Total Pageviews

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Gephyrophobia: My Phobia of Crossing Bridges


I had a fear of heights for the first thirty years of my life, but it faded in time.  Strangely, I only had it when I was connected to the ground, say leaning out a high window or at the edge of a cliff.  When I was a passenger in a plane, I had no problems with looking down to the ground, not even when the plane was landing and we were almost touching the runway.  However, eventually this phobia, a common one, faded, and heights don't much bother me (though a character in a movie who's in danger of falling puts me on the edge of my seat).

I developed gephyrophobia when I met the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in 1981, crossing it on my way to a vacation in Atlantic City.  The bridge is enormous, both in height (186 feet) and length (four miles).  Look at the pictures and consider this additional terror: the part of the bridge that you drive on is not solid, but is instead a metal grid you can see through right down to the water far below you—emphasizing the distance your automobile will have to fall before it splats into the gigantic Chesapeake Bay.

“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

My panic attack started as my car began to climb up and up and up, while the water swirled by an increasing distance below.  My breath came in gasps and sweat broke out on my brow.  None of this affected my driving, and I'm certain that a video from a distance of my car trip across the bridge would be uninteresting.  But anyone in the car with me would have certainly noticed my manic condition (and then considered leaping from the vehicle).  I'm told that my reaction is not uncommon, and—private enterprise to the rescue—for a $25.00 fee  helpful contractors will drive you across the bridge in your own car.

After this experience I became afraid of driving over any large bridge ("gephyrophobia" is the technical term).  Fortunately this didn't come up much until the following year.  The University of California Hastings Law School in San Francisco offered me a Visiting Professorship for the 1982-83 school year, which I accepted.  I decided to drive to SF from Columbus, Ohio, where I normally teach at The Ohio State University Law School, and for the purpose of the trip out I first drove to Indianapolis, where my ex-wife Charleyne lives and practices law, and picked up my then nine-year-old son, Clayton, so he could accompany me on the trip.

"What a great father and son adventure!" my friends commented on learning of these plans, to which I laughed and replied, "Yes, until the car breaks down in Nebraska."
And it was a great trip except for two things: (1) our car did break down in North Platte, Nebraska (though it was easily fixed and we were soon on our way), and (2) I had to deal with a goodly number of large bridge crossings.  The first of these was the mighty Mississippi, which was the obstacle separating Illinois from Iowa.  Clayton, happily playing with his Star Wars figures, was completely unaware of my distress as we started over the bridge, and I manfully chatted with him as if nothing were wrong.  Inwardly I was a mess, but Clayton noticed nothing and we crossed this bridge and all the others without any visible problems with old Doug.

[Click to enlarge]

For the trip I pretended to make Clayton the navigator, and he struggled with maps every morning (with me helping him reach the right results).  I wanted him to get an idea of how very large our country is, and the five days we took to get to California did imprint this message on his consciousness.  As a child I was an Air Force brat, and my family had done much driving across most of the United States (though only once a trip this long—when my mother drove my sister and me from Indiana to Seattle to board a ship to Japan in 1954).  The first part of Clayton and my journey was across the Great Plains (not particularly interesting driving), and then we hit the Rockies (which can be too interesting to drive through with large trucks behind you as you traverse highways that have mountain on one side and steep drop on the other), and that beautiful descent into Salt Lake City through the Wasatch Mountains.  Clayton enjoyed the trip, though getting him to look up from his toys and be as astounded as I was at some of the views was not always possible (he was, after all, nine).  Other than the all day layover in North Platte, the trip was uneventful, and we were both glad we'd made it together.

But now that I was in San Francisco I was living in a city surrounded by large bridges.  Indeed, as I've mentioned in a prior post (see "With Tim in San Francisco 1982/1983" below), from one window in my apartment I could look out and see the Golden Gate bridge.  Clayton and I had had to drive across the Oakland Bay Bridge to get into the city, and I was destined to cross both of these bridges a lot during the next year.  That would have been a nightmare except for one thing that happily occurred.  I was sitting one day reading a magazine article about phobias (see the list of the most common phobias at the end of this post), and was amazed when the author casually commented that any phobia is mild type of "mental illness."  MENTAL ILLNESS!  I put down the magazine in a huff.  I would not—simply would not—have a mental illness.  So I firmly decided that from now on I would not be afraid of crossing bridges, nor think anything about it.

