Undefeated

Three deaf gay North Texans refuse to let what some would see as a disability stand in the way of a fulfilling life

RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer
lopez@ dallasvoice.com

Noise. There are layers of it every day. The bustle of traffic, dogs barking, someone stomping down the hall, the whirring of a desk fan and the blare of digital music from computer speakers.

These can all register with most people all at once — even if they don’t know it. For some others, they may be fading aural glimpses — or nothing at all.

When deaf culture and gay culture collide, it’s not an unusual thing. Although one has nothing to do with the other, there is an interestingly significant proportion of gay people who are deaf. The Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf states that the percentage of the LGBT population is “approximately 10 percent of the deaf population.”

But is there an added pressure to being deaf or hard of hearing and gay?

Three gentlemen would say no.

“The deaf community is a very welcoming one and doesn’t discriminate,” Jeffrey Payne says. “It’s a non-issue.”

Payne may be most recognizable as the winner of International Mr. Leather in 2009 and more recently as a new co-owner of the Dallas Eagle club — but more on him later.

Andy Will

Born this way

Speaking of non-issues, Andy Will was born completely deaf 36 years ago. He seems perplexed at times talking about it, because for him it’s a fact of life. And knowing he was gay at a very young age didn’t hurt Will in discovering who he is.

“I knew I was gay when I was 8,” he said.

For the record, the majority of his quotes here are via Facebook chat and text messages.

Will didn’t come out until later, and before doing so he got married and had a daughter, Sarah. The gay thing didn’t go over too well with his wife, and the two were only married for eight months. Will didn’t see Sarah for quite some time.

But something in Will is so optimistic about life and what it offers that it would seem patience paid off for him. Or maybe it’s optimism mistaken for proud parent considering the exclamation he has when talking about his girl.

“I wanted to be honest to my family and my ex-wife that I’m gay,” he said. “I didn’t see my daughter for 11 years but she came to see me on her 12th birthday and we’re happily back together. Father and daughter! And she knows and has kindly accepted me as being her gay dad!”

In the meantime, Will met Joseph and they were together for five years. But Joseph passed away after losing a battle to cancer. Will met Dwane online and then officially at JR.’s Bar & Grill. They are celebrating 10 years together.

Dwane is not deaf.

“I’m not sure how I did that. Life is pretty happy here,” Will said.

Some of Will’s hobbies may seem unexpected to the hearing population. Once a week he drives more than 50 miles from his home in Krugerville, north of Denton, to the Oak Lawn Boxing Gym off of Riverfront Boulevard. He’s been taking lessons from gym owner Travis Glenn for “about four or five months,” and according to the coach, it’s been a learning experience for both men.

“Many people have suggested that I just need to learn a few basic American Sign Language signs, but that doesn’t work when you have on boxing gloves,” Glenn said. “It took a few lessons, but Andy and I have found a working rhythm for his training. When he does something that needs adjustment, I point to him, mimic what he did, and shake my head ‘no.’ Then I point to myself, do the movement correctly, and shake my head ‘yes.’

“I’m sure it looks odd to bystanders, but it seems to work for us,” Glenn said.

Will mentions that sometimes they have to work with a pen and pad or that he can read Glenn’s lips as he speaks, but he’s at the point now where he can almost tell what Glenn is thinking.

“I can read his movements and body language but sometimes I can read what he means in my mind and get the movement right,” he said.

Out of simple ignorance, people may incorrectly assume that deaf people can’t do as much as hearing people. But Will has never bought into that.

“I’ve been playing sports since I was a kid,” he said. “I used to play basketball and football in school and I currently play on softball and rugby teams. And now boxing.”

Again, for Will, this is nothing, but he knows what people may think. He isn’t trying to shatter any images. He’s just living his life. But if he changes someone’s perception along the way, he’s fine with that, too.

Above all the labels that people could place on Will, he’s shooting for one.

“I’m the proud gay dad of Sarah,” he said, “And sometimes I can surprise people that a deaf person can do the things that I like doing.”

Ronnie Fanshier

Normal fears

Ronnie Fanshier used to be a male dancer. He once was Mr. Texas Leather. Now he lives a comfortable life in the suburbs and is one step away from being completely deaf.

