What we talked about on Tuesday

One of the QSA members brought in the below on Tuesday, and we spent a long time discussing the content. My mind is a little bit blown that the word “queer”, so liberating and yummy and bath-water-warm for me, is bitchy and bullying and nasty to many of the youth now, the, um, qu…, um,  under-the-rainbow youth? Not to mention all the other extremely interesting, troubling issues she brings up.

What do YOU think, dear Reader?

Published in: on May 18, 2016 at 8:36 AM  Comments (4)  
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Where Two or Three…

Every week, I reserve my Tuesday morning for the homeschool QSA, never knowing how many kids are going to show up.

Sometimes no one comes at all. I’ll sit for a while, reading a book or writing something, just hanging out, keeping the space open. Then I’ll go home and have an early lunch.

Sometimes it’s just me and one other kid. Sometimes, that kid really needs to talk and we stay for the full 2 hours. Sometimes, it’s been awkward, because that kid would much rather be interacting with peers and we don’t stay much over 30 minutes.

Today, I thought it might be me and one kid, and I told him that two people can change the world. Another kid showed up, and I said three people can do even more to stir things up. We got started by looking at a 1971 copy of Life magazine that was kicking around, and I talked about how gay rights have changed since that time, which led to a discussion about liberal lip service, “just like you” folks, the isolation of not knowing about queer history and having to reinvent the wheel all the time as well as assuming homophobia is just your own personal hell because Americans like to think everything is about the individual instead of looking at systemic oppression. We talked about how some of their peers feel that the era of GSAs is over, thinking themselves too cool or too sophisticated to ever darken the doors of such a passé group. We talked about queer space and why it’s important. We got to talking about how a radical queer movement has a lot to teach the straight mainstream population, for example, about sexuality and gender norms. Another kid showed up, kind of late, and we talked about liberal lip service again, something she is just beginning to explore and understand.

We also planned our next meeting, which will be open to younger kids, a Junior QSA, and we planned the upcoming GSA Summit we’re co-sponsoring with Queer Mystic: “Combating Lethargy in Your GSA”.

Yesterday, Monday, after a miserable 2 ½ hours at the assisted living place trying to comfort my sad and lonely mother, talking to the administrators about some communication problems and the fact that said sad and lonely mother had pressed her call button Sunday night and no one came to check on her until 3 hours later, I drove off feeling pretty rough. Panicking about where Tex and I will be when we’re old, how we can prepare. Feeling old and lonely right then. Feeling very “what is the point?”.

As we meandered through our discussion this morning at the QSA, we got onto the topic of paths not taken, and I mentioned my little fantasy of what if I had gone to live in San Francisco with the super-radical queers. One of the kids said, “But maybe you’re more needed here, and you’re making more of a difference here than you would out there. Maybe the work that you’re meant to do is here.”

Every Tuesday morning I make the commitment to spend two hours with members of the homeschool QSA. Can I get an amen?

Published in: on February 23, 2016 at 2:02 PM  Comments (1)  
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Am I in the Right Place?

Yesterday, halfway through the homeschoolers QSA meeting, there was a knock on the door. We all turned to look, and the young person who had knocked looked in turn at us. Then she asked shyly, “Am I in the right place?”

Oh readers, is there not one among you who has not asked perself* the same question? I may be 54 and ticking here in the suburban sprawl outside of Boston, but I still have magical thinking that I’ll be able to do it all over again on the other side of the country (San Francisco, here I come!) or in France (J’arrive, mes vieux potes!), or Japan (Yoroshiku onegeishimasu!).

Certainly my poor mother must be pondering that question, as she never in a million years thought she would find herself living in a nightmare version of yucky college dorm meets tacky low-budget cruise ship (aka assisted living). In this new “home”, all the waiters know her name but none of them can manage to make the water hot enough for a real cup of tea, and her husband of 60 years has been replaced by a toddler: oblivious, food-driven, extremely cheerful except when he lets out all the stops in abusive temper tantrums.

Tex and I had a date recently – we went out to eat. It was a cute little place, very neighborhood-y, full of other folks on dates, families with kids. We had a lot to talk about, and were quite engaged with one another, so it wasn’t until later that we realized how unbelievably straight the culture in the room had been. I am quite sure that every single one of the patrons sharing space with us that evening, if canvassed, would swear up and down to “be ok” with queers. Why, the tattooed bearded young man waiting on us even referred to us as “ladies”! But the cumulative effect was that we both woke up the next morning feeling slimed. In his brilliant and restorative book Covering: The Hidden Assault on our Civil Rights (Random House, 2006) Kenji Yoshino speaks about the effects of having to move always in a straight culture, “I felt like Gulliver waking in the land of the Lilliputians, battened down by infinite and infinitesimal threads. Any one of them would have been easy to break, but collectively they immobilized me (p. 61).”

Yesterday, I managed to go sit for a wee bit at the Diesel in Davis Square, drinking a decadent Somerville Smog. The queerness soaked into me and felt me so much better (as Owen used to say when small). I didn’t have to ward off; I could just settle in and smile.

Am I in the right place? Oh heavens, how can I know? If I was in San Francisco, maybe me and Carol Queen could hang out and maybe I’d get to explore being femme in more depth than I have the opportunity to do where I am now. If I was in France I would know how to say all kinds of queer stuff in French and could hang out where Gertrude and Alice did. In Japan? Maybe I’d be doing research on the history of queer in Nihon and flirting with sweet Japanese butches… But here I am, with my best and sweetest Texan butch, two excellent sons, a kitty with more toes than he knows what to do with, a very upstanding terrier gentleman and many, many other blessings. And I do feel that I am very definitely in the right place when I’ve helped open queer space for queer youth, like Fridays at the Queer Mystic drop in night. The youth who come in laugh more, stand up straighter, the look in their eyes becomes less guarded. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, actually. And yes, the girl who’d been looking for the homeschoolers QSA was also in the right place that day, and we welcomed her into the fold.

 

 

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*Per (nonbinary.org)

per (person), per, per, pers, perself. Called “person pronouns,” these are meant to be used for a person of any gender. Compare Phelps’s phe pronouns, which are also based on the word “person.” John Clark created “per” pronouns in a 1972 issue of the Newsletter of the American Anthropological Association.[203]

Use in real life and non-fiction: Person pronouns were one of the sets of pronouns built in to MediaMOO for users to choose from.[204] Richard Ekins and Dave King used these pronouns in the book The Transgender Phenomenon (2006).[205]

Use in fiction: In Marge Piercy’s feminist novel, Woman on the Edge of Time, 1976, Piercy used “per” pronouns for all citizens of a utopian future in which gender was no longer seen as a big difference between people.[206]

Forms:

  • Nominative: When I tell someone a joke per laughs. (Or person laughs.)
  • Accusative: When I greet a friend I hug per.
  • Pronominal possessive: When someone does not get a haircut, per hair grows long.
  • Predicative possessive: If I need a phone, my friend lets me borrow pers.
  • Reflexive: Each child feeds perself.

On Pronoun Island: http://pronoun.is/per

 

 

Published in: on February 3, 2016 at 11:59 AM  Comments (1)  
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Love Letter to the Methodists

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

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

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

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

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

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

We didn’t change the theme.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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