The Further Adventures of Yukon Cornelius

Today I want to share with you work that I completed while at the Columbus College of Art and Design, and which would have been part of the Columbus Arts Festival 2020 in June (but WILL be part of the festival in 2021!)

I fell in love late in life with a character from a Christmas special: Yukon Cornelius, created by Romeo Muller as part of the 1964 Rankin/Bass production of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”–a stop motion special that is shown every Christmas. You might recognize the character:

Burly, positive, full of helpful asides “Bumbles Bounce!” and “the fog is as thick as peanut butter!”–Yukon helps our heroes realize their dreams by a) saving them from the Abominable Snowmonster, b) taking them to the Island of Misfit Toys to carry a message to Santa to come get these toys and pair them up with kids and c) reforming said Abominable Snowmonster and making him tame, and cool for Christmas Parties.

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I don’t know why Yukon stayed with me. It might be that I went to live in the Yukon for nearly 10 years. I mushed some dogs (tbh, only as a one-day fun thing in Inuvik, NWT–though I attended and watched the Yukon Quest as much as I could), and spent time out in the wilderness. But I also lived in the great city of Whitehorse being a friend and misfit to a lot of other friends and misfits, who are also great musicians, artists, talented amazing people.

undefined Maybe it was that Yukon was very burly, and I was attracted to him, or even attracted to the kind of man he represented–a big “bear”. He seemed like a better version of a male hero than I had previously encountered. Though he had a gun, I don’t think he ever shot it. He was practical, helpful, encouraging. He had a lot of knowledge about Abominable Snowmonsters! And he was much more interested in saving people than in killing monsters. In the end, because Bumbles bounce!–Yukon and Bumble somehow come to an understanding. Bumble is just another misfit that needs to find his right place… and he does, next to the Christmas tree.

In another post, I will tell you more about that Queering the Hero journey I made–and continue to make. But here are my paintings, extrapolating three things:

  1. Yukon Cornelius could be gay. People have commented before on the queer undertones of the show–read the articles here from Vulture, and KQED and in 2019 The New York Times opinion page—- about themes of bullying, about being different, about being rejected, about finding acceptance for your unique qualities. Romeo Muller was himself gay. It’s not a stretch to see the queercoding in the show. Making Yukon Cornelius gay is not a stretch either, since he doesn’t make mention of a wife, and reads as what we would call a “bear” today–a burly, bearded, slightly overweight, slightly hyper-masculine man.
  2. Yukon has a way of charming beasts. His expert past knowledge of the Abominable Snowmonster speaks to prior run-ins with “Bumble”—and then he is able to tame and speak to the Bumble (who miraculously grows back his teeth in the final few minutes of the special!)
  3. Yukon deserved more of an adventurous life.

So, I created that life for him–and for me. The copyright on characters from this movie had a misprint in it, making all characters in public domain (outside of Rudolph who had prior copyright). So I adopted Yukon as my hero and gave him a life of meeting cryptids (Bigfoot, Mothman, sea monsters, etc.) Using acrylic and myself as a reluctant model–or at times a stand-in, I painted these paintings. (side note: I’d planned to have several cooler guys than me become Yukon for these paintings–but planning photo shoots was not easy.)

So if you’ve always wanted a rollicking adventuresome gay hero, I offer you Yukon Cornelius–rescuing, negotiating, protecting, singing, reading, allowing himself to be loved.

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My Faith in Werewolves

tumblr_nmlov9kobq1s3y6tro1_1280I grew up with a dangerous love of werewolves.  I wanted to meet them.  I wanted to run with them in the woods behind the house.  I wanted them to break into my room at night and kneel at my bed and whisper all the courageous, adventurous things I could become.

I drew pictures of werewolves. I couldn’t help myself.  Especially when I was 14 and living outside of Caruthersville, MO, on the levy by the Mississippi River, where my father was the pastor of a small country church–those pictures came every day into my head and just bled out of my pencils and pens.  Most of these werewolves were kind, masculine, big brotherly, mentor-like werewolves.  I was not clued-in to my head at the time.

