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.





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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Feral Queers

First of all, I’m sorry I left you hanging at a rather suspenseful moment last post! I’m happy to relay that my Dad is fine and both my folks are doing really well.

And now, to our irregularly scheduled blog post:


On a recent suburban evening, Tex and I took ourselves off to the local library where we were looking forward to participating in the Queer Book Group run by our simply marvelous local lesbian librarian. We were to discuss Orange is the New Black and for the very first time, Tex had finished the selection and I had not.


Imagine our surprise when we got there to discover two earnest straight white ladies sitting at the head of our QBG table with a clipboard and a lot to say. I remembered, just barely, hearing that our fearless lesbian librarian leader had engaged these folks to bring their knowledge about prison activism to our discussion that evening. Tex, however, didn’t have a clue, and was forced to leave the room when one of these horribly entitled, condescending gals sang out, “So, do you want to talk about QUEERS in prison now?” (No, certainly not with you, and plus, you don’t get to say queer, and double plus, you don’t know shit about it, so shut up!)


See, me and Tex are kind of feral queers, and when we manage to make it to a queer event, we just want to be with other queers. We live out here in the straight wilderness, having to don protective coloring and full-body armor, dodging homophobic bullets right and left, trying to keep our queer selves and dignity intact and functioning despite the lack of any kind of harbor of decency, and we are fucking tired. It’s desperate for us, no fucking joke.


After the straight ladies finally left, Tex voiced so many grumpy complaints that when we got home she had to write an apologetic email to our fabulous lesbian librarian. (“Dude, don’t give it another thought,” came the gracious reply.)


I managed to hold it together with the straight ladies, but I am sorry to say that I made the vomit gesture when same fabulous lesbian librarian leader reminded us that we’re reading Rubyfruit Jungle for next time. I hated that anti-butch/femme book (took it quite personally), but who cares? The QBG is so wonderful it doesn’t matter what we’re discussing, but somehow, I still couldn’t stop myself from reacting in this unfiltered fashion.


When Tex and I get around other queers these days, we get dangerously amped up. We tend to erupt with loud comments that are often uncouth, poorly timed, and unruly. We sputter, laugh too loudly, and make jokes in dubious taste, startling more decorous queers and potentially ruining our chances of finding new queer friends. Tex says she used to be disciplined in grade school for disrupting class, and that’s exactly how she feels now at QBG. And I’m so desperate for queer culture that any book, film or webseries QBG members recommend or say they’re enjoying, I shout, “IS IT QUEER?” so you might as well call me the queer one-note Sally and, as we know, she usually ends up eating lunch all by herself. Tex and I worry that we are crude, offensive, and generally unfit for polite company.


But isn’t it also true that we could all do with more queer love than we’re getting? Surely we’re not alone in this. Yesterday, at the homeschoolers QSA, one of the members related an episode where she bonded with a passing gay boy about her new jellies. She’s a modern queer teen on the go, with a coterie of fabulous friends of all sexualities and genders, and yet sharing a squeal or two with a sweet flaming stranger completely made her day. When she told the story, everyone at the QSA sighed and cooed and nodded and smiled and smiled.


We need each other so badly! So give up the sugar, my sisters and brothers. Smile at each other, break out a friendly wink, an air kiss, an understanding grin. Spread the fairy dust and queer up this old world. See each other and gather each other in.




Published in: on November 12, 2014 at 10:34 AM  Comments (3)  
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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.

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 ( 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.


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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