Who You Spozed to Be?

I’m white, and my parents are white. My Dad and I both have freckles and super white skin – he’s a redhead, even – and we are just darn white. Where we used to live, where I grew up, in University City, MO, the population slowly changed during my childhood until, by the time I was in high school, there were more black people than white people in our neighborhood and in my school. We were the “weird” university professor whites who didn’t hold with white flight and who sent their kid to the public school when other white folks preferred the private one even if they did maintain their funky house in the changing neighborhood. I got a better education than those kids did.

 

My Dad has always been a runner. He has always run in sweatpants and a sweatshirt and I am talking about the rattiest, torn-up, crappiest clothes you can imagine. He also wears a hat: don’t ask. One time during those white flight years, he was running in a nearby park, frequented by mostly black homeless people, drunk people, drug dealers, to whom, I’m sure, my father either said “hello” in his good-ol’-Iowa-boy fashion or ignored. This particular day, an inebriated black guy started running next to him as he pounded by in all his glory.

 

“Hey!” this guy shouted, a look of great curiosity and confusion on his face. “HEY!”

 

“Yes?” said my Dad, perhaps slowing just a bit but not stopping. “What is it?”

 

“I got a question for you!”

 

“All right.”

 

“My question is: WHO YOU SPOZED TO BE?!”

 

And no matter how my father tried to answer, nothing would satisfy, until he finally just ran out of the park, while the guy kept shouting, “HEY! WHO YOU SPOZED TO BE? WHO YOU SPOZED TO BE?”

 

Today I got home from therapy to an email from my mother saying my Dad had been peeing blood all night. I wrote back asking her to get the urology records from where they used to live, and I spoke with his new doctor’s office to let them know. Fortuitously, he has an appointment with the urologist this week. It took me about half an hour, which I recorded on my timesheet, something their estate lawyer has recommended I do (You Better Werk!).

 

The other day, I told Tex I’m going to get a lock of my hair dyed blue. Other older gals do it, and I am longing to splash my femme sexiness around the burbs a bit. I was so inspired by the Saint Harridan fashion show – all shapes, all sizes, all ages strutting their stuff in those fine, fine suits – and I want to share the love. Here, in the middle of the fecund jungle of middle age with teenagers and old parents and old pets, here in the thickly settled suburban life where we stick out like sore thumbs, this is where I am, femme soccer Mom, queering the minivan, neither one thing nor another, fucking with folks’ little (ageist, homophobic, misogynistic, classist, racist, ablest, dumb-ass) minds.

 

A neighbor just gave us some eggplants and we have a fridge full of other summer bounty produce. I’m going to cook a lot today, for friends and family. I have other housework to do, also. My work, my writing, my organizing, my relationships with family and friends, are as rich and juicy as all the ripe produce coming into the house.

 

Just fleetingly, I feel it: how I’m right here, being who I’m supposed to be.

Reduced Circumstances

These days when I ask my Mom how she and my Dad are doing, she says, “Just fine — as well as can be expected given everything that’s going on.” She says this quite cheerfully, as she has always been an upbeat, go-get-‘em kind of gal, and it usually makes me chuckle. Only a few months ago, way out on the other side of the country, she and my Dad were clawing their way through the days, dealing proudly and stubbornly with his sudden, debilitating depression and anxiety. Now they’re safely ensconced in a small rental house down the street from us, my Dad is medicated and much better, and my Mom has even been able to get back to some of her academic work (archeologists, like writers, never retire). But their lives are seriously smaller than they once were: they no longer drive, have asked us to be in charge of their finances, and have to depend on us for just about everything.

