Perfect match

Bob Nunn and Tom Harrover have been a couple for 4 decades. But it wasn’t until a near tragedy that they realized they were truly meant for each other

LIFE GOES ON | Nunn, right, and Harrover stand before a project commissioned for the convention center hotel. Four years ago, Nunn was near death because of kidney disease. (Rich Lopez/Dallas Voice)

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Bob Nunn agrees with the adage that the longer a couple lives together, the more they begin to look alike. Nunn and his partner Tom Harrover might not look that similar on the outside, but they match in a way that few couples do.

Let’s start with some history.

The two have that classic meet-cute that began on the wrong note. As Nunn tells it, Harrover was the dullest person he’d ever met —the two just didn’t like each other. Then, following a spontaneous invitation to a midnight movie, they ended up hitting it off. That movie led to conversation and then dating.

Forty-two years later, they still watch movies — as Nunn puts it, “I couldn’t get rid of him.”

A job in Houston took Nunn away from Harrover for three months, but old-fashioned letter writing kept the newbie relationship afloat.

“Tom had been writing me letters. He’s a very good writer,” Bob boasts. “He basically proposed to me by letter.”

They committed to each other, moving in and pursuing their careers: Harrover in architecture and Nunn teaching art. For 37 years, they lived in “a fabulous house” in Hollywood Heights. Life was good.

Then their life took a sharp turn.

“When we got together, Tom knew I had a kidney disease,” Nunn says. “Nothing was really a problem until about 30 years after we met — my kidneys began to fail and I had to start dialysis.”

Nunn registered with Baylor for the national organ donor list, but the experience was frustrating:  They received little response or encouragement from the hospital.

“Bob was on a downhill slide and the frustration with Baylor seemed like they were stonewalling us,” Harrover says. “We talked about going to Asia even. It felt like they didn’t want to deal with a senior-age gay couple.”

A LITTLE DAB’LL DO YOU | Bob Nunn is officially retired from teaching art, but continues to paint.

Then Harrover suggested something novel: He could donate his kidney to the organ list, with the idea that Nunn could get a healthy one.  Sort of a kidney exchange.

In desperation, they went back to their physician, who enrolled them in St. Paul Hospital’s then-new program for kidney transplant. The experience was a complete turnaround. Nunn was tested and processed immediately while Harrover prepped for his organ donation to an anonymous recipient.

Kidney transplants require a seven-point match system; a minimum of three matches is necessary for the recipient to be able to accept the organ into the body.

The tests revealed that Harrover’s kidney matched Nunn’s on all seven points.

“We assumed I would donate mine for use elsewhere,” Harrover says. “It never occurred to me that we’d be a match. The odds for that are off the charts.”

“See what happens when you live together for so long?” he chuckles.

Just six months after entering St. Paul’s program in 2007, they were on the operating table. They were the first direct living donor pair in the program. “It was all fairly miraculous,” Nunn understates.

Four years later, both men are doing well. Although officially retired, they both continue to work: Harrover does the occasional contract job while Nunn is currently on commission for an art project at the new convention center hotel. Outside of any official work, each interjects their quips about home, life be it cooking together or working on the lawn.

The obvious question for them might be “What’s the secret?” But they don’t see it just that way. Their relationship boils down to the obvious virtues of trust, respect and compromise.

“Selfishness doesn’t rear its ugly head in this relationship,” Harrover says. “You just have to be willing to accommodate, support and encourage what the other is interested in.”

Nunn agrees. “I would not be doing what I’m doing without his support.”

Nunn says if there is a secret, it’s akin to the dynamic on a playground: Like each other and share. If you don’t share your whole life, there isn’t a relationship, he says. At this point, Harrover says it would be impossible to separate. On paper, they are so intertwined with their house and financials, he jokes they are “Siamese twins.”

They’ve witnessed a lot in their decades together, including something they never expected to come to pass in their lifetimes: Same-sex marriage. Coming from a time when just being gay conflicted with moral codes set by their jobs, they wonder over the progress made in recent years. (They were officially married in Boston in October 2009.)

“I’m confident that it will happen for everyone,” Harrover says. “I’m sorry that it’s moving at a glacial pace, but it has that same inevitability as a glacier. We’ll get there.”

