The Radical Moderate

There was a time when I considered myself a radical. It was late high school, early college. An incurable disease was destroying a generation of gay men, and ACT UP had just formed in New York. I was young, but I felt the anger, too, right in the pit of my stomach.


They don’t care about you! They don’t give a crap if you live, or die! These were my typical thoughts as I walked to the subway each morning to go to school, back in 1988.

I wanted to scream from the rooftops, and sometimes I did. There were times when I would go into the theater in high school, stand up on the stage, and scream my lungs out, I was so angry at what I saw going on around me.

The injustice simmered in me. And I felt it was up to me to change the world.

So I attended ACT UP meetings, and a few times I went out with groups of older men and women and glued signs to walls decrying the government’s indifference to the epidemic, and I was openly gay when it wasn’t cool to be out, and I wore a Silence Equals Death pin to school some days, and I wrote a play with a couple friends called It Seems So Innocent, in which we decried racism and sexism and homophobia.

And today, I find myself living in Chandler, Arizona, which is mostly Republican. Last week I went to Red State Kansas, no gay mecca, and spoke about my journey and my books, which feature LGBTQ teen characters. This week I head to Wisconsin and do the same thing.

I feel new. Like my role has changed. I think maybe my new role is that of a radical moderate.

Some of this is because the LGBTQ movement has made incredible strides. My story, that of a middle-aged, white, gay, cisgender male, is no longer central to the fight. Think about it. LGBTQ rights has been conspicuously absent from the election for the first time in my adult life. It’s a new day. When it is brought up, it’s the issue of transgender people and rest rooms. That’s where the movement is today, and that’s where it needs to be.

Last year I went on a tour of the Midwest and South as a fundraiser for The Trevor Project. It was on this tour that I realized that I am no longer exactly the perfect spokesman for LGBTQ youth. Until that trip, I thought of myself as pretty cutting edge in being an out gay man, but even in towns like Little Rock and Nashville, I saw kids who were multi-ethnic and gender fluid far more than I saw gay white male teens. It was an interesting lesson. I have my place in the LGBTQ movement, but it’s no longer the center of the battleground.

I write this to say that I feel this sense of peace in my life that I haven’t really felt before, and I think it comes from no longer being on the frontline. I don’t really belong there. We all have our place. Mine is to build bridges with those who might throw their hands up in the air when hearing about gender fluidity, because, let’s face it: they live in small-town Wisconsin, and they’ve met one gay person in their lives. What they need is to make the heart connection with an LGBTQ person so that it is understood that we are all human beings with the same blood in our veins. And I’m very, very good at that. And by the way, the connection works in both directions. It’s also my job to fully accept them as human beings. Which they most certainly are.

I know some people are going to hate this and mention that I only feel peaceful because of my privilege as a white, male, cisgendered person. The fight is far from over, they’ll say. And that’s true. Both of those things are true.

But here’s the thing: I don’t have to be right. It’s okay to play my role. We all have a job to do if the goal is to make the world a better place.  They play their part, and I play mine. And we love each other through it.

I love my frontline, radical friends, and I am so grateful they keep pushing the envelope because someone needs to do that still. But in my heart I know that I’m where I belong, doing the work I need to do. I change hearts and minds through my books and my talks. I live in suburbia, and I make changes here on a daily basis just by being me. I build bridges with my conservative brothers and sisters, my conservative neighbors, whom I happen to love. Yesterday I went over to their house and traded peanut butter cups for beef sticks, and no, that’s not some sort of weird sexual innuendo. 🙂

And maybe it’s Stockholm Syndrome, or maybe I’m some sort of gay Uncle Tom, but I don’t think so. I think there’s room in the world for all of us, and if I help out by showing people who otherwise would not understand the ACT UP movement that we all have the same blood flowing through our veins, that’s a beautiful thing.