The Velvet Rage with Chris Tompkins

Hello!

Today we meet Chris Tompkins and we’re talking about the book that saved Chris’ life: The Velvet Rage by Alan Downs.

Chris is an LGTBQ affirmative therapist and author of the new book Raising LGBTQ Allies: A Parent’s Guide to Changing the Messages from the Playground.

In The Velvet Rage, psychologist Alan Downs draws on his own struggle with shame and anger, contemporary research, and stories from his patients to passionately describe the stages of a gay man’s journey out of shame and offers practical and inspired strategies to stop the cycle of avoidance and self-defeating behavior.

Connect with Chris

instagram: @aroadtriptolove
twitter: @aroadtriptolove
facebook: facebook.com/aroadtriptolove
website: aroadtriptolove.com
LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/christompkinslife

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Buy The Velvet Rage directly: https://bookshop.org/a/82376/9781538136263

Buy Raising LGBTQ Allies directly: https://bookshop.org/a/82376/9781538136263

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Credits

Host/Founder: J.P. Der Boghossian
Executive Producer: Jim Pounds
Associate Producers: Archie Arnold, Natalie Cruz, Jonathan Fried, Paul Kaefer, Nicole Olila, Joe Perazzo, Bill Shay, and Sean Smith
Patreon Subscribers: Stephen D., Stephen Flamm, Thomas Michna, and Gary Nygaard.
Permission to use the TEDx talk “What Children Learn From The Things They Aren’t Told” provided by Chris Tompkins.
Additional permissions provided by Chris Tompkins.
Music and SFX credits: visit thiqueerbook.com/music

Quatrefoil Library

Quatrefoil has created a curated lending library made up of the books featured on our podcast! If you can’t buy these books, then borrow them! Link: https://libbyapp.com/library/quatrefoil/curated-1404336/page-1

Transcript

[theme music]

J.P. Der Boghossian: Hey everyone. I’m J.P. Der Boghossian. I’m an essayist, writing about queer life, and a Lambda Literary Fellow. And you’re listening to the podcast where LGBTQ guests share with us the queer books that saved their lives. Why? Because with all of the book bans and “don’t say gay” bills, I think that it is important to share our queer stories and to say gay over and over and over again. I believe that through these life-giving stories we’re connecting to this exciting, and messy, and sometimes scary, but loving queer world of ours. Welcome to This Queer Book Saved My Life!

[audience applause in a theater]

Chris Tompkins: “Uncle Chris! Is she your girlfriend?” That question changed my life. A few years ago I wasn’t able to make it home for Christmas. So, when I was in town visiting a few months later, my Mom had all of my relatives over – including my childhood best friend Alyssa. We’re all in the dining room catching up, when my six-year old nephew Aaron runs up to me and whispers, “Uncle Chris! Is she your girlfriend?” Now, his version of whispering is talking out loud.

[audience laughter]

So everyone heard and we all started laughing. I was surprised by Aaron’s question and remember looking around for reassurance in the faces of my family. I was even more surprised by how easily everyone was able to dismiss his question. After everyone left my mom’s that night, I started to wonder, why my nephew Aaron had asked if Alyssa was my girlfriend. I realized: Oh, he doesn’t know I’m gay. Oh, his mom, my sister, hasn’t talked to him. I thought if my sister’s son was in the dark, well, what about the other kids I know? I began asking around and most of the parents I spoke with didn’t feel that their child was old enough to understand. They seemed uncomfortable addressing the conversation.

J.P. Der Boghossian: We are listening to a TEDx talk. It’s called What Children Learn From The Things They Aren’t Told.

Chris Tompkins: Remember when you were a child and your parents tried to keep something from you hidden? Usually you already knew what they were trying to hide. If you didn’t know, you’d eventually find out and then believe that whatever it was must be bad because why else they wouldn’t want to know? Most of what we learn, isn’t from what we think. According to Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, children are born with the capacity to focus attention and retain informational memory, but their experiences lay a foundation for how these and other executive functions skills develop. In other words, learning is more than thinking. It’s from what we feel, sense, and experience in our environments – including what we learn to believe from the things we aren’t told.

J.P. Der Boghossian: I’m going to read for you the description of the talk: Most of us think children are too young for certain conversations. But what would happen if that changed?

J.P. Der Boghossian: This TEDx talk was presented by this episode’s guest: Chris Tompkins.

