Nothing You Could Say Could Tear Me Away

I’ve been waiting for seven years to say that I’ve met someone and not have it be an April Fool’s joke or clickbait.

Today is that day.

I can’t tell you much about her because she’s a mom. Her kids know she’s dating someone, but not who it is. It’s too early for them to meet me, but acceptable for them to know that if their favorite sci-fi novels are missing, they haven’t been stolen. I hope they know what their mother has done having told me I could read anything I want. 😛

Editor’s Note: This week I borrowed “out of my mind,” by Sharon M. Draper. It’s about an 11 year old girl who has a photographic memory and is trapped inside her body. She can see everything, but she can’t tell anyone about it because she can’t write. She finally gets a voice, and not everyone is eager to listen.

I can give you details that have nothing to do with my girl’s current life, though.

She has a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Vocal Performance. When she’d gotten those done, she auditioned for one of the specialized choirs in the Army, and got a secured chair as an alto before she shipped off for basic training. After she retired from the Army, she directed church choirs for a while, then reinvented herself yet again. I absolutely wouldn’t tell you what that was, anyway, because it tends to make people ask her for things as if her time doesn’t cost money.

One of the things I truly love about my girl is that she reminds me of so many people I’ve loved over the years…. The professional musicians that raised me, including my biological parents, teachers at Clifton, HSPVA, Clements, private instructors in trumpet and voice, beloved choir directors, et al. are the lights that shine behind her, strengthening our connection with shared language. She’s also from New Jersey, not Texas, so she doesn’t remind me of any one musician from my past, or any of them if we’re strictly talking personality. The Texan church musician is an archetype all its own, can I get an “amen?”

And now you’re going to ask if her voice makes me cry, and I’m going to have to decide between snarky comeback and my vulnerable truth. I’m going to go with it.

The truth is that even when she’s just driving and singing absentmindedly, my heart flips. If I was sitting in the audience of one of her performances, forget about it… I’d be gone. She’s got the kind of heart that I know she’d be singing to me no matter how many people paid to be on the front row. What really makes my heart clench is singing together…… You can coax me into crying with that mental picture almost a hundred percent of the time.

But that doesn’t stop her from giving me shit about being a soprano and a trumpet player, and I love every second of it. Because she’s a choir director, she already knows all the inside jokes that are going to make me laugh, especially because her field choir traveled with a band and that rivalry never goes away. For instance, a lot of her friends have gone from the Army Field Band to professional work all over Washington and Baltimore. I am only one degree from Marin Alsop now, and I will not tell you anything about those conversations. I will only say that no matter what I’ve heard, it’s trivial. I’ve heard it all in my own musical life. I still want to see Alsop conduct. Whether she’s Jesus incarnate or Lucifer, every time she gets excited and does that little Bernstein hop, I’m drooling like a computer programmer at a Star Trek convention.

Here’s the best inside joke according to me:

My Girl: Voice is the superior instrument with choral music being perfection.

Me: Back the fuck up, Wilhousky.

Here’s why it’s an inside joke. Peter Wilhousky wrote one of the most famous, glorious arrangements of the Battle Hymn of the Republic I’ve ever heard in my life. My choir director at church from seventh grade to ninth loved it, so I’ve known every note to the soprano, first trumpet, alto, and second trumpet part since before I could type. I have also dabbled in first tenor because I will never drop out of the the a capella section in rehearsal. It’s just too chewy.

One of the first things I asked her was, “since you were in the military, just how many times have you done the Wilhousky arrangement?” She said, “a million, and I’m not even exaggerating.” One of the reasons I like it so much is that whether I was singing or playing, it was so damn fun.

My girl and I have other things besides music and the full on church experience regarding how the sausage is made, but I feel they might be too identifying, and thus, too private for now. But if we stay together long term, I’m sure more details will be allowed to creep out. I know we’ll be having discussions about how much I can say and when, and later on if things go really well, asking the kids themselves how much they want said about them because they’re teenagers. They can make up their own minds. I would also rather sign up for shock therapy treatment than become, for lack of a better term, a “mommy blogger.”

