Happily Divorced: Pillow Talk (episode 2, June 22): The Time Factor in Coming Out in Straight Marriage

The second episode of Happily Divorced takes place six months after Fran and Peter are divorced because of his coming out as gay. Six months can be long time for some things, but for major changes in people’s lives Fran, Peter, and Elliot, the man Fran is dating, discover that in some ways not much has changed for the formerly married couple. Old patterns persist in some hilarious ways and Elliot bows out of the relationship, leaving Fran and Peter to continue working on their lives as separate people by going out together to see a friend sing at a gay bar. They are living out the French proverb: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Of course, part of the premise is that Fran and Peter are still in love.

This is the sort of situation that sitcoms are made of, and while what happens might seem far-fetched in terms of real life, I see some very real connections, in principle, if not in detail. To me, what’s going on here is Fran and Peter’s emotional life has not had time to catch up with what has happened in their daily life. Love can’t just be turned off and on, even when something happens as dramatic as someone in the relationship coming out as gay. Fran and Peter are still not only friends, but in love, even though in their “real-world” life they are divorced.

That brings up something interesting that I noticed in the pilot and in the underlying structure of this sitcom, and that is the seemingly automatic jump to the divorce when Peter came out to Fran. For them it appears as if that is just what happens. However, some couples do sometimes make another decision, based on their love and friendship, and they find ways to stay happily married. Obviously, there are big adjustments to be made, but some would rather make those adjustments than end the marriage. That arrangement, of course, has to work for both the husband and the wife, and it sometimes does.

But as for the sitcom Happily Divorced, laughs are its lifeblood and I continue to look forward to them. I also look forward to more conversation about the realities involved when gay men marry straight women.

The show is on Wednesday nights at 10:30/9:30c on TV Land.

See www.MiltFord.com/playing-it-straight.html for information about my book Playing It Straight: Gay Men and Heterosexual Marriage, based on interviews in many parts of the United States with men who now identify as gay or bisexual (mostly gay) and who are or were married to women.

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Happily Divorced: Fran Drescher and Peter Marc Jacobson’s Bold Comedic, TV Land Look at Coming Out in a Straight Marriage

I missed the opening episode by less than a day. I heard about this new Wednesday evening show Thursday morning, and immediately had a difficult time processing the idea of a Fran Drescher sitcom based on her real life and that of her real- life former husband Peter Marc Jacobson and his coming out as a gay man in that marriage. I read a lambast review of the show that says, among other things, that the whole the series is based on one joke: “I’m gay.” And I thought “Joke? I can’t imagine that line as a joke.”

Then I found the pilot on line, and there it was, in the opening seconds, “It’s just that I think I’m gay,” followed by a huge laugh. And if I wasn’t laughing then, and I think I was, I was laughing by time Drescher had delivered the one-word line as only she could: “What?” After all, humor is produced largely by the collision of unexpected ideas and emotions. You have to understand that these lines are delivered in bed after the couple has turned off the light to go to sleep sometime in the 18th year of their marriage, just after Peter has reassured Fran that she is on the only woman in his life. In that context “It’s just that I think I’m gay” is a joke: not at all what Fran was expecting or wanting to hear. Suddenly a subject that has been of the topmost seriousness in my life for decades and in the lives of thousands of other people is plunged like an amusement park ride into a whole new mode of expression and consideration.

I am enthusiastically among those who are congratulating Drescher and Jacobson, creators of the show. It helps, somehow, that it is their own experience they are treating with humor. I’m not so sure it would work as well otherwise. But because it is based in their experience, and the laugh-lines are so well written and delivered, it is possible that many good things will come from the show. Primarily, a very uncomfortable but very frequent experience is treated in a form that could help people think and talk about it as something in the category of “It happens.” I hope the show will heighten public discourse on this subject that has long been taboo. I look forward to that discussion here and elsewhere, and, I’ll admit, I look forward to the laughs.

The show is on Wednesday nights at 10:30/9:30c on TV Land.

See  www.MiltFord.com/playing-it-straight.html  for information about my book Playing It Straight: Gay Men and Heterosexual Marriage, based on interviews in many parts of the United States with men who now identify as gay or bisexual (mostly gay) and who are or were married to women.

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Perry Brass’s The Substance of God: A Spiritual Thriller, Not Such a Stretch

In its combining the themes of gay sex and religious concerns, Perry Brass’s spiritual thriller is much less a “stretch” now than it was when it was just a few years ago when it was first published. It contributes to a growing movement of looking at religious topics through a queer lens, extending into popular, genre literature the work of those who study and write about scriptures from a queer perspective.

The Substance of God is about sex, spirit, religion, marriage, life, death, and, oh yes, science, all in nearly equal portions. That is an enormous thematic undertaking, but, for me, Brass pulls it off with room to spare. Each of these themes could easily sustain extensive examination, but for the artistic tension of Brass’s novel, the important thing is how they play against and into each other to populate and set into action the fictive world he creates.

The sex is graphic and gay, mostly. And that plays out in different ways for the main characters, examples being the scientist, Dr. Leonard Miller, the main character who uses kinky sex as an escape from the lab and a religious man, Ted Richards, a pivotal character introduced half-way into the novel, who resists being attracted to gay sex but who seems to be drawn to it all the more powerfully because of that resistance.

The spiritual realm is present throughout in terms of the plot driver, the mysterious substance, which gives the novel its name. There is also Biblical interest, both historical and in the life experience (both positive and negative) of the characters. But it is “the substance” that brings together the sexual and spiritual interest in the novel.

