Monday, June 25, 2012

Passengers flock to Barcelona for first all-gay cruise to Morocco, tour of Ibiza, other Spanish treasure cities



At long last I’m about to embark on one of those celebrated all-gay cruises I’ve heard about for so many years. This week I’m flying to Barcelona, where I will board the Nieuw Amsterdam en route to our first port of call, Casablanca, Morocco.

My best old friend, whom I’ve known since junior high school, will be flying out of Atlanta and meeting me in Barcelona for a day and night tour of that famed Spanish city before we begin our lengthy RSVP Vacations-sponsored journey at sea to Casablanca, the colorful destination made famous by the 1940s movie of the same name starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.  It will be, I understand, the first visit by an all-gay cruise to visit Morocco’s most famous city.

After the international scandal that blew up last March when an all gay cruise operated by Atlantis Events docked at the Caribbean island of Dominica and two gay men from California were arrested after allegedly being seen engaging in sex on their cabin balcony, I’m hoping for a much better reception for our ship in Morocco.

Some gay activists called for a boycott of all gay cruises that go to LGBT-unfriendly ports, but I made this reservation in December, a good three months before the Dominican incident.

 But even if that weren’t the case, I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit the Hassan Mosque, the exotic markets and Marrakech. If everyone keeps their clothes on and behaves, we should all be just fine. What’s more I don’t have a balcony on this cruise. So there’s not even a chance of my going senile and accidentally stumbling naked in view of any shocked Moroccans.

It will be my first cruise ever, something I have wanted to do for decades. The closest I had come in the past to a cruise, would be taking the daylong boat ride hosted by Diana’s Tours of Puerto Vallarta.
Incidentally, Diana, helped coordinate a group for the upcoming cruise and will also be on board. Based on the immense enjoyment I’ve had over the years enjoying Diana’s cruises down the coast of Mexico, I’m confident this cruise will be everything I’m anticipating and more.

From Morocco we will be cruising on to Cadiz and Seville, another pair of Spanish cities famed for their architectural and culinary treasures. Then after another day at sea will dock that night off the island of Ibiza, which is famous all over the world for its nightlife. After what is bound to be a glamorous night of partying followed by beauty sleep on the Nieuw Amsterdam, we will tour Ibiza’s Old City and visit Es Cavallet, the renowned gay beach of Spain.

Finally, we will visit Valencia, another city renowned for its architecture before we head back for Barcelona, where I’m spending another few days for sightseeing and resting up before making the long flight back to Dallas-Fort Worth.

The promotional materials I received indicate the Nieuw Amsterdam boasts “spacious and well-appointed staterooms, elegant restaurants, a full-service spa, two outdoor pools, intimate private cabanas, pool games, bingo, enriching lectures, themed T-dances, shows with entertainers such as Leslie Jordan, disco nightclubs, a piano bar, casinos and whatever else one might want to do on a vacation.

With an estimated 2,300 LGBT people on board, I doubt that anyone is going to get bored. For my first cruise, I don’t think I could have made a better choice, regardless of the criticism of the naysayers.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Prospective LGBT parents should be aware of costs involved, be prepared to adjust expenditures



As it is with everything, else the cost of raising children continues to rise, and it now costs about 35 percent more than it did a half-century ago, according to a report released recently by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That’s important information for LGBT couples who want to adopt or otherwise add children to their family units to consider before taking the first steps to parenthood. Some couples might find the loss of disposable income problematic if they don’t plan accordingly for the increased expenses.

As of today, LGBT parents are raising 2 million American children, according to a joint report by the Movement Advancement Project, the Family Equality Council and the Center for American Progress. Four percent of adopted children, representing 65,000 children, are being raised by same-sex couples, according to the report.

The federal agency’s annual report, “Expenditures on Children by Families,” revealed that a child born in 2011 will cost middle-income parents $234,900 by today’s economic standards. That figure rises to $295,560 when inflation costs are factored in for the year 2028 when the child turns 18 years old.

The cost of raising each child in 2011 for the year for a middle-income, two-parent family was estimated in the report to range from $12,290 to $14,320, depending up the age of the child.

When the agency’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion first began issuing the report in 1960, the cost for raising a child over an 18-year period was projected to be $25,230 or $191,720 in 2011 dollars. The amount it costs to raise a child increased 3.5 percent from 2010 to 2011, according to the report.

Families considered to be of middle-income status earn between $59,410 and $102,870.

For families earning less than $59,410 will be expected to spend less, a total of $169,080 over a 17-year-period of raising a child. Families earning more than $102,870 can expect to spend $389,670 over the same period.

The estimates are based on data collected from the federal Consumer Expenditure Survey and reflect expenses such as shelter, food and other necessities like transportation, child care, education, clothing and health care. Expenses such as pregnancy or adoption costs or education beyond high school were not included in the estimates.