These werewolves came, most likely, from my deeply embedded and hidden sexuality, a love for hairy men that I could not understand–a feeling like there was a wild side of me that I must hide away.  But the werewolves at my window were always free.  Free to run.

These werewolves I drew–the first one made me weep as a teenager–there was something important in that picture, something I couldn’t fully understand growing up in my deeply religious environment.  I don’t regret the beautiful years of being deep in that family and faith (and I’m still a big part of my family and faith) but I regret not knowing what that was.  I’d have been a much different person if I had known I was gay at 15 instead of at 34.

I appreciate the magic and wonder my ignorance left me–and that’s a strange blessing to be thankful for, but it’s a blessing nonetheless. Because I could not believe in my sexuality, I believed werewolves were real.  I musta lived under some really awesome bubble of cognitive dissonance for an A+ student to believe werewolves were possible and still understand and love my science classes.  But there I was–a high school student who kept a space open in my brain for the possibility of werewolves.  It’s not so hard to believe.  For me, son of a Southern Baptist minister, I had a world with angel-demon fights, Jesus talking to you out of the air, fiery chariots racing to the sky, resurrecting dead people, talking donkeys–that’s a world where werewolves can happen, too, isn’t it?  That space I kept open–it’s a similar space open for the possibility of miracles, of faith.  So why not a …sorta faith in werewolves?

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Some Peace and Community for Queer Ghosts: Queer Ghost Hunters Series

queer_ghost_hunters_538bde99d1e7f8bd0d8268ff34d2b4dd-nbcnews-ux-2880-1000

I’ve been charmed by a Youtube docu-series: Queer Ghost Hunters. It is unlike anything else in the genre of ghost hunting reality series.

Yes, it’s remarkably well-produced and edited.  It’s funny, and it’s poignant, deeply moving at times.

The Stonewall Columbus Queer Ghost Hunters accomplishes these things because it’s doing everything so differently than other ghost hunter shows.

  1.  They aren’t reacting to a disturbance or a sighting.  The ghost hunters don’t (so far) go to a place because they’ve been called by folks disturbed by ghost activity.  They are seeking out where they believe queers would have gone in cities and rural areas.  Theatres, prisons, convents.
  2.   The goal is not to get the ghost on tape, or to prove that ghosts exist.  The show takes as a premise that ghosts exist.  Their goal: to provide a safe space for queer ghosts to talk about what it was like living queer in different moments of history.
  3. They’re looking for QUEER ghosts specifically.  Their focus drives their narrative.  They are looking to bring a safe community to a group of queers who can’t move out of their places to find other queers. ( It’s not like ghosts can pack up and go to San Francisco or Greenwich Village.)  The show’s aim is to chat amiably with queer ghosts who may not have had anyone to talk to in their lives about being queer.
  4. All of the ghost hunters fall on the Queer spectrum: genderfluid, lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgendered, pansexual, even a bear. 🙂   This is about diversity in the cast as well as diversity in the ghosts, but they are talking about LGBT issues.
  5. This is MORE than just ghost hunting: it is an examination of the history of LGBT people and, in some ways, how people lived, hid, coped with being queer in different places.  In that, it is a reflection–and a chance–for people to talk about what it is to live as queer in any time.

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Gays Will Save the Church: my story in Queer Story Archives

As a science fiction/fantasy writer, I just want to remind folks that we aren’t all alike, and we don’t live in just one bubble. My blog has always been about the experience of being a science fiction/fantasy writer and not just reflecting the genre/writing parts—but about my whole experience of being a Yukoner, of having a faith, of being gay–AND being a science fiction/fantasy writer. So this is part of it.

The Queer Story Archives came up to Whitehorse–Lulu from OnMyPlanet.ca–in July 2013, recording stories of Yukon Queers, and we recorded this right before I was to leave for Dayton, Ohio. I think it’s turning into a positive story so I’m sharing it. Ultimately I’m suggesting that including gay people can save a rapidly diminishing Church population. To do that, I tell my story. Some of you have heard it–either through the Yukon News, or through DNTO. Both sources were good but heavily edited. This is me telling it in less than ten minutes. It feels better in my own words, complete.