Perhaps you won't believe it, but this worked.  My gephyrophobia disappeared instantly and has not returned.  All right, readers, I know that getting over a phobia is not usually as simple as making up your mind to do so, but in my case that was truly all that was necessary.  But when I was thinking about this post it occurred to me that maybe I never really had gephyrophobia at all.  The reality could be that only the enormous Chesapeake Bay Bridge brought on such a panic attack, which I then wrongly extended it to all bridges until the magazine article made me rethink the matter.

Hmm.  It would be interesting to see if I could now drive across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge without it being a big deal.  My guess is that I could do it, but—trust me on this—I'm never going to find out.  If my travel plans take me in that direction, I'll somehow find an alternate route that doesn't have me driving up into the clouds and looking down at water 186 feet below my tires.

Related Posts:
"The Many Faults of Douglas Whaley," March 31, 2010
"Doug, Please Get My Clubs From the Trunk," August 20, 2010
"Charleyne and the Giant Cookie," September 16, 2010
"With Tim in San Francisco: 1982-1983," August 6, 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

Going Undercover at an Ex-Gay Meeting


In a previous post ("How To Change Gay People into Straight People," see Related Posts below) I discussed the disgraceful history of the Ex-Gay movement and so-called "reparative therapy," both of which pretend to be able to cure homosexuality, but which are in fact flagrant frauds.  As a lawyer, I'm amazed these people aren't put out of business by simple lawsuits alleging fraud and/or malpractice.  When asked for a list of people who have successfully converted from gay to straight, these organizations or individuals suddenly go mum and refuse to cooperate.  As I've also mentioned before ("How I Lost a Gay Marriage Debate") I have a standing offer of $5000 to be donated to the charity of choice of the offeree who can produce five men who used to be gay but by the efforts of whatever organization or process can now be tested and found to be totally heterosexual.  After decades of the Ex-Gay movement and the steady efforts of many reparative therapy psychologists you'd think there would be thousands of men who would so qualify, but so far not a single effort has been made to collect my $5000.  The reason is clear: you can't change gay people into straight people, and these efforts always fail.  Always.

In my gay rights activist days (the 1980/90s) I was frequently on radio call-in shows where the callers would claim that they used to be gay but now were straight.  The law professor in me, who loves to conduct Socratic dialogues to get at the truth, would go to work.  "You used to be gay, but now you're married and having sex only with your wife?"  "Yes."  "And you never have homosexual thoughts—and before you answer this question, be aware that if you lie even slightly about this, you will deceive hundreds of men in your position who are desperate to change and depend on you to say, if it's true, that you never ever even slightly think about gay sex."  Long pause.  "Well, yes, I guess I still think about it sometimes."  "And sometimes masturbate thinking those thoughts?"  Another pause.  "Sometimes."  "If it's still that important to your pleasure, how do you satisfy yourself with your wife?"  At this point one of the callers confessed, "I pretend she's a man."
In debates about homosexuality through the years, whether in public forums or living rooms, when someone says that they don't like homosexuals I ask them, "What would you do if you were a homosexual?"  "I wouldn't be a homosexual," is the usual response.  "How would you avoid it if you discovered that in spite of your upbringing, in spite of your religion, in spite of your strongest desire to change, you were a homosexual like it or not?"  "I'd get help from my pastor or a doctor."  When told this supposed help doesn't work (with offers of books and websites to prove it), the person I'm talking to changes the subject.  I just have to be wrong.  I just have to be.  The bible commands that I be wrong.  Surely religion or medicine or something has the magic pill that can be taken twice a day until heterosexuality occurs.  Surely.  Because if I'm right and change isn't possible, then whoever I'm talking to has to rethink his/her position, and most people would rather slaughter hogs than do that.
The best that the Ex-Gay movement or reparative therapists can offer is for gay people to learn to suffer in silence about one's homosexuality, while leading a life of sexual depravation and frustration ("offer it up to God as your burden").  The Catholic Church sponsors an organization for gay Catholics called "Courage"  (Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's son Paul, an ordained Catholic priest, is one of its mainstays), which teaches that Catholics can be homosexuals and good members in standing of the Church if they never act on their homosexual orientation (they just pray and hope that abstinence works—hence the "courage" part of the title).

