Brimful of Seth

Seth is working on taking up every atom of space in our lives right now. We are all obsessing about his motives, actions, health, well being. It’s his gift – to suck up all the attention like that. The flip side of charisma. I don’t think he even knows he’s doing it, despite me having tried to point it out to him many times.

Although he (finally) chose Umass Amherst for next fall, it looks a lot like he’s flunking out of school right now. He told me he wanted to go to college, but maybe he doesn’t? See, there we go. He won’t talk about it, so you have to try and figure things out but just end up in some big Seth fantasy that probably has little or nothing to do with the reality of what’s inside his head and heart. He holds onto these things so tightly. So parsimoniously. There’s no getting a clue.

When he was a baby, I used to amuse myself by thinking about things he might do to try and get my goat. Piercing, being queer, being sexual – none of those were going to bug me, as long as he was safe. Ok. Not being safe. Wanting to join the military. Getting a girl pregnant. Those things sounded a lot scarier, and, in fact, he did say he was going to join the army for a while there. And he smokes. And drinks. And is foul to everyone who loves him, even spilling over onto my venerable and vulnerable old parents who now live here. Upsetting. But lots of kids do that shit, and he hasn’t said anything about the military for a while. What I really, really didn’t see coming was not graduating from high school. I’m not saying he’s not going to, because with Seth, anything is possible, but let me just say that when I went on the Big Brother website (“power school”) earlier today, dude has all F’s.

I didn’t see a C-section coming, either, and was completely unprepared. Seth had the cord wrapped around his neck, tightly enough that he wasn’t going to budge without help. Hmm.

At his birth, the doctor and the midwife got him out, though, and he was ok. A little blue for a few moments there, but definitely ok. I was ok, too, after some grief counseling. I really wanted to have that baby naturally, in the birth center, but it was not to be.

Let’s add Misty* to the mix, just for complete disclosure. She is my ex and her gift is to infect everyone with her anxiety until the world is nothing but a miasma of horror and worst case scenarios. I am furious with her because she recently told me she won’t be paying any of Seth’s college tuition. I would like never to have to speak with her again, and am hoping that will one day be possible. Being “divorced to” someone mentally ill has taken a huge toll on all of us. “If I were me,” I find myself thinking these days, “what would I be doing?”

Probably indulging in a little empty-nest melancholy, but I can’t even do that, worried as I am that the nest may remain all too full.

Mama, I’m tired of this sad and unpleasant song. Let’s listen to this one instead: Brimful of Asha

*My ex; gets a new blog name periodically

Published in: on May 9, 2015 at 1:46 PM  Comments (2)  
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One Late Afternoon in Early Spring

As I’m puttering around in the kitchen, waiting for Tex, my parents, and Owen to get home for supper, Seth is at the computer, humming along with David Bowie on his i-pod.

Me: Honey?

Seth (only slightly grumpily): What?

Me: You may have been raised in a den of lesbians, but the music was good.

Seth (unable to stop from grinning): That’s true.

Published in: on April 6, 2015 at 6:02 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Shove Your Suggestion

On good Friday, my spouse and my parents came to hear me sing in the UU church choir. As far as I can tell, everyone except for me and the director, an old friend, are straight.

After the service, one of the other first altos swept up to us, asking me brightly, “Oh, is this your husband?”

“My spouse,” I corrected her, and she and Tex shook hands. This happens all the time, and it was by no means the first time my dear butch husband had been mistaken for a man at that particular church, even though I’m certainly not in the closet. Did my choir-mate forget? Did she think I’d reverted? Who knows!

Yesterday morning just before the 8am call for Easter service, yet another first alto came up to me, bright-eyed and bushy tailed, and said, “I have a suggestion!”

Don’t forget to go to the D sharp? Remember we don’t sing on page 2? I was all ears.

“If your spouse identifies as female…”

Shocked and irritated by this sudden foray into my personal life, I said, rather loudly, “Yes, she does – I’m queer!”

Undaunted, First Alto 2, carried on, “Yes, I know, so when you introduce her – because it’s confusing, it’s hard to tell — I suggest that you introduce her as your wife!”

Dear reader.

All I could do was say, extremely loudly, “No!”
“No?” she was confused.