 
This past weekend, at the Saint Harridan pop up store in Jamaica Plain, I sat for a couple hours while Tex deliberated about buying another suit. As I sorted through fabric swatches, I was privileged to watch customers coming in. They would always be met at the door with a cheerful, “Are you in the market for a suit?” and, if so, would be respectfully and lovingly guided through the suit-buying process. First, Mr. Mary or Mr. Dom would help them with size, giving them jackets and slacks to try on. Over and over, I watched shy, plainly-dressed queers transform. With each step of the way, their faces would begin to clear, their eyes sparkle; they would begin to smile and not be able to stop. Their posture would straighten. By the end of their fitting, when they were actually feeling in their bodies what it was going to be like to be resplendent in a suit, they were radiating confidence. They went from being shy and easily overlooked, to shining like the stars they are.
The night of the super moon, me, my parents, and our little dog walked over to the park to take a look. Lots of people were there, straight families with kids sitting on blankets, other straight people in lawn chairs, probably some queers, too, but invisible to me. Only the straight people were visible. My parents and I sat on the grass for a while, and I liked being with the neighborhood folks, overhearing conversations. On the way home, my parents held hands, something I don’t think I’ve ever seen them do. I don’t think my father would have ever had the patience or desire to walk down the street like that previous to what one doctor called his “brain event”, which has slowed him and restricted his life so much.

 
I can feel very angry when I think about how queers are treated, how we are supposed to be content and quiet with so very little. When you first come out, you have this extended – often life-long – lesson in learning to live in reduced circumstances. Everything you took for granted when you assumed you were straight (i.e., human) gets eroded and takes on this sinister not-for-you quality. It’s stunning, and some of us never get over it, others of us are in denial, others of us die from it. Because of it. But I have found such sustenance in queer connection, so much love from people, who, like me, are marginalized and oppressed – we have such strength, urgency, and creativity. We do so much for each other. “When we started Saint Harridan,” says Mr. Mary Going, the founder of the company, “it wasn’t just about clothes. It was to change the world.”

 
I have felt enfolded and inspired and sweetly seen by my people and I am grateful for my minority status in that I feel I have a much better grasp of systemic injustices and why things are the way they are than some of my straight white friends who have never been up close and personal with being despised. I have never once wished I wasn’t queer, despite the daily battle to be seen, the danger, the hatred, misunderstanding, loneliness, rage and misery, because within these reduced circumstances – because of these reduced circumstances — lies all the love in the world.

Published in: on August 14, 2014 at 9:32 PM  Comments (1)  
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You Better Werk!

Last night, Tex manfully trucked it into Boston, where she got fitted and rehearsed with other suit-wearing folks for the Saint Harridan fashion show taking place at ELEVEN PM tonight. This is going to be a very late night for us, and we are planning to take a Disco Nap, you bettcha. (And in case you’re wondering, no, I personally have nothing to wear, as per my laz-e-femme-hate-to-shop usual.)

Ten, even five years ago, Tex and I agree, the two of us would have been moving heaven and earth to be even more a part of this venture than we are. Now it kind of seems like we’re going through the motions because the need for it was so sharp when we were younger. The butch/femme community, the camaraderie, the sexual zing. These days, however, the idea of being out that late at night in a loud club, well, gosh. Sounds entirely too strenuous, doesn’t it? Like finally being able to afford to buy that $150 bottle of wine and the doctor says you can’t drink any more. Like buying yourself that powerful, throbbing dick bright red sports car and you’ve lost all your hair and have to pop a pill in order to pop a boner and really, if you’re honest, you’d rather just stay at home reading magazines.

On Thursday, I took my 83-year old Dad to the hospital for an MRI. He had a whee of a time, flirting with the ladies and just enjoying being out of the house, and I enjoyed seeing him happy. On Friday, Tex and I sat for two hours with an estate lawyer, beginning to get a grasp on how to manage my parents’ assets so they can get on Medicaid if/when they need to. One thing the lawyer suggested was that my parents begin to pay me for services rendered, i.e., what I am already doing for free. When I talked about this later with Tex, I started crying.

Years ago, I quit my job in order to stay home with our kids, and because my ex and I were never married, when we separated, I got neither alimony nor child support.

I knew that being a stay-at-home parent was something I wanted to do, and I made a lot of sacrifices in order to do it. It took me a really long time, though, to understand that this work – which I did from love and because it’s part of my core values – could (and should have been) compensated by the kids’ other parent, who did have a full time job.

