photo: Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult

Sing You Home

Sing You Home explores what it means to be gay in today’s world, and how reproductive science has outstripped the legal system. Are embryos people or property? What challenges do same-sex couples face when it comes to marriage and adoption? What happens when religion and sexual orientation – two issues that are supposed to be justice-blind – enter the courtroom? And most importantly, what constitutes a “traditional family” in today’s day and age? …more

Sing You Home is a compelling story by a writer capable of influencing peoples’ opinions on this important subject.
AfterEllen.com

Ellen Degeneres chats with Jodi Picoult about Sing You Home

The Story Behind Sing You Home

Need to download/listen to the Sing You Home soundtrack?

If you are a Kindle, Nook or eBook user who cannot access the music on your e-reader, you can still enjoy the songs! Go to Sing You Home music to stream or download the music. (Note: This can only be done on a computer, not a phone...)

ABOUT

About Sing You Home

Zoe Baxter has spent ten years trying to get pregnant, and after multiple miscarriages and infertility issues, it looks like her dream is about to come true – she is seven months pregnant. But a terrible turn of events leads to a nightmare – one that takes away the baby she has already fallen for; and breaks apart her marriage to Max.

In the aftermath, she throws herself into her career as a music therapist – using music clinically to soothe burn victims in a hospital; to help Alzheimer’s patients connect with the present; to provide solace for hospice patients. When Vanessa – a guidance counselor -- asks her to work with a suicidal teen, their relationship moves from business to friendship and then, to Zoe’s surprise, blossoms into love. When Zoe allows herself to start thinking of having a family, again, she remembers that there are still frozen embryos that were never used by herself and Max.

Meanwhile, Max has found peace at the bottom of a bottle – until he is redeemed by an evangelical church, whose charismatic pastor – Clive Lincoln – has vowed to fight the “homosexual agenda” that has threatened traditional family values in America. But this mission becomes personal for Max, when Zoe and her same-sex partner say they want permission to raise his unborn child.

Also – in a very unique move – readers literally get to hear Zoe Baxter’s voice. I've collaborated with Ellen Wilber, a dear friend who is also a very talented musician, to create a CD of original songs, which correspond to each of the chapters.


The publisher: Atria Books, 20xx (Book )

THE STORY

A conversation with Jodi about Sing You Home

The story behind Sing You Home

My first crush was on a boy named Kal Raustiala when I was in second grade. He had shaggy, leonine hair and a pet iguana and a jungle gym in his basement. Although I didn’t really know why at the time, my heart beat faster near him. When he wasn’t around, I wanted to be with him. And when I was with him, I never wanted to leave.

At no point prior to falling hard for Kal did I choose to be attracted to a boy. It just sort of happened, in the way that love often does: naturally, instinctually, and whole-heartedly.

After college, I had a friend who, like me, was naturally, instinctually, and whole-heartedly attracted to boys. His name was Jeff. My roommate and I spent many Friday nights with Jeff and his partner Darryl, catching the latest movies and dissecting them over dinner afterward. Jeff was funny, smart, a technological whiz. In fact, the least interesting thing about him was that he happened to be gay.

Gay rights is not something most of us think about – because most of us happen to have been born straight. But imagine how you’d feel if you were told that it was unnatural to fall in love with someone of the opposite gender. If you weren’t allowed to get married. If you couldn’t adopt a child with your partner, or become a troop leader for the Boy Scouts. Imagine being a teenager who’s bullied because of your sexual orientation; or being told by your church that you are immoral. In America, this is the norm for millions of LGBTQ individuals.

Those opposed to gay rights often say that they have nothing against the individuals themselves – just their desire want to redefine marriage as something other than a partnership between a man and a woman. On the other side are same-sex couples and their friends and families, who argue that they deserve the same rights as heterosexual couples. The result is a country bitterly divided along the fault line of a single, contentious issue.

People are always afraid of the unknown – and banding together against the Thing That Is Different From Us is a time-honored tradition for rallying the masses. I’ve noticed that most people who oppose gay rights don’t have a personal connection to someone who is gay. On the other hand, those who have a gay uncle or a lesbian college professor or a transgendered supermarket cashier are more likely to support gay rights, because the Thing That Is Different From Us has turned out to be, well, pretty darn normal. Instead of plotting the demise of the traditional family, as some politicians and religious leaders would like you to believe, gay folks mow their lawns and watch American Idol and videotape their children’s dance recitals and have the same hopes and dreams that their straight counterparts do.

When I started writing SING YOU HOME, I wanted to create a lesbian character that readers could truly get to know. Zoe Baxter is a woman who – along with her husband Max – has been trying to get pregnant for years. After many failed IVF attempts she finally conceives – only to lose the baby. The tragedy is the final nail in the coffin of her strained marriage, and she and Max divorce. To cope, Zoe throws herself into her career as a music therapist. When Vanessa, a guidance counselor, asks her to work with a suicidal teen, their relationship moves from business to friendship and then – to Zoe’s surprise – blossoms into love. As she begins to think of having a family again, she remembers that there are still frozen embryos at the IVF clinic that were never used by herself and Max.

Meanwhile, Max has drunk himself into a downward spiral – until he is redeemed by an evangelical church, whose charismatic pastor has vowed to fight the “homosexual agenda” in America. But the mission becomes personal for Max when Zoe and her same-sex partner ask permission to raise his unborn child.

What does it mean to be gay today, in America? How do we define a family? Those are two questions I hoped to answer while writing SING YOU HOME. I began by speaking to several same-sex couples, who shared their relationships and their sex lives and their struggles. Some of these people knew their sexual orientation in childhood; some – like Zoe – had same-sex relationships after heterosexual ones. Then I interviewed representatives from Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group that supports the Defense of Marriage Act, opposes gay adoption, and offers seminars to “cure” gay people of same-sex attraction. Like Pastor Clive in my novel, their objection to homosexuality is biblical. Snippets from Leviticus and other Bible verses form the foundation of their anti-gay platform; although similar literal readings should require these people to abstain from playing football (touching pigskin) or eating shrimp scampi (no shellfish). When I asked Focus on the Family if the Bible needs to be taken in a more historical context, I was told absolutely not – the word of God is the word of God. But when I then asked where in the Bible was a list of appropriate sex practices, I was told it’s not a sex manual – just a guideline. That circular logic was most heartbreaking when I brought up the topic of hate crimes. Focus on the Family insists that they love the sinner, just not the sin – and only try to help homosexuals who are unhappy being gay. I worried aloud that this message might be misinterpreted by those who commit acts of violence against gays in the name of religion, and the woman I was interviewing burst into tears. “Thank goodness,” she said, “that’s never happened.” I am sure this would be news to the parents of Matthew Shepherd, Brandon Teena, Ryan Keith Skipper, or August Provost – just a few of those murdered due to their sexual orientation - or the FBI, which reports that 17.6 percent of all hate crimes are motivated by sexual orientation, a number that is steadily rising. And it’s not just in the US: in Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, and parts of Africa, being gay is punishable by death.

Yet as eye-opening as all this research was, something happened during the writing of SING YOU HOME that truly made the subject hit home. My son Kyle, a brilliant, talented teenager, was applying to colleges while I was working on the book. One day, he brought me his finished application to read.

The essay was about being gay.

Did I know Kyle was gay before he came out in his essay? Well, I’d had my suspicions since he was five. But it was his discovery to make, and to share. I wasn’t surprised, but I was so happy for him – for being brave enough to be true to himself, and to admit that truth to his family. My husband gave him a huge hug. Kyle’s little sister shrugged and said, “So?” And his younger brother still calls to task those who carelessly say, “That’s so gay,” reminding them it’s not a pejorative term.

Learning that Kyle was gay didn’t change the way I felt about him. He was still the same incredible young man he’d been before I read that essay. I didn’t love him any less because he was gay; I couldn’t love him any more if he weren’t. In the aftermath, I saw him blossom, finally comfortable in his own skin, because he wasn’t living a lie anymore. Yet, as a mom, I had my worries – not because of Kyle’s sexual orientation, but because the rest of the world might not be as accepting as our family. Because one day, when he least expects it, he’s going to be called a “faggot.” Because – simply due to the way his brain is wired – life is going to be more complicated.