I’m the wife! And it’s way too early for this!” I spun on my heel – I really did! the cliché is true! – and walked off. Trying not to cry. Bang goes my concentration for singing “I Was Glad,” Handel’s insane wall o’ sound we were going to be performing.

By the way, this church is supposed to be a “Welcoming Congregation” and there is, prominently displayed in the main hallway, a bulletin board of advice about how to be good allies to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

The regular reader of this column ( and you know who you are) is probably beginning to wonder just about now why it is that I keep going back to UU churches, and you know, RR, I think I’ve just about had it. The hand that reaches out in fellowship and turns out to have a buzzer permanently embedded in the palm is truly not the hand for me. Despite how much I adore my queeny friend the choir director, it may be time for me do some serious research into how I can combine my love of singing with the lifesaving balm of queer love so that I don’t constantly get torn down in my attempt to be lifted up.

After the service yesterday – neither I nor interfering First Alto 2 sang at all well – I tore out of there like my damn Easter bonnet was on fire. The only person home was Seth, and I told him all about it. We shook our heads at the permanently clueless UUs. Will they ever learn?

“Mom, it would have been good if that was a joke,” he opined. We agreed, though, that you can only make jokes about that stuff if you have some kind of respect and understanding for the queer person’s life. Seth, for example, often tells us that we’re “gay” and all members of the company fall about laughing.

I know First Alto 2 was utterly shocked by my reaction to her friendly suggestion. I didn’t have any shields up at all – it was 8am on Sunday morning! – and I know my face revealed everything. I am 53 years old and have been in a relationship with my butch for over 10 years; did she really think I hadn’t pondered how to introduce her to straight people until just now? Of course, the bottom line is that she wasn’t thinking. She wasn’t thinking of anyone but herself and other straight people. And, one of her many mistakes was thinking that one of my priorities is making straight people feel comfortable.

After Seth went off to Easter dinner with my ex, his other mom, Tex and I hied us to downtown Boston to take in the Queer Women of Color shorts, part of the Boston LGBT Film Festival. We just fucking needed to get out of the house, out of the burb, and into an 100% queer environment. The shorts were awesome. Life giving. My soul unshrivelled just a bit.

The last film of the batch was about vocal activist, Melanie DeMore, the most amazing person. Watching her talk about leading a choir of hundreds of elementary school kids, how she writes a song for them, how over and over she offers her unbelievable talent to help heal the world, made me weep. As the film went on, however, I got more and more uncomfortable. Afterwards, Tex and I agreed that it was one of those “queers as magical creatures” pieces, because nowhere did it discuss Melanie’s personal life, despite her having said that she believes there is no separation between one’s work, one’s art, and one’s life.

I don’t even know if she prefers the pronoun “she”. I don’t know if I should say that she’s one insanely hot butch, or if she prefers to be called “stud” or something else. Because that part of her life was left out. Completely. If the film is to believed, all she has in her life are students and colleagues and a birth family. Guaranteed to make straight people feel great about how much they adore their special friend. For us other queers? Empty of what I, in particular, needed so badly that day: in-depth representations of my queer people in all their complexity and wonder.

The thing about magical creatures straight folks should know is that they can turn on you. Look at Pokemon. One minute, they’re cute and fluffy, the next, they’ve grown fangs and have an extremely evil look in their eye. There’s just so very much you didn’t know about them, especially if you never made any kind of effort to find out. And it’s coming after you now.

Shove your suggestion that dehumanizes and infantilizes me in order to make you feel good. Reach out that hand in false fellowship again and I WILL CUT IT OFF (as the choir director often threatens to do in his dramatic way if we don’t get things right).

And oh, my queer people. Let us find each other, open our hearts, and sing together!

Published in: on April 6, 2015 at 11:00 AM  Comments (2)  
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So Glad You Have Mary

Coming out of my therapist’s office the other day, I bumped into a straight mom I know from cross country (Owen has been running Varsity since freshman year). This mom is also a therapist who works in the building. I was a little startled and shy to run into her, so, after saying hello, I blurted out, “I see Mary!” gesturing at my therapist’s office. The mom smiled her warm, therapist smile, and said in a warm, therapist voice, “I’m so glad you have Mary!”