I’ll tell you right now, though, one of the kids and I are obsessed with the same thing. I’m not aiming to be a parent. The kids already have two parents. However, if neither of them are as into this shared thing as me and the shorty, it’s on like Donkey Kong. I tease my girl about it all the time…. I get fake disgusted with her assessment of something in said activity and say things like, “if I ever meet your kid, I’m going to assure them you’re only there to hold my bag and my water.” Teasing that hopefully never even gets close to the line of actually hurting is our thing.

This is the first potentially serious relationship I’ve ever been in where we’re not thinking about having kids. She has kids already. So, time is deliciously limited and every moment counts. It’s a little bit tricky because even though we don’t live that far from each other, it’s not really close enough to meet up on a whim. This is because I live in Maryland, a few miles further northwest than the line between Maryland and The District, still inside the beltway of the city. She lives in a suburb of Baltimore that’s closer to BWI, only 30 minutes from my house by car but two completely separate transit systems. The closest I can get is taking the bus to the Metro station and getting on the MARC train, with either my girl picking me up at the airport station (which thankfully, is very close to her house), or a quick Uber ride to get myself there if she’s tied up at work or something.

I downloaded the public transit app for Baltimore and added one ticket to BWI and a funds card with a few dollars on it. It’s for both of us. I can escape if something goes wrong and I just don’t feel like talking about it right that moment, and if nothing ever goes wrong, it’s just handy to be self-reliant. I’ve also watched too many couples break up because one person always has to do the driving… or if that wasn’t the main problem, it certainly didn’t help anything.

It’s something of which I’m aware, but I’m not as panicked as I would be if I lived in Houston. Now, I don’t have to be reliant on my girl to get me anywhere in either city/suburb. Any time she wants to pick me up to save me time or to spend more time together, it’s welcome and I am always grateful. I just don’t want to feel like a big issue later on…. Driving is one of those things that’s irritating enough if you’re rarely the driver… more so if you’re the only one who does it. When the honeymoon period wears off it’s generally the first knock-down drag-out fight.

Only one piece of the puzzle is left, and that won’t get solved until we decide to get really serious. If I move to the same city or the same house, we’ll gain the ability to do one more thing that we don’t have now…. being able to call each other up and say “I’m going to the pub with the crew. Meet us in 20.” It’s still possible if plans are made early enough in the day, but right now I’m at door to door in somewhere between 90 minutes and two hours. Her town is small enough that I could walk to a pub in 20 minutes if I was local. As long as I stay put, though, 90 minutes to two hours door to door is much faster than I could do it by car, because between traffic and construction there’s no time of day where it takes dramatically less time than others.

It’s so easy that next time my girl might not want to drive here, either. Our friends in Silver Spring would haul us around or we could Uber. So much better than sitting in traffic and driving. It’s sitting in traffic, reading and cuddling. The reason it’s not sustainable as a solution is that if we’re a committed couple, I would lose my mind getting to her or the kids if there was an emergency. Anything less than immediately is unacceptable. “Less than two hours” might fly in a long distance dating situation, but in a partnership is cruel to everyone. Being reliable is important to me.

For now, it’s a delicious thing to will time to stand still; things can progress slowly… I can take things out, try them on, think about them until they’re not foreign anymore. My girl and I can create a private bubble of writing to each other and dates where we really get to know each other with more senses than just reading words on an electronic page. If we’re playing for keeps, we need to be a team, starting with learning how the other one communicates.

I find that I communicate best in writing, especially when I have to say something hard. I can take as long as I need to flip out about it, and then calmly craft a response. My emotions are enormous. Most people don’t deserve my kneejerk reaction. They deserve my response after I’ve walked off and written about it. Just one of the things that lets me be an INFJ on my own without scaring the bejesus out of anyone… and then when I get to the part where I need to say something out loud, I’m confident because I’ve worked it out on my own. I simply need input. If my girl feels strongly about something, my own conclusions need to change. If we’re chatting about it online, I have two things. The first is the ability to copy and paste my thoughts into a letter. The second is that a moment expands when I read about it later…. and in a much more beautiful way than if I just tried to think about the conversation and remember it that way. That’s like trying to read a series of novels and then being tested on which events happened in which book.

I love going back over our conversations and rereading, because different things jump out at me than they did the first time, because I’ve walked away and am looking at it from a different perspective than I was even ten minutes ago.