We grow from hard times in our lives and this was a good growth for me. Eventually, I’ve come to retain and re-establish many friendships from the first church. I hope my story still helps others. I’m placing this over on Talking Dog too.

CBC’s DNTO to air my story on Coming Out to My Church for “Lost Causes”

Definitely Not the Opera, (DNTO) a CBC Radio One program devoted to the art of storytelling in Canada, asked me to tell my story of coming out to my church for their Nov 3 show “Lost Causes”.

I had pitched the idea to them last year for a different show called “Making Enemies” but withdrew the pitch because a) I don’t think I meant to make enemies, nor do I think I have made enemies; and 2) because I didn’t want to restir a pot that has finally calmed down.

But they remembered my pitch.  And they sought me out.  Which is humbling, and cool.  We recorded on Friday morning and they are editing my lengthy story to 3-4 minutes.  I appreciate Andrew Friesen’s belief that my story was important and needed to be told.  I feel like the story is more appropriate under “Lost Causes” because trying to reason with people who don’t want to listen to you, or discuss with you–and believing that you alone have to spark change–well, it can feel like a “Lost Cause”.  But in the end–and the end hasn’t come yet–who knows if the cause is lost?  I think every person who says the church must look at the evidence, must consider the Christian testimonies of LGBT folks in the discussion, is a step towards change.  We need more people who realize how many people have fallen away from the faith, have decided against Christ, have been repelled from the church, and who, sometimes when there is no hope left, taken their own lives, all because the Church has historically refused to consider the scriptures in an accepting light–and this causes their members to refuse to accept their children in an accepting light.  This splits familes.  My God and my Christ are not what I encounter when I come into a Baptist Church anymore.  I daresay they wouldn’t recognize it.  Churches are not all one defined Mass though–as many churches are beginning to change their minds about LGBT people.  Episcopals, Lutherans, Presbyterians, United Church of Canada–all have begun seeing that this is just the next issue the church has to rethink.  As it did slavery, race, and its treatment of Women.  And divorce.  Change comes when people inside churches decide they can’t hold false doctrine anymore.  Christianity and Faith are not the problem.  Interpretation is.

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My short piece in Geez Magazine #24, “Privilege” issue, on coming out

Ironically, my pastor at RBC suggested I write for Geez magazine.  I don’t think he imagined what piece I would eventually write for them.  But here it is, Issue #24, on “privilege”.  I wrote the fast version of my coming out at church.  I centered it on the idea of privilege–of the privileges I had as a single, white male Christian who had leadership potential and of the privileges I no longer had when I added “gay” to that mix.

The church has to change.  It has to.  It may not change from those fighting it on the outside, but it will have to incorporate change if it is to survive further.  It faces irrelevance, it postures with discrimination, it plays favorites, it values money.

Not all churches–no.  (When I say a statement like this I have to stop and say, Thank you, churches that are moving more towards inclusion, social justice, focusing on issues like poverty, the environment, civil rights.  You do exist, but I wouldn’t, yet, call you the “Church”–as the “Church” tends to be the monolithic Catholic Castle or the Evangelical Juggernaut.  One day, you will take on that mantle–you will be the “Church” and it will have a positive ring.  You will convince other churches that focusing on discrimination is not the answer.)

Anyway, there it is, in Geez #24.  If this brings you to Talking Dog, welcome.  There’s lots there, I hope, that will spark conversation.  If this entry leads you to Geez, welcome to Geez.  There’s lots there that will spark conversation as well.  It’s a valuable, important magazine carrying on “the” conversations we need to have happen.  It is intrepid, bold, and unflinching.

I would marry Geez magazine if it looked like a bear and loved me back.

*apologies to Kevin James, pictured, who is not gay.

“Amina” Acid and the Ballad of Bill of Tom: deception in the pursuit of activism

What to make of the sudden revelation that two prominent lesbian bloggers, both activists, were really men?