Chris Tompkins: I work as a LGBTQ affirming therapist. I primarily work with gay men. And so I also write, I’m an author, my book, Raising LGBTQ Allies: A Parents Guide to Changing the Messages from the Playground. While it very much is a parenting book it is also specifically for the LGBTQ community. So, I also do a lot of advocacy work as well, related to the topic and the content of the book and what I feel really passionate about sharing.

J.P. Der Boghossian: So, let’s set the stage for our conversation today. Fifteen years ago, Chris moved out to Los Angeles. For a dream job working for an LGBT media advocacy organization. A job he had pursued for many years. So he moves to LA for this dream job, he’s out of the closet, he has these great friendships, he’s living his best life.

Or, maybe not? Something was off. Something he couldn’t put his finger on.

He was a member of an LGBTQ spiritual community. And Chris remembers a very specific conversation from that time with another gay member who said, “Thank God that The Velvet Rage is no longer applicable.” That comment didn’t sit right with Chris.

Now The Velvet Rage is a nonfiction book by Alan Downs. The full title is: The Velvet Rage: Overcoming The Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World. Here’s a bit from the book’s description: In The Velvet Rage, psychologist Alan Downs draws on his own struggle with shame and anger, contemporary research, and stories from his patients to passionately describe the stages of a gay man’s journey out of shame and offers practical and inspired strategies to stop the cycle of avoidance and self-defeating behavior.

And this is the book that saved Chris’ life.

Chris Tompkins: I was having experiences that I wasn’t, no one was talking about, and so when I read The Velvet Rage, it felt like I, it was like, I felt like this rush of, “oh my gosh! This is it.” This is exactly it. And it was like, I get chills right now even talking about it because it gave me language for something that I wasn’t, you know, because unless you go to therapy, and I can say this myself because I am a therapist, but unless you go to therapy, there’s really not a lot of, you know, talking about things like shame or internalized homophobia or toxic shame, or those are very off-putting words. And so, you know, when you come out of the closet.

It’s this very, for me at least, it was this like, I want to, I came out because I fell, I met someone, I was in a relationship and I wanted to tell everyone about my relationship. In fact, the reason I came out because I fell was because of love and I came out because I fell in love with someone. And so I was so excited to share this relationship. But just like, just like anything, I equate this journey coming out to like spiritual work. Just because I meditate once doesn’t mean that I’m good for the rest of the month. I have to kind of continue to do my spiritual work. I have to continue to do my daily spiritual practice. Otherwise living in this world, there’s a lot going on that, you know, my practice really helps ground me.

So the same goes for, I believe, doing our inner work. All those messages, all those years that I had been in the closet. Once I came out, it wasn’t like a light switch that automatically dissolved all of those, those toxic emotions and feelings. And so although I was excited to come out, I hadn’t processed or even really named, which I think is so Alan does such a good job of naming my specific experience of shame.

And when I read the book for the first time, it felt like I had this rush of oxygen. And it really did. It breathed life into me because I mean, even though shame is this toxic emotion and you know, shame is one of those emotions where we either Brene Brown says this because she also talks about shame so beautifully is that, you know, we either shut down, change the subject or deny that we have it. For me, this book helped bring me into my shame.

It didn’t scare me away from my shame. It sort of invited me into my shame. And I think that that’s a really challenging thing to do. And Alan did such a beautiful job, is invited me as a gay man, as a reader, to go into those crevices that I had spent so many years avoiding.

[background noises from a bookstore, people chatting, coffee cops and plates clinking]

J.P. Der Boghossian: In a twist of fate, a full circle moment, I found myself back in Washington D.C., which is where I got my own copy of The Velvet Rage at Kramer Bookstore in Dupont Circle. I was speaking at the Unstoppable Stories Literary Festival and I thought, “what a great opportunity to kind of revisit and close this loop to go back to Kramer bookstore. So, I am here, recording.

I should share that The Velvet Rage had a huge impact on my life too. And my discussion with Chris was the first time that I sat down with someone and really got into this book. Alan Downs, the author, does mention in the intro about how his book does focus on gay men, but that themes are not only particular to that community. But he wanted to acknowledge that how shame and internalized homophobia shows up for folks identifying as Lesbian, or Bi, or Pan, or Trans is different.