There’s another advantage to rereading our conversations, and it’s invaluable. Because I’m rereading our conversations and replying to things as they come up, it’s like conflict repellant, and every bit as effective as bug spray. One of my triggers is having someone tell me that my perceptions aren’t accurate. I spent so many years doubting my own perceptions and instincts when I am actually extremely astute. Not much gets by me, and doubting my abilities as a visionary and truth teller when I can bring the receipts is a flat out rejection…. yet another reason why it’s taken me so long to open myself up to a romantic situation.

Only once has this happened, but I went on a date several years ago with a woman who’d gotten the URL for this web site from my OK Cupid profile. Then, she asked me out for coffee. When I accepted, she turned out to be a drooling fangirl who wanted me to be the voice I am here. It’s something that doesn’t seem like it would be problematic. This web site is me. I am this web site. Here’s the rub. At no time during that conversation was I ever allowed to deviate from anything I’ve already written, as if writers are never allowed to change their minds. Particularly with bloggers, entries are just verbal pictures, not even videos. It’s 2D with a timestamp. She’d quote me to me and then accuse me of lying, even if it was 2016 (or whatever, I don’t even remember that much- just that it was before my mother died) and the entry was from 2014. It made me express something verbally that I’ve always known with my other senses. I love respect. I hate fame.

Blogging is a stream of consciousness first draft in which I’ve given myself permission to write absolute shit. This is nothing compared to the heights I can reach with research and dedication. In some ways, I should never have become a blogger in the first place. I laid out every problem I had, including my struggles with mental illness, in hopes of “leading from the back.” Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen, et cetera.

The pro was that people I didn’t know flocked here because I was saying things that connected. Those closest to me started trying to judge the stability of my mental health by my silly observations. I have the same relationship with my blog that I do with preaching in public. I can lead one person or a million, but not two…. as in, it’s very easy to talk to people I don’t know. People I do know tend to think that they are excellent detectives. Not once have they ever been right. They are right that occasionally I do spiral out, and as bad as they think. But not when.

The difference in my writing voice is not mania vs. depression. It’s “in the creative zone” vs. “I haven’t written in X number of days and I am itching to get everything out.” The other differences that are seen as lies are actually easily explained without being excused. I can only write one line at a time. My mind is a multi-core processor. Every time I tell a story, it includes thoughts from all the cores and not just the one I was using at the time the story was originally written. My details don’t get larger or smaller. They just get more dense…. or in layman’s terms, “I can bring the receipts. I don’t just make shit up.” Well, unless I’m preaching. One of the funniest things my little sister has ever said was “DAaad? Wassat true, or were you just preachin?'”

Returning to this moment, it’s foreign to me that someone wants to date me… will hold my hand walking down the street, will give me quick kisses and put her arm around me as if we’ve known each other our whole lives. It’s been 10 or 11 days. Nothing is being rushed about our relationship. It cannot be for all our sakes. We’re not thinking for two, exactly. Well, we are, but it’s not the two of us. I have an activity to do and she has a bag and a water to hold.

I’ve thought about kids two other times in my life, and shut the door permanently. I can’t remember what year it was that Dana and I went to the OB/GYN to check and see if we were good to go, but I was much younger then……. even still, it would have been a geriatric pregnancy. I am almost positive that if I had to make a choice between getting an abortion and having a child would be torture, because some kind of trauma was probably involved. I’ve also wanted a child since before my mother died, but I know my biological child would look like her even if the biological father didn’t. The flip side of the coin is that I would be much crazier than advertised if I decided to carry the pregnancy to term. I already have to choose between physically and mentally sick (physical drug side effects). A pregnancy would make that distinction as clear as it could possibly be. Both my medications (I think) are pregnancy approved…… but what if they don’t work for me while pregnant? Yes, I have thought a lot about this. Maryland has everything I need if something were to happen here, but I go to Texas more often than I travel anywhere else. Southern men are typically sweet and genteel. If they are liberal enough that they don’t have a problem with homosexuality, sometimes the flirting gets intense because we both know it’s not going anywhere.