 

Another time, I overheard the following conversation between two straight ladies at the UU church where I sing in the choir:

 

Rainbow Love #1:       My son is seeing someone!

Rainbow Love #2:       Oh, really? That’s great! How’s it going?

RL #1:                         Well, they’ve only been on a few dates, but he seems like a sweet man.

RL#2:                          Oh, I hope it works out for them!

RL#1:                          I know, I know. You just want them to be happy, you know?

RL#2:                          Yes, I know exactly what you mean!

 

There’s nothing like being reduced to the status of cute, fuzzy animal by this brand of

straight benevolence to kick a girl in the ass.

 

I think this is what wears us down and does us in. Here we are, queers in suburbia – most

of us being careful not to use that terminology, even – volunteering for the PTO, having

mostly straight friends, working hard for “welcoming” churches, on town committees,

carpooling, smiling and nodding as straight parents say things to us like, “I’m so glad my

kids have had the opportunity to get to know you and your family – now they’ll grow up

knowing that gay people are just like us!” We are supposed to be grateful that straight

people are “ok” with us, even though so often these same “ok” folks never offer to go to

Pride with us, obviously don’t have the imagination or time to spend a few minutes

thinking about the reality of our lives or do anything else that will truly support us, just

happily pat us on the head and give us a wink and a nod. You cute little lesbian, you!

 

I’m glad I have Mary, too, but not because anything about me is broken or less-than or

worthy of pity and condescension. Mary helps me remember all the many, many ways that

I am whole.

 

My husband and I went to a Pi(e) party in the distant land of Jamaica Plain on March 15,

far, far away from our suburban lair. There were queers of all sorts at this party, and I

conversed with five or six different femmes alone. It was a haul to drive over there, and

we really had to push ourselves to get out of the house, but my gracious was it worth it.

Seeing all those flavors of queers situated us again in our skins. Being surrounded by

our people reminded us that we are unique, capable adults who think deep thoughts, have

complex and nuanced personalities, grown-up sexualities and so much more.

 

Best of all, my offering had a little picture of John Waters on a stick stuck in it, with a

speech bubble that said, “Have some (apple) pie, butt plug!”*

 

 

 

*see the chapter about Blossom (my hero!) in Carsick, our Queer Book Group’s most

recent read

Published in: on March 24, 2015 at 4:37 PM  Comments (3)  
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All Tomorrow’s (Straight) Parties

I recently requested to be removed from an email list of members of my ex-church who live in or near my neighborhood. One of the initiatives this year is a sort of “get to know your neighbors” series of shared meals, and I was tired of receiving emails about Spanish appetizers and wine tastings. Gosh, spend more time with liberal white straight people who dearly wish to believe I’m “just like them”? What a treat!

 

We’re about to be snowed in again. I said to Tex, “Well, maybe the boys can hang out with the K’s,” our neighbors. Tex said bitterly and referring to many disappointments from years past, “No, they’re probably going to their straight snow-bound parties to have fun.”

 

How ironic that one of the things some of the members of the above-mentioned church said when some of us queers were trying to initiate queer space in the supposedly “welcoming” congregation was ,“Your Gay Soirees sound like so much fun!” in a droll, slightly hurt, slightly hopeful way.

 

Tex and I were talking again about the whole “LGBT-friendly” caregivers support group we didn’t go to last night (see last post). When I asked the social worker if she was straight, she said in the most snippety fashion imaginable, “BISEXUAL!” Ah, I said, thank you for telling me. We hung up, and I muttered, somewhat snippety in my own right, “Yeah, you slept with a girl in college but you’ve been married to a man for 30 years and live a totally straight life!”

 

Tex and I were musing that there are straight people we know and love who are queerer than a lot of the folks who used to sidle up to me at church and confess that they were bisexual. It’s a cultural thing – are you at least somewhat conversant with what’s going on in the queer world? Or do you just want to trade in on that time you kissed a girl and thought it was ok so you can come to the rainbow glitter unicorn kaffee klatch that just sounds so cool?

 

Ok – if you say you’re queer, you’re queer and you get to come, I would never bar the door or do a pantie check or anything like that. But please, do say you’re queer! Don’t lurk! Agh, what am I trying to say. I guess something about just letting us not be just like you, not all of us are (I would say none of us are).