But, my hope is that in listening to Chris’ story we’re able to lean into those over-arching themes. Because unlike what the fellow gay man in Chris’ spiritual group said, these themes of shame, anger, internalized phobias are still applicable today.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Could you share what your experience was like in terms of that avoidance behavior? Because Alan spends a lot of time in it and I remember when I was reading it I was like, oh I do all of this avoiding here. What was that like for you in terms of, you know, avoiding the shame?

Chris: Yeah, for me it looked like really just substances was a big one for me. You know, when I moved out to Los Angeles, Los Angeles is a large, big community. And so West Hollywood, which is one of the larger, you know, gay neighborhoods that they sort of, you know, the United States is kind of known for these specific neighborhoods with bars and nightlife. And so it was really for me, you know, coming to this big, like the shiny, the glitz and glamour of the sparkle, sort of like the things that took like that took my attention away from from my experience of shame. So the shiny objects were kind of a way for me to avoid my shame. And so for me that looked like going out, lots of friends, lots of things to do, keeping busy, busy was a big thing. I think Alan does a really good job too of identifying specifically as a gay man, being really good at my career, being really good at my job, being the best that I could be. That was really where shame kind of hid for me is that if I could be the best version of myself, which was interesting because that was exactly what I did in my childhood, to avoid anyone from thinking that I was gay, I was the best that I could be. I was the best little boy. And so in my adult life, I was able to continue to hide behind my shame by just being the best that I thought I could be. Perfectionism was a big one.

J.P. Der Boghossian: How would you characterize what you were ashamed about? And I’ll preface that by sharing a little bit of my story because I know that’s a big question. So I’m queer and Armenian-American, and so there’s a lot that was carried down of that trauma of being my family are survivors of the genocide. And so there was a lot of that, how dare you? That was kind of the shame that I was carrying. One level of it was like, how dare you not be straight and marry an Armenian woman and have so many Armenian babies. For you, what were those things that you were feeling shame about?

Chris: Yeah, yeah, thank you. That’s a good question. And I, for me, I grew up in a religious family. And so the thing that I was shame, that I felt shame around was similar to yourself is that there was sort of these expectations of what it was to be a man in my family and to be, to get married, to have a wife and to have kids and to live this kind of what I thought was supposed to be a straight male or even just a male, that’s what I, the gender kind of expectations that I had growing up that were implicitly, explicitly and implicitly implied. Addiction was a big part of my family. And so as a young child, I was super hyper-vigilant of my surroundings. And so I really picked up a lot of what was unspoken.

And so one of the things I often talk about in my own book is that kids are so intuitive and they’re not great at interpretation. And so a lot of the things that I interpreted, I misinterpreted as…shame. So how shame was communicated to me is that I was inherently, I literally thought I was going to go to hell. I genuinely had that belief. And so I thought that I could be, going back to the best little boy, is that if I could be the best Christian. So I prayed, I made sure to pray every night. I would pray on my knees, in fact because I thought that if I was on my knees, then God would really hear my prayers more. And I even prayed, I mean, I have a memory when I was in college, a freshman in college, where my mom, I’m not, I wasn’t such a good morning person and so I would wake up in the morning really early to say my prayers, to make sure I said my prayers. And my mom had come in and I had fallen back asleep.

And so I was on my knees. She walked in my room and I was on my knees. And she’s like, she didn’t know that I prayed on my knees, but I had fallen asleep on my knees in prayer. But that just speaks to my desire to really try and pray the gay away.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Chris, that’s [sighs deeply] You’re just bringing up so much. Our stories are so somewhat similar. I mean, Christianity is so huge in the Armenian faith tradition. And I mean, I quasi-joke about, you know, at 11, 12 years old, I was developing like my own conversion therapy protocol, you know? And that’s something that I feel like a lot of queer kids try to do when they begin to understand. And it, I don’t know, do you feel like it kind of borders on, like, this is a big term, of like spiritual abuse? Because I feel like for queer kids in the church, it’s so cosmic. You know, there’s the rejection of your family, but to be rejected on a cosmic level, I mean, that’s fucked, if you will, you know? So I mean, what’s your take on that?