If they’re a conservative crazy, and the percentage on that in Texas is not zero, it’s not impossible that they’d say they love Jesus while shooting me in the chest, or letting me live but raping me because “you’re only a lesbian because you haven’t had a real man yet.” Let me really drive it home for you. After the shooting in Colorado Springs, I had a panic attack. I was filled with survivor’s guilt. My only accomplishment that day was living in Maryland. I met my girl not long after, and it was like coming up for air after free diving. When she kissed me, I remembered what I was fighting for. I fall asleep thinking about her, and all I would do to keep myself strong so that she can lean on me. It’s all any couple wants. That the idea of support in government via marriage tax breaks and support in community through erasing prejudice is just crazy and we have to tear down all the progress we’ve already made is Looney Toons. Of the two, though, I’d rather have the love and support of the community. I’m kind of over entangling marriage and the government. Laws can move legal protections. They can’t change hearts and minds because that’s not what they’re designed to do.

As for me and my girl, we’re being careful not to become examples of the lesbian U-Haul stereotype. It’s good for the kids, but we see why it’s not that big a deal for other people (especially if it’s just the two of them in a very large house). Because of our shared language and library of images, I believe we could move in together tomorrow and with some counseling, make it work. There are multitudes of things that make us unique, but we are also extraordinarily similar. Both musicians, birthdays five days apart (although she’s four years older), both fluent in church lingo for an amazing understanding of my life before she arrived. It’s a whole bunch of things that would make us able to start off with good communication and get better at it, not constantly trying to make it work and needing counseling to keep from throttling each other. Getting by is just not the goal, though. It’s both of us thriving and growing together and not at each other’s expense.

Actually, there are ways in which it would be eerily difficult to tell us apart. There are others that are wildly different, but not in any way that would cause conflict. The kind where her life experience differs greatly from mine and brings a whole new skill set to the table. At her core, she’s the kind of peacenik musician you’d find at Interlochen and Julliard, but of course she also had to go through a program physically designed to make her fail to get into this professional-level program. It’s akin to winning a chair in a major symphony (or medalling in the Olympics). By contrast, I synthesize ideas very fast and often throw out thoughts before saying “do you have the bandwidth to listen to……” I am also highly adept at taking on the emotion of every person in the room, and thus have inside information as to their motivations. I’ve always had instincts in that direction, but I’m deadly accurate now that my bullshit detector has dropped.

Speaking of taking in the reaction of everyone in the room, my favorite thing is still being the only one not drinking. Sometimes I do, but I think it’s more exciting to relax with a non-alcoholic beer (especially in a glass) so that people forget two things. The first is that you’re not really drinking. The second is that you’re a diarist. You’re not talking to a reporter, but definitely reporter-adjacent. At parties, if I don’t know you and you have a dumbass attack in front of me, you’re probably going to become a funny story on this web site. If I do know you, I’ll at least ask you if I can write about it because you can laugh about it and I’m not hitting a real nerve. Live and learn.

I feel so good around my girl that it’s a great surprise she’s told me I do things for her that help. I don’t feel as if the relationship is one-sided. I feel wanted in a way that I haven’t in years, that I am a priority and she drops everything for me the same way she checks out of our relationship when we’re apart so that other people also get her full attention. It’s priceless, and feels healthier than trying to manage five conversations at once.

I honestly forgot how much all people need these feelings. I was so focused on independence that I forgot about interdependence, and how nice it can be as well. I’d let the pendulum swing too far into loneliness… particularly because I didn’t notice I was lonely. I used to be the real life Linus Baker, just American and not British…. also not from the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, but that’s neither here nor there.

Now, my life feels whole. I have amazing friends, and a chance at a real thing with someone I’m crazy about. It didn’t feel real until she told the kids, though. Doesn’t matter that she only told the kids she was dating someone. Fine for them not to know it was me specifically. It just made me feel important that she thought our dating life was important enough to mention. Maybe now she’ll let me have diet soda at her house (I can hear it now… “friggin’ sopranos…..”). Even if she doesn’t, there are times when I think my heart can’t get bigger; it always does.

Like when she took me to Ingrid Michaelson and held me while Ingrid sang… some dates are close to magic… when you can feel the night stretching to accommodate your wishes. We went for half smokes and fries at Ben’s Chili Bowl, then walked to Jeni’s ice cream for a “nightcap.”