“I am classified as profoundly deaf,” he said.

He also just turned 50 and isn’t worrying so much about his deafness as much as just accepting the landmark birthday — like anyone does.

“Fifty is a milestone if you’re gay, straight or whatever. I have mixed feelings about it, but I appreciate what I’ve learned about life up to this point,” he said. “I certainly would not want to go back and live all over again. There would be so many friendships and loves I’d miss out on and that’s not a chance I would take.”

For someone who is so close to having 100 percent hearing loss, Fanshier doesn’t sound like he’s letting that be an albatross. Born with nerve deafness — meaning that the nerves transmitting sound to the brain don’t function properly — Fanshier always knew what the ultimate result would be with his hearing. Acceptance wasn’t so much an issue, but socially, it did have an impact — good and bad.

“Looking back to school, I adapted quite well to most social situations I was exposed to. I knew I was gay at an early age, but I played the boyfriend/girlfriend game until I graduated. Back then, if you were even suspected of being gay, you were pretty much ostracized,” he said.

As a youth, Fanshier seemed to use his deafness as a way to glide by students prone to bullying anyone who was gay, although he remembers it with some delight.

“Being hard of hearing/deaf helped immensely in that respect, since I was already a little different in an accepted way,” he recalled. “What’s funny is I remember some classmates saying I was a ‘fag’ and other classmates would say, ‘No he’s deaf, and that’s why he talks different.’ Isn’t that a hoot?”

As adulthood came, Fanshier says he kicked the closet door down and hit the gay bars. Everything he had learned socially in school to communicate and even get by worked wonders for him in the community. And he developed his own tricks to party it up on the dance floor.

“I loved dancing,” he said. “I would turn my hearing aids off and dance to the beat. If the bass got soft, I would watch others on the dance floor and use their rhythmic movements to create a sort of metronome to dance to until the bass got strong again.”

He loved it so much that he took it to the pedestals. As a college student, he danced his way through gay bars in Dallas, Houston, Oklahoma City and Tulsa. His confidence brimmed.

“I was young, athletic-looking and very personable,” he said. “I would intentionally wear one hearing aid up there on the box and it was a good ice breaker for tippers. This was another way of making myself more memorable. I was very social and outgoing and my handicap never stopped me.”

What Fanshier does instead is own his deafness. He didn’t apply fear to it and instead worried about what he says every gay man probably worries about: Health, finding Mr. Right (he did), family acceptance — oh, and one more thing:

“Will I be able to get the clothes, car and home that any self-respecting queen should have,” he joked.

What’s curious about Fanshier is that he never learned sign language. He was actually discouraged by his parents and teachers who feared that society would single him out. And he’s glad for that.

“I thank them profusely for that,” he said. “I would not be the person I am today if that decision had not been made for me. I should learn ASL, but I tend to have a short-term memory and I probably wouldn’t retain it, and I have few hard-of-hearing friends to use it with. I also work in a mainstream environment, and sign language would have severely limited my job options.”

But Franshier’s made it work the way he knows how. He’s built a good life with a long tenure at the hospital he works for, a house by the lake and his partner of 14 years — all while taking what may easily be considered a detriment, and turning it to his advantage.

Jeffrey Payne

The emergence of a voice

Jeffrey Payne has not been silent about his experience. He told the Voice before about discovering his hearing loss at 40 years old and was initially told he would be completely deaf by Christmas 2010.

The timeline has been wrong so far, but Payne has taken his visibility in the Dallas LGBT community and is turning it into increasing the awareness of Dallas gay deaf denizens.

“I’ve come to know many individuals in Dallas who are hard of hearing and also gay,” he said. “What’s really wonderful about it is that it’s all part of same gay community.”

Payne himself could be looked upon as the spark that began an increased interest in Dallas. With such a high profile in the leather community that reached out beyond, people could identify with him in a way perhaps they couldn’t before.

“I believe some people saw the need for it when I went from hearing to hard of hearing,” he said.

He’s worked with several local gay organizations in increasing options for hard of hearing, but was ecstatic with the Texas Bear Round Up’s efforts this past March.

Organizers looked to Payne for directon on providing an enjoyable experience for hard-of-hearing and deaf bears attending.