Very upset by the hypocrisy and outright cruelty of all this, I once went to a meeting for the parents of homosexuals who were anxious to see their children change and become heterosexuals.  The group sponsoring the meeting was an offshoot of Focus on the Family, and was trying to get a new chapter of that organization started in Columbus, Ohio—this was in the late 1980s or early 90s (I'm unclear when).  The Columbus Dispatch announced that the meeting would help parents deal with homosexual children, that a pastor from Dayton would lead the discussion, and that the gathering would be held on a coming weekday evening at the MCI Cafeteria on Morse Road.  I decided to go, but I needed a "wife" for the occasion.  Naturally I called Lorraine Latek, who through the years in Columbus has morphed into my chosen sister (her husband Arthur is on the Ohio State law faculty with me), explained the situation, and asked if she would pretend with me that we were the distraught parents of a homosexual child seeking guidance.  Always one for an adventure, Lorri agreed immediately.

She did have one reservation.  Lorri is dedicated foodie and a tremendous cook, proud of her epicurean tastes in food, and as we exited from my car in the parking lot to enter the MCI Cafeteria, she hurried me along.  "I can't be seen going into an MCI by my friends," she insisted.  "It would ruin me."  Completely understanding, I hustled into the building with her, our faces averted. 

In the meeting room there were only about twenty people, some of them middle-aged couples, with the rest being two ministers and young people.  A clipboard was passed around as a sign-up sheet, and Lorri filled it in with our fake names and address.  A very nice minister from Dayton, Ohio, led the program.  He described his mission as bringing gays to God.  To do this he frequently went to public places and on spotting suspected homosexuals, he would begin to talk to them about the need for religion in their lives.  This minister then introduced us all to a young couple about to be married, both of whom he'd converted from gay identities to complete heterosexuality.    The young man was tall, but very effeminate, and his bride-to-be was about as butch as lesbians get.  Lorri and I exchanged glances, secretly agreeing that a wedding gift for these potential newlyweds would be a waste of money. 

Lorri and I had rehearsed a cover story in case we were asked to describe our reason for coming (teenage son who had recently come out to us), but we never had to say a thing.  The only really interesting moment was when the other minister, older and stern-looking, who had said nothing until the meeting was winding down, suddenly exploded with, "But you've said nothing about casting out the demons who are causing all of this!!!"  The room went strangely silent, with deep embarrassment battling confusion throughout the crowd.  Lorri and I, for fear of a laughing fit, worked hard at not catching each other's eye.  In answer to the outburst, the younger minister from Dayton kindly replied something like "Of course, we need to explore all possible remedies."  With that the gathering was over.

I signed up "Arnold Whaley," my parakeet, for the mailing list of this organization (so I could keep an eye on them).  But they didn't last long, disbanding within a few months in spite of increasingly dire pleas for both money and attendance.

In the end homophobia, even in the name of God, is so sad: the wasted time, energy, anguish, and sorrow, all unnecessary suffering.  The young people the minister from Dayton prayed over either eventually escaped and lived the lives they were always meant to live, or else they endured decades of desperation (or, the worst outcome, committed suicide rather than face a God or parents they could not please).  But not one of them became a happy heterosexual.  This is doubly tragic because it was avoidable from day one.  The cure for their problem was easily available: admit to themselves what was always true (their sexual orientation) and then figure out how to achieve the best life possible with the cards they were dealt.

[Click to enlarge]
Related Posts:

"The Aging Gay Rights Activist," March 24, 2010

"Frightening the Horses," April 4, 2010
“Homosexuality: The Iceberg Theory,” April 25, 2010
“How I Lost a Gay Marriage Debate,” April 29, 2010
“Straight Talk,” May 10, 2010
“Marijuana and Me,” July 11, 2010
“How To Tell if You’re Gay,” August 31, 2010
“The Thunderbolt,”September 3, 2010
“How To Change Gay People Into Straight People,” September 20, 2010
"How Many Homosexuals Are There in the World?" November 8, 2010
"Choose To Be Gay, Choose To Be Straight," January 25, 2011
"The Homosexual Agenda To Conquer the World," February 8, 2011
"Seducing Straight Men," March 3, 2011
"Coming Out: How To Tell People You're Gay," March 27, 2011
"Jumping the Broom: How 'Married' are Married Gay Couples?" July 17, 2011