The next day we took in a matinee of “Into the Woods,” and then it was time for her to go back to her real life. It was so hard to let her go, knowing that I was stepping out on faith that we’d find a way to keep seeing each other if our paths aligned.

My faith is in this being the start of something big. She feels the same way, but I don’t want to speak for her on anything more than that. Wanting to be together for keeps if we continue being successful at communication is the one thing I don’t have to fact check. How we feel is deep and intense, passionate in every color across the Scandinavian sky. At the same time, I’m 45. She’s older than me. Combining lives is not an easy process, and when kids are involved, sometimes love isn’t enough. Unclear communication regarding division of labor kills a relationship faster than lack of love ever will.

I have issues with having brilliant ideas and an interesting relationship with follow-through. Luckily, my girl has plenty of experience in dealing with people close to her that have mental health issues. My girl can recognize a coping mechanism and roll with it, or help me create one. I will never get over the idiosyncracies that my mental health presents, but I can always use more cognitive behavioral therapy to make it manageable. It’s the same with medication. I take meds to make it better, but it’s a pill…. not a magic wand.

There’s one last connection that we have that I can tell you about, because it’s probably the thing I feared the most in putting myself out there in terms of dating. My grief is deep, It is ever-present. There is no moment of any day that I’m not away from it. It’s a constant dream, waking and sleeping. Her mother is dead, too. So much I don’t have to explain when we share that particular frame of reference. You just join the shittiest club on record. It’s something you literally can’t explain to anyone else who hasn’t lost a parent, because the feelings are too deep to put into words. Losing anyone is painful. Losing a parent rewires you from the inside out. Putting things into words gets easier over time, especially for writers because they’re constantly exorcising their demons whether it’s fiction or not. My girl and I are also in roughly the same place in our process. It’s not overwhelming anymore. It’s a dull buzz that’s occasionally triggered into an alarm. It makes our music connection that much more intense and primal. If you know me in real life, you got here several paragraphs ago.

I need to write this down for posterity, because it is a moment I’ll never stop treasuring. I remember her sitting on my couch. I was kneeling on the floor so I could look into her eyes. It was too much. Too powerful. Tears started rolling down my cheeks. I said, “thank you for bringing the music back.”

Nothing you could say could tear me away from my girl.

It hit me all at once that I was dating someone my mother would have loved and wanted to adopt. James Lipton was famous for asking this question from the Bernard Pivot questionnaire…. “If heaven exists, when you arrive at the pearly gates, what would you like to hear God say?”

My favorite answer is Harrison Ford’s…. “You look just like me.” My own is a delicious smirk and “see what I did there?”

We Can Do Hard Things

The title of this entry is the title of Glennon Doyle’s podcast, but the podcast is not what I’m pondering. It’s the catch-22 of how to be a white person and call the black community out on some shit that is very harmful to me… but without making it sound as if it is equal to or more disturbing than anything white people have done to them. It’s just that in this instance, I’m not speaking as a white person, especially not a white person with entitlement. I have it when I choose to use it, which is never. I’m speaking as a lesbian. I am not the person that you think I am at face value. You cannot attribute the same attitudes toward a white minority that you can toward the white, straight, cis majority, because I’m fighting them just as hard as you.

Here’s why. If I was seen kissing my paramour/girlfriend/wife on a street corner, the race of the person who saw me would be irrelevant. There’s just as much chance of me being harassed or assaulted, even sexually as a public service, by someone with any background. It’s not about my color, it’s about my perceived sin.

I came out when I was about 14. Violence against gays and lesbians has always been very real. It was 1991, not 2022. I can draw a direct parallel between me and Emmett Till, because if I was caught whistling at a woman, seemingly making advances toward her, I would have been in just as much trouble, because black Christian Evangelicals are just as brainwashed by crazy as white ones.

Lesbians are in a tight spot. We are seen as non-threatening if men do not know who we are courting and it is just a fever dream to have a threesome with us as they spout their “Christ is love” bullshit, because it sounds dirty coming out of that kind of mouth. However, if the man does know the woman in question, particularly if he sees us as a threat to his relationship, we are well on our way to black eyes because “we’re not real men.”