Tom MacMaster, an American student studying in Scotland, his subject Middle Eastern Studies, created the blog “Gay Girl in Damascus” as a way to give himself a voice in the debates about what was going on in Syria, a voice others would believe.  Well, he got more than he bargained for.  The new found fame–when other people started reading the blog—went to his head, he admits, and he took the opportunity to start pushing his opinions, through Amina Arraf, on all sorts of things related to Syria.  He wanted to make a difference and claimed that no one would listen to him as a white American male.  His blog seemed to be recording life during the “Arab Spring”–a time that’s exciting everyone all over the world.  Oddly, instead of a male protagonist, in Syria, he made his “character” a lesbian:

“It was part of the challenge of being someone who wasn’t me. It was a way of also drawing attention to things, I do think there is a certain orientalism, where we in the West tend to pay more attention to people that are like us, people we can relate to, someone marginalized is more interesting.

I also think I wanted to show that in Syria, too, there are people who are all different, gay, straight, people of every possible permutation.” (from the Washington Post)

When, in a dramatic turn of events in “Amina’s” life, MacMaster writes that she’s kidnapped, he suddenly got the world’s attention.  People were noticeably upset about what was happening to this lesbian blogger in Syria.  They wanted to help. The Post says that this is the moment when a blog that might have remained believable took a misstep.  It was that Amina had so many supporters, so many people “she” had talked to, that they wanted to help her.

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Talking Dog gives Gay Christian Resources: my other project

via Flickr and the Creative Commons licenseTalking Dog is one of my other blogs, hopefully a good resource for gay Christians.  There are a lot of good gay christian websites out there, and so I decided merely to become a portal so that you could find resources.  Mostly I wanted to provide all the information that anyone might need to investigate the whole issue for themselves.  Debates swirl about and people need to know the truth.  It was websites like the one I created that helped me when I needed information.  I needed resources.  I couldn’t ask anyone out loud about them, and I didn’t know a gay Christian.

Many of you might recognize the Talking Dog in my title–it comes from “Believing in the Dog” which was the short story that I entered into PSAC’s Anti-Homophobia Week’s contest over two years ago.  In the story, I had a man go out into the woods in January at night to kill himself–just sit out under a tree and freeze.  There was a talking dog in there–and as the author, I knew I couldn’t save the man’s life without making the black lab into a talking dog.  That I had to bend reality into fantasy to save the character.  I had wished that there were more talking dogs in the world–or that we would become the talking dogs in someone’s life.  The story won the contest, and Darrell Hookey, always encouraging me forward, helped me (i.e. pulled me off the floor crying) when it came time to print my name beside it in What’s Up Yukon.

It’s my way of giving back to the community what it gave me.  Maybe there’s someone else out there who’s questioning their faith and their sexuality.  Who knows?   They might just need a Talking Dog.

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For more on the blog, I have this page.

Solidarity in Purple: Supporting Gay Teens After Spirit Day

Heather Kennedy, or moria on Flickr, used under Creative Commons LicenseAs millions are wearing purple today, Wednesday, I found myself trying to imagine what this might mean to a closeted man or woman.  Walking down the street are all the people who would support you coming out. 

When I was struggling with coming out–I didn’t know who might be supportive and who wouldn’t.  I grew up in a culture that would designate a day, “If you wear Purple on Fridays, you’re gay.”  So it was a color to avoid–for fear of being outcast.  Today, it is THE color–not to show you are weird or different, or even “in” or “cool”–but to help others come out, and know that it’s safe.by ciccioetneo on Flickr, creative commons license  That you support and love them and are waiting for the day when they feel comfortable, and pushing for the day when there is no more bullying about anything. 

So in the Spirit of Spirit Day, let’s keep the purple flowing–as long as we can, in concerted efforts.  Let’s celebrate the color purple.  (All of these photos were found on Flickr and are part of the Creative Commons distribution license.) 