Kyle is now a sophomore at Yale University – which has a thriving gay community and a culture of acceptance. His boyfriend is a smart, sweet guy who has accompanied us on vacations and who makes my son incredibly happy. Still, it breaks my heart to know that, unlike Kyle, there are teenagers today who cannot come out to their parents because of deep-seated prejudice -- which is too often cloaked in the satin robes of religion. Gay teens are four times as likely to attempt suicide as straight teens. I wish they knew that there’s nothing wrong with them; that they are just a different shade of normal.

If I had any one great hope for SING YOU HOME, it would be to open the minds of those who have them closed tightly shut against those who are different – so that one day, my son’s children will live in a world where being gay does not mean you’re denied the 1138 federal rights automatically guaranteed by marriage. I hope they are just as puzzled as I am now when I see old photos of racially segregated schools and water fountains, and I wonder how could it possibly have taken so long for this country to come to its senses? I hope the religious leaders of their generation focus on the best literal interpretation of their Bible: Love your neighbor as yourself. But most of all, I hope that SING YOU HOME reminds people that while homosexuality is not a choice – homophobia is. Why not opt for tolerance and kindness instead?

“Never one to shy away from controversial issues, this time Picoult tackles gay rights, reproductive science, and the Christian right. She forces us to consider both sides of these hot topics with her trademark impeccable research, family dynamics, and courtroom drama. Sure to be a hit with her myriad fans and keep the book clubs buzzing!”

—Library Journal

Q + A

Book club discussion questions for Sing You Home

  1. Why does Picoult use a quotation from Thomas Jefferson for the book’s epigraph? How can his message be interpreted in the context of the novel’s events?
  2. Every life has a soundtrack. Name a song that brings back a memory of a time or place. Does it matter how much time has passed?
  3. The author skillfully presents the struggle couples with fertility issues have with IVF. Have you had any experience with this? Any insights to share?
  4. After reading each chapter, listen to the corresponding track on the CD. Why is the ending of Sing You Home so poignant?
  5. “There was no room in my marriage for me anymore, except as genetic material.” (p. 51) Why does Max give up on his relationship with Zoe? Is his weak, or callous – or in any way justified? How has his experience of infertility and IVF affected him? How do Max and Zoe differ in their handling of disappointment and grief? Do you think they would have stayed together if they hadn’t lost their baby?
  6. Pastor Clive seems to embody the very essence of fundamentalist religion. How does he make you feel?
  7. 7. “This may be news to you, Reid…but God doesn’t vote Republican.” (p. 75) What does Zoe mean by this? How does religion relate to the public worlds of politics, education, and the legal system in SING YOU HOME? To what extent is there – and should there be – a separation of church and state?
  8. Do you think it’s a different world now than the one when Matthew Shepard was killed in Wyoming? Discuss.
  9. So much of a friendship is like a love affair”. (p. 129) Agree? Disagree?
  10. A statement of religion: “I don’t begrudge people the right to believe in whatever they believe, but I don’t like having those same beliefs forced on me.” (p.129) Discuss.
  11. “The music we choose is a clear reflection of who we really are”. (p. 135) What songs would be on a mix tape that describes you?
  12. How does Zoe’s first session with Lucy end? Do you think you could deal with Lucy?
  13. The author writes an excellent scene describing the intimacy between Zoe and Vanessa. Had you thought about it in those terms?
  14. Zoe and Vanessa have different experiences when they come out to their mothers. Discuss. How do you think you’d react?
  15. Max struggles with his new religious belief when Liddy miscarries again. Do you understand his struggle? How would you handle the conflict?
  16. Max takes Pauline with him to talk to Zoe. The author really gets to the crux of the issue when Vanessa speaks up. (p. 198) What is your opinion of Pauline’s beliefs about homosexuality? Discuss.
  17. In your opinion, who most deserves the embryos: Max or Zoe? Why?
  18. In what ways does Liddy’s reaction to snow, and her B-movie habit, inform her character?
  19. “…it’s not gender that makes a family; it’s love. You don’t need a mother and a father; you don’t necessarily even need two parents. You just need someone who’s got your back”. (p. 319) Discuss.
  20. Lucy gets angry at Zoe because Zoe won’t tell Lucy about her personal life. Is Zoe right to not say anything?
  21. There are several groups of spectators in the courtroom on the opening day. With which group would you be sitting?
  22. When Reid is on the stand, what does Zoe find out about how Max met the cost of the last session of IVF? Why is this important?
  23. What happens between Max and Liddy? Are you surprised?
  24. Pastor Cline uses the Bible during his testimony and Angela uses it to contradict him. Do you believe, as Clive does, that what is in the Bible is immutable? If so, why? If not, why not?
  25. Why does Lucy tackle Pastor Clive? What does Zoe reveal in the ensuing conversation with Lucy? How does Lucy react?
  26. “Atheism, I realize, is the new gay. The thing you hope no one finds out about you-because of all the negative assumptions that are sure to follow.” (p. 414) Agree? Disagree? Discuss.
  27. Both Zoe and Vanessa have secrets in their pasts. Are the secrets relevant to their relationship? To the trial?
  28. We find out Lucy’s relationship to Pastor Clive. Were you surprised? Do you think she outed Zoe?
  29. The decision of who gets the embryos is made. (p. 461) Did Max do the right thing?
  30. What do you believe constitutes a family, a good parent?
  31. Has your opinion changed in any way about gay rights as a result of reading this book? If so, how?
PRAISE

What others are saying about Sing You Home

“Jodi Picoult's novels do not gather dust on the bedside table. They are gobbled up quickly and the readers want more. Sing You Home... is already flying off the shelves...You have to admire Picoult's grace under pressure. By throwing us into these debates she gives her readers the gift of faith in a higher justice — not the law, God or modern medicine but human goodness.”

—LA Times

“ Picoult...has crafted another winner. [She] cleverly examines the modern world of reproductive science, how best to nurture a child, and what, exactly, being a family means. ”

—PEOPLE magazine, 3 1/2 stars

“What Picoult does best is bring audiences inside the mind, body and soul of each of her characters --- real people with the same hopes and dreams as anyone else. Regardless of where you stand on the issue of same-sex marriage and the ability of these couples to raise children, you cannot help but be compelled by the desires of Zoe, Max and Vanessa. The court case and its outcome is continuously unpredictable and will have readers glued to their chairs right up to the startling conclusion.”

—BookReporter.com

“Picoult has written an immensely entertaining melodrama with crackerjack dialogue that kept me happily indoors for an entire weekend. [She]knows how to tell a killer story.”

—USA Today

“Jodi Picoult has created almost a craving among fans for her novels blending the domestic with of-the-moment social issues. In SING YOU HOME, Zoe and Max Baxter are a happy-in-love couple until their marriage flounders after a series of failed fertility treatments. Soon enough, Max is a down-and-out alcoholic—until he’s embraced by the pastor from a powerhouse evangelical church. While Zoe continues to thrum her healing notes on the cello as a music therapist, she finds love with another woman. Still obsessed with having a child, though close to penniless at 40, she asks Max for the right to implant her partner with their remaining frozen embryos. His newfound religiosity (and his pastor) won’t allow it. The novel puts it to a judge to determine where justice lies, but really the decision is rendered by Picoult, once again making the case for human kindness. That’s why her readers love her so.”

—NY Daily News

“Sing [You Home] deftly personalizes the political, delivering a larger message of tolerance that's difficult to fault.”

—Entertainment Weekly

“So personal that it feels autobiographical, Picoult’s novel uses music (including original songs on an accompanying CD) to buoy the protagonist, a music therapist, through the throes of sexual experimentation, miscarriages, and family trauma.”