Well, no shit, Sherlock. That’s why I can make her scream so much harder than you.

Now imagine me smarting off like that to a black or white man who thinks he’s tough. Now I’m even closer to death. Additionally, I can think of no worse childhood than growing up black and trans, especially if your family is religious. Black and white Evangelicals are equally guilty of indirectly killing their children because they don’t see their faith as bullying.

Add race to being queer and it is just a mess. White, straight, cis feminists don’t have the same needs as women of color. Queer women of any race have different needs than straight. Trans women have different needs than cis. In terms of trans and cis women, it is like one man has fathered children with identical twins. We are biologically the same and yet cousins because of trans women’s socialization as men when they were young.. This is on its way to being a non-issue with puberty blockers and supportive parents, but right now, it is a hard thing we can add to the list.

I watch a lot of YouTube videos on building houses, both on and off the grid. What I’m seeing is that the entire house is wonky because in the queer community, we didn’t actually create all the vassal agreements needed to be powerful as a voting bloc. What I’m saying is that the house will fall soon if we don’t go back and fix the basement.

But don’t worry. We Can Do Hard Things.

The Voting Monolith

I hate to admit it, but not being on Facebook is really, really nice. I hid the icon on my iPhone and use Messenger exclusively. Turns out I don’t need to see when I have a like. I don’t actually care. If I want to know something, it’s probably about how the world works, or how to improve my relationships… not a contest to see how many people love me at any given moment. Why worry? I already know there’s a vast tens of you somewhere.

Apparently, I am a big deal in India.

My biggest collection of foreign readers used to be Australia (I’m American, Marylander specifically). I liked that a lot. Being associated with what is essentially a large island full of people descended from criminals directly appeals to my own sense of self. Actually, that may be one of the truest things I’ve ever said. I had an ancestor- I think his name was Anthony and went by “Tony Lanagan.” I’m not exactly sure where, but there’s still a Tony Lanagan in my family, just a much younger one.

Anyway, the ancestor was kind of rough and tough Irish. Ended up on the unlucky end of a murder. I am extremely forgiving because I don’t know what the world was like back then. Yes, my ancestor was innocent in that incident where he died. Was he always innocent? Unclear.

I can’t think of many instances in which I would actually “be gay and do crime.” Well, at least until the Supreme Court takes me to my concentration camp.

Too dark? Fuck you, no it’s not. I’m not the only one warning of complete collapse. Remember when I was out in front of the Iraq war? Just one of those Portland libtards who turned out to be absolutelyfuckingright. Does this entry sound angry? It kind of is. But actually, don’t take all my ire as anger. It’s also abject fear, hoplessness, anxiety, depression, etc. Nothing is scarier to me than undoing progress.

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Affirmative Action and the conservative supermajority is poised to overturn. Biden better pack that court IMMEDIATELY if he doesn’t want to be responsible for the downfall of all the human rights we’ve already won by the time he moves on. What a fustercluck. How sad is it that so many politicians are so popular in America and get elected easily, but because those votes didn’t come from a particular geographic location, it screws everyone in the country. So maybe do away with the Electoral College while we’re at it.

If gay marriage, Affirmative Action, Roe, and Griswold all fall (and they very well could), it points to overturning Lawrence v. Texas as well. You know, the laws that made gay sex illegal? If women have no right to abortion and no right to privacy, why do you not think gay sex won’t be on the chopping block? We’ll go back to being personified sin wishing we’d left when we had the chance. If you remember the entire world coming for Jews and gays, you better start digging that shit back up. I’m not going through that again, and I’m pretty sure the Jews are also with me on this, capiche? Get your shit together, United States.

God, I’m sure this could be signed by every minority in this country.

It’s also a sick, sick internal feeling to be white and a minority at the same time in the age of “White Fragility.” It does absolutelyfuckingnot (using it again because Heather likes it) feel like a picnic wanting to join “The Movement” and have half the black community be with us and the other half hate us so much. The Black Church is known for many, many things that are wonderful. They’re also known for treating the queer community like absolute shit.

I am not stupid enough to think that black and gay people are having the same experience of the United States. It’s not possible. But what I will say unapologetically is that even though our two paths diverge in the woods, if we each walk a mile in each other’s shoes, we can tell where they might pinch the other’s feet.