Purple has a long history of being associated with royalty, kings, priests, and even with Christ.  Lydia, famous for her purple cloths, was one of the first leaders of bible studies in the early Christian era.  Purple is a rare color in nature–but when it happens, you notice. 

kevindooley on Flickr, used under Creative Commons LicenseRight now, the climate for gay people is getting better.  However, there are still large pockets where gay and lesbian people are not affirmed for who they are, and what they bring to their communities, and society in general.  We’ve built up a long tradition of pushing men and women back for their sexual orientation, and it’s entrenched in our churches, our military, our governments, our city councils, and it finds its way into schools where kids–who can’t hide a prejudice–act on it.  We punish the kids, but they learn it from the adults. 

So, go out there and get your purple on.   Show your kids that you stand in solidarity with those who are in the LGBT community, and that you want to assure them that not only smittenkittenorig on Flickr, used under Creative Commons Licensedoes it get better, but we–every day–are making it better for them.  Slipping on a hat or a shirt or some purple shoes is the simplest start. 

Binary Ape, from Flickr, Creative Commons License What are the next steps–the day after Spirit Day, the week after Spirit Day?  The next steps may be harder, but we can do those too. 

Get a group of you to wear purple in your churches.  Ask to speak from the podium announcing something, address everyone, but specifically those gay people who may be present in your congregations–out or not–and tell them that they have someone in your church (or a group of you wearing purple) that they can count on to be supportive no matter what your church’s theology might say.  Your purple shows them that you support them right now.  

Get a group of people to wear purple and show up during a city council meeting and ask to speak in honor of gay teens. 

As a gay man, I would look for any, any sign that someone might be friendly, supportive, and understanding– the weight of our secret–our fear that being different makes us less than–is

Purple Heart by the US Army, on Flickr, used under Creative Commons License

 sometimes a lot, especially when we come from communities where there is active discrimination towards gay people.  This can take many forms:  a theology which doesn’t treat gay and lesbian people as equals in the church, a simple understanding that something “gay” is wrong or weird, or a belief that being a gay man is somehow not masculine enough. 

Our military values each soldier, but currently doesn’t value the gay ones if they say they are gay.  The soldier at the right here is receiving a purple heart–and that’s why I have him in the post.  We value what we give Purple to: kings, deities, soldiers, priests–purple is considered one of the rarest colors, hard to create, and therefore highly prized. 

by aussiegall on Flickr, used with Creative Commons licenseWhen we wear purple today–we say, “We highly prize gay teens.  We value you.  We know you have something worth giving and sharing with us.  We value what you have to say and the point of view you have.  You are loved and appreciated.  We want to see what you’ll become.  Our country is changing.  Our governments are changing.  Our churches are changing.   And it starts today.  It starts with me.”

Harry Potter Diary: Harry, the Suppressed, Closeted Wizard

At 41, I’m reading the Harry Potter series for the first time.  Outside the demographic for the book, I was wondering what I would latch onto as an adult.  What would speak to me?

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, HP1, gives us a kid whose true identity is being suppressed.  His muggle guardians KNOW he is a wizard, but they are hoping that he will just not learn about this heritage, and certainly won’t become a wizard.  They never mention his parents were wizards, never tell what really happened the day his parents died, and they never want to hear if he has any wizard “tendencies”… and they punish him severely whenever those “tendencies” appear—when Harry acts on his wizarding nature.

I always found the scene when the owls try to deliver his welcome letter from Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft to be quite moving.  While on the surface it looks like the Dursleys are merely being subverted in their plan to keep Harry from knowing the truth–it is a moment where Harry learns WHO he is and that he has great potential.  Without this moment, there is no Harry Potter or Harry Potter series.

The urgency with which the owls start tossing their letters into the house; the extremes that the Dursleys go to hide away from the letters finding Harry; this is no small event.  I would say it is the biggest turning point in Harry’s life–because afterwards he will understand who he is, and be given the skills to fulfill his destiny, while before he is humiliated and punished when any sign of his true nature reveals itself, and living as a secondary person, almost a slave, in the Dursley household.  He lives in a closet under the stairs!  (I mean, really, people… a closet???)