Chris: Yeah, it is. It is. I do. I think you named that very accurately. I do think it is abuse. It’s spiritual abuse. I think the most hurtful thing that you could ever do to a person is to tell them that they’re unworthy of God’s love or of a cosmic. I like the, how you use cosmic. Cause for a lot of people I’ve since reconciled and redeveloped my relationship with God and so I’m a very spiritual person. In fact, I do a lot of work with gay men and supporting them in healing a lot of their religious trauma. But I think that that’s the most traumatic thing that you could experience is because I believe that we all have an inherently innate, curiosity about the divine or the spiritual side of ourselves. I think it’s inherent in a human being and so for a young person to all of a sudden think that they’re not worthy of that or they’re not deserving of that is the most painful and traumatic thing that you could do. You’re disconnecting them from their source, which ultimately I believe is the divine, the cosmic side of things. So I do think it’s spiritual abuse. Absolutely.

[music]

J.P.: I want to share a clip from a recent video Chris shared on Instagram about work he has done on religious trauma with a client in therapy. There is a lot of background noise, but it’s worth it to hear the powerful work Chris is doing. After that, we’ll take a quick break. And I will see you on the flipside!

Chris’ voice from Instagram video: Hi there. I wanted to do a quick little video check-in because I just finished a session with a client and the tip that I want to offer you today, especially if you are a gay man that has experienced religious trauma: create your own higher power. My client and I, it’s been a process where we’re getting to, he’s getting to create his own higher power. Bearing witness to that, bearing witness to someone who at one time thought their sexuality was shameful and that they could go to hell for being gay, I get it. I relate. I’ve been there. There was a time I also thought I could go to hell for being gay. There’s not a bone in my body that believes that today. It has been a journey healing. And so today my client, sharing his excitement with me about his creation, of what he is creating for himself, a higher power. Someone who loves him and supports him and validates him and affirms him is, I can’t even think of a greater honor. And so wherever you’re at on your journey, if you’ve ever thought that your spirituality was shameful or your identity was as a gay man was bad or something to be hidden or secret or shameful I encourage you, starting on your journey of healing: create your own higher power.

[music]

Promo for The Queer Family Podcast.

Jaimie Kelton: Well, hello there. My name is Jaimie and I’m the host of the Queer Family Podcast. The show all about family, or gay. As we like to say. The point of the show is, and always has been, to highlight LGBTQIA+ families. Letting the whole world know, that despite the fact that we work very hard to create our intentional families: we’re just like every other parent out there trying not to yell at our kids when they still haven’t put their shoes on and we are already 25 minutes late for school. The struggle is real. Am I right? I go in-depth with weekly LGBTQIA+ folks (and some allies) on how they built their families and how they show up in a world that wasn’t necessarily designed for them. We laugh a lot. We cry a little. We learn a lot. And through our stories, we illustrate the undeniable fact that love is in fact love. And love makes a family. I hope you tune in. And if you like what you hear, you subscribe, rate, and review wherever you get your podcasts. And make sure you’re following us on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube where you’re gonna find some video episodes as well. Happy listening. I’ll see you soon.

[music]

J.P.: Our indie podcast has an indie bookstore through Bookshop.org. We have new releases, current bestsellers, the books we feature on the podcast, and the most anticipated LGBTQ books for the upcoming month. Almost all of our titles are on sale right now. To get buying, links are in the show notes, on our website, or head to bookshop.org/shop/thisqueerbook.

[music]

J.P.: As the host of a queer podcast, I’m gay for pay – which is to say I’m a professional gay. And this isn’t the first time. A few years ago I worked in an organization whose mission was LGBTQ health equity. I took health equity data and I transformed it into educational opportunities. I created continuing education credits for medical providers. I guest lectured at medical schools. I organized conferences. And it wasn’t until I started that job that I realized that when you’re gay for pay you’re in a weird spotlight. You’re on display. There’s a performance to it because people are watching you more closely than they would with a regular queer folks. Now, in another life, I was a classically trained Shakespearean actor. So I’m good being on stage. But, what was I really trying to do, in that job? Who was a I doing it for? Alan writes in The Velvet Rage, “growing up gay forces us learn how to hide ugly realities behind a finely tuned facade.” Did I find that job because I wanted to hide behind it? Look at that gay! He’s helping us better serve our queer patients. He’s got it altogether. He must be so healthy! But, was I still thinking of myself as flawed? Was I just looking to do advocacy work so I had a new facade to hide behind? I do have to say that I did some pretty productive work to advance queer health equity. But I ended up doing a lot more productive work on myself because I was learning about behavioral health in new ways. I was learning to advocate for myself with care providers.