We are better together than we will ever be apart, especially as a voting monolith.

And I’m just going to leave that right there, because the truth bomb needs to sit awhile. What are we going to do? We don’t have the option to do nothing.

Letting Go and Letting Leslie

I know the phrase is “let go and let God.” However, I have never put myself first, and I believe the God is implied. Prayer is nothing without shoe leather. We’re a duo, not a Trinity. Jesus is the face I use the most often, but it comes as Middle Eastern. I choose Lebanese most often because the family I rent from hails from its mountains.

My landlady still has an incredibly thick accent and talks on the phone in Arabic often. When we’re in the same room, I look at her with admiring eyes. I’ve told her that I absolutely love listening in on her end of her phone calls, because I don’t know a lick of Arabic. I’m not invading her privacy, but still enjoying the lilt of the language. I’ve thought about learning Arabic many times, but haven’t started yet because it would ruin the magic.

I felt the same with my former housemate Nasim, who used to dazzle me with Farsi. Of course when she told me she was from Iran I practically jumped over two people to tell her that my favorite movie was Argo. She looked at me like, “typical American.” I wish I could tell her what has happened since then.

I could almost cry thinking about not making it to DC before Tony Mendez (spy who created the operation behind “Argo”) stopped making public appearances. He died before his last book, The Moscow Rules, came out. Two things about that, though. The first is that Tony got CIA’s approval to publish the day before he passed away, and the book was a collaboration with his wife, Jonna. Jonna was on book tour and gave a talk at the International Spy Museum, and afterwards, I looked her up and asked her to read one of my blog posts (The Spy in the Room). We’ve stayed in touch casually, and it’s been very rewarding.

Thinking about the scenario of telling Nasim all this is a schadenfreude that makes me giggle. I’ve been laughing a lot more these days.

I came to a fork in the road, and I chose light.

For nine years, I’ve dealt with the grief of losing people I still love in my memories due to being both alive and dead. Since I went to University of Houston I’ve dealt with medication that robbed me of any desire to be in a relationship unless someone broke through with enough force that I noticed. For almost a decade, I have avoided romantic relationships, because it was being willing to take a chance on upending the life I had carved for myself…. the one where I was just happy enough not to notice I wasn’t really happy. I was having good times, but not consistently enough because my dopamine receptors weren’t accepting applications.

I know this is going to sound strange, but I am now open to the idea of dating because of Queen Elizabeth II. I can hear you from here. “Say what now?” Hear me out. I’ll make it make sense.

I was watching a few short videos of Her Majesty’s funeral and for a split second, I considered my mortality. And that was all it took.

I thought to myself “this is how I’m going to tell that story for the rest of my life.” When I thought I was done, the Queen forced me to consider.the last time I had romance, making me feel old and rusty. Was I really going to die thinking I wasn’t enough?

So here I am, chatting in this Facebook group for women of my age and persuasion. My ego started getting stroked immediately, and I was dumbstruck. I am rarely speechless, but this broke me open even more. Part of the reason I’m not a joiner is that I think no one will like me. But several people told me I was cute, and it made me feel better about myself.

A few days later, many filtered down to one.

We’re getting married next week. (KIDDING. LESBIAN JOKE. KIDDING.)

I was going to end it there because it was more dramatic that way. But then I realized it had been a while since we’ve caught up and this isn’t really big news………… except for the fact that I opened my heart to her. That I was brave and she was endearing. That I could see myself having romance in my life when I couldn’t before…….. but I can’t say that we’ve met. Officially. This is because we’ve only chatted online, not in person.

She’s coming to visit in about two weeks, and then I’ll know if I actually have anything to tell you or not. The reason she’s not local and it’s still extremely early days of dating is that she’s on vacation from work and coming to DC, anyway. We met unofficially when she commented on my reply to a question from her about The District, so I’m glad this is not all about me (because Lord knows I love a staycation).

So far she’s a writer’s dream woman- unavailable most of the time. (Now I’m dying laughing picturing her reading this). However, she can leave her house in the morning and be at my house mid-afternoon/early evening, so it’s not like it’s an impossible situation. It’s just right for people who have only known each other as long as we have. We can entirely avoid that U-Haul stereotype through the cunning use of direct chat.

