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!