“With TBRU, this huge event and largest bear event I believe, they were so proactive reaching out to me and the St. Cyr Fund to ensure interpreters at all functions,” he said. “I was thrilled, to be honest with you.”

The Sharon St. Cyr Fund was created by Payne — and named after his mother — to assist with purchasing hearing aids for those who can’t afford them and to increase the presence of ASL interpreters at events. Payne has taken his plight and turned it into opportunity — and doesn’t mind if he’s a little uncomfortable.

“Just with my story I’ve been given, I’ll talk to anyone on a microphone, even if it is out of my comfort zone,” he said. “ASL is really just a different language, but some people get frustrated if they can’t sign. [Hearing] people also want to learn so it’s nice knowing the awareness level is there now. Sign language is a very beautiful language.”

As for his personal struggle, Payne doesn’t dwell on it. He sounds repurposed for this new mission in life. He credits his husband, David, and his family for their support and understanding. He’s intent on not just dealing with deafness, but making the most of it.

Payne said before winning IML, he was a background kind of guy. That ended when his name was announced as the winner, but he was  encouraged by his partner not to waste the opportunity he had.

“I’ve always been a firm believer that things happen for a reason,” Payne said. “I was thrust out of the background with IML and now I can make a difference.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 15, 2011.

—  John Wright

COVER STORY: Larry and KC Jansson found love in the midst of anti-gay ‘reparative’ therapy

How counseling by unqualified therapists and distorted use of a 12-step program brought a young gay couple together at an ‘ex-gay’ camp

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

KC Jansson came out to his parents in ninth grade. His parents sent him to counseling. Then he came out to them again as a high school senior.

“My dad’s a Southern Baptist pastor in Missouri, in a small southern town.” he said. “They said I was either going to be on the streets or do it their way. They were going to pay 10 grand for me to go to this camp.

“I didn’t have a choice but to go there,” he said.

Jansson described the camp as a sort of drug rehab center for being gay. He said he was raised to believe that if he was gay he was going to become an alcoholic and a drug addict and get AIDS and never go to college or love anyone.

INSEPARABLE | People who know the Janssons call them the most perfectly matched, in-love couple they know.

Larry Jansson, on the other hand, lived in Southern California and had very accepting parents.

“I never thought I’d marry a small-town guy,” he said. “There was no God in my family. No church.”

But when he was 18 and still struggling with his identity, Larry started doing theater with a Christian group.

“They started doing their work on me,” he said.

He “got saved,” he said, by a group called Harvest Crusade. But from then until he was 26, he lived a double life.

“I was either hanging out with these people who thought that I was a Christian or I was out totally doing the gay thing without them knowing,” Larry said.

Then he found out about Love in Action, a group in Memphis, Tenn., that does “reparative therapy.” He decided that he was going to figure things out and so spent his entire $10,000 savings to attend.

Larry said he convinced himself, “If somebody says that God is the answer and this can be changed, I want to know for myself.”

So Larry’s parents drove him to the program. But his mother kept telling him he didn’t have to go.

KC and Larry arrived at the facility at the same time. This was KC’s first time away from home and his first time to be around other gay people.

The camp

The two described the restrictions: No cologne. No clothing by Calvin Klein.

“I had a Nintendo Gameboy. I couldn’t keep that, because it would keep me from being focused on God,” Larry said.

“I played piano,” said KC. “I couldn’t play because they said it would distract me from my therapy.”

And although they described the therapy as based on recovery programs used for addictions, the 12 steps they followed were a very distorted version based on shame, the two men said.

For the first three days, they were not allowed to talk and always had to look at the ground. Each person was assigned a “house brother” who had gone through the program. That person, who was gay, had made it through the first three months to the next stage.

“My big brother was more flamboyant than anyone else in the house,” Larry said. “But he was so about Jesus and getting through this.”

The first night there was a meeting with the four new house members and their “big brothers.” Although they weren’t supposed to look at each other, Larry and KC kept making eye contact.

There were no doors on the rooms and each room had three beds. Larry and KC were assigned to share a room.

Bathroom time was limited to 15 minutes. They had to set a timer to make sure no one was spending too much time locked in there doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing.

