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 trails 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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I Can’t Explode

(Before I start, I have to tell you that ABE RYBEK made me write this post – not that he requested it, or anything, it’s just that he commented on another of my posts, “Abe Rybek Hugged Me,” and his sweet words reminded me that it is always worth it to make the effort to get the posts out of my head and into the blog so Abe, thank you!)

One of the consistent joys of teaching English as a Foreign Language is the wonderful mis-speaks you get the privilege of enjoying. Just recently, a new student of mine, a Chinese boy in 9th grade, said earnestly, “I know what it means, but I can’t explode.”

I can’t explode, either. I can’t explode when I hear that the n-word has reared its ugly head at our town’s middle school, being used as a weapon by white students against the students of color who are bussed in from the city to enjoy a “better” education out here in the burbs. I can’t explode when Seth tells me that students watching the girls basketball game at his and Owen’s* high school started saying, “Terry* plays like a dyke!” about a girl who was Owen’s best friend in 2nd grade.** I can’t explode when my UU church shows some very discriminatory colors in a recent action involving the forced resignation of a beloved staff member, rendering the church environment unsafe for minorities in one fell swoop. I can’t explode when a colleague and I go to the local youth counseling center to gather information about starting a queer youth support effort in town and the 3 staff members let us know that they have no resources for queer and questioning youth and are actually looking to the two of us as the experts (they have paying jobs as counselors; we’re volunteering our time and energy).

Much to their dismay, the boys did not have a snow day last week, only a two-hour delay. To be nice, I gave them a ride so they could linger just a little longer at home. On the way back, I saw John*, a boy in Owen’s grade, whose mother once cornered Tex when they were both chaperoning a 2nd grade field trip, to tell her she thought her son was probably gay. I stopped and asked if he would like a ride down the hill in a warm car, and he did. We chatted, me asking him about his singing group, him being the darling polite lad that he is. When he thanked me for the ride, I said, “It was my pleasure,” and readers, truer words have never been spoken. Me and Tex have had that child’s back since that bus ride Tex took with his mom way back when, and not just him, but Terry, and so many more.

See? I can’t explode. Our kids are out there.

 

*Not their real names, in case you were wondering.

**Seth gave them what for, he says. Way not to be a bystander, eldest son!

 

Expendable

Owen (14) and I like zombies. Seth (17) was traumatized by an early and disastrous viewing of “The Grudge” and even though he thought last year he was ready to watch “Alien” with me, as soon as it started, he got interested in doing something else, so I turned it off. Owen, on the other hand, well, just as soon as we get a couple of extra minutes, here we come, Ripley!

Owen convinced me to start watching “The Walking Dead” so I did, and I expect regular readers of this blog (you two know who you are!) will quickly deduce that I have quite a few criticisms of the show. Actually, since I’m pretty sure neither of you has seen it, I will quickly say: it’s from a comic book, written by men, in a certain comic book tradition where there always has to be a good guy and a bad guy. Emphasis on “guy”. White guy. So, for example, when Owen and I talk about the show, I tend to ask things like, “If they’re supposed to be in the south, how come there aren’t more black characters?” and “How come none of the black characters get to have full stories like the white characters?” and “Where are the gay people?” and “Why are those two idiots fighting again?”

Despite all that, I remain in the sorry plight of people who like zombies (or vampires, or werewolves) and am compelled to watch what’s on offer, hope springing eternal. So I’m on Season Three, and just watched the 4th Episode called “The Killer Within”.  In this episode (spoiler alert) not only does the only surviving child, Carl, have to put a bullet through his mother’s brain to stop her from turning into a zombie, he has to assist as she is killed by a field cesarean in order for his sibling to be born. Elsewhere, the only remaining black man sacrifices himself so that the only remaining mother (after Carl’s mother) has a chance to escape, but she doesn’t make it either (or at least, that’s how it seems at the end of the episode).

In preparing me for these eventualities, Owen kept saying , “Season Three is sad, Mom,” and I would say, “Ok, I know people are going to die. I just hope it’s not T-Dog! (the black guy)” and he would say, “T-Dog is an amazing character. But Mom, think about who’s the most expendable. Who’s the most expendable, Mom?” And by gum, he was right! Moms and black men. Who needs ‘em?