The concept of work is so fraught for we middle-class consumer babies of the modern age: what is it? Something you’re good at? Something you have to struggle with? Something you hate? You love? You submit to, you triumph over, you get ill or die because of? What a lot of value judgments we make about people’s work, who they work for, why they work, where they work. What they do for money. What their artistic work is – almost always different from the day job, the grind, the I-owe-I-owe-so-off-to-work-I-go litany of insults to spirit and body.

That Medicaid, the Government, would see all that I do for my old parents — all that I do out of love and daughterliness – as worthy of remuneration in the coin of the realm kind of blows my mind. I do not have a particularly lucid or healthy relationship with work or money, and possibly I’m not thinking about this very clearly, but the impulse to feel affronted or to say nobly, “No, no – I could never accept money for this!” is very, very slight. Because it is work. It’s fucking hard work. And being paid a salary is more respectable in society’s eyes than being just flat out given money (which my ever-generous parents would certainly do), even if the source is the same.

I’ve spent so long doing work that women – moms, daughters, wives — are just supposed to do, to the detriment of my real? other? work (writer, editor, teacher). So long feeling both uplifted and downtrodden by that, depending on the day, my mood, the thickness of my skin, the openness of my heart.

This evening, I will find something fetching in my closet, I’m sure I will. Tex will be resplendent, werking like a supermodel on the runway with a cadre of butch bros. I just spent time adding up the hours I worked for my parents this month, and later, will do a little research on the hourly rate of home helpers. Tex doesn’t often get to wear a suit, doesn’t often feel the full-on love of everyone in the room, and tonight she will (complete with screaming girls, she devoutly hopes). A little recognition, a little understanding of your real work, your real self goes a long way, doesn’t it?

Scream if you feel me!

 

 

 

The Rugs Broke Me

I was going to write a post called “Ni hutch, ni Dr. Gayle S. Rubin”* about how the process of moving my parents from their long-time home in Montana to a rented house down the street from us really forced me to take “letting go” extremely seriously, in particular, by letting go of regrets. The hutch in question is a wonderful antique, and should have stayed in the Montana house kitchen to help sell the property, but it was mistakenly given away by the neighbor who is doing cleaning and caretaking for us. I’ve been reading the sustaining and brilliant Deviations: A Gayle Rubin Reader for months,

and when I finally got around to finding Dr. Rubin on the interent, I realized she’s been a visiting professor at Harvard this entire past year, but is now no longer there. I could have gone to a lecture. I could have told her how much her work means to me, and how sorry I am that we missed each other at the University of Michigan. But, I was going to say, no regrets!

Then the rugs broke me.

The rugs being these incredibly lush, gorgeous goat hair beauties my folks have had for over 50 years. They are soft and lovely, and I grew up walking barefoot on them. Out of the 60 plus rugs my parents collected back in the old days from Turkey, Iraq and Iran, the goat hairs were some of my very favorite.

None of the 60 plus rugs had ever been washed, so when they were decanted from the moving van, Tex and I took them to be cared for. We felt really good about tending to something that had given my parents so much pleasure over the years. When we went to pick them up, most of them looked amazing. The colors were vibrant, the wool was soft, they smelled pleasantly of soap. Except for the goat hairs. They were coarse and matted, the hair patchy, as if it had been scrubbed off. Gone were my lush, comforting life companions. Just looking at them made my stomach hurt.

That night, I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. For the first time in a long time, I cried in the wee hours, my husband comforting me. At last I fell asleep, only to wake in the morning with a stomach ache. Tex and I talked before she left for work, about how lucky we are in so many respect, how little fallout we sustained despite the really dire health crisis and craziness involved in my parents’ and our recent history. That we are healthy, live in a nice place, love each other, have great kids, do work we love.

As Owen used to say, “I know that already!”

In therapy later that day, I wept again.

Then, last night, Seth came home smelling like booze. Much later, as I tried to sleep, I thought feverishly of the rugs, and how they mean nothing in the face of the health of my children and that it doesn’t actually work that way, that “which parent do you love more” or “who would you toss out of the rowboat” kind of way, that it’s all jumbled up together: childhood memories, physical objects imbued with emotion, living, breathing, changing humans, dear and more dear.

Seth left this morning to visit Tex’s sister’s family, his first solo airplane trip. I dearly hope the rich limbo of time-spent-traveling will give him space to come to some clarity about himself, who he is, what he wants for himself, how best to go about attaining it.