The next day they went to church. Larry and KC described the church as Prestonwood Baptist-sized, and said all of the members knew who they were. They were escorted to the first row and felt the condemnation of the crowd as they took their seats.

Each morning they would drive down to the church. They would sit in a circle for “Courage, Honesty and Respect” group.

“You would call someone else out for something they did,” said Larry, and the person being accused couldn’t respond for 24 hours.

“I would say something like, ‘KC, you didn’t set your egg timer this morning and we have rules here and I want you to think about that,’” Larry said. “And KC would get fuming red — but he couldn’t say anything.”

KC regarded the rules as a joke. Larry took them very seriously. He wanted to know if these were the rules that were going to turn him straight.

They had group and individual counseling sessions. A woman in Larry’s group said that she was raped and that she didn’t feel comfortable sitting next to a man.

No one there could help her.

KC said his “counselor” was in college but worked at this house unsupervised. Two others were former drug addicts who had gone through 12-step programs themselves. None was a licensed therapist.

“In individual sessions, I was asked to open up about certain things that only a real counselor could deal with,” Larry said. “I now am seeing a true counselor because they opened up these wounds and never closed them.”

At night, the counselors would discuss the group. In the morning they would come to the meeting and tell each one what they could no longer do.

Larry was a dancer and today teaches two dance classes in Plano. He said when he was nervous he’d begin to tap. One morning he was told he could no longer dance.

“That was one of the most devastating things they could do to me,” he said. “It was like waking up one day and finding out I was paralyzed.”

In order to turn the group into “men,” at 6:30 each morning they had to go to the gym because gay people don’t go to a gym.

But they had Larry play basketball.

“We’re in a gym full of hot bodies and muscles,” said Larry. “One day, they had me play basketball. Just because I’m 6’-2” doesn’t mean I can dunk a damn ball.”

But he did it because he wanted the program to work.

LET THEM EAT CAKE | KC, left, and Larry became the Janssons when they married in Connecticut. They later held a ceremony at Cathedral of Hope, followed by a lavish party at the W hotel, complete with a 5-tiered wedding cake. (Photo courtesy Jessica Adkins/Aravaggio Photography)

Building a friendship

During the first three months of the program, KC and Larry developed what they both called a genuine friendship.

Whenever they went anywhere, they had to go in groups of three and always had to be within eye contact of each other. Larry said that if one person needed to go to the bathroom, they all had to go.

After three months, Larry and KC graduated to the second part of the program. Their parents attended an actual graduation ceremony, but they simply continued to the next phase of the program.

KC said he had no choice but to stay because his alternative was to return home to rural Missouri. Larry was still determined to see the program through.

During this period, they were allowed to get a job. Larry went to work for the church, and KC got a job at Radio Shack. But the program still tried to monitor every movement.

“But they’re constantly calling you, constantly e-mailing you,” KC said.

“You have to call your house manager when you leave work and they time you to make sure you get home at the right time,” Larry said.

In this part of the program, they had to work on “trigger trips.” They sent the group of four who had started together to places that might trigger sexual feelings.

Their first trip was to the mall — their first shopping trip in three months.

“I remember walking into that mall and hearing angels,” Larry said.

Larry was given a clipboard and had to write down what triggered them.

One member of the group wanted Godiva chocolate but the other three restrained him because apparently only gay people eat Godiva chocolate.

But the biggest test was when the four walked by Abercrombie & Fitch. Larry said that when the four saw the huge poster of the ripped model in the window, they stopped short and fell on top of one another.

Larry and KC had become best friends and once they graduated and were given more freedom, they began doing things together.

“Any time we were allowed to be alone together, we started doing crazy little date things,” Larry said.

They went to a drive-in movie; “We told them we were going to go to the batting cages,” KC said.

But still nothing happened between them. They were just enjoying each other’s company.

“I never even told KC that I thought he had the most beautiful eyes I had ever seen,” Larry said, “because I thought God wanted something else for me.”

Over the next five months their friendship developed, but without physical contact between them. “No kiss. No hug. No touch,” Larry said.

Then the church secretary was going out of town and asked Larry to walk her dogs and water her plants. KC began to tag along.