Housing, child care, education and food costs were identified as the largest expenditures in raising a child, with housing representing 30 percent of the cost, child care and education 18 percent and food 16 percent of the total cost over the 17-year period.

The report also noted that expenses for raising children tended to be the highest in the urban Northeast, less in the urban West and Midwest and the lowest in the South and rural areas.

Even though the 2010 U.S. Census showed that only 1 percent of U.S. households were managed by same-sex partners, three percent or 14,000 of the children in foster care are residing in those homes, according to the report issued by the trio of organizations studying LGBT families. Same-sex foster parents were found to more likely be couples of color.

That report also showed that children raised by same-sex couples are more likely to live in poverty than those raised by married heterosexual couples. Same-couples with children reported average household incomes of $59,270, compared to $74,777 for married heterosexual couples.

Of American families raising children, 73 percent of heterosexual parents are white, compared to 59 percent of same-sex parents. Same-sex couples of color are more likely to be raising children than are white same-sex couples.

Same-sex couples raising children are more likely to be living in the South. LGBT parents live in 96 percent of U.S. counties, with the largest numbers living in Mississippi, Wyoming, Alaska, Arkansas and Texas.
Two-thirds of male same-sex couples and 58 percent of female same-sex couples raising children were identified as Hispanic.

As the U.S. LGBT community continues to grow and transform itself through the marriage equality movement, the numbers of such families raising children will undoubtedly grow as well. It only makes sense for those new families to be prepared to adjust their expenditures accordingly because raising children obviously becomes the most expensive and important project parents will ever undertake.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Getting mad, staying mad might be sign of mental illness



Getting mad and staying mad seems to be a way of life with some people, but maybe it’s more than just a case of a bad attitude, according to a Texas author who has written a book, “Born Mad,” about her struggle with a little-known mental illness called dysthymia.

Robyn Wheeler, a professional wildlife educator who is also known as “The Creature Teacher,” suffered from terminal anger for four decades until despair about her condition took her to the verge of suicide and led her into treatment and recovery from the low-grade depressive disorder that left untreated can evolve into an episode of major depression.

“I was ready to do anything to find relief – a lobotomy, an exorcist, even eating brownies,” Wheeler says in presentations today aimed at helping raise awareness about dysthymia. “I had never done recreational drugs, but I was to the point I would have done it if it would have gotten rid of my anger.”

Wheeler said the possibility she suffered from a mental illness never occurred to her because she was generally happy until something went wrong in her life, causing her to withdraw into a silent fury that could last for days, weeks or even months. Simultaneously, she often cheerfully went about her work transporting and displaying exotic animals, leading members of her family and friends to think her bouts of anger amounted to nothing more than a personality quirk.

Her deceptively pleasant outward personality masked a depression that could erupt and take Wheeler from “feeling happy and upbeat to being negative, pessimistic and deeply depressed,” she wrote in her book. As is common with most people, apparently only the people closest to Wheeler – family, friends and coworkers – frequently saw her dark side. Faithful support from many of them apparently helped keep Wheeler in denial about her mental illness for many years.

“I ruined relationships with friends and family members,” said Wheeler of the crisis that led her to a diagnosis, treatment and recovery. “I almost got a divorce. I wanted to move to another country.”

After seeing counselors, seeking spiritual guidance and reading self-help books without finding long-lasting relief, Wheeler finally saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed her illness and prescribed anti-depressant medication that provided her with relief for the first time in her life. Prior to her seeking emotional help, she began to also suffer from a multitude of physical disorders that apparently arose at least in part from her mental illness.

Within three weeks of starting the medication Prozac, which is one of several drugs available for use in the treatment of depression and anxiety, Wheeler said she began to see miraculous results.

“I didn’t know people felt that way,” Wheeler said. “I felt like I was shorted for 44 years.”

Wheeler is now going on almost two years of the remission of her mood swings associated with dysthymia which can include moodiness, being overly critical, complaining, low self-esteem, chronic anger, frustration, despair, insomnia, irritability, guilt, fatigue and poor concentration.

According to a report about dysthymia based on two studies of depressive disorders reviewed by David B. Merrill, a medical expert at the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, the illness can also develop in the elderly as a result of their difficulty in caring for themselves, isolation, overall medical decline and medical illnesses.

Many people suffering from dysthymia often suffer from a long-term medical problem or other mental health illness such as anxiety, alcohol abuse and drug addiction, according to the report. About half of them will eventually experience an episode of major depression, it said.

The report recommends the use of anti-depressant medications and private and group talk therapy to treat dysthymia. The medications reportedly may take longer to show improvements in patients with dysthymia than it does in those suffering from major depression.