 

Derald Wing Sue says that so many of his academic white friends want to treat him like a white man because it makes them feel more comfortable and it maintains the power imbalance. In his book Overcoming our Racism: The Journey to Liberation, he describes a dinner date with a white male colleague, to whom, the entire evening, everyone in the restaurant gave preferential treatment. Sue attempted to discuss this with his friend, who had a big fit and denied everything. Sue writes, “It suddenly dawned on me that unearned White privilege is seen as a source of strength and that it provides Euro-Americans with the permission to deny its existence and use it to dominate others! I realized the insidious and seductive effect of White privilege on White Euro-Americans. Why should you want to give up a world that is made for you?”

 

My dear reader knows that I in no way believe that “Gay is the New Black” and in fact find that statement to be racist and idiotic, but I do think some comparisons with racism can be useful in understanding heterosexism and homophobia, and this is one of them. Wing goes on to say that whites have a stake in racism, because it props up the world they benefit from, just as straight people have a stake in homophobia for the same reason.

 

If an institution like a church is unable to see that work needs to be done in order to allow minorities their own cultural space then that right there is the reason there aren’t more minorities in the institution. It’s pretty simple, actually. It’s certainly why I left.

 

But where do I go now? The preponderance of queers here in the burbs are certainly doing their best to assimilate, keep a low profile. Recognizing what’s going on is the first step to doing something about the situation, I suppose.

 

Anyone want to come over for a party?

 

The Snow Day I Was Fierce

Here in the Boston area, school is cancelled. Once again. Tex has braved the streets to get to work, Seth is snowboarding, Owen is out shoveling for dollars, and I have been working from home.

 

Where a social worker from our town’s Council on Aging reached me by phone and now neither of us is happy. A while back, I had requested an LGBT-only caregiver support group be created locally, finding myself queer while caregiving my elderly parents, one of whom (my Dad) has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Lo and behold, the COA came through. Sort of.

 

The group is being billed as “LGBT-Friendly”, which made me mad. It’s a fucking “welcoming” congregation all over again! But then I settled down, saying to myself, well at least they’re doing something, and I put it on the shelf. But today when the social worker called to remind me about the meeting and then point blank asked me what I thought about it being “LGBT-Friendly” I fucking told her.

 

Not what I asked for, I said. And this straight woman who’s coming? It’s great that she’s accepting of all sexualities and understands that there might be queer people there. Really great. But do you see how that makes the group more about straight people than queer people? How almost for sure we queers will be forced to, consciously or subconsciously, monitor what we share? And I didn’t say this, but I sure as hell know that wouldn’t ever feel comfortable even tearing up in those circumstances, especially now that I’ve just had words with the group leader!

 

This does not sound supportive to me. Even though I could tell the social worker was bursting to read me, (“You ingrate! How can you say such things! Look how far over backwards we’re bending for your “special” requests!”) she managed to say nothing other than she hears what I’m saying but they have to do it this way for now in order to get enough people to run the group and she’ll be happy to check in with me afterwards for my feedback.

 

Guess what? I’m not sure I’m going to go after all, even if me not going means there aren’t enough people and makes me look like a flake or a jerk. Because, as my husband somewhat exasperatedly pointed out, this is not supposed to be work for me! It is supposed to be a support group.

 

She’s right, and we’ve been talking a lot about this lately. I guess it’s a pretty classic thing to happen to a community organizer and activist, but I find that I never relax. I organize fun, supportive, community-building events, and people have a good time and are supported, but I’m wrung out at the end from having run around making sure everything was going smoothly. I don’t relax much at all, to tell you the truth. Everything is work.

 

Did I mention that I’ve been sick for the past week? There’s been some slight improvement, but I’m still dizzy and my mind is hazy.

 

Talking with that social worker sent me right back to the couch. Damn it! Lately I feel like I just don’t have any barriers protecting me from this shit. Thin skinned. Wore the fuck down.

 

I need to spend time with real friends. I need to find ways to rest and relax with people who love me. I need to be fierce about protecting my health and wellbeing. I need to finish reading Daughters of an Emerald Dusk by Katherine V. Forrest, the absolutely ripsnorting conclusion to her high lesbo camp science fiction trilogy.