“All of a sudden we had this place to go that was a little more intimate,” Larry said.

Then on the way back one evening, they stopped at Sonic.

“I had my leg propped up where the gearshift was and he put his arm on me,” KC said. “And from that point forward, I knew I was in love with him.”

A few days later they were at the church secretary’s house. Larry could tell something was wrong with KC.

When Larry finally convinced him to talk, KC admitted he had feelings for Larry and both agreed that it was wrong.

KC turned his back to Larry, and Larry put his arms around him. And as they sat on the couch with their arms around each other, they told each other that it was wrong.

They drove back to the house where they were living, conflicted and in silence. But later that night, they had to let the dogs out again, so they went back. And that’s when they had sex for the first time.

Larry said KC told him he loved him before they had sex. KC thought it was after.

But KC said he told Larry, “I love you. I want to be with you. We’ll do whatever it takes.”

Leaving the program

They were in the last month of their program. Larry needed to decide what he was going to do. He thought he might return to California, but whatever he did, it would be whatever Jesus had planned for him.

He knew he loved KC also, but couldn’t say it.

“I was the brainwashed one trying to make this work,” Larry said. “I wouldn’t let myself say it.”

He wondered if he should tell someone what they had done.

On the third day after they had sex, they drove around Memphis looking at houses. Larry drove up to a mansion that he had seen and stopped.

“What are we doing here?” KC asked.

“I’m going to get you that one day,” Larry told him and KC started crying.

They said that was the point they knew they would build their lives together.

“We just needed to find a way to get out of there together,” Larry said.

KC had planned to move to Dallas, live with his brother and go to college. Larry signed up to go on a short missionary trip to Dubai.

At the end of the six months, KC left for Dallas and Larry left for Dubai. Larry had spent all of his savings on the program. KC had some money. He took enough to get to Dallas and left the rest in a drawer at the house for Larry to get when he got back from Dubai.

When Larry got back from the Middle East, he returned to Memphis, gathered up his belongings, collected the money KC had left for him, got in his car and headed to Dallas.

He packed and snuck out of the house at 3 a.m. No one from the program ever called him to find out where he was or what happened.

KC’s brother was married with three children and Larry was not welcome there. So KC rented him a room at a cheap extended-stay motel. KC told his brother that Larry was his accountability partner. Accountability partners are friends that help each other not be gay.

Larry drove into Dallas and met KC at a gas station at Frankford and the Tollway.

“We were excited about beginning our life together,” Larry said.

Larry had already gotten a job in Carrollton with Washington Mutual, the company he had left six months earlier in California to enroll in the program.

After three days, KC couldn’t stand being apart from Larry and he moved in with him. He told his brother, he said, who was more extremely religious than his parents.

“Thanks, con man,” his brother told him. “You better get out of my house before my wife gets home.”

Happily ever after

Larry and KC lived in the extended stay hotel, changing hotels several times until they could afford an apartment. Then three months after moving to Dallas, Larry proposed.

For KC’s birthday, the two drove to Galveston. After checking into their hotel, they went to the beach and walked out onto a rock pier.

Larry got down on one knee, took out a ring and said, “I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?”

But before they were able to get married, Larry got a call in the middle of the night that his mother had been killed in car accident. A drunk driver hit his parents and his father was seriously injured as well.

KC recalled the last time he saw Larry’s mother.

“As we were leaving, she said to me, ‘Promise me you’ll take care of him for the rest of your life,’” she said to him.

They waited for the trial of the drunk driver to be finished before getting married. In September 2009 they legally married in Connecticut and then held a ceremony for friends and family at Cathedral of Hope in December. They had 14 attendants and a lavish reception at the W Hotel.

They invited everyone they knew, and a few they didn’t, including the Obamas and Larry’s favorite TV host, Tyra Banks. While the Obamas didn’t respond, Banks sent her regrets but invited them to participate in a show on same-sex marriage, which they did last June.

By the time the wedding in Dallas took place, KC’s brother had divorced his wife. The brothers had become closer and he served as KC’s best man.

The couple took a honeymoon cruise, and now own a house in Frisco and a little Maltese dog. They decided they wanted the same last name. Because they liked the way KC’s sounded better, with the help of attorney Lorie Burch, they legally became the Janssons.