—Ms. Magazine

“Usually Picoult’s novels focus on one wham-bang topic that leads to a heavy dose of drama, litigation, and twists and turns. This time Picoult tackles two provocative issues— infertility and gay marriage.... Gripping, powerful—and bound to be talked about.”

—Family Circle

“Popular author Picoult tackles the controversial topic of gay rights in her latest powerful tale…Told from the perspectives of all three major characters, Picoult’s gripping novel explores all sides of hot-button issue.”

—Booklist

March 10, 2011...

Sing You Home debuts at #1 on the USA Today book list, and at #1 on the NYT print & eBook list!


SING YOU HOME is a finalist for a NH Literary Award

An excerpt from Sing You Home

ZOE

One sunny, crisp Saturday in September when I was seven years old, I watched my father drop dead. I was playing with my favorite doll on the stone wall that bordered our driveway while he mowed the lawn. One minute he was mowing, and the next, he was face-first in the grass as the mower propelled itself in slow-motion down the hill of our backyard.

I thought at first he was sleeping, or playing a game. But when I crouched beside him on the lawn, his eyes were still open. Damp cut grass stuck to his forehead.

I don’t remember calling for my mother, but I must have.

When I think about that day, it is in slow motion. The mower, walking alone. The carton of milk my mother was carrying when she ran outside, which dropped to the tarred driveway. The sound of round vowels as my mother screamed into the phone to give our address to the ambulance.

My mother left me at the neighbor’s house while she went to the hospital. The neighbor was an old woman whose couch smelled like pee. She offered me chocolate-covered peppermints that were so old the chocolate had turned white at the edges. When her telephone rang I wandered into the backyard and crawled behind a row of hedges. In the soft mulch, I buried my doll and walked away.

My mother never noticed that it was gone – but then, it barely seemed that she acknowledged my father being gone, either. She never cried. She stood stiff-backed through my father’s funeral. She sat across from me at the kitchen table that I still sometimes set with a third place for my father, as we gradually ate our way through chipped beef casserole and mac-and-cheese-and franks, sympathy platters from my father’s colleagues and neighbors who thought food could make up for the fact that they didn’t know what to say. When a robustly healthy 42-year-old dies of a massive heart attack, the grieving family is suddenly contagious. Come too close, and you might catch our bad luck.

Six months after my father died, my mother – still stoic - took his suits and shirts out of the closet they shared and brought them to Goodwill. She asked the liquor store for boxes and she packed away the biography that he had been reading, which had been on the nightstand all this time; and his pipe, and his coin collection. She did not pack away his Abbott and Costello videos, although she always had told my father that she never really understood what made them funny.

My mother carried these boxes to the attic, a place that seemed to trap cluster flies and heat. On her third trip up, she didn’t come back. Instead, what floated downstairs was a silly, fizzy refrain piped through the speakers of an old record player. I could not understand all the words, but it had something to do with a witch doctor telling someone how to win the heart of a girl.

Ooo eee ooh ahh ahh, ting tang walla walla bing bang, I heard. It made a laugh bubble up in my chest, and since I hadn’t laughed all that much lately, I hurried to the source.

When I stepped into the attic, I found my mother weeping. “This record,” she said, playing it over again. “It made him so happy.”

I knew better than to ask why, then, she was sobbing. Instead, I curled up beside her and listened to the song that had finally given my mother permission to cry.


Every life has a soundtrack.

There is a tune that makes me think of the summer I spent rubbing baby oil on my stomach in pursuit of the perfect tan. There’s another that reminds me of tagging along with my father on Sunday mornings to pick up the New York Times. There’s the song that reminds me of using fake ID to get into a nightclub; and the one that brings back my cousin Isobel’s sweet sixteen, where I played Seven Minutes in Heaven with a boy whose breath smelled like tomato soup.

If you ask me, music is the language of memory.

Wanda, the shift nurse at Shady Grove Assisted Living, hands me a visitor pass, although I’ve been coming to the nursing home for the past year to work with various clients. “How is he today?” I ask.

“The usual,” Wanda says. “Swinging from the chandelier and entertaining the masses with a combination of tap dancing and shadow puppets.”

I laugh. In the twelve months I’ve been Mr. Docker’s music therapist, he’s interacted with me twice. Most of the time, he sits in his bed or a wheelchair, staring through me, completely unresponsive.

When I tell people I am a music therapist, they think it means I play guitar for people who are in the hospital – that I’m a performer. Actually, I’m more like a physical therapist, except instead of using treadmills and grab bars as tools, I use music. When I tell people that, they usually dismiss my job as some New Age BS.

In fact, it’s very scientific. In brain scans, music lights up the medial pre-frontal cortex and jump starts a memory that starts playing in your mind. All of a sudden you can see a place, a person, an incident. The strongest responses to music – the ones that elicit vivid memories – cause the greatest activity on brain scans. It’s for this reason that stroke patients can access lyrics before they remember language; why Alzheimer’s patients can still remember songs from their youth.

And why I haven’t given up on Mr. Docker yet.

“Thanks for the warning,” I tell Wanda, and I pick up my duffel, my guitar and my djembe.

“Put those down,” she insists. “You’re not supposed to be carrying anything heavy.”

“Then I’d better get rid of this,” I say, touching my belly. In my twenty-eighth week, I’m enormous – and I’m also completely lying. I worked way too hard to have this baby to feel like any part of the pregnancy is a burden. I give Wanda a wave, and head down the hall to start today’s session.

Usually my nursing home clients meet in a group setting, but Mr. Docker is a special case. A former CEO of a Fortune 500 company, he now lives in this very chic eldercare facility, and his daughter Mim contracts my services for weekly sessions. He’s just shy of eighty, has a lion’s mane of white hair, and gnarled hands that apparently used to play a mean jazz piano.

The last time Mr. Docker gave any indication that he was aware I shared the same physical space as him was two months ago. I’d been playing my guitar, and he smacked his fist against the handle of his wheelchair twice. I am not sure if he wanted to chime in for good measure or was trying to tell me to stop -- but he was in rhythm.

I knock and open the door. “Mr. Docker?” I say. “It’s Zoe. Zoe Baxter. You feel like playing a little music?”

Someone on staff has moved him to an armchair, where he sits looking out the window. Or maybe just through it – he’s not focusing on anything. His hands are curled in his lap like lobster claws.

“Right!” I say briskly, trying to maneuver myself around the bed and the television stand and the table with his untouched breakfast still intact. “What should we sing today?” I wait a beat, but am not really expecting an answer. “You Are My Sunshine?” I ask. “Tennessee Waltz?” I try to extract my guitar from its case in a small space beside the bed, which is not really big enough for my instrument and my pregnancy. Settling the guitar awkwardly on top of my belly, I start to strum a few chords. Then, on second thought, I put it down.

I rummage through the duffel bag for a maraca – I have all sorts of small instruments in there, for opportunities just like this. I gently wedge it into the curl of his hand. “Just in case you want to join in.” Then I start singing softly. “Take me out to the ballgame; take me out with the…”

The end, I leave hanging. There’s a need in all of us to finish a phrase we know, and so I’m hoping to get him to mutter that final “crowd.” I glance at Mr. Docker, but the maraca remains clenched in his hand, silent.

“Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack; I don’t care if I never get back.”

I keep singing as I step in front of him, strumming gently. “Let me root, root, root for the home team; if they don’t win it’s a shame. For it’s one, two, three –“

Suddenly Mr. Docker’s hand comes flying up and the maraca clips me in the mouth. I’m so surprised I stagger backward, and tears spring to my eyes. I can taste blood. I press my sleeve to my cut lip, trying to keep him from seeing that he’s hurt me. “Did I do something to upset you?”

Mr. Docker doesn’t respond.

The maraca has landed on the pillow of his bed. “I’m just going to reach behind you, here, and get the instrument,” I say carefully, and as I do, he takes another swing at me. This time, I stumble backward, crashing into the table and overturning his breakfast tray.

“What is going on in here,” Wanda cries, bursting through the door. She looks at me, at the mess on the floor, and then at Mr. Docker.