But nothing compares to the bond Harrover and Nunn already have, a shared intimacy few couples could imagine. Same-sex marriage was merely unlikely; what they have experienced is miraculous.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 29, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

COVER STORY: Butch Voices

Q-Roc Ragsdale, from left, Eva Rivera, Michelle Paris and Theresa Strong.

‘Masculine of center’ women say that, all labels aside, it’s about being comfortable and confident in being yourself — whoever you are

TAMMYE NASH  | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

At 53, Theresa Strong is used to being called “sir.” She’s accustomed to the double-takes when she uses a public restroom. She’s used to the stares. None of it bothers her.

“I’m very comfortable with who I am. I have been a tomboy all my life,” Strong says.

In “the old days,” Strong would have been called a “butch.” Although some people still use that term, today it’s more common to hear “stud,” instead. At least, in some places.

The terminology varies from region to region, from culture to culture, even from race to race, says Q-Roc Ragsdale, a Dallas lesbian who, like Strong, is considered a “stud.”

Ragsdale, who works with the group that stages the national Butch Voices conference, says that here in North Texas terms like “aggressive,” “dominant,” “boi,” “tomboy” and “macha” are common, depending on where you live and your cultural background. And then there are the “degrees” of butch: “hard stud,” “soft stud,” and so on.

But whatever label you use, Radsdale says, its about a “masculine of center” identity that is a natural state for some women but that, at the same time, can put them at odds with the society around them.

“It’s not male; it’s masculine. There’s a difference,” Ragsdale says. “A lot of people don’t understand the difference between sex and gender. Gender is so fluid. It’s a spectrum. … There are woman-identified butches, trans-identified butches. Some use male pronouns and some use female pronouns. Some are just butch in presentation. Some don’t like gender roles, and some live gender roles.

“You can’t make assumptions. You can’t generalize. Our community is so diverse, just like any other community,” Ragsdale says.

Challenges

But one thing most masculine of center women share, she adds, is a sense of living outside the mainstream. And that can often leave them facing many disadvantages.
Butch Voices aims to help correct those disadvantages with its three-pronged mission focusing on physical and mental health, social and economic justice and community building.

As a masculine of center woman, “there are just so many different social norms that you challenge,” Ragsdale says. “You challenge gender norms. You challenge the mainstream notion of lesbians.” And those challenges can sometimes make life difficult.

When that happens, Ragsdale says, it can affect a person’s mental health. “Butch women often have to go through a double coming out. They have to come out as lesbians, then they have to come out again as butch women. Depending on where you live, geographically, that can be hard, and it can affect a person’s mental health,” she says.

Lesbians in general often don’t have the same access to health care, and it can be even more pronounced for butch women.

“It’s very uncomfortable sitting in that waiting room with a lot of women, and then they call your name and all the other women are looking at you, wondering why ‘that dude’ is there,” Ragsdale says. “And it’s hard for a lot of butch women to have the kind of conversations they need to have with a doctor.”

She cites, as an example, trying to explain to a doctor why she wouldn’t agree to taking birth control pills, which can be used to control menstruation as well as to avoid pregnancy.

“I had a girlfriend who went on birth control once, and it made her breasts bigger. [As a stud], I don’t want my breasts to be bigger. It’s hard to explain that to a doctor who is not understanding me and my relationship with my body,” Ragsdale says.

It’s even more conflicting for women in the category that used to be referred to as “stone butch.” A lot of butches, Ragsdale says, “don’t want anybody at all ‘down there,’ whether it be a partner or otherwise.”

Women who don’t fit traditional gender stereotypes also often find themselves unemployed or under-employed, especially when they are unwilling to compromise on their identity or gender presentation, Ragsdale says.

“I have a mentor in her early 50s who has always been butch, and even she has advised me that ‘you need to femme it up’ to get a job or keep a job. Personally, I am against that. I won’t do it. But I know a lot of people who do it, a lot of teachers especially,” Ragsdale says.

And then there’s that third prong of the Butch Voices mission: building community.

“We are working to create an environment where everyone can be themselves and still get the kind of health care and work they want and need,” Ragsdale explains. “A lot of that work is about awareness. There is a lot of mystery surrounding the butch identity; it’s plagued with so many stereotypes. That’s why I always encourage people to have the courage to ask questions.