And I know these trials are supposed to be my teachers, according to the Buddhist books I read. I’m feeling close to being able to at least consider that notion right now, with Seth winging his way towards his very loving auntie, with my folks tucked away in their little house up the street, Tex at work, Owen at church camp and me managing to get after another blog post, so:

Thank you, rugs. Thank you, booze. And because her cheerful, graceful aging is also a dear lesson, thank you old kitty who just curled up next to me as I was resting and slept hard, her squeaky purr loud in my ears.

 

*“Neither Hutch nor Dr. Gayle S. Rubins”

 

Published in: on July 23, 2014 at 10:32 AM  Leave a Comment  
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I Miss Mark Spitz

Seth had to read Catcher in the Rye for English this past school year.

Catcher in the Rye, Catcher in the Rye. What is it that makes this particular book so beloved? A habit, a laziness, a patina of gold. If the point is to talk about growing up, dealing with the inevitable betrayal of adults as we all must, aren’t there perhaps one or two other books that might fit the bill? Featuring more modern teens, featuring girls, queers, people of color, people from other cultures, other classes?

I recently rediscovered Colson Whitehead, easily as good a writer as J. D. Salinger (oooh, it felt deliciously naughty to write that!!). What about his novel Sag Harbor? The narrator is a middle class black boy from New York City whose family owns a house in Sag Harbor where they always spend the summer. He is an outsider, smart, horny, lost, observant, funny, flawed, lonely, vulnerable, sweet. It’s a story about growing up in America. It’s an anecdote to too much Catcher in the Rye and A Separate Peace and The Great Gatsby and even to To Kill A Mockingbird. White people holding forth, their stories presented as quintessentially American, the only stories that matter, still drowning out other voices after all these years.

Seth just got his wisdom teeth out, and on the waiting room table was a copy of Essence in which I read an excellent article about Prince and a poignant column by Melissa Harris-Perry about music and parenting a middle school girl, a child of color attending a mostly white school. http://www.essence.com/2014/05/05/melissa-harris-perry-listening-sessions

I pointed out to Seth that the magazine display is a political choice, but this was after the extraction and he may not have been paying much attention. Then again, he probably was, given that this is the surly lad who got a B- on his final English speech for not addressing the topic (“What is the American Dream?” “How do the authors we read this year define happiness?”). Instead, he busted out a fiery rant, challenging the English Department to step up and assign more relevant books, ending by referencing the school’s logo (a stylized version of a sculpture of an American Indian), saying that people are not mascots or symbols, and that if the students read stories by folks other than straight, white men or boys, the hurtful and racist logo might have been questioned and done away with by now.

Ok, to me, that’s a fucking A fucking plus. And the two kids of color in his class came up afterwards to thank him. Double A plus.

I’m glad that Seth is proving an ally to the kids of color in his mostly-white school, but even more, I hope he is learning that paying attention to issues of inequity and systemic racism is going to make him – Mr. White Boy – a better person. White people go around acting like fools, and it’s not only embarrassing, it’s soul crushing. To people of color, it goes without saying, but also to the white people themselves. I just read about this exhibit in New York where white people were particularly egregious at an exhibit pointing up the extreme toll the sugar industry took on people of color (http://www.indypendent.org/2014/06/30/why-i-yelled-kara-walker-exhibit). I couldn’t help thinking that those folks all probably read Catcher in the Rye in high school and perhaps truly had no reference point for thinking about an other-than-white life experience or history and no good reason for educating themselves as adults. (Or maybe they’re all assholes, says Tex, also a good point.)

Which (finally) brings me to Mark Spitz. “Mark Spitz” is the nickname of the main character in another Colson Whitehead book, Zone One, his take on the zombie apocalypse. There is nothing more delicious to me than books where my life-long loves of fuck-up-the-man, politics, anti-racism, feminism, queerness, science fiction, post-apocalyptic survival, and horror intersect, and not many people can do it. Fledgling by Octavia Butler comes to mind, and I would have to think long and hard to dredge up some others. But Zone One comes close. For as long as it took me to read it, I lived with Mark Spitz, heart and soul. I miss him so much, even now.