“We’re okay,” I tell her. “Everything’s okay.”

Wanda takes a long, pointed look at my belly. “You sure?”

I nod, and she backs out of the room. This time, I sit gingerly on the edge of the radiator in front of the window. “Mr. Docker,” I ask softly, “what’s wrong?”

When he faces me, his eyes are bright with tears. He lets his gaze roam the room – from its institutional curtains to the emergency medical equipment in the cabinet behind the bed to the plastic pitcher of water on the nightstand. “Everything,” he says tightly.

I think about this man, who once was written up in Money and Fortune. Who used to command thousands of employees and whose days were spent in a richly paneled corner office with a plush carpet and a leather swivel chair. For a moment, I want to apologize for taking out my guitar, for unlocking his blocked mind with music.

Because there are some things we’d rather forget.


The doll that I buried at a neighbor’s house on the day my father died was called Sweet Cindy. I had begged for her the previous Christmas, completely suckered by the television ads that ran on Saturday mornings between Wonderama and The Patchwork Family. Sweet Cindy could eat and drink and poop and tell you that she loved you. “Can she fix a carburetor?” my father had joked, when I showed him my Christmas list. “Can she clean the bathroom?”

I had a history of treating dolls badly. I cut off my Barbie dolls’ hair with fingernail scissors. I decapitated Ken, although in my defense that had been an accident involving a fall from a bicycle basket. But Sweet Cindy I treated like my own baby. I tucked her into a crib each night that was set beside my own bed. I bathed her every day. I pushed her up and down the driveway in a stroller we’d bought at a garage sale.

On the day of my father’s death, he’d wanted to go for a bike ride. It was beautiful out; I had just gotten my training wheels removed. But I told my father that I was playing with Cindy, and maybe we could go later. “Sounds like a plan, Zo,” he had said, and he started to mow the back lawn, and of course there was no later.

If I had never gotten Sweet Cindy for Christmas.

If I’d said yes to my father when he asked.

If I’d been watching him, instead of playing with the doll.

There were a thousand permutations of behavior that, in my mind, could have saved my father’s life – and so although it was too late and I knew that, I told myself I’d never wanted that stupid doll in the first place; that she was the reason my father wasn’t here anymore.

The first time it snowed after my father died, I had a dream that Sweet Cindy was sitting on my bed. Crows had pecked out her blue-marble eyes. She was shivering.

The next day I took a garden spade from the garage and walked to the neighbor’s house where I’d buried her. I dug up the snow and the mulch from half of the hedge row, but the doll was gone. Carried away by a dog, maybe, or a little girl who knew better.

I know it’s stupid for a 38 year old woman to connect a foolish act of grief with four unsuccessful cycles of IVF, two miscarriages, and enough infertility issues to bring down a civilization – but I cannot tell you how many times I’ve wondered if this is some kind of karmic punishment.

If I hadn’t so recklessly abandoned the first baby I ever loved, would I have a real one by now?


By the time my session with Mr. Docker ends, his daughter Mim has rushed from her ladies’ auxiliary meeting to Shady Grove. “Are you sure you didn’t get hurt?” she says, looking me over for the hundredth time.

“Yes,” I tell her, although I suspect her concern has more to do with a fear of being sued than genuine concern for my well-being.

She rummages in her purse and pulls out a fistful of cash. “Here,” Mim says.

“But you’ve already paid me for this month –“

“This is a bonus,” she says. “I’m sure, with the baby and everything, there are expenses.”

It’s hush money, I know that, but she’s right. Except that the expenses surrounding my baby have less to do with car seats and strollers than with Lupron and Follistim injections. After five IVF cycles – both fresh and frozen – we have depleted all of our savings and maxed out our credit cards. I take the money and tuck it into the pocket of my jeans. “Thank you,” I say, and then I meet her gaze. “What your father did? I know you don’t see it this way, but it’s a huge step forward for him. He connected with me.”

“Yeah, right on your jaw,” Wanda mutters.

“He interacted,” I correct. “Maybe in a less-than-socially-appropriate way…but still. For a minute, the music got to him. For a minute, he was here.”

I can tell she doesn’t buy this, but that’s all right. I have been bitten by an autistic child; I have sobbed beside a little girl dying of brain cancer; I have played in tune with the screams of a child who has been burned over 80% of his body. This job…if it hurts me, I know I am doing it well.

“I’d better go,” I say, picking up my guitar case.

Wanda nods. “See you next week.”

“Actually, you’ll see me in about two hours at the baby shower.”

“What baby shower?”

I grin. “The one I’m not supposed to know about.”

Mim reaches out her hand toward my protruding belly. “May I?” I nod. I know some pregnant women think it’s an invasion of privacy to have strangers reaching to pat or touch you or offer parenting advice, I don’t mind in the least. I can barely keep myself from rubbing my hands over the baby myself, from being magnetically drawn to the proof that this time, it is going to work.

“It’s a boy,” she announces.

I have been thoroughly convinced that I’m carrying a girl. I dream in pink. I wake up with fairytales caught on my tongue. “We’ll see,” I say.


I’ve always found it ironic that someone who has trouble getting pregnant begins in vitro fertilization by taking birth control pills. It is all about regulating an irregular cycle, in order to begin an endless alphabet soup of medications: three ampoules each of FSH and hMG - Follistim and Repronex- injected into my backside twice a day by Max – a man who used to faint at the sight of a needle and who now, after six years, can give me a shot with one hand and pour coffee with the other. Six days after starting the injections a transvaginal ultrasound measured the size of my ovarian follicles, and a blood test clocked my estradiol levels. That led to Antagon, a new medication meant to keep the eggs in the follicles until they were ready. Three days later: another ultrasound and blood test. The amount of Follistim and Repronex were reduced – one ampoule of each at morning and night – and then two days later, another ultrasound and blood test.

One of my follicles measured 21mm. One measured 20mm. And one was 19mm.

At precisely 8:30 PM Max injected 10,000 units of hCG into me. Exactly 36 hours later, those eggs were retrieved.

Then ICSI – intracytoplasmic sperm injection – was used to fertilize the egg with Max’s sperm. And three days later, with Max holding my hand, a vaginal catheter was inserted into me and we watched the embryo transfer on a blinking computer monitor. There, the lining of my uterus looked like sea grass swaying in the current. A little white spark, a star, shot out of the syringe and fell between two blades of grass. Another. A third. We celebrated our potential pregnancy with a shot of progesterone in my butt.

And to think, some people who want to have a baby only need to make love.


There are games. Estimate-Zoe’s-Belly-Size; a purse scavenger hunt (who would have guessed that my mother had an overdue utility bill in her bag?), a baby sock matching relay, and, now, a particularly disgusting foray where baby diapers filled with melted chocolate are passed around for identification by candy bar brand.

Even though this isn’t really my cup of tea, I play along. My part-time bookkeeper, Alexa, has organized the whole event – and has even gone to the trouble of rounding up guests: my mother, my cousin Isobel, Wanda from Shady Groves and another nurse from the burn unit of the hospital where I work, and a guidance counselor named Vanessa who contracted me to do music therapy earlier this year with a profoundly autistic ninth grader.

It’s sort of depressing that these women, acquaintances at best, are being substituted for close friends – but then, if I’m not working, I’m with Max. And Max would rather be run over by his own lawn mowing machines than identify chocolate feces in a diaper. I try not to focus on how depressing it is to be 38 and not have any close female friends, and instead watch Wanda peer into the Pampers. “Snickers?” she guesses incorrectly.

Vanessa gets the diaper next. She’s tall, with a short black bob and piercingly blue eyes. The first time I met her she invited me into her office and gave me a blistering lecture on how the SATs were a conspiracy by the College Board to take over the world $80 at a time. Well? she said when she finally stopped for a breath. What do you have to say for yourself?

I’m the new music therapist, I told her.

She had blinked at me, and then looked down at her calendar, and flipped the page backward. Ah, she said. Guess the rep from Kaplan is coming tomorrow.