It’s hard for me to escape seeing this as a coming out moment for Harry, or see this as a metaphor (at least for me) of a boy society has been trying to make more and more “straight”–who just can’t help certain natural tendencies.  As a gay man, I saw myself in Harry.  Society hides our history from us, brands us as immoral, makes us feel humiliated for being who we are–if we even get to know that information–and somewhere along early puberty, the signs start coming in unusually fast… the letters telling us who we are and what we are capable of start flying in.

I had great parents.  No, they didn’t know what to do either when I started exhibiting behavior outside of what they had expected.  I don’t think they ever tried to hide who I was, though; they were afraid to mention anything, uncertain if this might be a tipping point where I would start to explore what this meant.  But certainly my religion tried to separate me from the immorality of a whole group of people, convincing me that I could never be a “homosexual”– because I was a good boy, a good Christian.

If I’d only had a list of the great gay and lesbian people of history, or that so many of our revered American writers were gay or lesbian.  If only I’d realized how much we contributed to history.  Or known what was happening to me physically and mentally and sexually.  I’m glad that Mason Crest Publishers recently announced a line of books for middle-schoolers about being gay, about coming out, about gay and lesbian role models, history, religion.  Like 15 letters!  I want to own those books.

In my life, though, the letters stopped coming, the owls gave up.  I never realized I was gay until I was 34.

But in Harry Potter, the Dursleys can’t prevent Harry from knowing who he is because a giant comes through the door.   Hagrid—man, would I love my own Hagrid!—breaks down the door of the shack on the island where the Dursleys and Harry have hidden.  And he is angry when he finds out that Harry’s history has been suppressed, that Harry’s true nature has been ridiculed and been denied him.  There is triumph and relief in that moment of comeuppance for the Dursleys.  Not only have they been shamed, but Harry has seen them as they are— as no longer the standard or authority for telling him who he is.  He cannot be shamed.  Hagrid has revealed a higher truth.  Harry is allowed to break free of their mental tyranny–because Hogwarts, a place designed for people just like him, is waiting for him.  They value him.

Now, at Hogwarts, everyone treats Harry as someone they love.  Yes, a few treat him like a superstar, but I’m amazed at how loving and caring all the characters are towards Harry–especially the adults.  They become his new family.  Dumbledore and McGonagall serve as surrogate parents, and Hagrid as a protective big brother.

We see the Dursleys as comedic backdrop, but I think, in some ways, they are as dangerous to Harry as Voldemort is.  While Voldemort wants to take Harry’s life, the Dursleys also want to take Harry’s life–his soul, his self-worth, his personhood.  Whoever would rob you of who you are, or try to shame you for being who you are–that is a dangerous person.  If the Dursleys had been successful in keeping the truth from Harry, it would have robbed him of a joyful, adventurous life.  Those who want to keep their children from realizing who they are–and the joys of being that person, the contributions that other people like ourselves have made to history–are extremely dangerous people.  There is nothing wrong with being gay.  And great people in history have been gay.  It is extremely important for every person to have role models.  We spend an inordinate amount of time in Christianity talking about our role models, and in American History about role models, and in sports about role models.  Gays have been hidden from history for a long time.

Oddly enough, we were handed a great role model when Dumbledore was outed by JK Rowling.  Such a huge moment–that a beloved character could be gay and still be the wisest, most caring, fatherly, most powerful character in an already beloved series.  We were handed a beautiful role model, who doesn’t have to just be “gay”–he’s allowed to do other things with his character.   And it completes my attachment to this scene.  Harry is saved by Hagrid, a man of the woods, an earthy gamekeeper, in service to the Head Wizard himself, who is gay, and finally taken from the suppression that had marked his whole life.  Harry is given a new start as a Wizard, in a place that values him, and this makes me cheer.

I’m not implying at all that Harry is gay, only that this scene–where the truth is revealed, and assumption that Harry is worthless is wrong–resonates with me as a 41 year old man.  And that there is a whole hidden history, a whole place where people value who you are–who’d have thought?

It never would have occurred to me at 10 or 12 even… but there is something powerful in these books even for us 41 year olds.