"The Legacy of Homophobia," August 2, 2011
"The Presumption of Heterosexuality and the Invisible Homosexual," October 2, 2011
"Gay Bashers, Homophobes, and Me," January 27, 2012
"On Being a Gay Sports Fan," March 9, 2012
"Sexual Labels: Straight, Gay, Bi," April 15, 2012
"The History of Gay Rights in Columbus, Ohio," June 4, 2012
“I Support the Right of the Boy Scouts To Ban Gays,” July 24, 2012
Straight People: Thanks From the LGBT Community,” November 20, 2012
“Gay Marriage, DOMA, Proposition 8 and the Mysterious Supreme Court,” January 15, 2013"Disowning Your Gay Children," October 9, 2013
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Adventures in the Law School Classroom


In my forty-plus years of teaching some strange things have happened in the law school classroom other than the routine educational missteps. This post describes some of the more memorable incidents.

In January of 1970 I began my teaching career at the Indiana University Indianapolis School of Law, and that first year (and before a move into an impressive new building) the school was housed in a very old and even charming structure that was rumored to have a colorful past (theater, bawdy house, etc.—who knows the truth?). I was teaching an evening course in Contracts, and we were located in a rather large classroom on the third floor. Even though it was January the classroom was far too warm because all the building's heat migrated straight up to this room, making us all sweat. So three large windows were open in the back of the room, which allowed an adventurous crow to swoop into the room and see what was going on. The class laughed at the antics of the intruder, who tried to land on the suspended light bars, only to find them scalding hot, sending the bird loudly caw-cawing as it buzzed both students and teacher. It was impossible to hold class with this cacophony going on, and, nonplussed, I had no idea what to do. I was a very new teacher (not yet one month into the job), and all I could come up with was to muse aloud whether the bird was a raven about to pronounce "Nevermore!" to my teaching career. The students, bless them, were on top of the situation. One of them yelled, "Turn off the lights!" which another, sitting next to the switch by the door, promptly did. With the only available illumination now coming from outside, the crow made a hasty exit, the lights came back on, and, to my relief, we returned to the law of offer and acceptance. But that particular classroom must have been jinxed—before the semester ended the blackboard suddenly disengaged itself from the wall one evening and collapsed onto me. Luckily nothing other than my dignity was injured, but still . . .

The large classrooms at Ohio State have no windows, which can cause problems if the electricity fails, leaving the room in absolute blackness.  When that happened in my class once, I proceeded to tell an amusing legal story that lasted about ten minutes, finishing just as the lights came back on.  Professor Michael Rose of the OSU law faculty once called on a student just as the lights went out, causing the student to comment, "Well, professor, without the lights I can't see my notes."  Just them the lights returned, whereupon the student promptly added, "Now that the lights are on I see I don't have any notes."

In the 1982-83 school year, I was a Visiting Professor at the University of California Hastings Law School in San Francisco.  At the start of the second semester in January or 1983, my course in Secured Transactions turned out to be over-subscribed and at the last minute I was given a larger room.  I was told by the administration to go to the old classroom on the third floor, and as the students arrived for the first class to direct them to the replacement classroom down on the first floor.  I did this, and informed the assembled students that I'd be down in just a few minutes after I had gathered up the stragglers.  So the students left for the first floor and I followed them about five minutes later.  To my horror (and due to a scheduling error) there Professor Smith's tax class was already in the first floor room, and these students, grumbling, had been evicted by the larger number of my students, who'd apparently told them to claim the now-vacant third floor room.  As I was standing outside the classroom, trying to decide how to handle this, Professor Smith came ambling along.  With embarrassment and an apology, I explained to this very nice man what had happened, and watched him walk off bemused on his way upstairs to find his wandering class.  By the next day, when my class met for the second time in the larger room, I found the whole incident amusing, and told my students that I was proud of the "Secured Transactions Army" and its victory of yesterday.  I added that if any of them knew of an even better classroom, just let me know and I'd send them out to take it by conquest.