Vanessa doesn’t even glance down at the diaper. “I’m going to say Mounds. Two, to be exact.”

I burst out laughing, but I’m the only one. Alexa looks like she’s going to cry. My mother intervenes, collecting the diaper from Vanessa’s placemat. “What about Name That Baby?” she suggests.

I feel a twinge in my side and absently rub my hand over the spot.

My mother reads from a paper Alexa has printed off the internet. “A baby lion is a…”

My cousin’s hand shoots up. “Cub!” she yells out.

“Right! A baby fish is a….?”

“Caviar?” Vanessa suggests.

“Fry,” Wanda says.

“That’s a verb,” Isobel argues.

“I’m telling you, I saw it on Who Wants to Be a Millionnaire –“

Suddenly I am seized by a cramp so intense that all the breath rushes out of my body and I jackknife forward.

“Zoe?” My mother’s voice seems far away. I struggle to my feet.

Twenty-eight weeks, I think. Too soon.

Another current rips through me. As I fall against my mother, I feel a warm gush between my legs. “My water,” I whisper. “I think it just broke.”

But when I glance down, I am standing in a pool of blood.

Sing You Home: research for the book, CD lyrics, gay rights info and resources

RESEARCH
Music therapy

Sing You Home research

Music Therapy

Music Therapy is using music in a clinical setting in order to bring about a change in emotional, social, physical, or communicative health. It is like physical or occupational therapy – except music is the tool used to achieve the goal.

Every time you sing along to a happy song on a sunny day in the car, you’re using music therapy. After a breakup if you listen to the same sad song over and over, you’re using music therapy. During childbirth if you use music as a focal point – that’s music therapy.

Music can lower blood pressure and reduce stress hormones and heart rate. Music has been proven to release the same chemicals in your brain that are released if have sex or use illegal drugs – namely, dopamine. Music shuts down the activity in the amygdala, the area of the brain and limbic system where negative emotions and anxiety reside.

Cochlear implant patients who don’t understand language use music to learn the patterns of speech – because music is easier to perceive than speech. Stroke patients who cannot speak sentences can sometimes access language through singing, since lyrics and music are stored in both sides of the brain. Listening to music helps the brain bypass the trauma or the part that isn’t working, and finds new connections between both sides of the brain – the left-side analytical part and the right-side emotional part.

So how IS music therapy done? Sometimes it means playing an instrument and singing to soothe a patient who is in hospice. Sometimes it means creating music with a client, to help them express their feelings. Sometimes it’s a way to connect with a client – like a kid with autism who won’t speak, but will complete a musical phrase.

I wanted Zoe to be a music therapist, so I went to the Berklee School of Music in Boston and met with and shadowed music therapists. Music therapists will begin with an assessment, asking questions of the client/patient to get a sense of where the starting point is for therapy. Sample questions: Have you ever played any instrument? If you could play one instrument better than anyone else what would it be? If you were stranded on a desert island and you could bring one playlist what would be on it?

The nature and method of music therapy, though, is as diverse as the clients. One music therapist who worked in a nursing home with the elderly took a song from Dar Williams, “You’re Aging Well,” and printed the lyrics. She left out certain words and had the group write in their own suggestions about what it means to age well – used their comments as a springboard for discussion. Another who was working in a school with teenagers put on music and had them start drawing a picture based on what the music sounded like to them. Then after 30 seconds, they passed the picture to someone else, so collectively they wound up creating one image and could talk as a group about how it evolved.

One music therapist told me about a little three year old girl who had cancer. The chemo made her hands feel like they were burning, so she’d go in and sing the songs she loved to distract her from the pain – Wheels on the Bus, You are my Sunshine. On the day before she died, the music therapist was called in while the child’s handprints were being taken by a hospital worker. The therapist started playing somber quiet instrumental music – and the family got upset. They wanted the songs that that child had loved so much – and so as this child was dying, the therapist led a family sing-along with songs that had meant so much to their daughter. It completely diffused the pain in the room into a celebration of a little girl’s life.

I was lucky enough to shadow several music therapists. With one, I attended a drum circle with a bunch of underprivileged teens. The therapist was trying to get them to work together to develop a rhythm from various individual sounds. These are kids who would knife each other on the street – but who learned to work together through music.

Another therapist worked at a hospice center for Alzheimer’s patients. She sat with an elderly man, trying to get him to finish a line of lyrics, to engage his mind. She’s sing, “Take me out to the…?” And he would just stare off in the distance. However, at one point, he took a swing at her. Instead of getting upset, the therapist asked, “What’s wrong?” He turned to her and met her gaze. “A lot is wrong,” he said. This moment of lucidity was triggered by the music.

The most moving moments for me, though, occurred at a burn hospital in Boston. I shadowed another therapist as she moved through her work day, which consisted of using music to help reduce pain. Our first patient was a two year old from Central America with burns over 70% of his body. As they changed the little boy’s dressing, the therapist sang Spanish lullabies. “Escucho la musica!” she’d say, whenever he began to cry. And as she started playing again, his heart rate monitor would slow. What struck me the most was that music therapy allowed other health professionals to do their jobs more easily. While the nurses were focused on the medical activity, the music therapist was the one focused solely on the emotions of the child.

Our next patient was a fifteen year old who had fallen into a bonfire and burned 84% of her. Her family had said she liked music, but they’d been playing New Age stuff. Through trial and error the therapist discovered that the girl preferred goth music. She shook uncontrollably as her dressing was changed, while the therapist sang Radiohead. The whole time, the girl stared hard at the therapist, as if she needed that connection just to get through what was being done to her. As we left, the girl spoke for the first time since we’d come. She said, “It was nice to hear your voice.”

Music therapy, to me, is music performance without the ego. It’s not about entertainment as much as its about empathizing. If you can use music to slip past the pain and gather insight into the workings of someone else’s mind, you can begin to fix a problem.

MUSIC
Sing You Home CD lyrics

Lyrics for the Sing You Home CD

SING YOU HOME

You won’t see my name in the paper
Or my picture in a magazine
I don’t think I’ll be on daytime TV
Or filling a big movie screen.
I’m rarely the life of the party
I don’t like to put on a show
I’m not one to shout, but without a doubt
My melody’s one that you’ll know.

CHORUS:
One plus one is sometimes three
You’re my silent harmony
And if you listen carefully
Baby, I will sing you home to me.

This tune has your pulse as its rhythm
It’s scored in the key to your heart
The haunting refrain, it comes from the pain
Of you and me being apart.
This world is a sea full of strangers
I’ve never felt like I belong
But this much I know: that you’re mine, and so
I’m gonna show you with this song.

CHORUS:
One plus one is sometimes three You’re my silent harmony
Blossom on my family tree
Baby, I will sing you home to me.

BRIDGE: Can you love someone you’ve never met?
Can tomorrow be the moment you can’t forget?

I search for your face in reflections I wonder if you’re in the crowd
If our paths don’t cross, I will be lost
But I can’t confess that out loud.
I’ll wait if it takes you forever.
I’m here for you some day to find.
And if there’s a choice, remember my voice,
My lullabies rise in your mind.

CHORUS:
One plus one is sometimes three
You’re my silent harmony
You fit my life perfectly
Baby, I will sing you home to me.
Baby, I will sing you home to me.

2. The House on Hope Street

Verse 1:

The floorboards on the staircase creaked
The shower sometimes ran too cold
We didn't care, we loved that house
It was the place we would grow old.
I saw my whole life in those rooms
Just big enough to hold my dreams
Just small enough to face the truth
Perfection's never what it seems

Refrain:
The trouble with beginnings is that they have to end
Never thought I’d be the girl who said remember when
You leave your ring on the pillow
You leave, your voice is an echo
Carry me over the threshold again.

Verse 2:

A cup of coffee, Sunday paper
Lie in bed, we'd watch the rain
Planning out our dream vacations
To Belize and Greece and Spain.
Never did pack up my bags.
Never felt the need to roam.
Thought my place was in your arms
Anywhere you were was home.