 

And I’m pretty sure that where I need to be the night of the support group is not at the Senior Center with a new group of strangers, but rather taking advantage of the loving support that already exists: in the living room, in front of the fire, with my reali-o, truli-o, very own family.

Ubi caritas*

This morning, I missed singing the second “Ubi caritas” — we’re doing three versions in choir – and I missed singing the first one for similar domestic reasons: it just seems like the better choice to stay home with my family.

I’m back singing more seriously after a few years’ hiatus, and I joined this new choir simply and purely to sing, nothing more. The choir director is a dear singing friend from my old voice teacher’s studio, gay as the day, the church requires nothing of me, unlike my old UU liberal hell that just about did me in, and I have made it a priority to practice, get to Thursday night rehearsals, and be there on the Sundays we perform. Singing is one of the things in life that truly feeds my soul.

I’ve been sick for about a week with some vague headache-y, vertigo-y, sore neck-y complaint that got so bad at one point I wondered if you can have walking meningitis the way you can have walking pneumonia. “C1 and C2,” said my chiropractor when I could finally get there (oh yeah – we’ve had a lot of snow here) and she grabbed me and wrung from my neck the sound of a machine gun, or perhaps a chainsaw. Recovery has been slow, despite this cathartic adjustment, and I’ve been missing from the heart of the family in a way I know is disconcerting for everyone.

“I’m so glad you’re feeling better,” whispered my stalwart husband last night as she kissed me goodnight. “I was starting to worry.” She, who has danced attendance, missing work to drive me to acupuncture and chiropractic appointments, brought me meals and reassured me when I started to freak out. And I’ve had to ask Martha** to step in for things like going to an accepted students afternoon at a local university with Seth, when I so dearly would like to be with him as he continues to freak out in various teenage ways about this very adult decision he’ll have to make in the next few months.

I was finally well enough this morning to get up early, as I like to do, muddle through some sudoku, write a little, read, meditate. It was snowing again, but that’s not why I stayed home from choir. I just wanted to be here, cooking, doing chores with Tex – who’s also been yearning for an at-home day to just putter and read – inhabiting the house. Shoring up the home.

*where there is love

**my ex, they boys’ other mom, she of the ever changing pseudonym

P.S. Noble sentiments indeed, from someone who decided not to stop reading out loud to Tex the chapter “Bernice”, about the heroic, renegade librarian, from our Queer Book Group’s current selection, Carsick by John Waters. The chapter includes a great deal of raunch, for example, the (fictitious?) book title, Clitty Clitty Bang Bang, had me and Tex falling about laughing hysterically, and sent a recently awakened and deeply horrified Seth back upstairs to his room for another hour.

Published in: on February 8, 2015 at 4:20 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Love Letter to the Methodists

Every morning I read the daily selection from my grandmother’s Meditations for Women. She and my grandfather were lifelong members of their small Iowa town’s Methodist church, and whenever I visited as a child, which was often, our family accompanied them to Sunday worship. It was boring and I wasn’t allowed to read, but I liked standing for the hymns, leaning against Grandmimi, who rustled and smelled like perfume and hairspray. She’d been in the choir her whole life, but in her 60s, she’d retired, her lungs no longer up to the work due to two bouts of childhood pneumonia. Even husky and wheezing, though, her lovely voice guided me effortlessly through each verse. I especially loved the Doxology, and I used Grandmimi’s Methodist hymnal when Tex and I were planning the music for our wedding. I didn’t want the watered down UU version, because to my mind, the gorgeous tune isn’t complete without the Methodist-God-the-Father words, and that’s the version that lives in my heart.

In 1975, when my grandparents and their two daughters and husbands celebrated “100 Years of Marriage” (50th anniversary for the elders, 25th each for the younger generation), I experienced a pivotal moment of political awareness in that same Methodist church’s Vestry. My Southern California cousin, (her Methodist church had hot pink pew cushions — my favorite color!) had brought along a friend for the festivities, a very soignee young black woman. As the two of them made their entrance into the Vestry, I had been watching one of the other guests, the black adopted daughter of a local family, probably around 7 or 8. I’ll never forget the look on that child’s face as the glamorous California girl swanned down the stairs, nor will I forget the alacrity with which her white mom got going asking the older girl how to do her daughter’s hair. That moment of awareness about race and racism and loneliness and community is forever twinned in my mind with the linoleum and florescent lighting, the smell of perked coffee and the taste of Vienna sausages, jello salad, and well done roast beef from the heart of the heart.