“A lot of people are deterred from asking questions because they don’t understand us. But if they’d take the time to get to know us on a personal level, it would make a big difference,” she adds. “And that’s not just in the mainstream community. I think there are a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions about butches in the lesbian community, too. We have to start at home, in our own community. To the lesbians who don’t get it, who don’t understand us, well, I say just know that we are still women, still lesbians, still part of your community.”

Even among the masculine of center community itself, Ragsdale acknowledges, there are differences. “Every butch, every stud is different,” she says. “Sometimes people get caught up in labels. It’s like the word ‘dyke.’ Some people have reclaimed ‘dyke.’ Others hate the word. What I say to them is, at what point do we stop worrying about the semantics and just get things done? We have to celebrate all our identities and work for all the community and not spend time debating the labels.”

Taking responsibility

But while masculine of center women face any number of challenges, that more masculine identity and presentation also “comes along with some male privilege,” Ragsdale says. And with that bit of male privilege comes responsibility.

“If you are a butch, or a stud, and you get that bit of male power and privilege, then you have a responsibility to use that power and privilege in the right way and not abuse it — not in your personal life, and not in the world,” she says.

And in the same vein, butch women need to pool that male power and privilege to work for positive change for the community as a whole.

“We have got to get our whole community more involved [in the battle for LGBT equality],” Ragsdale says. “If you go to a meeting or event for one of the more mainstream LGBT groups — like Lambda Legal or Human Rights Campaign — you’d be really hard pressed to find any butches or studs. Maybe that’s because the mainstream LGBT community looks down on us. But maybe it’s because we don’t try to be involved.

“We have to focus on mobilizing our base. We can’t sit around and cry about how we aren’t being included if we aren’t even bothering to show up in the first place,” Ragsdale says.

It’s personal

Ragsdale, like Strong, can trace her stud roots back to her childhood. She remembers her mother giving her a Barbie doll, when what she really wanted was the Ninja Turtles and the G.I. Joes her brother got. Still, she played with the Barbies, wanting to fit into the role her parents and society had mapped out for little girls.

Eventually though, Ragsdale came to terms first with her sexual orientation and later with her more masculine identity as a stud. It’s all about, she says, finding that comfort level that allows you to be who you are.

Eva Rivera and Michelle Paris both describe themselves as “soft butches.” While they may lean toward the more masculine end of the gender spectrum, that doesn’t mean they always ignore the more feminine accoutrement, like makeup or jewelry.

“I guess a soft stud is kind of a mixture of femme and stud,” Rivera says. “I am tomboyish. I always have been. I came out at 19, and the way I dressed then was sporty — you know, tennis shoes and baggy jeans. I never wore a dress, and I have always been attracted to feminine women.”

Being a stud is partly about the way a woman dresses and her mannerisms, Rivera says. “You take on a role. But we’re not all the same. Being a butch or a stud, being hard or soft or whatever — it’s just what makes you comfortable,” she adds.

Paris agrees: “I am a soft butch. That’s just the way I am. Underlying that is who I date. I like feminine women. And in a relationship, I am the more dominant one. But I don’t have to make a big deal of it.

“I am the same with everyone — family, friends, people I know, people I don’t know. I am the same; I am myself,” Paris continues. “When you see those women who are always trying to prove what studs they are, that’s because they have low self esteem. They make it more of an issue because they are trying to prove something, to themselves or to other people. Me, I don’t care. I am who I am.”

And that, says Strong, is at the core of the issue: Self-esteem and confidence and a sense of self that doesn’t rely on labels or clothes or mannerisms.

“You have to be comfortable with yourself. You have to be confident in yourself,” Strong says. “We [as masculine of center] women are so diverse. Everything that women are and do, we are and we do. My best friend is a stud, but she has a son, so she’s playing all the roles.

“The fact is, I dress the way I dress because it’s comfortable for me. You like who you like, and I like very feminine women. I am courting a woman right now and she is totally femme,” Strong adds. “This is who I am. I am not playing a role. This is just natural for me. We may be butch or studs or whatever word you want to use, but at the end of the day, we take off our clothes, and we’re still women. A lot of people forget that.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 4, 2011.