Given his own role in advocacy work, I wanted to ask Chris about how he approached it.

I think what’s interesting is from a psychological perspective, now that I have changed course in my career, you know, I specialized in LGBTQ affirmative therapy. That was my specialization at my graduate school that I went to. And this was a big conversation that we talked about a lot because what you’re sort of describing is there are kind of different versions of advocacy.

There’s a part of advocacy where it’s pure and inspired, in spirit, kind of going back to what we were talking about. It’s this kind of, from our soul, it’s this desire to do better on behalf of our community or a part of ourselves. There’s the other part of advocacy where it’s driven from this need to…

Chris: Because I don’t want to recognize my own brokenness or because I don’t want to recognize my own belief that there’s something inherently bad about myself, I’m gonna fight so hard to change everyone else’s mind. So it’s kind of this, it’s not pure advocacy work. And so I think that to your question is to your point is that I feel like my advocacy work in the beginning was from this, I’m fighting so hard for you to change your mind because I actually don’t believe in myself. And so that’s where my advocacy work was in the beginning. And it’s sort of, so it was this facade because it wasn’t pure.

J.P.: Absolutely. I’m pulling up the book here because there’s something I’d like to kind of get your take on from your experience. And Alan is talking about how there’s this sense of being frozen in time, undeveloped, and somewhat in this juvenile form and how we coped was by presenting right to the world itself that was explicitly designed to help us get by. After you read Velvet Rage, what was happening for you then and beginning to unpack this? What became available to you?

Chris
Yeah, I think I really believe this. Truly, I believe this. And if you’re a book person, maybe you’ll believe this as well. But I do believe that books are like teachers. And they come into our lives when we’re ready to receive the message that they have for us. And so for me, the Velvet Rage came into my life when I was ready for it. And so at the same time, I was sort of having this spiritual kind of awakening in the sense that I was really doing a lot of work to redevelop my relationship with a higher power, cosmic force, divine, you know, kind of going back to earlier, I mentioned, you know, when I first came out to LA, I was attracted by the shiny glitz and glamor and the sparkly, you know, LA has a deeply, very spiritual side to it that often, you know, kind of.

people who live outside of LA know it for Hollywood and movies and that kind of thing. And it has this deeply enriching spiritual side to it. And a lot of really profound thought leaders and teachers. And so at the same time I was discovering all of that, I had discovered the Velvet Rage. It was kind of this beautiful union for me at least of being able to go deeper into myself. And like I said, Alan, I really believe did a wonderful job of writing and guiding me into my own shame without shaming me. I think that’s important because oftentimes when we, when we talk about shame, it could activate our own unhealed shame. And so it’s very important to not shame someone when they’re experiencing shame or when they’re coming up and addressing their shame.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Absolutely, absolutely. This next question, this next question may be an obvious one, but did this book kind of lead you towards moving into a therapeutic career?

Chris: It was one of the books for sure. One of the books, because I believe that each of us has a sort of call to share our gifts and oftentimes our gifts are…

J.P. Der Boghossian: Yeah?

Chris: from the places that we’ve been harmed. It’s kind of, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard this quote, I don’t know where it comes from, but it’s sort of the intersection of where our pain meets our passion is where our purpose lies. And so for me, my passion of being an LGBTQ advocate, after I came out of the closet, when I was around 25 years old, and so I immersed myself into advocacy work, I fell in love, this is a whole separate story, but I fell in love, I was living in Mexico and I was living there for two years. And so when I moved back to the United States, I immersed myself into LGBTQ advocacy work and started doing a lot with HRC. And so it was my passion and then intersected with my pain and is where my purpose lies. And I believe that.

You know, we, I also believe this, that we can only take others as far as we’ve gone ourselves. And so for me, as an advocate, as an uncle, as a therapist, as a coach, like I’m only gonna be able to take others as far as I’ve gone myself. And so it was through this book that I was able to understand my own gay shame that is allowing me now to support other men on their own journeys.

J.P. Der Boghossian: I love that. In the, towards the end of the book, Alan starts sharing some therapeutic, or just, some skill-sets, right? To process what’s happening to the reader. And I think some folks may hear that and go, “oh, god not a self-help book,” but you are a therapist and so maybe you can give some insight into the value of those, uh, techniques that he’s teaching us at the end of the book.