When my grandfather died, I wrote his obituary and spoke about him from the pulpit of that church. I did the same when my grandmother died.

In the suburban Boston town where I live, the Calvary Methodist Church wears a big rainbow stripe on its sign along with the words, “All Are Welcome Here.” An impassioned letter in the local newspaper from Calvary’s minister about how her church doesn’t agree with their denomination’s powers that be on the issue of gay rights caught my attention last year, and I filed her away as a potential ally in the organizing work colleagues and I are doing in town for queer youth. Sure enough, we learned that Calvary’s Reconciling Team was interested in supporting our efforts, and they subsequently provided pizza and drinks for the members of True Colors, a queer and allies youth theater troupe that performed at the middle school. To our delight, Calvary went a step further, offering their church hall, free of charge, to the members of the homeschoolers QSA for a dance they were planning (I’m the adult advisor). Go Methodists!

Oh, but then. Five days before our Drag Extravaganza, when everything was all ready to go, the music cued up, the decorations and snacks purchased, the outfits agonized over and assembled, the event page busily ticking along, the emails sent out, the fliers distributed, the chaperones standing by, I got an email from the minister asking me to call her asap. An issue about the dance we needed to discuss. All unaware, an innocent babe, a lamb to the slaughter, I gayly picked up the phone and punched in her number.

The issue, dear readers, was drag. All through the 30-plus-minute conversation, I tried to understand what it is about drag she finds inappropriate, why it is she’s not comfortable with it, but she just couldn’t seem to tell me. No amount of my explaining about the cultural significance of drag to the queer community, no amount of appealing to her conscience about the deleterious effects of cancelling their fun on the youth, no amount of reminding her that they had reached out to us and we had accepted in good faith, not even letting her know that this whole thing was feeling homophobic to me, nothing, nothing would shift her. At one particularly frustrated moment, I blurted out, “It’s not like anyone’s going to come in drag as Jesus or anything!” Oops. Out of all the cogent and righteous things I said that morning, I suppose that’s the only one she’ll remember. And she didn’t budge. Change the theme, or you don’t get the space.

We didn’t change the theme.

I’m not sure why she wasn’t able to be honest with me. If she had said, “We bit off more than we can chew. We’re sorry, but if we let you do drag in our church, the big boys will have my head.” (I guess probably she wouldn’t have said “my ass in a sling”, but that’s ok, I still would’ve known what she meant). If she had said, “Please work with me on this – what can we do? How can my church support you and still move forward as an ally without me losing my job?” or whatever it was that motivated her to lay down the law. Instead, she told me several times that now was not the time to educate her about drag (isn’t that what they wanted? to reach out to us and learn?) and kept assuming I would understand their discomfort. In the end, it came down to her saying that it’s her church and she gets to say what happens in it.

We have already found another venue and date, and this homophobic disaster has been a catalyst for the planning of a town-wide visioning conversation about how to provide more systemic and sustainable support for our queer youth. We are using this huge disappointment to our advantage, and I am excited by the prospects for education, community building, and fun (the Drag Extravaganza will be bigger! better! more bitchin’ and bodacious!).

I’m not so sure what will happen over at Calvary, though. They opened the door to us, and we came skipping in wearing feather boas and glitter – far, very far, from approved Methodist dress code. The wounds perpetrated on queers by Christians* are deep, persistent, debilitating. Stepping up to that reality, moving into that fraught and messy relationship requires resilience, self-education, humility, careful listening, being willing to get out of the way, creativity, imagination, empathy. The work is theirs.

I am moving on. I have no investment in facilitating any of it for them, any more than I already have by responding to their outreach, then giving up a chunk of my hide (as Grandmimi would have said) in a half-hour long conversation – and better me than any of the kids. But for the Doxology, for that small Iowa town Methodist church Vestry and what happened there, for the connection I feel every morning with my long-dead grandmother when I read that day’s “Meditation for Women” (on the inside of the back cover is written in Grandmimi’s hand: “There is only one kind of poverty and that is to have no love in the heart,”). For all of these, I hope Calvary can do it.

