members regardless of color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, ability and religion. All are welcome, so long as they are willing to look at themselves clearly and work on themselves. In my experience so far, it is a group of warm, powerful men who are committed to being the best they can be, committed to understanding who they are, committed to owning their own stuff, and dealing with it in a healthy manner. Continue reading

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The Blog Post That Will Get Me Shunned

IMG_3598I haven’t been posting to this blog recently. That’s not to say I haven’t been writing. I just haven’t been … publishing. Lotsa drafts abandoned, unpublished.

The reason: I have been feeling as though the LGBTQ movement is passing me by. That what I perceive as a move to the left by those who are most vocal and adamant has left me feeling strangely without a voice. Or, more precisely, afraid if I voice what is true for me, I will get in trouble.

Let me say up front that my mission in life is to help young people learn to love themselves. Especially LGBTQ young people. That’s what matters to me. That’s what has me writing books aimed specifically at that population.

Let me say secondarily that I am willing to admit that maybe I no longer have the right voice for this task. That maybe I need to think about writing something different, because it may be that the tenets of the LGBTQ movement have fundamentally changed. Or maybe I’ve changed. I don’t know.

I’ve always been all about authenticity. And I’m a writer. As such, I’ve decided to write what is true for me, and let the pieces fall where they may.

Here are some things I believe that are politically incorrect: Continue reading

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