Refrain:
The trouble with beginnings is that they have to end
Never thought I’d be the girl who said remember when
You leave your ring on the pillow
You leave, your voice is an echo
Carry me over the threshold again.

Bridge:
How come you aren't the man I once knew?
How come I didn't take hold in your heart?
Were you lying then, or are you lying now...
Whatever happened to death do us part?

Refrain:
The trouble with beginnings is that they have to end
Never thought I’d be the girl who said remember when
You leave your ring on the pillow
You leave, your voice is an echo
Carry me over the threshold again.

Ending:
The floorboards on the staircase creaked
The shower sometimes ran too cold...

3. Refugee

I was the summer, you were the breeze
I was a song, you were my reprise
I was the storm, you were the sun
I was alone, you were the one.

Angel on my shoulder
Love’s refugee
The minute I stopped searching
You found me.

You’re not the savior I thought I’d need
You stitched me up when life made me bleed.
You made my soul skip with surprise
You took my hand and opened my eyes.

Angel on my shoulder
Love’s refugee
The minute I stopped searching
You found me.

I’ll be your reason, I’ll be your rhyme
I’ll stay the distance, travel through time
I’ll be you’re here; your faraway
Be your tomorrow, if you’ll be my today

Angel on my shoulder
Love’s refugee
The minute I stopped searching
You found me.
You found me.

4. The Last

We wouldn’t have a future
If I never had a past
You may not be my first love
But you’re gonna be my last.

Birthday party, double dare
Bottle spins and stops
Duck inside the closet where its dark
Whisper, Are you ready now?
Answer with my lips
Waiting for the magic, for that spark.

Older now, and at a dance
The music’s like a pulse
Beating like a possibility
A brush of hands, we jump apart
I wonder if that shock
Is caused by more than electricity

We wouldn’t have a future
If I never had a past
You may not be my first love
But you’re gonna be my last.

Maple tree is blushing red
Lying on the leaves
That die a little death with every fall
Wild apples on my breath
When we finally touch
Wondering if this is really all…

Everyone I’ve ever kissed
Was just a stepping stone
A way to lead me down the road to you.
Think of all the years I missed
Substituting love
Seems to me that we’re long overdue

We wouldn’t have a future
If I never had a past
You may not be my first love
But you’re gonna be my last.
Gonna be
You and me
My last.

5. Faith

You didn’t say there’d be no pain
Instead you made me strong
You didn’t say I’d have a voice
But you gave me a song
You didn’t promise safety
But you made sure I hid
I know there is a reason
That I found you when I did.

Take another breath although I cannot spot the air
Take that first step even though I can’t make out the stairs.
Faith is being sure of things that others cannot see
I believe in you because you believe in me.

I’d rather walk on water
Than skate upon thin ice
I’m learning what is gained
From selfless sacrifice.
I’m stepping off a cliff
Beneath my feet is sky
But if you cannot catch me
You’ll teach me how to fly.

I know the moon will pull the tide behind it every night
I know there’s electricity because I spy the light
Faith is being sure of things that others cannot see
I believe in you because you believe in me.

The fairytale’s different
From what I used to dream
The castle’s not a castle;
Love’s never what it seems.
Don’t need a happy ending
Just a second start
Won’t listen to my mind
I’m leading with my heart.

Even when it doesn’t shine, I know there will be sun.
Can’t predict the future, but tomorrow’s gonna come
Faith is being sure of things that others cannot see
I believe in you because you believe in me.

6. Marry Me

I don’t need no crystal ball
Seen the writing on the wall
Don’t need anything at all
If you marry me

Maybe it’s an uphill climb
But it would be mighty fine
If one day I called you mine
Won’t you marry me.

Bridge:
Grass is greener
And the sky’s electric blue
I feel freer
And it’s all because of you.

Gonna keep you warm at night
Wrap my arms around you tight
Be your sweetness and your light
If you marry me.

Fell for you with just one smile
Think I’m gonna stay awhile
Till you walk me down that aisle
When you marry me.

Bridge:
Grass is greener
And the sky’s electric blue
I feel freer
And it’s all because of you.

MUSICAL INTERLUDE

Tell you what you mean to me
Perfect synchronicity
Grace a place in history
Once you marry me.

I don’t need no crystal ball
Seen the writing on the wall
Don’t need anything at all
If you marry me
If you marry me.

7. The Mermaid

Lucy is swimming in circles
Her cinnamon hair as wild as Medusa
While deeper and deeper she dives
A rainbow of scales emblazons her tail
She wonders why she is alive.

Lucy is swimming in circles
She bleeds on the coral and sinks to the sand
And wishes she could disappear
Nothing can please her; nobody sees her
She wonders if she is still here.

And if she’d only break the surface
Feel that sunshine light her skin
And if she’d only listen when
The music of the tide rides in
And every restless cut upon
Her flesh is one I that I can feel
It only takes one person to believe,
To let you know you’re real.

Lucy is swimming in circles
There’s no guarantee she’ll be here tomorrow
She’s started her darkest descent
As ships shudder by, she hears sailors cry
But that never was her intent.

Lucy is swimming in circles
Her long seaweed gown is weighing her down
She can’t tell you what matters most
She catches her breath and wonders if death
Is required before you’re a ghost.

And if she’d only break the surface
Feel that sunshine light her skin
And if she’d only listen when
The music of the tide rides in
And every restless cut upon
Her flesh is one I that I can feel
It only takes one person to believe,
To let you know you’re real.

Lucy is swimming in circles
Her cinnamon hair as wild as Medusa
While deeper and deeper she dives.

8. Ordinary Life

Wake up in the morning, brush my teeth and comb my hair
Look outside the window to see if the paper’s there
You make a pot of coffee, I read about the weather
We talk about this weekend when there’s time to be together
I pour a bowl of oatmeal; you say the milk is gone
What part of this ordinary life is wrong?

Big Brother’s in my living room, offering critiques
Pastor yells and tells me I should turn the other cheek.
Census taker says there is no label for my sin
Doctor’s office will not let me be the next of kin
It’s a different drummer, but still the same old song
What part of this ordinary life is wrong?

I am not a poster child
I am not a cause
I won’t be a scapegoat
While you rewrite the laws

I know what makes a family
I don’t need it defined
What’s missing in your life
That makes you take away from mine?

Lie beneath the covers, and I reach for the remote
We fight over which Idol singer ought to get our vote
The moon waits on the windowsill, effortlessly bright,
We turn off the TV, set the alarm, and kiss goodnight.
If this is abnormality, then where has normal gone?
What part of this ordinary life is wrong?

Guess minds become so narrow that they cannot let in light
Want to focus on my family but you won’t give me the right.
Don’t mean to push a button, don’t mean to strike a nerve
Just want the things the Constitution says that I deserve.
How dare you come inside my home and say I don’t belong…
What part of this ordinary life is wrong?

I am not a poster child
I am not a cause
I won’t be a scapegoat
While you rewrite the laws

I know what makes a family
I don’t need it defined
What’s missing in your life
That makes you take away from mine?

9. Where You Are

I used to dream I’d map the globe
One footstep at a time
Cross deserts bleached by sunlight
Scale mountains meant to climb
I’d lose myself in Marrakesh
I’d hitchhike in Peru
I’d sleep beneath a diamond sky
Just west of Kathmandu

CHORUS:
Once the road seemed awfully clear
Headed anywhere but here
Didn’t have to go so far
My world is where you are.

I used to dream I’d sail across
The Adriatic Sea
Wait tables in El Salvador
Say prayers in Galilee
I’d break a heart in Cyprus
In Chile, learn to dance
Get sunburned on a patio
At a café in France.

CHORUS:
Once the road seemed awfully clear
Headed anywhere but here
Didn’t have to go so far
My world is where you are.

BRIDGE
– could be musical? And/Or;
Small town girl was running from everything she knew
All those lonely moments were leading back to you.

I used to be a traveler once
A thousand routes to choose
A wanderer is someone
With nothing left to lose.
Now my journeys start and end
When we are face to face…
I think home is a person
And not so much a place.