I hope they can open the door wider, not slam it shut.

I hope they can go on to earn their rainbow stripe.

 

* http://www.autostraddle.com/seeking-queer-theology-and-perfect-love-that-casts-out-fear-273260/

 

 

Mary Oliver, Lesbian Make-Out Point, and Suzanna Danuta Walters: Just How Personal Is the Political, Anyway?

I so did not know Mary Oliver was queer. I love her poems, of course, it’s damn hard not to, but she’s such a UU bastion of the straight, middle-aged, middle-class, white crowd that it never once occurred to me she was anything other than straight herself.

On a recent Sunday, I sang at a UU service where the straight, middle-aged, middle-class, white minister read the congregation two of her poems. They were beautiful and sacred and I loved them, of course, it’s damn hard not to, but the whole time I was thinking about her being queer and how that never seems to come into her poems and how that makes it easy for all these straight people to adore her and use her for their uplift but I can’t help feeling like she’s giving her queer love to people who get love from every other damn where and I need her love more.

I know I’m a queer one-note Sally. This came up recently in an argument Tex and I had about the Lesbian Make-Out Point. We often take the dog for a walk on conservation land, and many months ago, found the above graffiti on a trail marker. It cheered us up no end. Subsequently, we noticed that the graffiti had been painted over. The last time we walked there, I pocketed a sharpie, ready to bring Lesbian Make-Out Point back into the light. Tex said it wasn’t right. She said that the volunteers taking care of the conservation land work hard so that there’s nothing but nature and notices about deer ticks and poison ivy and pick up after your dog – that it’s not a political place, one way or another. She also said that even though she liked Lesbian Make-Out Point, she had the feeling that it wasn’t written in love.

I said that everything is political, that our voices are silenced everywhere, and that restoring Lesbian Make-Out Point had the potential to cheer up other silenced queers. But Tex felt so strongly about it that I just kept the sharpie in my pocket. My sense of the sacred and her sense of the sacred veered away from each other in this instance.

In her book The Tolerance Trap: How God, Genes, and Good Intentions are Sabotaging Gay Equality, Suzanna Danuta Walters makes the incredibly salient and important argument that queers and straight allies “have settled for a watered-down goal of tolerance and acceptance rather than a robust claim to comprehensive civil rights.” I am with her all the way on this. But then she goes on to trash – I mean utterly eviscerate – the movie “The Kids Are All Right.” This seems so odd, given the rest of the book’s astute observation and queer love, that I suspect something other than making a cogent political argument was driving it. Something personal.

With the whole Lesbian Make-Out Point thing, Tex was telling me that my personal political feelings were getting in the way of her worship (of nature). Well, Suzanna’s personal political feelings got in the way of me finishing her book, although I did eventually, and I highly recommend it. Her take on that movie, though, is distressingly unempathic and mean-spirited towards the suburban queers whose choices have taken them to a very lonely place. Choices, as always, deeply influenced by our homophobic, anti-women culture.

I’m still not sure I agree with Tex about not restoring Lesbian Make-Out Point, and I know for a fact that I would have done it if I’d been on my own. But I am willing to consider that something I experience as restorative and uplifting could be like a kick in the teeth to someone else. Some other queer, I mean.

I am not the first person to notice that we are the hardest on our own. It’s something the status-quo welcomes and foments: if we’re fighting tooth and nail among ourselves, it will be smooth sailing and business as usual for the powers that be. But how hard it is to separate out our politics from our personal! I don’t really think we can. We are desperate for connection, recognition, approval, adoration, amour. I know intellectually that my queer doesn’t have to look like your queer, that we all have our histories and pain, our own paths to follow and that we can only be who we are and do what we can. Additionally, I am quite certain that every single queer in the world, from the most conservative to the most radical, agrees that every other queer in the world should be able to live life fully and safely, that we’re on the same page there about the most basic of what matters. So as vulnerable as I am to perceived slights by other queers (“Where’s my poem about sister love? How can you trash a movie that may actually be talking about femme identity?”), I do my best to unwad my panties, take a deep breath, leave my sharpie in my pocket (or not), and get back to work on my answer to Mary Oliver’s most famous quote*:

 

I am making my small piece of the world a better place for all of us.

