Thursday, November 13, 2014

Trans-anger at the Gym

Joel and I tried out a new gym tonight: the New York Sports Club on Rt. 34 in Matawan. It's pretty close to our house, and they offered me a guest pass for a week to check it out. While we were working out, there was a guy working out and talking with one of the gym employees. He was telling her about a grammar school (maybe where his children go?) where they are now allowing transgender children to use the bathroom of the gender which they now identify with. And the gym employee was agreeing with him saying that it's not right. After this moron left, and the employee was cleaning a machine near me, I asked her, "So, you agreed with what that guy was talking about? That transgender students shouldn't be allowed to use the bathroom of the gender in which they identify? She looked at me, stunned that I would even ask her, and said, "Do you have kids?" I said, "No, I don't, but I have an open mind. It sounds to me like you and your friend need to be educated before you make your judgments." This made me so angry. She defended her ignorance by asking if I had kids, as if having kids would make me see things differently in this case? If I did have kids, I would teach them to have an open mind and to accept everyone for who they are. I would teach them not to accept people who form negative opinions about things they don't understand and fear. The key here is education. Parents can be ignorant and afraid, but afraid for no reason. Learn about the world! Don't be afraid of it!

Wednesday, January 08, 2014


While riding uptown on the 2 express train this afternoon, I noticed a woman talking to herself. She was nicely dressed, expensive handbag, fur-lined coat, etc. She complained that she just missed the local train which passed us by. I took off my headphones to hear what she was saying: "Absolutely abominable, these subways. Just beyond reproach. Absolutely abominable. Beyond reproach. F**king c**k-suckers. I'm not gonna stand here for ten minutes now. Its abominable."

"Ladies and gentlemen, we're being held here due to train traffic ahead. We'll be moving shortly," said the conductor.

"F**K YOU!!", she quipped while looking up at the speaker in the ceiling! And followed up with, "They just make me so sick! It's despicable. Just despicable!! I'd be fired from my job if I did this sh*t. Despicable! Absolutely despicable!! On top of each other or ten minutes apart. Really f**king despicable." She took out her blackberry and typed angrily. However, when the train arrived at 34th Street, and then next at 42nd Street, she stayed on, rather than switching to the local (which she had just complained about missing).

Today's NYC Subway Theatre Experience brought to you by the National Council on Mental Illness.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Living Out Loud: Back to Old Bridge High School

On January 9, 2013, I went back to Old Bridge High School. I hadn't been there since June of 1986. I returned thanks to a great organization called Live Out Loud ( They work with the LGBT community to get people to go back to their high school and speak to the students (usually the school's gay-straight alliance {GSA}) about their experiences when they attended the school, and what their life is like now.

I met up with two of Live Out Loud's staffers: Meaghan and Tom. They were terrific. First, I should point out that the two of them spent a lot of time over the past few months preparing me for the experience. They were always a phone call or an email away if I had any questions and they so encouraging!

In 1986, I graduated from Madison Central High School. There was another high school in Old Bridge called Cedar Ridge. Some time later, the Old Bridge school system decided to make some changes and they combined the two schools into an east and west campus. So the school I spoke at was the new high school, while the building I once attended high school at is now called Carl Sandburg Middle School. But the point is, I was speaking at a high school in my home town.

We got to the school around 2pm.  We had been warned in advance that the school had a fire drill scheduled around that time, so we may have a difficult time getting in. We made it in without a problem, but as we approached the guidance counsellor's office, the drill began -- but it wasn't only a fire drill. These days, sadly, schools have more than just fire drills. This one was called a "lock-down" drill. Everyone (students AND faculty) were instructed to go into the nearest classroom and lock-down. This means, the door is locked from the inside, and the lights are turned out! So, there I was back at high school for the first time in 27 years, and I'm sitting in the dark in the guidance counsellor's office wondering what's going to happen next.  Well, the next part of the drill was the evacuation. And this wasn't a small evacuation, but rather 3,000 students and faculty all leaving the school and going outside to the field. We participated, as required, and headed to our car, to wait it out. Once things returned to normal, we were taken upstairs to one of the classrooms, and my Homecoming Project was about to begin.

I met with the two counsellors who supervise the GSA at Old Bridge High School, Natalie and Felicia. They were very welcoming, and I could tell in the first few minutes after meeting them how dedicated they are as educators. They really care about the students, and that was refreshing to see. We waited as the students filed in one by one, not knowing how many to expect. By the start of the presentation, there were about 30. Felicia asked the students to put away their cell phones, and I quickly took mine out to put it on silence, not to interrupt myself. A few students saw me and laughed.

I began by telling them who I was. How I had attended Madison Central High School, which is now Old Bridge High School.  I was 4'8" tall when I arrived in 1982 (30 years ago), and only 4'11" when I graduated. But the good news is that I kept growing, and was now tall, as they could see. I told them how I was more of a nerd than a popular kid. I spent most of my lunch time in the school library reading Coins magazine. I was somewhat of a loner. I had friends, but not many. One friend I had was named Ray. I first met him in 3rd grade when he moved into the neighborhood, just around the block from me. We quickly became best friends and hung out together almost daily.  In 10th grade, Ray came out to me. He told me he was gay. I was terrified. I didn't know how to respond, as (1) I wasn't sure if I was gay (but I did know that I was attracted to boys) and (2) there was no way on Earth I was ready to talk about my feelings with anyone, not even my best friend. I told him it was OK with me, but it really wasn't. I was afraid he would out me by association, so sadly, I pulled away from him as a friend. By the following year, we barely hung out at all. And then by senior year, he left Madison Central and decided to go to New York City to attend the Harvey Milk High School. I lost touch with him for about 20 years until Facebook came along. When we got back in touch, I apologized to him for how I treated him. I was ashamed, but I was in a dark, dark place, and terrified about what might happen if people knew I might be gay.