One snowy February day a fire occurred in my OSU classroom just as I was making some fascinating point (once again it was a Contracts class).  Here’s why that happened: in those days there were electrical sockets in the floor of the classrooms, supposedly covered by round metal plates that screwed tight over the sockets when not in use.  Of course, as years passed, the metal plates sometimes disappeared, allowing debris to accumulate in the electrical wiring.  On this particular day a male student's boots dripped water from snow into the exposed socket, which caught fire and sent a five foot tall jet of fire into the air, coming up between his feet and causing him to fall over backward in his chair.  We all looked at this pillar of fire, burning like something from the bible, jaws dropped.  The downed student scrambled out of the way, and I heard myself mumble, "Perhaps we ought to leave the classroom NOW!"  We all quickly did just that, and as we exited I noticed a fire alarm in the hallway.  I pulled the lever and an overly-loud clanging invaded the building.  I noticed that Professor Albert Clovis was conducting his Contracts class in the room next to mine, and in spite of the deafening noise he was still lecturing.  I pulled open his door and yelled, "It's a real fire, Al!"  At this he frowned, and then waived a hand to shoo the students out of the room.  By the time the firemen arrived the fire in my classroom was reduced to just smoke.  It also turned out that if you pull a fire alarm you get to fill out a lot of forms and talk at length to a stern fire chief, describing exactly what happened.

A couple of stories about plants (not the botanical kind, but the "ringer" kind).  Professor Rose, mentioned above, once had to take care of his eight year old daughter during the day time, so he brought her to class and she sat in the front row, coloring in a book as he taught his tax course.  At one point the students were stumped by his question, and he looked annoyed as he said, "Everyone should know the answer to that one, even someone untrained in law."  At this he called on his daughter, and, without looking up from her coloring book, she recited the answer he had had her memorize before she came to his classroom.  In a similar incident at Indiana Indianapolis Law School, Professor Lawrence Jegen, also in a tax class, was asked by a student if Jegen would mind if the student's wife came to class the next day.  Jegen gave his permission, but as soon as the student left his office, Jegen called the home of the student, talked to the wife, swore her to secrecy, and, like Professor Rose's daughter, gave her the answer to a tax question that baffled her husband when he was called upon the next day.

But my favorite "plant" story occurred at OSU back in the days when we required all students to take a course entitled "Introduction to Tax Law" in their first semester of law school.  One year, by happenstance, the initial class the new students would attend was this very course, taught by Professor Phillip Sorensen, and he posted a notice that they should study section 61 of the Internal Revenue Code (the definition of "income").  We had a visiting professor from the University of Moscow that semester, a young man in his 30's whose name I forget (nice guy—I taught him the rules of American football on one of the walks across campus we sometimes took), but for purposes of this story let's call him "Gorbachev."  On the day of the first class, with the students nervously waiting, Professor Gorbachev walked into class, strode to the front of the room, wrote "Section 61" on the blackboard, and then turned to the class and began lecturing in Russian!  The students were flabbergasted.  A hand went up after a minute or so, but it was that of Professor John Quigley of our faculty, a plant in the first row, and he asked a question in Russian, to which Gorbachev made his only statement in English, "Good question!"  After a bit more of the incomprehensible lecture, Phil Sorensen, who had been sitting in the back of the room, got up, interrupted the proceedings, introduced himself and the two other professors, and confessed it was all a joke.  Much later, when I learned this had occurred, I asked Phil if it was true, and, with a guilty smile, he allowed that it was.  Hmm.  Like most practical jokes it's funny in the retelling, but was not amusing to the victims at the time it occurred.  Imagine being one of those students on the first day of law school as you're worst fears are realized immediately: you don't understand what's going on even slightly.  I asked Phil how the students reacted.  "Ah," he said ruefully, "they never forgave me—not even as alums."
Related Posts:
"How I Became a Law Professor,” January 27, 2010
"The Socratic Dialogue in Law Schools," January 31, 2010
"Clickers,” March 17, 2010
"Women in My Law School Classroom," January 8, 2011
"One More Story From Law School," February 27, 2011
"With Tim in San Francisco---1982-1983," August 6, 2011
"I Hate Meetings," October 31, 2011
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013