That is the mark of a good novel, of course, that you are left wanting more, and that the characters live on in your heart and imagination. Although perhaps not on the best seller list, those novels really are plenty thick on the ground, novels written by authors who are any combination of not white, not straight, not male, not able-bodied, not rich or even middle class. I’m not holding my breath that membes of our suburban high school English Department will suddenly see the light and kick back against decades of stultifying tradition, but I’m proud of Seth for calling them out. And for continuing to educate himself outside their narrow parameters: he’s about half way through Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony as we speak.

Real education for white people is out there, but it’s up to us to do that work. It’s up to us to question tradition. It’s up to us to open our hearts and minds and stop being so ignorant. It’s up to us to keep reading.

Compliment

Last night, me, Tex and Seth went to a production of “Much Ado About Nothing”. The all-teenage theater company was formed by one of the members of the QSA I’m the adult advisor for, and the cast had a nice mix of genders, sexualities, ages and proclivities (now there’s a nice old fashioned word!).

Basel was also supposed to go to the play with us (he’s Daisy’s twin; they’re 16 and live next door), but at the last minute it turned out he had made other plans. “He’s going to a girl’s house,” confided his mom to me, in a meaningful whisper. “I mean, he’s going with a group of friends, but it’s the first time he’s done that!” Everything about her tone and choice of words invited me to join in on the joy of her heterosexual son’s first sweet forays into the world of sex. So not only did I have to manage my annoyance at the rather rude and abrupt change of plans, I had to deal with my neighbor’s oblivious, flippant and presumptive glee at her little baby’s life milestone.

A milestone that, in my life never got any recognition (nor, come to think of it, did I even ever reach it as a teenager). A milestone that queer kids still don’t get recognition for, or joy, or rejoicing, or cute conversations with the neighbors.

So in this very irritating conversation, my neighbor offered Basel’s stepping out to the girl’s house as a sort of consolation prize to me being disappointed that he wouldn’t be joining us for the evening (something we’d been planning for some time). I was supposed to chuckle and shake my head and just bow to het teenage hormones. Think it’s cute. She told me details, I was noncommittal, she apologized, I thanked her, conveying without saying directly that I wasn’t going to accept her consolation prize (the girl, the cuteness, the heterosexuality), but that I did accept her apology even though I was annoyed.

It was a girl thing (Tex hates this shit and would prefer everyone be completely straightforward) and I finessed it, but it put me in something of a mood, not helped by Seth stomping in from the beach and trying every trick in the book to also get out of this family evening. And Tex was late home from work and we ended up not going out to eat, as planned. Not a one of us was at our best when we got to the outdoor venue where the play was being staged, but! we got there and we sat down, and the play started.

It was amazing. Funny, queer, inventive and I can’t even tell you how fabulous the costumes were (a creative and minimal nod to the 70s – brilliant!). I’ve watched some of these kids appear in every one of the five or more plays they’ve put on, and their tenacity and talent and improvement are so heartening. And the 10 or 11-year old who played the prince was exceptional. I don’t think I’d laughed so hard in months than when he flung open his arms and declared, with a manic twinkle in his eye, “We will be the very gods of love!”

I looked over and Seth was laughing, too.

As we were driving home, Seth said, “Mom, everybody there loves you.” I assumed he was, as the Britts say, taking the Mickey, and said rather sharply, “Well, they don’t all know me, so how can they all love me?” but then he said, “It’s just something I noticed. You’ve really impacted those kids’ lives for the good.”

I guess he noticed that the QSA members in the play had come up and given me hugs and preened under my heartfelt compliments of their talent and hard work. I guess it gave him something to think about, a way to see me as other than annoying. I thanked him, and later corroborated with Tex that he actually had given me a compliment.

Seth is out late a lot, driving to the beach with friends, doing who knows what (ok, I have an idea), and he doesn’t talk about it with me. I’m not sharing cutsie-wutsie stories about his sexuality with friends and neighbors, either. Especially since he’s not sharing anything with me. Did I mention? But I try to keep up an ongoing babble about mindfullness and right action when it comes to bodies, one’s own and others. Perhaps he notices.