—  John Wright

A Texas-sized legislative closet

As another legislative session gets under way in Austin, GayPolitics.com reports today that Texas is now one of only 18 states with no openly LGBT state lawmakers. California and Maryland are tied for the most openly LGBT lawmakers, with seven each. Four states have no openly LGBT elected officials at any level of government — Alaska, Kansas, Mississippi and South Dakota.

Texas has had only one openly LGBT state lawmaker in its history — Democratic Rep. Glen Maxey of Austin, who served from 1991 until 2003.

Of course, with 150 people in the House and 31 in the Senate, it’s all but certain that a few Texas lawmakers are LGBT.

The reason we have no seat at the table is that the chairs are all stacked in the closet.

Anyone wanna help us get them out?

—  John Wright

Laura Bush: It wasn’t my role to defend the gays

Laura Bush

Former first lady Laura Bush, who recently said she supports equality for same-sex couples, tells The Texas Tribune she didn’t speak out publicly about the issue while her husband was in office because she was not the elected official and it wasn’t her responsibility. In her recent book, Laura Bush said she asked George not to make gay marriage “a significant issue” and that she “could never have imagined what path this issue would take and where it would lead.” In the interview with the Tribune, she responds to criticism that she didn’t speak up publicly about the matter:

TT: … You found yourself back in the headlines not so long ago for taking positions on gay marriage and abortion that appeared to be at odds with your husband and with the GOP. What do you say to the critics who argue you had a responsibility to come forward sooner, or who suggest you maybe hid those opinions from view?

Bush: Well, I didn’t hide them from view. They were very well known from the first day George was elected, when Katie Couric asked me the question. I’m not elected. I was not elected. George is. He’s the one who’s elected. I was not the elected official. It was not my responsibility, I didn’t think, to speak out in ways to get in some sort of debate with him. I just didn’t see that as part of my role.

Apparently Bush still doesn’t see advocacy on behalf of the LGBT community as part of her role, because she ignored an invitation to attend Dallas’ gay Pride celebration this year. Meanwhile, despite her focus on education, Bush hasn’t said anything about the national teen bullying suicide crisis. Asked at the end of the TT interview about the governor’s race, Bush says, “Absolutely we’re supporting Gov. Perry.”

—  John Wright

For Senate action on DADT, ‘it’s fair to say the odds aren’t particularly good’

Kerry Eleveld’s column this week is another must-read. She deconstructs the current situation with the legislative effort on DADT. As we’ve been saying all week, it’s not looking good:

If the bill is not voted on between next Monday, when Congress returns from recess, and October 8 (a period that may actually only yield about two voting weeks in the Senate) it may still have a chance of passage during the lame-duck session after the midterms, but that chance will be greatly diminished. Quite honestly, political observers of the Hill vary wildly in their prognostications, from “zero” chance to “50-50,” each of which strikes me as too low and too high, respectively. But if nothing else, it’s fair to say the odds aren’t particularly good.

So what exactly stands in the way of this bill making it to the floor? Some combination of timing, strategy, and sheer lack of guts.

Timing: Most Hill insiders believe Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, will need about five to seven legislative days to debate and pass the defense authorization bill to which repeal is attached — that could eat up a big chunk of the very narrow window left before the midterms.

Strategy: It appears that Democrats have their eye on pushing one major debate about tax cuts for small businesses in order to score political points before the November election. They’re desperately trying to save their majorities in both chambers after nearly every pundit around has not only put the House in play but also thinks Republicans have an outside chance of retaking the Senate.

Guts: While 234 House members approved the bill and there’s only evidence of a couple of them being targeted for that vote, Sen. Harry Reid seems to be getting cold feet. The only explanation is that he’s locked in a dead heat with Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle and Reid himself was the object of one DADT ad paid for by the Family Research Council.

Could one ad from a fringe conservative group like FRC send Reid running scared? Hard to know, but a Friday Roll Call article noted that the short, monthlong work period might still be too long for the likes of Democrats

I do have this piece of advice: Don’t believe anyone who says we’ll get things done in the lame duck session. Read this and this before you buy that.




AMERICAblog Gay

—  John Wright