First of all, I am proud of my Black Ops-playing baby for understanding that what passes for mindless entertainment carries all the sins of the society (racism and misogyny being just two), and second of all, what the fuck? Carl’s poor mother had a shitty role, badly written dialogue and a mostly one-dimensional, wide-eyed character, but she did sometimes offer a different take on how people might interact in the vastly changed world. My favorite line of hers, tossed out in between puerile musings on how she’s a bad mom and gosh she’s sorry she cheated on her husband when she thought he was dead and the world had just gone to hell, was something like, “We cleaned up a spot for Carl where he can…do whatever it is he does now.” She can’t say “play” anymore, even though Carl is only about 11, because he has had to turn child soldier in order to get along in the zombie apocalypse. I like the line because it indicated to me that she might be capable of thinking differently about how humans are changed by the dire circumstances and how they might start exploring those changes and keep hold of some life- and soul-saving emotional and spiritual complexities. Rather than just doing the easiest thing: me good, you bad, me kill you before you kill me. Later in the episode, she tells Carl never to do the wrong thing, that he’s a good person and he’ll know if it’s wrong, even if it feels like the easy thing to do. Then comes the gory cesarean scene and then the bullet. Hey, the baby’s alive, though!

Owen and I love zombies. I also love vampires and werewolves and aliens, and he loves dystopic novels and fantasy where there’s lots of fighting. We love our genres and as mad as I am about T-Dog and the moms, I’m going to keep watching “The Walking Dead” because I’m interested in spite of myself, and because I like talking with Owen about it. To comfort me before the fact, during the same “who’s the most expendable” conversation, he also kept saying, “Mom, the women are about to get really badass!” “The Walking Dead” is adapted from a comic book. “FunHome” and “Are You My Mother?” by Alison Bechdel are also comic books, only now we have been taught to call them “graphic novels”. Genre has its rules, and wherever there are rules, when you bend or break them, the effect can be sublime. Within boundaries there are worlds, as any writer of sestinas or haikus can tell you. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” George Romero’s movies, all the “Alien” movies, “The Matrix” movies – thank god for the genre benders and breakers. I don’t know what’s going to happen in “The Walking Dead” and I really don’t know what kind of weird relationship (I think these are their names) Andrea and Meshaun have and am constantly on the verge of being offended with Meshaun’s servant role and Alison’s flirtation with gross men, but, if the woman are fixin’ to be badass, I will keep watching. Hope springs eternal, and plus, hanging out with Owen is just a pile of fun.

Published in: on October 28, 2013 at 10:39 AM  Comments (1)  

Interweave Interlude

This is something I wrote for my UU church newsletter. 

As I write this, the Supreme Court hearings about Prop 8 and DOMA are much in the public eye, and I mean the whole world public eye. My friend who lives in Chile forwarded me a post from another ex-patriot there, a straight woman, who wrote about Edith Windsor, plaintiff in the case before the Supreme Court to overturn DOMA. The post heading was, “The sweetest little old lesbian I’ve ever seen!” and went on to call Edith “adorable”.

I found this post so interesting, because that is not how I would describe Edith Windsor. When I look at her, I see a very powerful person, who, after a lifetime of abuse by a homophobic society, is fighting back and doing some very serious ass kicking. I see someone, who, even though she is a lesbian, a woman, and decidedly in the twilight years of her life – all of which are things that have most certainly been used against her in the effort to shut her up – has found the energy and courage to give an unjust system what for.

The tone of the post from Chile reminded me of another time, in another town, when I had to do a double take. “Oh, she’s just the funniest little lady!” was the remark, made in passing, by a straight woman. The person she was talking about, a local lesbian business owner, was someone I, too, had noticed around town, someone who appeared to me to be hard working, complicated, attractive and extremely competent. I could hardly recognize her in the straight woman’s off-hand remark.

I asked my friend in Chile if she thought the post she forwarded me was meant to be supportive. She said she thought so. I think so, too, but is it a real, lasting and substantial support? Calling someone “little”, “adorable”, “funny” feels dismissive to me. Like the support could vanish in a heartbeat if the lesbian stopped being attractive or amusing, like those folks wouldn’t even notice if they came across a lesbian who was not little or adorable or funny.

Part of the problem is that our society is currently so homophobically skewed that fully realized and detailed descriptions of lesbian life, whether in the news media, movies, literature or art, are incredibly hard to come by, at least any that make it onto the heterosexual radar. If you’ve been exposed to untold numbers of heterosexual stories and maybe just a handful of homosexual ones, it’s going to affect how you see the world. I hope that this is changing, and certainly if the Supreme Court does the right thing, our society will have taken a step in the right direction. Until then, let’s do what we can to make room for the stories that so often get overlooked. They are devastating, fierce, arousing, unique, riveting, inspirational, ordinary, spiritual, and some of them are even seriously adorable. But not one of them is simplistic or one dimensional. Just ask any of us.

“Interweave Interludes” will be offered occasionally by different members of our Interweave Chapter.

Our chapter of Interweave Continental is a member-based, grassroots church group providing the church LGBTQQIA community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex and Allies) opportunities for fellowship, support, spiritual growth, social justice work and community activism within the congregation as well as within the wider community  and beyond. 

 

Published in: on March 31, 2013 at 6:11 PM  Leave a Comment  
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