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Can We Talk? The Wagners Are Ready If You Are

By Lavender October 9, 2009

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The coming out of both Paul and Hjordy Wagner’s sons led to their writing Ready or Not…They’re Gay: Stories from a Midwestern Family (which was reviewed in “The Page Boy,” Lavender, June 5).

(From Left) Brad Wagner, Hjordy Wagner, Paul Wagner, andAndrew Wagner. Photo by Toby Sprague

While the Wagners were pleased by the book’s reception, they continued to search for ways to give as many people as possible access to a “GLBT journey to acceptance” by means that were personal, accessible, and sensitive to the needs of their audience.

To that end, the two have chosen a simple, albeit ingenious, vehicle to launch their upcoming “Virtual Book Tour”: Skype.

Speaking recently with Lavender, Hjordy Wagner said, “Skype is a free, downloadable program which allows you to connect to another computer, and have an online conversation—whether it is one person or a room full of people—in an innovative way to reach all corners of the country that otherwise may not have access to us.”

Via Skype, the Wagners can provide an online group presentation using PowerPoint, video, and Internet clips.

Wagner explained, “We streamline our presentation depending on the group and what they would like us to cover.”

Following the presentation are a question-and-answer from participants and/or a discussion around the Wagners’s specially designed Ready or Not…Let’s Talk Cards.

While no fees are charged for a Skype presentation, a minimum purchase of book(s) and discussion cards, according to group size, is required.

Wagner notes, “All books are autographed by us before we send them to the group’s organizer.”

Creating the “book tour,” Wagner acknowledges, “is all a slow process, because it is just Paul and me, along with a few volunteers.”

The couple is hoping to locate sponsors in order to “accelerate our efforts in making contacts around the United States,” in Wagner’s words.

The virtual tour is slated to begin this fall. Reactions to personal appearances, Wagner reports, have been more than positive.

As Wagner recounts, “One of the most interesting events was the West Bend Book Signing. They were and still are having a challenge from some community members on their GLBT books in their public library. They threatened to picket our event at the Fireside Bookstore, and there was a lot of blogging about our appearance and this issue in general. It ended up that we set a store record for the most-attended author event and the most books sold at a book signing over their 15 years in business.

Wagner adds, “Obviously, you don’t have the human touch through a computer, so we are dependent on making a difference with our words and examples through Skype. Skype can also have its technical difficulties, depending on the Internet provider, Internet connection, and computer being on our user end. We will create directions and a help list for our users for these occurrences. Our presentation content is the same for both live and Skype, but the personal interaction is different. We are going to offer the best opportunity we can for each of our end users.”

The Wagners’s flexible “virtual” approach even can be used by a single family.

Wagner points out, “When you find out your child is GLBTQ, you aren’t sure who you can trust with the family secret. Some families aggressively find ways to get an education on their new family paradigm, while others get stuck not knowing where to turn. Our Family Package using Skype allows families anonymity, and a listening ear to their feelings, fears, and questions. It is intimate, and will hopefully help them to turn a corner. We aren’t psychologists or theologians, and will never play that role. We are parents with a lot of experience having two gay sons, and knowing some of what they felt at school, in the workplace, and with their friends and family.”

The program is having positive effects.

After a live appearance, one mom wrote, “Thank you for speaking at the Eau Claire Borders this evening. Sometimes, a person forgets that they are not alone in this journey called life. Your willingness to share your story will bring comfort and support to many parents—like myself. ‘Thanks’ seems like such an insignificant word, but I’m at a loss for a better word. My heart is lighter tonight…thank you.”

Son Brad Wagner, who also is excited about the Virtual Book Tour, remarks, “My parents’ book is about our story that could be your story. Replacing the word ‘gay’ with any other word that describes a life situation that one may face poses the question of being ‘ready.’ My parents may not have been ready to hear that I was gay 14 years ago, [but] that moment of shock transitioned into getting educated, quickly. My parents are born educators. It’s in their DNA. I believe this tour will help equip more parents, teachers, friends, and coworkers with tools and resources, so that they are ready.”

Ready or Not…They’re Gay
Paul & Hjordy Wagner
Synergy Books
$14.95
www.ReadyOrNotStories.com

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