Chris: Yeah, no, that’s a really good question. It’s true. It kind of goes back to my, you know, analogy earlier, as far as like my, my daily spiritual practice that I have. Um, I have a very strong and it’s very important for me, especially in the work that I do, I’m only, I could only give so much as I have. And so for me, it starts out, you know, really strong in the morning. I pray, I meditate, I journal, and I don’t do that once a week. I have to do that on a daily basis. You know, I don’t go to the gym or run once a week.

I have to keep up with my activities to sort of keep me in shape, physically, mentally, spiritually. And so the exercises in this book are a way to practically bring them into our lives. So there’s sort of the content that he lays out for us as the reader to understand on an intellectual level. And then…

towards the end, he brings us into our own process. And so we talk a lot about in therapy, the difference between content and process. And so the content is the things that people say, kind of the words that we use, and the process is how we integrate it and the experience that we have on an emotional level. And so the exercises that Alan does or invites the reader to do are really.

a great way to bring the sort of lofty kind of concepts from our mind into our bodies, into our daily lives. And we don’t do them once and that’s enough. We sort of were invited to kind of bring this into like a daily practice.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Absolutely. You were talking about earlier about how there was a before and after, right, reading this book and how your life was different. And to that point, I feel like my being in therapy, there’s a before and an after the velvet rage. Cause I actually, practicing that what’s in the book, when I reconnected with therapy again, I felt like I was better prepared to do it and engage in a new way that was much more meaningful, right, to me because I was like, I could literally point to the book and be like, we’re gonna talk about this, and this, and this is what I’m doing, but I’d like more help around, you know, X or Y, right, or Z. So you were talking about earlier, sharing the book with parents which I think is amazing. I actually never have thought of that. I kinda wanna send a copy to mine right now. But then you wrote, Raising LGBTQ Allies, A Parents Guide to Changing the Messages from the Playground. Tell us more about that.

Chris: Yeah, yeah, thank you. The journey of that really came from a letter that I wrote my family. I write about this in the book, but my, because I had come out, I had mentioned I came out when I was 25, I moved out to LA, I was working for this large LGBTQ advocacy organization, and I realized there are nuances to homophobia, familial homophobia. And one of the things I read about my book, and I think Alan also does a good job of explaining this, is that homophobia really is about fear. And so oftentimes when we hear homophobia or phobia, it’s sort of, I believe that there’s a sort of disconnect. And so for instance, my family, they would never have considered themselves homophobic, especially after I moved out. I came out, we had done a lot of healing work, but there are layers, there are nuances. And so when it came to them talking to their children about having a gay uncle, there were a lot of conversations that weren’t happening. And so that I realized there was nuance. And so by them not having conversations, I realized there was some discomfort and I was curious about the discomfort. And what I realized is that they still had what I call messages from the playground, which are the subconscious beliefs that we all pick up – by virtue of being raised in a dominant culture. We have them about everything, specifically as about being gay, is that there are a lot of subconscious beliefs, especially in my family, related to religion, related to sex specifically, like they thought they were going to be talking to their kids about sex, which is not true. In fact, my nephew inspired the question that I wrote my letter, who was the inspiration as I wrote a letter to my family, because I realized

And so I realized there are kids in my family right now who are LGBTQ and by our parents, by my cousins and siblings not talking to their kids or even considering that, they’re contributing to the closet. And I knew I was gay when I was six. I didn’t know what gay was specifically. And that’s why I invite readers in my book to consider is that I really invite, you know, parents and caregivers to consider children’s, to center children’s experiences. And as children, we’re discovering ourselves and we don’t know, you know, I’m not using gay from the adult construct of gay, I’m using the gay from my child construct of me as little kid, of observing, of watching movies and cartoons and being on the playground and picking up messages about what boy activities were and what girl activities were. And seeing the faces of my family when I said I didn’t want to play sports, but I did want to braid my sister’s hair and seeing the almost disappointment in their faces. And so I wrote my book as a means of encouraging parents to be curious about their children’s lives because they, children read parents’ faces.

Chris: They can read parents. They read their parents’ faces, and they pick up on the conversations that they’re not having.