CHORUS:
Once the path seemed awfully clear
Headed anywhere but here
Didn’t have to go so far
My world is where you are.

10. Sammy’s Song

It's five AM, we're in the kitchen, after a nightmare
We're making pancakes and there's batter on your face, your hair
The sun comes up and paints the sky, and you just stop and stare
Do it again, you say, as if I might have hung it there.
I don't remember who I was before you came
I know the life I have will never be the same
You think my arms are a fortress
You think I have all the answers
You know it’s a fact
I love you to the moon and back.

And now you're nine, under the covers, and your eyes are bright
With dreams of princesses and fairy dust and fearless knights
Just one more page, you beg, but I turn out the light
You find me, even in the dark, and hold me tight.
I don't remember who I was before you came
I swear this love's so big it doesn't have a name
You think my arms are a fortress
You think I have all the answers
You know it’s a fact
I love you to the moon and back.

Bridge:
I'll be your shoulder to cry on
I’ll teach you all that I know
When it’s time to break free I'll
Somehow be strong and let go.

Verse 3:
Now you are thirteen and you tell me that you've just been kissed
It's no big deal, you say, but you glow as you reminisce.
I always knew that one day it would come to this
Just underestimated all the moments I would miss.
I don't remember who I was before you came
My heart was yours before you ever staked a claim.
I’ll watch you take the wheel now
Find your own sense of direction
You’re right on track
Keep heading to the moon and back.
Baby, I’ve loved you to the moon and back.

GAY RIGHTS
and Evangelical Christianity

Gay rights and Evangelical Christianity

Full disclosure: I am not religious. I have friends who are extremely devout in many different denominations. I am a firm believer in “to each his own” – namely, that if you are religious, that’s wonderful – but that things get sticky when one religion assumes it is the ONLY right religion, or that there is ONLY one way to be a believer.

It is certainly not true that all Christians oppose gay rights. Many Christians are strong advocates, in fact. But in the evangelical church there is a disproportionate population that believes part of social reform means identifying marriage between a man and a woman, and preventing gay and lesbian couples from adopting children. It is for this reason that I created the New Life church in Sing You Home, and a leader like Pastor Clive, who has made it his mission to denounce the “homosexual agenda.”

I wish I could say this was purely fiction, but I can’t. It took only one Google session to locate a real life evangelical Christian group that believes a gay lifestyle departs from a Christian world view. Exodus International champions freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ. One of their many arms, Focus on the Family specializes in promoting traditional family values, including advocating against same sex parents. “Love Won Out” is a one-day conference run by Exodus International at various places and dates around the US to help those who “struggle with homosexuality” understand that same-sex attractions can be overcome. In other words, they believe that change is possible, if you’re gay.

It’s really easy to draw a caricature of a church like this, and I’m sure that some people who read Pastor Clive will feel that’s what I’ve done. To the contrary, I was incredibly impressed that Focus on the Family was willing to talk to me – especially since they knew what I was writing about. Although there were many moments where we disagreed, they were at least willing to engage in a conversation – which is exactly what we all should be doing.

Here’s my news flash: Exodus International is not evil incarnate. Let me tell you what they DON’T believe, first.

  1. They don’t believe that you can “cure” being gay. They claim to not want to fix “gays” but instead that they are a resource to those who aren’t happy living a “homosexual lifestyle.”
  2. They do not believe that anyone chooses to be gay. They say that they agree with the American Psychological Association’s position that homosexuality is developmental and caused by number of factors – both biological and environmental. However, they do believe that you CHOOSE whether or not to act on those same-sex attractions.
  3. They don’t believe that God hates gay people. However, they believe that God wants sexual relationships to be one man and one woman in the confines of a marriage.

I began my research by speaking with Jim Burroway, the editor of the Box Turtle Bulletin, a newsletter that analyzes anti-gay rhetoric, about a Love Won Out conference he attended and blogged about. He told me that the conference vibe – to his surprise – was not about hate. There were three groups of people who attended: parents who children that had come out to them; church leaders and youth groups; and finally people who “struggle with same sex attraction”- which was the smallest group of the three. The parents and relatives of gays were the largest group. Many were upset because they’d reacted badly when their children told them they were gay – and they had come to the conference to learn how to better talk to their kids, because they love them. Now –this is admirable. Except that the organization the parents have chosen to help them understand their children isn’t one that supports being gay – but rather supports suppressing it. As one Box Turtle Bulletin reader commented, it’s a little like having your white, straight son marry an African-American woman and going to a KKK rally to learn more about their relationship.

The conference included breakout sessions where speakers explained the causes of homosexuality: A child will be gay if he has a father who is cold, rejecting, weak, or distant; or if a mother is too protective or domineering. “If you don’t hug your sons,” one speaker said, “some other man will.” A child will be a lesbian if her mother is cold and distant; or if the father’s too stern or frightening. However, another route to lesbianism would involve the mother being too close, like a best friend. The speakers also admitted that the same sex attraction doesn’t go away for everyone. But you can make the decision to avoid temptation, in the same way a dieter will avoid cake.

I contacted Focus on the Family myself, and explained what I was writing about. After some consideration, they arranged for me to speak to Melissa Fryrear, who at the time worked with them and who had been a speaker at numerous Love Won Out conferences. Melissa believes she was born gay and then was born again. She studied the Bible and what it said about homosexuality – which, along with talking to people who had overcome homosexuality in their own lives, led her to make changes in her life and move away from a lesbian identity. She says she had a very reserved mother and an absent father, which contributed to her lesbian problem. She doesn’t like the term ex-gay because that implies she was gay once, and she is totally heterosexual now. Now, she explained, she has had an identity shift. When she walks into a room she notices women for their stylishness, not for their looks. But she is attracted physically to men. Yet when I asked Melissa if she’s been intimate with a man, she said “My gracious, no!” because she’s single and God wouldn’t want that until she’s married.

The language of Love Won Out and Exodus International is extremely carefully crafted. Some of Melissa’s catch phrases? We are FOR Christ, not Anti-Gay. Separate the Who from the do. I was heterosexual with a homosexual problem. Gay and lesbian aren’t nouns, they’re adjectives. A person isn’t gay. They’re gay-identified. It’s like a coat you can put on, and therefore, can take off. Those who struggle with homosexuality have two options, according to Melissa: to accept the “Biblical world view,” or to stay “gay-identified.” One thing I noticed when speaking to Melissa is that those who “struggle with homosexuality” often include, in this rhetoric, people who aren’t struggling at all. There’s an implication that being gay means there MUST be a struggle. It’s as if the organization has no word to describe those who are gay and perfectly happy. But the most upsetting comment Melissa made to me was her personal belief that she’s never met someone who is gay-identified who wasn’t sexually abused as a child. When I asked if that might not lead to a witch hunt by parents – who suddenly will retroactively accuse babysitters and coaches and relatives – she dismissed the concern. In her opinion, it gives parents an answer to the “Why?” question.

Melissa says that there isn’t a genetic component to being gay; it’s a biological component with regard to personality temperament. I couldn’t puzzle out that statement, so she explained it in terms of a 6’4” man. He may have the body to be a basketball player but unless he is exposed to that game or given a ball and a court, he will never become one. In fact, there are several biological studies that are routinely pointed to as evidence of a genetic basis for homosexuality:

  1. Simon LeVay found that a region of the hypothalamus thought to be involved with sexual activity was smaller in homosexual men than heterosexual men. Melissa discounted this study by saying the control group was very small. Also, no one knows if this region of the brain determines sexual orientation…or if it’s affected by sexual orientation. For example, there is a study of people who read Braille, and it was found that after becoming blind, the part of the brain controlling that reading finger grew larger.
  2. The Bailey-Pillard twin study said that if one identical twin is gay, the other twin is three times more likely to be gay than in fraternal pairs of twins. Again, Melissa could twist the argument to support her point of view: What about the identical twins where only one of the pair is gay? Doesn’t that disprove a genetic component, since their DNA is identical?
  3. In 1993 Dean Hamer found that gay brothers shared a specific region of the X chromosome, Xq28, at a higher rate than they shared that region with their straight brothers. Yet because the study hasn’t been replicated yet, Melissa found it inconclusive.