And because of a major theme in my own writing and interest, I paid close attention to role of an apparent heterosexual marriage between a straight woman and a man, Ted, who wants to be straight but whose actions indicate that he is fighting a losing battle. Strongly to the credit of Perry Brass, like every other feature of the novel, this relationship and struggle is essential to the development of the plot.

Some books are simply fun to read at the time and others play in my mind after I’ve finished the reading. For me, Perry Brass’s The Substance of God is both. It is billed as a spiritual thriller. As with any good thriller, the pages seemed to turn themselves, and when I was ready to put the book down, I just had read a few more pages. But for me a lot more was going on than interest in what was going to happen next. The Substance of God is certainly successful as a thriller, but just as certainly, it is a whole lot more. Its important themes (and combination of themes) linger in my mind long after the thriller part drew me eagerly to the end of the novel.

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Thinking with Writing, Mine and Other People’s

I am almost always writing something: the novel I’ve been working on for more than twenty years and will soon come out as Philip, the book I’ve published in two editions called Life Journey: Literature and the Search for Meaning in the Stages of Life, and the interview-based book that came out last September called Playing It Straight: Gay Men and Heterosexual Marriage. But these books are only a drop of ink in the bucket of all the writing I do. I write blogs and emails, documents for my courses and committee work, and lots drafts of what I hope will become future books. And there is Rainboa, the play I am currently working on about LGBT history.

The point I want to make here is not about the amount of writing (many people write much more), but that writing is a context, a vehicle, a mode of thinking, which to me is the interesting thing about it.

Since my coming out fourteen years ago, my writing has been mostly on gay topics. I have had to do a lot of catching up on thinking in that part of my life, and Playing It Straight was a big part of that. But in many ways, the novel Philip is very much more to the point. I have been working on that novel for maybe twenty-five years (I sometimes refer to it as the eternal novel), and it is only now ready for publication, nearly ready!

That novel was the context in which I did a lot of thinking about my being gay, and the writing changed many times as my self-understanding changed through those years. I like to say that I wrote myself into my new gay life in large part by the thinking I did and the understandings I came to in the process of writing that novel. At the same time, Philip is very much a fictional character, and most of the details of Philip’s experience are not mine. But that writing gave me the context for thinking about things that were important, but extremely difficult, for me to think about.

I also think with the writing of others, with the books, chapters, articles and papers (certainly including student papers) I read. There are so many more of these written works, and they cover much more territory than I write about. What I read gives me a huge portion of what I think about life with. And much of what I write comes, in one way or another, from what I read. I’m not talking here about imitation or direct borrowing, but about the ways in which the writing of others informs my own thinking, becomes part of what I think, and think with.

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Thinking with Life

Thinking with Life

A good while back a colleague said to me something like this: We get so caught up in research, documentation, and statistics that we forget how much we can learn just by thinking. What that has come to mean to me is how much I can understand by mulling over carefully what is in my mind from my own experiences with other people and the general “residue” from all I have read and been taught formally. When I have read a book, seen a play or heard a good talk, those things become part of my life, what I have to think with. But right now I am thinking more about what I have taken in from doing things with others, including a lot of talking and listening, going to new places and revisiting familiar places, exchanging ideas with students in classrooms and with others faculty members and administrators in doing all the things we try to accomplish, and also planting trees and remodeling houses, and certainly developing and enjoying many levels of relationship with other people.

I put a lot of stock in what people tell me about their lives, especially how they see themselves in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity. For example, this is a main source of my understanding of bisexuality. In the queer community, bisexuals often encounter people who think they know more about them than the bisexuals themselves do. (Often the assumption is that bisexuality is a only a holding pattern until the person has the courage to claim being gay.) I understand that people change and that sexuality and gender have a certain fluidity, but I have learned a lot by taking seriously what bisexuals have told me about themselves. The same is true of transgender people. I consider such information a great gift, almost a sacred gift. It is a key part of my thinking with life, almost as much as my own lived experience.

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Playing It Straight

I have learned a lot about the topic of gay men and straight marriage from living that experience and from interviews with other gay men who have been married to women. My experience and what other men told me is the basis for my book called Playing It Straight: Gay Men and Heterosexual Marriage.
It took a long time to come up with the title. As I was doing the interviews and writing the book, I was calling it Off the Map because there are no social norms or guideline for the experience I was looking at. While I still think that title has a lot going for it, the problem is that it does not suggest the specific content of the book.
The words “playing it straight” have a double meaning, but for me, the most important one is the idea of doing what is right. When a person “plays it straight,” he or she is doing what is expected with no lack of transparency (to use a very in word). The book opens with this quote: “For the most part, they internalized society’s expectations and wanted to do what they were expected to do, to do the right things, to play it straight.”
The other meaning focuses on the word play. It can have a neutral meaning, such as putting into action, as in playing a hand of cards. But there is also the whole theatrical meaning, as in playing a role in a dramatic production.
There is very wide range of understanding among the men I talked to concerning their understanding of where they were in this regard when they got engaged and married. But, for the most part, by the time I was talking to them, they felt that at some point they had begun to play a role in their marriages that did not square with who they came to understand themselves to be.

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A bit more, as promised. Much of my interest and think time focuses on the LGBT world, inspired by my invovlement with the LGBT Recource Center at Grand Valley, the LGBT courses I teach, my writing, and my own life as an out gay man who is becoming more of an activist than in the past. 

The areas of intrest I will be commenting on in the blog are

gender issues focusing in transgender,

LGBT history as our past can help us understand the complexities of our present,

the religious dynamic of many people’s LGBT experience and the backstory on that topic,

and thoughts about social justice both broadly and LGBT prople and social justice realities.

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This is Milt Ford’s new blog. Stay tuned for more!

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