J.P. Der Boghossian: What is your take right now on all of the, you know, queer book bands that are happening in, you know, don’t say gay bills, right, in Florida, but then across, you know, the country, there’s these like parents’ rights movements, right, where they don’t want their kids to be taught, right, how to be gay, apparently. What’s your take on that?

Chris: Yeah. Yeah, it’s unfortunate. I do think, I mean, I write about this specifically in my book. I mean, I have literal chapters that are dedicated to exactly this, those sort of pushback, is that we…a lot of these the air quotes that you were using is that parents think that they’re having conversations about sex or sexuality and sometimes that is true. The thing of it is though is that we’re children are all children that’s part of a normal human process of development and when I was six years old I was I really believe and I write this in my book is that

Having uncomfortable conversations with children at a young age doesn’t put them at risk. Instead it does the opposite, it keeps them from risk. Because children are going to be better able to understand themselves and not feel shame. Because shame is a human, I mean, we all, I mean, gay shame, there’s…

heterosexual shame, there’s shame of all kinds of emotions. And in this country, specifically the United States, there’s a lot of religious shame. The country was founded on Puritan values that still course through the veins. I mean, if you look at a lot of the laws that are on the books, I was in a fraternity in college. I mean, there were literal laws in my, I bring that up because there were laws in my state where I was from, that if there were a certain number of women that were housed together, it was considered a brothel.

J.P. Der Boghossian: What? Oh my God.

Chris: And so, yeah, so that I bring that up. I bring that up as an example that, you know, I grew up in a state where there was a law that said if you talked to high school kids about HIV and included gay sex, like as a positive or a normal way of human development, that it was illegal. And so you couldn’t even talk about.

You know, kids in high school, I mean, they’re going to be curious about sex and sexuality. And I think that equipping children to have language for something that they’re already being curious about. One of the things that I invite parents to consider in my book is that if children are asking questions, they’re old enough to understand the answer. They may not understand it from your adult construct, but they have a child’s curiosity. And so it’s important that we’re able to meet them at their child curiosity level of what’s already naturally occurring in their lives and in their brains and in their bodies.

J.P. Der Boghossian: How would you recommend, how do I wanna put this question? An elementary school on the playground is where I learned the word “fag.” And that was the first point where I was literally punched, felt physical abuse for even being perceived to be gay. And I think there’s either a lot of willful, belief on some parents part that isn’t happening right or they think their kids aren’t participating in that and what always got me actually the most were the ones that were laughing right you know and what is your how would you talk to parents about that they would think that oh well it’s too young to teach kids about that somehow they’re finding out and they’re also maybe being you know little jerks about it

Chris: Yeah, no, absolutely. That’s such a good question. I even have a chapter of my book where I sectioned in one of my chapters where I talk about bullying and the specific roles that, that are, I used to teach social emotional learning and one of the things, you know, oftentimes when we think of bullying, we think of the perpetrator and then we think of the victim or the survivor, there are the bystanders, what you just described as the bystander and the one who’s standing on the sidelines, not saying anything, not doing anything, in my book about, well, what if your kid is the bully? Because I had a parent while I was writing my book, she asked me, well, what if my kid is the bully? And so what do we do in those instances? And I think that oftentimes, when kids, there are a lot, this could be a whole separate conversation, but I think it’s important for parents to consider that their child is picking up on so much information and on the playground at school and you even having a visceral reaction to that word faggot.

I had a client recently share with me that when he was a child and he was around six or seven years old, he was wrestling with his family members and they were playing and just playing. One of the family members called him a faggot and he had never heard that word, but his mom’s reaction, she was in the kitchen and she heard them call him faggot and she rushed over and she said, don’t ever use, don’t ever call say that word. And it wasn’t because she didn’t want him to be called that. It was because she didn’t want it to be true of what people were starting to consider him to be.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Wow.

Chris: And so that’s what children can, that’s the energy that children, so what I mentioned earlier about kids are really intuitive and they pick up on everything, they’re also not great at interpretation. And so it’s kind of like when a child falls down, they often say, you know, don’t immediately have this like strong reaction because the child is gonna.

Based off what your reaction is gonna be, they’re gonna respond the same way. And so if a child falls and you kind of, you know, calmly or to the best of your ability, sort of, you know, then they’re gonna reflect that. And so oftentimes those words like faggot.