He is doing in secret (from me) what is condoned by society at large; I am doing my best to mentor kids who are doing, in secret and out in the dangerous open, what society at large condemns. Ain’t that something?

A little Buddhist prayer to finish things off:

May all young things be allowed to enjoy their sexualities in peace, love and happiness.

May all young things be allowed to grow into their sexualities with joy and support.

May all young things be free of suffering and the root of suffering.

May all young things be allowed to just be.

Published in: on July 12, 2014 at 10:32 AM  Comments (1)  
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Whose Pride? Who’s Proud?

The below is offered for those of us who are working for queer liberation in mostly straight, liberal enclaves, where the going vibe is “hey, gays, we’re all ok!” and queer energy is cheerfully coopted to keep the straight status quo on the go. It’s a challenge to keep exhorting these good-hearted people to bust out of their complacency without actually using the f-word. Below is one of my latest attempts, to be published in our UU church newsletter. The backstory is more complicated than I will go into here, but basically, Interweave is sort of a UU church GSA, and (surprise) it’s mostly G and the G are doing almost all of the work while the S in the larger congregation stop me at coffee hour and thank me for the wonderful work I’m doing.

Whose Pride? Who’s Proud?

What percentage of our UU church is LGBTQ? Sometimes it seems that we make up half of the congregation! The numbers are quite a bit lower than that, however, but one reason LGBTQ folks might seem more prevalent here is that our visibility is quite a bit higher than it is on the outside.

We have so much to celebrate.

Our chapter of Interweave was formed in order to give straight and LGBTQ members of our church “opportunities for fellowship, support, spiritual growth, social justice work and community activism, both within the congregation and in the wider community.” One of these opportunities is fast approaching! Yes, it is time to start planning for the Pride Parade.

Last year, our church officially registered with the Pride committee and marched with our own banner. The Sunday before Pride, we had a Pride service. The day of Pride, we enjoyed a Pride breakfast, a moving Invocation, and an After Party here at church. This year, we are planning to secure a good spot for folks from the congregation to watch the Parade together, as some would prefer not to march or are unable to. And we hope to encourage more members of the congregation to attend the very moving service at the Arlington Street UU church before the Parade. Our observances of this wonderful and important day are becoming deeper and more varied.

We have so much to celebrate.

Our very first Interweave Interlude, published last year, was about Pride. An Interweave member and lesbian mom wrote:

Our family plans to march with our church in the Pride Parade…and we want to invite you to join us. I know if you don’t identify with the gay community, or don’t have close friends or family members in our community (or even if you do), it may not feel as if it is your place or responsibility to march with our church in the Pride parade. If this is the case, I invite you to reconsider. Pride is our one day of the year to come together, gay and straight, to promote awareness, justice, understanding, acceptance, and equality… If you want to show your support for equality for all and help our church become a more inclusive community for everyone, this is the single most important event that you can get involved in.

Interweave again extends the invitation not only to participate in Pride activities this year, but to lend a generous hand in helping plan for this wonderful and important day. At the time of this writing, we do not yet have our two marshals, nor have we secured enough members of a Pride committee to do all of the necessary planning. Our next Interweave meeting will focus on Pride. Please plan to participate!

Let’s celebrate together.

The Total Femme

Chair, Interweave

Published in: on March 23, 2014 at 8:55 AM  Leave a Comment  
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How Chill?

After the Sturm und Drang of Middle School, Seth, a junior, and Owen, a freshman, both assure me that things are much, much better at the high school. People just let each other be, they tell me. “Mom,” says Seth definitively, “Things at the high school are chill.”

I’m sure the atmosphere has changed. Perhaps the two of them — straight as far as I know, white, middle class, loved, catered to and taken care of – have felt certain middle school-specific pressures lessen. Certainly, Seth no longer feels it necessary to purchase and wear clothing on which the names of the clothing companies are written so cunningly. Owen, well, Owen pretty much gets along wherever he lands, but there may be hidden Owen worries that have resolved themselves now that he’s a high schooler.