KC is finishing his degree in accounting at UT Dallas and works full-time managing a salon. Larry is the director of marketing for Boys and Girls Clubs of Collin County.

Mention the Janssons to Dawson Taylor, the pastor who married them at Cathedral of Hope, and he just laughs.

He said he’s never met two people who are so perfect for each other and so in love.

And despite having gone through reparative therapy camp, Larry said, “I want everyone to know we’re good with God.”

Taylor agreed and said that their wedding was as much a worship service as a marriage ceremony.

After dealing with Larry’s mother’s death and the subsequent trial, Taylor said, Larry’s family needed a celebration. Family members came from all over the country and Larry and KC reveled in being the source of joy after so much sadness in the family.

Now, life for the Janssons has settled into a normal routine.

In addition to their jobs and school and a happy suburban life in Frisco, both have returned to activities taken away by Love In Action. Larry teaches dance classes. KC plays the piano.

And once KC finishes school, they’ll begin seriously looking into adoption.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 11, 2011.

—  John Wright

Opening ‘Closets’

Patrick Moseley’s debut novel also begins a new chapter in his (gay) life

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

Patrick Moseley
ADVENTURE OUTING | North Texas teacher and first-time novelist Patrick Moseley comes (further) out of the close with his new book. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

When closets become a recurring theme in a gay novel, let’s just say it’s fair to think the author is working through some issues. With Locked in Closets and Other Fairy Tales, Dallas author Patrick Moseley has not only written his first book, but also takes a leap of faith as a gay man.

“I think we create culture that forces people into the closet and forces them into the recklessness,” he says. “Society still drives or keeps people into those places.”

This is an issue he’s dealt with all of his 36 years — until recently. He has been slowly coming out for a while, but Closets could be his rainbow moment. If only it were that easy.
“It’s one of those complicated things,” he says. “I know I can’t get fired for my orientation and if I’m out, there isn’t so much that can be done about it. But it does complicate things. So I just don’t make those issues at school.”

Moseley is a high school teacher, so his outness has to be, well, different. As an educator, the gay thing can demand a delicate balance. Moseley knows he’s a good teacher and has found success as a coach, but even a slight misstep could affect his career. He experienced a kind of quiet discrimination at his last school, so he remains on guard.

“Because I teach and coach, I tend to be more discreet than others,” he says. “I worked in a very conservative district. I was moved out of my head coaching position with the intention that I’d leave. There are things I don’t talk about but I don’t want to feel like I’m hiding. And I wouldn’t discuss [being gay] with a student at school anyway.”

In Closets, the reader follows Roger, a 70-something gay man who has so locked himself away from life that he crashes into other people’s lives. But how does a 30-something come close to relating a septugenarian’s gay life story and drag queen adventures?

“Roger and I have experienced a lot of the same things,” Moseley says. “All the characters interweave with what I’ve dealt with, especially that fear of taking the next step. I feel like the book exposed me and I lost some things that were important to me. The sadness of the characters and their fear is by far mine.”

Funny, since the original intention was for the book to comedic. Conjuring Monty Python, he based his title on the notion that locking yourself away was prevalent. As he proceeded, Roger’s tale went into darker territories.

“I liked that idea of someone being locked in a tower and that fairy tale rescue kinda deal,” he says. “It’s a lot easier to lock ourselves in situations, but then closets become a theme in the book and not just dealing with the usual homosexual issue.”

Moseley’s personal experiences of growing up strongly religious, being outed at 24 and having to ask people to stop trying to fix him naturally found their way into his novel. He says that although it’s not Christian fiction, God becomes a dominant character as the characters do battle, trying to figure life out.

“One thing I struggled with along the way is figuring out how God plays into our sexuality,” he says. “I believe and always have that sexuality is created. How can He create you and tell you you’re no good?”

Questions like these seem to strike the author. Moseley has a fun-loving sense of self, but when he delves just a bit to deep, his eyes shift for a moment. He searches for an answer and in his eloquent way, finds one.

“Roger is learning to embrace himself. I guess at times, we hide and shy away from things that could have been great.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens