PGN: You do so much; what is your primary job?
BW: I’m a professor at Temple. I teach creative writing, composition and this semester I’m also teaching a “Gay and Lesbian Lives” course. It’s one of the cornerstone courses for the LGBT Studies program. Students read nonfiction memoir, narratives, etc., from the 1950s forward. It’s designed to give them exposure to various spectrums through the ages of what we’ve been through.
PGN: Is the class predominately straight or gay students?
BW: It’s probably about a third gay, and the rest either “I’ve always been curious” or “I have gay friends.”
PGN: What do they study in class?
BW: A variety of things. I scanned a lot of excerpts from different memoirs, a lot of poetry and even song lyrics.
PGN: What two titles would you pick for Oprah’s gay book club?
BW: “Giovanni’s Room” by James Baldwin and Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”
PGN: Why “Dorian Gay”? That was a Freudian slip! “Gray.” If I recall correctly, it doesn’t have any overt gay content.
BW: Overtly, no. Two reasons. One: because Oscar Wilde is so important to gay studies, i.e., what his trial did for gay visibility, unintentionally but still ... And second –—and I wrote a paper on this — that that book created the concept of the closet. Dorian Gray is basically this twink and he’s taken under the wing of two older male benefactors who have a thing for him. One of them is an artist who paints a picture of Dorian and his affections for Dorian come through in the painting. The picture ages but Dorian does not. The “real” Dorian is out and about in the world but the picture is kept hidden inside and gets moved into more and more secluded places. It puts forth the idea that what people see is not the true you; what people don’t see — the real you — is kept hidden away, that closet mentality. It’s not usually taught that way, it’s usually just treated as a Gothic novel, but that’s my take on it. If you think about it that way, it becomes a whole different book.
PGN: So do you have students coming out to you?
BW: Yes. When I teach composition, it doesn’t come up as much, but I’m open with them in a “just so y’all know” way. In creative writing, it comes up a little more. As a teacher you don’t want to make the course about you, but at the same time it’s not something I hide. It’s something I’m proud of. [Laughs.] In the gay course it’s one of the first things out of my mouth. I think who’s teaching them is important in terms of point of view.
PGN: Was there a particular student whose story stands out?
BW: One of the composition courses was gender-themed for a while and I had a male student coming to terms with being trans. He was having a very difficult time of it. He wanted to transition to female but I think he was feeling very awkward about it. I told him, “Feel free to come as who you are.” He wasn’t there yet but I let him know that Philadelphia was a great city to come out in and that there were all sorts of resources even beyond the ones on campus, and there were people out there who would be welcoming and supportive.
PGN: This is a great city; are you a native?
BW: Nope, born and raised in Los Angeles. I’m a Valley boy. I went to college there and graduated from UC San Diego with a degree in literature. That’s where I came out. Aside from being one of the most beautiful places in the country, it’s a very laidback spot. The people on campus were really great and there is a really good gay organization on campus. A lot of my writing teachers were gay or — and I don’t mean this in a bad way — indifferent, as in “you’re gay, fantastic, now talk about your writing point of view.” That attitude rubbed off on my peers and when I wrote or read gay stories in class, there was never an issue with it. I also worked in restaurants, which is helpful if you’re going to come out because most people in that line of work are usually pretty laidback and not as button-downed.
PGN: So how did you end up in Philly?
BW: So, as beautiful as San Diego is, if you’re not a super-outdoorsy person, if you want something beyond the two options of “Let’s go to the beach” or “Let’s go lay out in the park,” it can start to get old. Granted, they have a great gay softball league there, but I wanted more options. I graduated college in 1997 and backpacked through Europe for five weeks. It taught me how to read a map and negotiate public transportation and all the stuff that you don’t have to do in Southern California. I was like, Wow, this is what I want. I always fantasized about living on the East Coast. So when I got back, I applied for grad school on the East Coast and got accepted to Rutgers, Camden campus, and got a master’s in English. When I moved here, it immediately felt like home.
PGN: So is the East Coast everything you thought it would be?
BW: Yeah. People said Philly would be a little thick-skinned and the people might not be welcoming, but I’ve had the complete opposite experience. When I first got here, everyone asked me what I needed and told me all the places to go.
PGN: Tell me a little bit about your family.
BW: Both of my parents are remarried. They were/are both in business but now my mom is semi-retired. I have an older brother who’s a screenwriter. He lives in Santa Monica. My mom and stepdad live in Seattle, but they’ve been trying to get out since they moved there! It’s one thing to visit on a sunny day but living there when the other 364 days are gray can be a bit much. My stepdad was an LAPD detective. He worked the gang unit.
PGN: The gay unit?
BW: Gang unit!
PGN: I don’t know what’s up with me today; everything sounds like “gay!” Let’s talk about your “Regret.”
BW: Sure, that was my book that came out in 2007. It was actually something that started as an undergrad. I’d taken a class in sex and sexuality and one of the things we read in that class was about a scientist who had isolated the gay gene. I was just coming out at the time and thought, Oh my God, what would people do with this if they got a hold of it? So that’s what the book is about: a religious group that decides that God’s “ways” are working too slowly in “curing” gays, so they decide to take matters into their own hands and enlist a medical researcher to help.
PGN: Were you raised religious?
BW: No, this is the funny part: My mom converted to Episcopalian to marry my dad, mainly to satisfy my grandmother who actually never went to church except for Christmas Mass. So until I went to college, I think I’d only been in a church maybe three times, not counting weddings. My dad was kind of anti-organized-religion until he met my stepmom when I was in high school and he became a born-again. He probably wouldn’t categorize it as born-again, but when you’re baptized outside the church and everything ...
PGN: So has your being gay been a problem?
BW: It’s been challenging at times for him and my stepmom. They’re great people. [Laughs] They’re not trying to send me somewhere to fix me. They’re trying to understand.
PGN: I too was raised without much of a religious background. Apparently I was baptized, but no one remembers in what church.
BW: Ha! I have a similar story. One of my best friends from grad school was getting married. She called me and said, “Is there any chance that you are Catholic?” I said I was baptized Episcopalian. My mom happened to be in town and she said, “Well, that’s actually not true.” I was like, “What do you mean?” And she said, “I think you were baptized Lutheran.” I asked her why and she said, “You know, I don’t remember.” I was thinking, Isn’t this something someone should know?
PGN: Apparently neither of our parents took it seriously.
BW: Apparently not! So, I kept working on my book throughout school — the book was my thesis. I graduated in ’02 and began working as an adjunct professor at Rutgers, Temple and Drexel and was still waiting tables at the same time. I wanted to make enough money to put a down payment on a house in the Graduate Hospital area, back when you still could afford to do so. Fortunately, since 2006 I have been full-time at Temple.
PGN: So you have your house now and a full-time job and a partner?
BW: Yes, we actually met on Facebook! It sent me one of those “we recommend that you meet this person” type of messages. I saw his picture and thought, Yes, I should. We had a lot of mutual friends and we’ve been together for about three years.
PGN: Something great about him?
BW: Oh, there are so many great things. He’s a psychologist. He went to college in Connecticut and grad school in Virginia and has good groups of friends in different parts of the country. They’re all really cool people and we like to get together on weekends at someone’s house to eat and drink and have fun. We like to travel and there are lots of good times.
PGN: Tell me about your Bible project?
BW: Last January, I read the Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament, for the first time and blogged about it. I did it in part to create an author’s platform, which is the new thing to do for writers, as well as wanting to do something useful, and I also did it as a way to bridge knowledge gaps with my dad. I wanted to be able to talk about the Bible from a gay perspective. I put up about 140-150 posts that I’m compiling into a book.
PGN: What was your overall impression?
BW: That it’s a book that has been misused for so long for political reasons, that people who might get a lot out of it won’t touch it. And that’s a shame because there are some really great stories of interesting people and strong women who, for no personal gain, put their lives on the line to make a difference in the world. There’s value in that regardless of your religious beliefs. Don’t get me wrong, there are parts of the Bible that are really, really boring, but I liked it more than I thought I would.
PGN: What did you find surprising?
BW: The Old Testament was more violent and God was more bitter than I had expected. And society was really dirty, and I mean that literally. A lot of the rules in the Bible had to do with cleanliness; restrictions against eating shellfish were because they didn’t know how to clean things properly and if they didn’t put it down in writing people would die. People didn’t wash their hands or bathe and a lot of things that would really skeeve you out.
PGN: Are you going to keep going?
BW: Yes, I’m looking to continue the project with other religious-themed books to keep the conversation going.
PGN: What do you do when you’re not huddled over a Bible?
BW: I play shortstop on a team in the Philadelphia gay softball league.
PGN: What was your worst accident?
BW: I’m actually very accident-prone. I’m “that one” in my family. I was born cross-eyed so I had that fixed when I was 2, had my tonsils out when I was 5, I broke my nose in three places when I was in second grade and had to have it reconstructed, I lost my middle finger — my brother cut it off in the front door — and got it put back, I had a thumb accident and had to have that reconstructed, stitches upon stitches, you name it. Oh, I’ve been hit by two cars.
PGN: I hope you had a good insurance plan! Unusual job?
BW: I started working when I was in eighth grade at a comic-book and used-record store. Part of what is so great about my life is that I always seem to end up in atypical situations. At the comic bookstore, I worked for credit and I worked with all adults. They treated me as if I were an equal and we would go to movies and concerts and taught me a lot about music and films and collecting. When I was in high school I got to go see Metallica because one of our customers was good friends with them so we got to go backstage and hang out. That kind of thing happened a lot. It was a great adventure for a kid.
PGN: Silliest thing you ever lied about?
BW: Well, it was sort of a lie by omission. My parents split when I was in ninth grade. My dad moved to Orange County and my mother was dating someone who lived in Arizona, so my brother and I were frequently in the house alone. We were very responsible, or so they thought; in actuality we had a lot of parties. One night a friend of ours got a little too drunk and put his foot through an 8-by-5-wide window leading out to the patio. This was on a Friday and we took his credit card and called a glass installer. By the time my mother got home Monday we had it fixed. It was like something out of “Ferris Bueller.”
PGN: Celebrity crush?
BW: I had a thing for Sean Astin from “The Goonies” when I was a kid. He still looks good! And Joe Glenn, former pitcher for the Phillies. [Goes off with a “Star Wars” theme.]
PGN: [Laughs.] Were/are you a geek?
BW: Oh yes, “Star Wars,” comic books and music. I played the bass in college. I collected “Star Wars” and Transformers toys. I have three display cases for them. My partner won’t let them upstairs. I’m also a big Pearl Jam fan. They do original artwork for each concert so I have 40 framed prints in my office.
PGN: Back to your blog, what did you get out of it and what do you hope people will take from your experience?
BW: I found some people, mostly gay friends, wanted me to be more antagonistic and some religious people said that I chose the wrong way to read and interpret it. But coming from a literary background, you can only make an argument based on what you can support with the text. People want to pick and choose but it doesn’t work like that. And there’s a lot of stuff in the Bible that just doesn’t hold up. We don’t want to have Biblical law guiding our actions, for instance. I don’t think that if you are a woman and you are raped in the city you should be stoned, yet if you are raped in the country, where no one can hear you to save you, it’s OK. On the other hand, there’s a lot in there about just being a good person and rules and regulations to do so, especially in the New Testament. If you need to go to church for that, why not? From a literary standpoint, it was interesting to find out the origins of a lot of things, like the peace dove and the rainbow, which both come out of the Bible, and many of the sayings we use every day.
PGN: [Laughs.] Amen to that!
Find out more about Windhauser at http://bibleprojectblog.com and www.bradwindhauser.com.
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