Once, at a high school soccer game, however, I overheard a bunch of female students talking about a truly terrifying incident that had happened to them the night before, where male students had followed them in a car and threatened them. Seth told me about being at a basketball game where his friends made homophobic remarks about one of the players. And yesterday I was told something in confidence about another student at the high school. Despite equal marriage, despite the groovy liberal vibe wafting over from the People’s Republic of Cambridge, despite our high school having one of the oldest GSAs in the state, this youth is in the closet, because “it’s just easier that way.”

Of course, I expect we can all imagine any number of situations where it’s easier to be in the closet, especially if coming out would put you in physical danger, and perhaps that’s the case with this student, although I don’t think so. I think more, it’s about not wanting to stick out, not wanting to be different, even in a “welcoming” community. Or perhaps especially in a “welcoming” community, where protests that “we understand” are so shrill. The kind of thing that makes the narrator in Openly Straight by Bill Koningsberg decide that he’s going back in the closet when he starts a new school. It’s just easier that way.

A colleague and I have been working together to widen areas of support for our local queer youth. Neither of us is paid for this, nor are we employees of any of the town organizations which should already be doing this work. Recently, we visited the high school GSA. We wanted to discuss with the members their thoughts and ideas about getting a queer youth center established here. Currently, as my colleague and I have been discovering, there is nothing other than the GSA at the high school, the GSA at the middle school, a homeschooler QSA and a monthly queer youth and allies social drop-in night at the library. And as pure information and not to brag, although I’m proud of this work, I had a large hand in instigating the last 3 items on that list. I also know that this list is much, much longer than the list of what’s available in so many other communities. But this is Massachusetts. Very close to Boston. Massachusetts has a Commission for LGBTQ Youth, we have a chapter of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Educators Network, we have an amazing chapter of PFLAG, we have the Boston Alliance of Gay and Lesbian Youth, we have the Massachusetts Trans Political Coalition. Our town should be so much further along than we are.

I believe the liberal suburbs pose a particular challenge to queer organizing. So many people — straight, certainly, but even queer — think that everything is fine.  Until their kid comes out or gets depressed or gets bullied or they’re the victim of a hate crime, as lesbian neighbors of mine recently were in the form of a nasty little note, slipped under the windshield wiper of their car as they were shopping at our neighborhood grocery store. Everything is fine only if you look at things in a very, very superficial and hopeful manner, and systemic oppression doesn’t go away just because your neighbors are polite to you.

Later today, I’m attending a meeting of a coalition made up of representatives of town organizations from the police to the schools to the local counseling center. The coalition is grant-funded, and was formed to pay attention to local youth health and safety issues, including things like suicide prevention, substance abuse education and dating safety. Until I started attending, as far as I can see, no one had anything at all to say about queer youth and their specific needs, about how to support this vulnerable population. I’ve been trying to get their attention, and below is the statement from the high school GSA that I’m going to read at the meeting today.

How chill is it, really, at the high school? I guess it depends on who you ask.

 

As the town’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance, we would be in support of the creation of an LGBTQ youth center here, for our town and the surroundinåçg communities. We feel that this would fulfill a very present and as of yet unrecognized need in the town, for a place where the LGBTQ youth of this area could meet each other and form a community. It would also be an incredibly fun experience for all youth involved, and would provide a social platform currently unavailable to these youth. In addition, school GSAs are unable to meet these needs, as their membership and participation is limited to members of the school and therefore cannot operate on a wider field. Finally, as of now, there is no easy-to-access facility for health information for LGBTQ youth in these areas, so this youth center would fulfill an important need. Overall, an alliance of LGBTQ youth for the surrounding towns would be incredibly beneficial for everyone involved.

 

–Members of the GSA, March 2014

 

Published in: on March 12, 2014 at 12:12 PM  Comments (5)  
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Very Much Better

Last Sunday, I took Seth to this Dominican-run baseball place where the owner calls him “DiMaggio” and kicks his butt in a baseball workout. It’s so cozy over there, so sweet the way all the employees treat the boys and there’s a softball coach for girls, as well. I hate many things about baseball, which seems to constantly teeter on the brink of outright mysogyny, but this place reminds me of the things I love: the friendly community, the “we’re all in it together” camraderie, the way Seth was training with a couple of 9-year olds, and they all got equal respect. As I was sitting there reading my novel, the owner passed by, squeezed my shoulder and said cheerfully, “He is very much better this year, Mama, very much better!”