 

*“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Oh, Ivan

This morning when I was picking up a prescription at the drugstore, there was an ad on the counter that said something like, “One in six will get the flu (here there were 6 gendered figures, one of whom was a sickly green), protect yourself with the flu shot! 20%-off shopping coupon when you purchase your flu shot from us!” Then when I got home, I took a note about the ad because I wanted to write this post, and Tex, seeing the note, asked innocently, “Are you writing that to remind your folks to get their flu shots?”

Reading Ivan Illich is like eating the densest, most complex flourless chocolate cake imaginable. I have to go slowly and sometimes I have to take an extended break. But I’ve been reading Tools for Conviviality again recently, and am almost to the end. The reason the flu shot ad caught my eye is because Chapter V, “Political Inversion,” begins like this:

If within the very near future man cannot set limits to the interference of his tools with the environment and practice effective birth control, the next generations will experience the gruesome apocalypse predicted by many ecologists….The bureaucratic management of human survival is unacceptable on both ethical and political grounds….Man would live in a plastic bubble that would protect his survival and make it increasingly worthless. Since man’s tolerance would become the most serious limitation to growth, the alchemist’s endeavor would be renewed in the attempt to produce a monstrous type of man fit to live among reason’s dreams. A major function of engineering would become the psychogenetic tooling of man himself as a condition for further growth. People would be confined from birth to death in a world-wide school-house, treated in a world-wide hospital, surrounded by television screens, and the man-made environment would be distinguishable in name only from a world-wide prison.

Oh, Ivan. I know you knew that there was no stopping us from going where you warned us not to go. Look at us now! “Did you get your flu shot?” “What was your SAT score?” “I love your playlist!” and all the personalized ads everywhere. Recently, my sister-in-law sent us a screamingly funny email about all the ways you can use the poop emoticon on your phone, and anyone at all can faff about with untold numbers of computer programs that allow you to change up photos, use packaged beats to make a song, design faux movie trailers, and more more more. Looks like creativity, smells like Big Brother.

My copy of Tools was published in 1973, part of the World Perspectives series edited by Ruth Nanda Anshen. It smells terribly musty, the pages are yellow, the cover indicates that it’s a serious book in the hoary design language of yore. A holy object.

I may never know for sure, but I wonder if Ivan was queer – I mean, I know he was queer in the broader sense of being outside the norm – but I like to imagine that he co-founded the Center for Intercultural Documentation in Cuernavaca, Mexico in part because he had a thing for hunky Mexican men.

The worries of the world come upon me at any time of the day or night. I am in despair. There is no way out and we are doomed.

And yet Ivan bravely wrote and left his brave, brilliant words for me.

At the homeschool QSA, I wax lyrical about the work we’re doing in our community, and one of the members sighs and says, “That was so inspiring!” I read my erotica story about a very late-blooming boi at a sparsely attended event and afterwards hear from two of the audience members that that story was dear to them. One of my ESL students begins to question her mercenary-like concept of the reason you go to college – maybe it’s not so much about getting a diploma so you can get a high paying job, she’s thinking now, maybe it’s more about self-reflection and global connection. Both my sons agree that it’s important for them to attend a QSA-sponsored meeting to discuss ways of supporting local queer youth; Owen can’t come because he’s sick, but Seth shows up and stays for the whole time, and later tells me he thinks we’re on the right track and that there are definitely folks who will benefit. These things are not nothing and they are the best I can do.

I hear voices: Noam Chomsky’s exhausted monotone, Amy Goodman’s nerdy intonations, Mia McKenzie’s succinct, no-fucking-around turn of phrase, and (glancing at my bookshelf and picking out just a few) Lee Lynch, Christopher Isherwood, Bill McKibben, bell hooks, Radclyff Hall, Sarah Waters, Mary Renault, Tove Jansson, Amber Hollibaugh — and Ivan, oh, Ivan! I’m listening.

“Witness. Companion. Persevere. Stay human.”

Published in: on November 15, 2014 at 11:54 AM  Leave a Comment  
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