However, there are several newer studies that continue to prove a genetic basis for being gay. In May 2010, Swedish scientists working with sheep found that 8 percent of rams are exclusively interested in other rams. In their brains, the hypothalamus region was smaller – just like Simon LeVay’s study indicated. In June 2010, Austrian scientists found a gene for sexual orientation in the fruit fly. By modifying that gene, female flies began to attempt to mate with other females and to reject males. A five year study funded by the NIH is underway now to examine gay brothers. And finally, and most intriguing to me, is the study done by William Reiner, a psychiatrist and urologist at the University of Oklahoma who has followed 100+ cases of boys born without penises. For years the standard procedure was to castrate the child and raise him as a female. But not a single child in these cases – in decades of research – grew up to be sexually attracted to males. Most have transitioned back to being males are report an attraction to women.

I asked Melissa to replace the word “homosexual” with “left-handed.” Is it right to say there’s no such thing as a left-handed person? That he’s right-handed with a left-handed problem? Instead of saying he’s struggling to be right-handed in a world that doesn’t give him the resources, why not just accept that some people might be left handed? There are lots of wonderful things you can do if you’re left-handed, after all – like defend a castle with a sword, or play first-base. Melissa disagreed. It all comes down to the Bible, she insisted, and what’s said about being homosexual.

So what DOES the Bible say? There are several passages that often get cited, but I’ll focus only on a couple.

  1. Genesis: The gist of this book is that marriage is between a man and a woman, and is meant for procreation. In actuality, marriage was meant to be a contract between two families and that’s been documented factually.
  2. Leviticus 18:22: You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female. It is an abomination. Leviticus 20:13: A man who sleeps with another man is an abomination and should be executed. Leviticus is a holiness code written 3000 years ago. An abomination, in Hebrew, is an offensive behavior in a certain time or place. It’s not a law, and it’s not forbidden by the Ten Commandments. Other abominations? Touching the skin of a pig, eating shellfish, wearing mixed fabrics, getting a haircut or a tattoo, and getting your fortune told. In the New Testament, Paul and Jesus both say that the holiness code in Leviticus no longer applies to Christian believers. Jesus, in fact, never talks about homosexuality at all in the New Testament.
  3. Corinthians 6:9: The unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God. So do not be deceived, neither fornicators nor idolators nor adulterers nor effeminate nor homosexuals nor thieves nor covetous nor drunkards nor revelers nor swindlers, shall inherit the realm of God. What makes this passage so intriguing for an language geek like me is the translation. The word homosexual was not coined until roughly a hundred years ago. In fact there is no Greek or Hebrew word that means “homosexual.” The actual word translated here as “effeminate” was MALAKOI. This means soft, or vulnerable, and Greek scholars think it might refer to young male prostitutes that would gather outside the temples. The actual word translated here as “homosexual” was ARSENOKOITAI …and Greek scholars have NO idea what it means. Some believe it refers to the married clients of prostitutes. Nevertheless, in 1958, someone translating the Bible decided that ARSENOKOITAI meant “homosexual”. It is the first time the word ever appeared in a Bible.

So although, as Melissa suggested, the Bible has a lot to say---none of it is about homosexuality. In fact, it’s not a sex manual at all. There are several practices it accepts that we condemn and several it condemns that we accept. According to Deuteronomy 22:13, if a bride isn’t a virgin, she should be stoned to death. In Deuteronomy 22:22 it says that adulterers should be stoned to death. In Mark 10:1, divorce is strictly forbidden. As per Mark 12:18, if a man dies childless his widow has to have sex with each of his brothers until she bears her dead husband an heir. In Deuteronomy 25:11, if a man gets into a fight with another man and his wife tries to rescue her husband by grabbing the enemy’s genitals, her hand should be cut off. In addition, polygamy is acceptable. So is slavery, marriage of 11 year old girls, and treating women as property. When I told Melissa about these, she said that what was in the Bible wasn’t necessarily God’s created intent for sexual behavior. She said, “You have polygamy in scripture, but that’s not what God wants. You have homosexuality in scripture, but that’s not what God wants.” Which is totally circular logic.

Melissa reiterated that if someone is happy being gay-identified, Exodus won’t go crusading to change them. I asked why then Exodus had such a strong political arm, then, working for the DOMA and against gay adoption. Her answer was evasive. The cornerstone of this country is religious freedom, she said, so why is everyone permitted a voice except for Christians? When I pressed her and asked if she worried that some people might take the wrong message away from a Love Won Out conference – one that considers homosexuality something bad and that condones committing acts of violence and hatred against gay people, she burst into tears. “I never, thank the Lord literally, I’ve never heard of any situation like that,” she said.

I can think of a few people who’d feel otherwise. Like the family of Matthew Shepherd, murdered 1998. Or Danny Overstreet, murdered 2000. Or Gary Matson & Winfield Mowder, murdered 1999. Or Tyler Clementi, one of six gay teen suicides in 2010.

I asked Melissa about turning the other cheek. Doesn’t she feel that she’s judging someone else’s behavior as wrong? She said that in her biblical world view, God’s intent for sexuality is between a man and a woman in marriage and that there’s a difference between taking a position on something…and judgmentalism. The bible after all says judgmentalism is wrong. It’s like a child who does something wrong, she explained. You might judge that behavior as wrong…but you still love the child.

In the twenty years I’ve been doing research, I’ve never been as frustrated after an interview. Although I respect Melissa and Focus on the Family and Exodus for agreeing to disagree with me, and for allowing me to hear their position so that I could write about it accurately, it is still very hard for me to understand.

But for half of America, gay rights are hard to understand. Some people feel it will bring about the fall of the institution of marriage. (I’d argue that with a 50% heterosexual divorce rate, straight people are doing a good job of that themselves.) Some people worry about homosexuality being taught in schools. ( But heterosexuality isn’t taught in schools. ) Some feel that with the advent of gay rights, lewd behavior will suddenly be everywhere. In reality, gay couples are less likely to have public displays of affection than straight because they are sensitive to the fact that it is upsetting to some people.

Often when people read my books they can’t figure out what side of an issue I stand on. In SING YOU HOME, I think it’s pretty clear. I hope, after reading it, gay relationships will seem less mysterious and threatening and more ordinary. Which leads me to the question I’d ask Pastor Clive, if he existed: Why do you care? Why would someone else’s relationship with a same sex partner affect your life at all? Or, to borrow Ernest Gaines’ question: Why is it that, as a culture, we are more comfortable seeing two men holding guns than holding hands?

RESOURCES
Learn more

Learn more!

For information on Music Therapy:

For information about Exodus International and their mission:

For information about Gay Rights:

  • College guide for current and prospective LGBT students
  • lambdalegal.org - Lambda Legal, a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work
  • The 30 best colleges for LGBT students This list contains colleges that provide an "exceptional level of support for students of various gender and sexual identities". To gauge level of support, bestcolleges.com referred to the Campus Pride index, a comprehensive national rating system that measures LGBT-friendly campus life.
  • gayrights.change.org - Petitions to advocate for gay marriage and gay rights.
  • hrc.org - Human Rights Campaign, supporting LGBT equal rights
  • pflag.org - site for Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays
  • thetrevorproject.org - crisis and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth

Zoe and Vanessa’s honeymoon destination:

Zoe and Vanessa’s honeymoon destination, the HIGHLANDS INN, is a real place - a vacation spot in Bethlehem, NH that caters to lesbian couples. Want to book your own stay in paradise? Contact:

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders

Although the attorney was fictional, GLAD is a real organization and is New England's leading legal rights organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status and gender identity and expression. GLAD’s website (www.glad.org) and Legal InfoLine (1-800-455-GLAD) are valuable resources.