Wheeler said that in addition to her daily medications she reflects daily on 10 new habits and thoughts to counteract the faulty ones that previously guided her life. She notes that her search for “peace and happiness” continues on a daily basis.

Wheeler said she wrote her book last year because she found so little information available about the subject when she first learned she suffered from dysthymia. She said that she would like to see a creation of a “National Dysthymia Day” to help raise awareness about the emotionally crippling mental illness that appears to grow progressively worse untreated.

For information about Wheeler’s book and her efforts to raise awareness see www.bornmad.org. The book is published by Balboa Press, www.balboapress.com.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Setting sail in my gay 60s, I still plan to do it my way



As I set sail in my early 60s as a single, openly-gay man it occurs to me I’m traveling a largely uncharted course on a ship with a limited number of passengers whom no doubt are as clueless as me about what the future holds.

By acknowledging my sexual orientation during the summer of 1969, I declared my independence from mainstream society’s rules about the same time as the eruption of the Stonewall Riots in New York City. At the time I had no idea that I had linked my fate with a group of gay bar patrons in Greenwich Village roughly 1,500 miles away who resisted police harassment and kicked off the American LGBT Rights Movement.

For me, it was a celebration of my 21st birthday in a hippy bar in Dallas known as the Knox Street Pub that welcomed people from all elements of society, regardless of their race, religion, color, age, political thought or what has now has come to be known as sexual orientation and gender identity.

Looking back on that time I now realize that I came out in a somewhat different setting than some LGBT people of the day because I did it in an open environment, rather than in the controlled atmosphere of a gay bar. That perhaps made it easier for me to make the same declarations in the workplace, within my family and in all other aspects of my life because I had already discovered that large numbers of people accepted and even celebrated diversity.

As time passed I got to know the gay bars of Dallas and enjoy them while making friends within what I discovered was a large, thriving LGBT community. I especially loved the disco scene at the Bayou Landing and became aware of a more glamorous side to LGBT life. In the downstairs bar I met my first gay celebrity, the comedian Paul Lynde.

The more I mingled the more I learned that the LGBT community thrived all over the nation, particularly in the large cities and the tourist areas. I of course wanted to experience and enjoy them as well.

By the mid-1970s I was traveling from coast to coast, staying for various periods of time as the mood struck me. I lived and worked in New York City in 1977, getting to know the Greenwich Village area, where I liked to hang out at a gay bar called Julius. It was there I learned about the Stonewall Riots and marched in my first gay rights parade. Of course, I made it a point to hang out on Fire Island that summer and visited the Ice Palace.

Afterwards I ventured to Key West where I partied at the the Monster, and then I drove across country to explore San Francisco where I danced the night away at Buddy’s. Deciding that the city by the bay was a bit chilly for my taste, I drove down to Los Angeles and lived in the West Hollywood area, just off of Santa Monica Boulevard. In Los Angeles, I often hung out at the Rusty Nail.

Before I really knew what had happened, I had traveled and partied away more than a decade. It was about that time I decided that maybe it was time to go back and finish college. I had only planned to drop out for a semester when I came to Dallas to spend the summer in 1969, but the time obviously got away from me.

In 1982 I enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin in the School of Journalism to finish my degree, which took three semesters. While attending school -- in between weekends at Dirty Sally’s and Hippy Hollow -- I encountered my next big date with destiny. I was writing news stories for the Daily Texan, and came across a story about a cancer and pneumonia doctors in San Francisco and New York City had documented and suspected had a viral origin.

One of the first stories I wrote for the Daily Texan was about the identification of the AIDS epidemic. After my graduation from the university in December 1983, I began working for newspapers and magazines. Through the years I’ve written about AIDS/HIV, the LGBT Rights Movement and anti-gay hate crimes for mainstream and alternative publications large and small, including about a 10-year stint for LGBT publications as both a staff writer and a freelancer.

It never occurred to me when I first became interested in journalism as a teenager that I would one day wind up devoting most of my career to subjects of which I had no knowledge at the time.

Now, at the age of 62, I have retired, except for my freelancing. Many of the friends I made through the years are now dead of complications arising from HIV infections and drug addictions, afflictions that I somehow miraculously avoided.

Actually, I’ve only got a few longtime friends left who like me are gay, HIV-negative and single. I’m at a point of transition in my life, and I’m not sure where I will be or what I will be doing in the years to come. I think my friends pretty much feel the same way I do. Come what may, I’ll deal with it then, just as I have in years past.

To the former colleague half my age who recently said in anger to me, "Grow up," because I decided I really didn't want to write for him anymore, especially in retirement: No, thanks. At this age, I don't think I'm really going to change a whole lot anytime soon. I am what I am.

In the meantime, I’ve booked a Mediterranean cruise out of Barcelona for the start of my next journey in life.