Baseball: it’s complicated.

Saturday night, Tex and I decided against joining the boys at an intergenerational dance being held at church. We were still grumpy about the way the choir director was fired and the way lip service is given to diversity when the reality is business as usual.*. And because of our snit, we missed the opportunity to see our boys all dressed up in their ties, busting a move with their friends.

Church: it’s even more complicated.

As we drove back from the baseball place, I took advantage of Seth’s good mood to try and talk with him a little about emotions – how they come over us like the weather, but like the weather, we can wait for them to pass and not, for example, start beating up on our brother in an attempt to deal with anger or boredom or whatever it is. I spoke from experience, as Tex and I had just reacted to our emotions, allowing our upset at the church to keep us from hanging out with the guys in their ties. Seth claimed to understand about the emotions-as-weather thing, and I certainly should understand it, the amount of Pema Chodron I read. But will Seth beat up on Owen again? Will Tex and I balance enormous chips on our shoulders about the way straight people are clueless at best and bigots at worst?

Humans. I ask you.

*Although the good news is the colleague who we thought had let us down (see my last post) actually ended up coming through – he just needed us to stick with him while he figured things out.

Lucky Seth! He really does look a bit like the Yankee Clipper!

Published in: on February 6, 2014 at 5:15 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Al Fresco

Last night as Tex and I emerged from the library where we’d been attending a Queer Book Group event*,  there was a short white man with a very healthy head of 70s-style hair standing on the steps.

“Registered voters!” he called out. “I can spot a couple of registered voters anywhere! I know them when I see them!’

We stopped, and he went on to explain that he and his silent, frozen friend who clutched the clipboard, were collecting signatures in order to put before the upcoming Town Meeting a very, very important issue, namely…outdoor seating. See, local restaurants have just been putting out chairs and tables higgelty piggelty and these two guys feel that unless someone does something quick, all hell will break out.

If anyone had been watching the scene on the library steps last night, I think they would have witnessed two middle-aged queers practically twisting their heads off like 2 extremely perplexed canines. The fellas wanted us to sign a petition about chairs?

Let me back up a moment. For the past, oh, 20 years and perhaps even longer than that, Tex and I have been in the thick of various civil rights struggles, including fighting racism, sexism, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, ageism, you know, that kind of thing. Yesterday, we’d spent most of the afternoon trying to recover from a one-two punch having to do with a straight ally at church offering to do something for the queer group and then reneging in a particularly clueless fashion. And for some reason, perhaps the stars or the season, or my rapidly retreating hormones, I had been feeling particularly small and old that day, and rather unfit for the daunting battles still looming. A person can’t be fired up all the time!

Back to the library steps. We were not at our sharpest (it was almost 9pm, after all) but we both immediately got very suspicious. I wondered if this guy was working for the Man, sneakily trying to curtail workers’ rights. Tex assumed the worst and thought the guy’s elderly aunt had been pushed out into the street by unruly seating arrangements and done in by a passing car. Finally, we snapped out of it, asked a few questions, like, is this a public safety issue and how did you become interested in this (yes, and he just thinks there should be some regulation before everyone just starts doing whatever they want), and in the end, we both signed. It was just some signatures so that Town Meeting considers the proposal.

This morning we checked in with each other: had it been a dream? aliens posing as humans, slightly behind in their fashion research? the shared hallucination of two hard-working queer activists brought on by the afore mentioned sucker punch? I guess we won’t know until Town Meeting, but the thing is, as my dear friend in Chile reminded me: there are other issues, you know. And sometimes, they involve al fresco dining.

What a world!**

*our town has a Lesbian Librarian! She started a Queer Book Group! It’s so much fun!!!

**Some of you may know that this is a direct quote from Chet, who is the dog half of the Chet and Bernie mystery series by Spencer Quinn – a Total Femme fave!

Published in: on January 30, 2014 at 9:56 PM  Leave a Comment  
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