The students asked a lot of questions. Some were funny. Some serious. One question asked if I had a secret boyfriend in high school. I explained that I didn't start dating men until I was 26, so in high school I didn't a secret boyfriend, but I was secretly in love with about 12 different guys, most of which were on the football team.

I talked about college and then starting to work at HBO. Then learning to play ice hockey. Some of the students were surprised that I played ice hockey. They didn't expect that gay people could do that. I had a little side discussion with the group about it, telling them that gay people can do anything and that we're in all walks of life, as hockey players, musicians, even garbage men. It seemed to be a new concept for some of them. I told them all about starting the gay hockey league and how much I enjoyed it. Sports can do wonders for one's self-esteem!

One interesting question from one of the young ladies asked what I would do if a best friend kept hinting that he might be gay, but never actually said it. But she knew he was gay, but he just wouldn't bring it up. I suggested that she make it clear to him that he should be comfortable talking with her about anything he wanted, and that no matter what the subject was, she wouldn't judge him, because they're best friends and she loved him. I told her not to ask him right out if he was gay. That could backfire and could make him uncomfortable and angry that she invaded his privacy. It's up to him to come out to her when he's ready, so make him as comfortable in talking with you about anything as you can. Who knew I was Dear Abby?? Haha.

Next I told the students all about starting to work at HBO (before any of them were born... ouch). They were excited, asking me about True Blood, which I would assume they'd be too young to watch (ah, parents...). I told them how wonderful HBO is to work for, and how I feel welcomed there as a gay man.

My coming out stories were next. When I told them about coming out to my family. They were listening carefully to every word I had to say. I suppose many of them have gone through (or WILL go through) a similar experience.  I explained how in my mind I built it up as a frightening scenario which could have a disastrous outcome, but long story short, they told me that they loved me and that wouldn't change. (I got a little choked up, as I always do. Tawk amongst yourselves)

Lastly, I told them about meeting Joel at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and how I proposed to him at the same place on the one-year anniversary of the night we met. All of the girls (and a few of the boys) let out a collective "Awwww."

I wrapped things up, answers a few more questions and then thanked everyone for allowing me to be there to tell my story. It was a great experience for me to be able to tell the students all about my life, and how happy I am now. Looking back, I remember being terrified about what my life was going to be -- and I hope that my story puts their young minds at ease, if only just a little bit.

After the talk, I met one of the former students, named Jordan who started the GSA at the high school three years ago, and now attends my alma-mater, The College of New Jersey (formerly Trenton State College). It was great to meet him and learn that he started the group and was happy to see it going strong!

I'm looking forward to going back again next year!

Happy 100th Birthday Cousin Elsa!


It was a Saturday in 1910, 100 years ago on June 25th, and Elsa Gorochod was born in Brooklyn, New York. This year, her birthday is on a Friday. Elsa just celebrated her first century on Earth. I spoke to her this afternoon and asked her how she feels being 100. She said, "Jeff, its difficult. My mind is 40, but my body is 100."

Elsa is my grandmother's 1st cousin. Their fathers were brothers. They were very close throughout the years and Elsa told me so many great stories about the history of our family (at least the Gorochod branch). I will always be grateful to her for the information she handed down to me for the Family Tree. :)

Elsa (Center) with her brothers Milton (left) and Julius (right).
Her younger cousin Monty in front. Photo circa 1923.

I visited Elsa in Tucson, Arizona in 2005.

May you have 100 more!

Love, Cousin Jeff

Monday, December 03, 2012

Small world. It's about the size of Brooklyn.

I went to Florida this weekend to visit some older relatives and to meet some I'd never met before. One of them was Arlene Eisner. Arlene is a week shy of her 84th birthday. She is my 2nd cousin once removed (her grandmother, Ester Malka Eiglarsh was the sister of my great-grandmother, Goldy Weiner).

We talked about her life in the "old days" living in Brooklyn, as most of my relatives did. She remembered a lot about her old neighborhood: the public school she attended, the drug store down the street that her father David ran. But what was most interesting to me is when she told me her parents address: 184A Kosciusko Street. It sounded a little familiar, but of course, I've been interviewing family members for over 25 years asking them where they lived and where they grew up. I vaguely remembered my father telling me he grew up on Kosciusko Street in Brooklyn. In fact, about a year ago, we were in Brooklyn and he drove us down his old block to show us around.

While sitting with Arlene, I called my Dad and asked him what his old address was. He told me, "186 Kosciusko Street". I couldn't believe it! Next door neighbors with Arlene's parents, where she grew up with her sisters Roberta and Elaine, and her brother Lawrence (nicknamed "Happy"). I asked Arlene in name Bertha Kagan (my grandmother) rang a bell. She thought for a second and said, "Curly red-haired woman?" I got very excited, "Yes! That was my grandma!"

Arlene didn't know the Kagan family well, but she remembered that there were all boys (my Uncle Harvey, my father Bob, and my Uncle Dennis who died at the age of 5). She didn't remember that Dennis had died so young, but she did say that she remember something bad that had happened. When my grandmother came home from the hospital after having Dennis, she knew something was wrong. She felt something strange about the baby and realized that he wasn't hers. The hospital gave her the wrong child to take home. They immediately went back to the hospital and upon arriving they saw a nurse holding Dennis, as the hospital realized (around the same time) that they had made a mistake.

While on the phone with my Dad asks me to see if he remembered any of the neighbors. He didn't recognize any of the Eiglarsh girls, but the name "Happy" was familiar!

Small world. It's about the size of Brooklyn.