Because they’re still being set. I used to teach social emotional learning right up and before the pandemic. And I used to work with junior high kids. And, you know, whenever a kid with, you know, in my class, people, kids would say gay, and it was like literally, oh, you will. It was kind of like, it sucked the room, the air out of the room. And so I’d always take that opportunity to have a teaching moment and like unpack, like, well, what just happened?

J.P. Der Boghossian: Yeah. And I think that’s what I loved of that cover of the book, The Velvet Rage, was one, it was naming rage, which was important, but that the pain of growing up gay in a straight man’s world. And that so resonated with me from the get-go, right from elementary school, is that this wasn’t my world.

Chris: I appreciate you bringing up on the cover, I, you know, for your listeners who haven’t seen the cover and I appreciate too how young the kids are because this is, it also speaks to like what’s happening right now. And I’ll invite, and I’ll just kind of bring an anecdotal example, because to your question about what’s happening right now with schools and this push back of every, you know, I would invite your listeners to even like just with content that’s in the media.

You know, I recently came across a Cindy Crawford for those of you that are, I may be aging myself, but Cindy Crawford was like a really a supermodel in the eighties. And, um, there was a, I recently came across a Pepsi commercial that she had done. And if any of you have seen this, but you could even YouTube Cindy Crawford Pepsi commercial and she gets out of a car. She’s like pulling up to a, I don’t know, a stop, and she gets out of the car goes to the Pepsi machine and there are these two young boys. One of the boys, I don’t know, I would guess he’s probably 10 and the other boy maybe is, I don’t know, six, seven, eight. And Cindy Crawford is in these short jean cutoffs and she has this tight white shirt on and it’s clearly sexual. It’s clearly she’s this beautiful woman goddess.

And it shows these two little boys literally like eyeing her. And it’s such a like classic Americana commercial. And it’s so normalized that little boys could look at women with big boobs and that be just a normal kind of hyper-sexual acceptable thing. But if you were to take that same scenario, and drop it into modern day, that’s what’s happening right now, is we’re having these averse reactions because it speaks to what I call the messages from the playground, these subconscious beliefs, these beliefs, these misguided beliefs of what we think that being gay is. It’s connected to being a pervert, a predator, all of that. So if you were to have that same commercial right now and it’d be reversed, and you had this like sexy, hot, go-go dancer guy in a car stop and these two little boys, that would be perceived as inappropriate.

Chris: And so I just want, I just kind of want to use that as an example, because as a child growing up, I saw so many commercials and movies that had scenarios like that, that were just completely acceptable. And those are in our psyches. And so what you’re seeing right now is this pushback because it’s still connected to

Shame.

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J.P.: You can order Raising LGBTQ Allies: A Parent’s Guide to Changing the Messages from the Playground through our bookstore. And just this month, there is a new Spanish language edition.
Chris specializes in LGBTQ affirmative psychology with a primary focus on adult gay men. If you live in Los Angeles, please visit his website aroadtriptolove.com. Chris also offers a 6-week mentoring program as well as coaching sessions. Find out the details on his website. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram. He is @aroadtriptolove. He is also on Facebook and you can find him on LinkedIn.com/christompkinslife.

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J.P.: That’s our show for today. I’ll see you back here in two weeks for our next new episode. I’ll be talking with David-Elijah Nahmod about the book that saved his life: Blind: A Memoir by Bello Miguel Cipriani. And Bello joins us for that conversation!

Our podcast is Executive Produced by Jim Pounds. Our Associate Producers are Archie Arnold, Natalie Cruz, Jonathan Fried, Paul Kaefer, Nicole Ollila, Joe Perazzo, Bill Shea, and Sean Smith. Our Patreon subscribers are Stephen D., Steven Flamm, Thomas Michna, and Gary Nygaard.

Permission to use the TEDx Talk “What Children Learn From The Things They Aren’t Told” provided by Chris Tompkins.
Chris also provided permission to use his Instagram video.

Our soundtrack and sound effects were provided through royalty free licenses. Please visit thisqueerbook.com/music for track names and artists.

We’re on social media. You can find us on Facebook. On Instagram we’re @thisqueerbook. And we’re on Twitter, @thisqueerbook, but I honestly can’t tell you how much longer we’ll be on that transphobic nonsense site.

As always you can connect with us through our website: thisqueerbook.com And if you want to be on the show, fill out the form on the home page!

Until our next episode, see you queers and allies in the bookstores!

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