Actually, I take it back. I do have big news, and I’m ashamed I didn’t think of it before. I’m very excited to have someone in my life I view as a kindred spirit, so even if “it’s not there” in person, what does it matter? We write very well together, and that relationship could easily last our whole lives. I am constantly saying that friendship is underrated and this one is truly fantastic. I should have walked the walk before. If there’s anything I miss about being married or having a girlfriend the most, it’s companionship. I’m constantly looking for new ones so I don’t have to depend on the same one all the time.

We’re talking so easily and well that I’m not worried about going on a date to see if we click. The biggest part was stepping out of my comfort zone to join that group in the first place.

I have had a lot of guilt and shame over the way I treated Dana, and hurt at the way she treated me. Then, my mother died, and because one grief hadn’t ended before the next one started, they got lumped together and compounded. I shut down all of my emotions; the brain is an organ and it was doing everything it could to help us survive. My own thoughts and feelings comforted me because I had little outside contact.

I tried so hard to keep from hurting someone else that I forgot to love them, too.

Along the way, I began to take it into account that not 100% of the blame is mine (nor is it one partner’s in any relationship). After a while, I even believed it. Now, I am only talking about the part I do own.

Innately thinking I hadn’t done bad things, but that I was a bad person, I thought I was protecting women from me. That I was really doing them a favor. When the grief cleared into a fog thin enough to see, I learned that it was a lie my brain was telling me to protect me from getting hurt again. It was protecting me from another potential loss.

I’d forgotten what it was like to have a last text of the day. If that’s all it is, then I will still be extremely happy. I’ve learned to trust again, and go with the flow. Whether this is a temporary high or a daily habit is up for debate, though, and I haven’t been able to say that in sooooooo long.

It’s delicious knowing that something could be beginning, and that there is a defined date in the future in which I get to “go see about a girl.”

Here’s what I know so far. In pictures and on video chat, she’s really pretty. She’s been a social worker, and is now a chef. When she told me she was a chef, I had two reactions: “Oh, shit” and “this is fantastic!” These thoughts presented as “not another one” and “we will never shut up.” The fact that I have been married to a chef and have cooked professionally only made me wary for a half second, just because Dana was my best friend and I miss her on that level every day.

I don’t reach out because we have our peace and I’d like to keep it. Therefore, my knee-jerk reaction to umm… let’s call her Theresa (mostly because that’s her name) was that because we couldn’t shut up, this could be something. This could be more grief down the road. A chef? I could let a chef in. That wasn’t scary on its surface, but it was a red flag that this is someone I could let in enough for her to gut me. As a chef, she’d be quite good at it. Moreso because she writes plays and acts (shut up). This had the potential to be a major disaster, and my lemon of a brain almost made me miss it due to fear.

When we were chatting privately, I said, “I don’t know if you meant this to be a date or not, but I’d be open to it.” My stomach was in my mouth until she said “I didn’t know I wanted that until you asked.” Then we were off at the races planning a great and memorable first date. I excitedly told her that I was so glad she said yes, because “even if we don’t like each other or the restaurant catches fire, we’ll have good writing later. It’s a win-win situation.” I was and continue to be lucky that she laughs easily and often.

I think she has long auburn curls, she says that they’re only long compared to my hair. I see it all the time, especially in my dreams.

Like I said, it could be something. I just don’t really know yet. What I do know is that I have been unable to feel the possibility of dating open up until now. That is the real, and for now only story I’m telling. But that the story includes her real name because she said she wanted to be a real person here is telling.

Stay tuned.

Sermon for Pride Sunday 2021

When Tara asked me to speak on “What Pride Means to Me,” I said yes… Then, I sat down at my desk and e-mailed a friend. In that moment, all I was feeling was that I wasn’t particularly proud of being gay. It seemed like taking pride in brown hair… or brown eyes… or being able to eat a medium pizza all by myself. These things weren’t unique, just intrinsic to me.

As I wrote, that feeling lasted for five minutes. For five whole minutes, I forgot the rest of the world exists. It came crashing back, bringing me a sermon seed. From the riots at the Stonewall in to the foreseeable future, pride isn’t about being gay. Pride is about your reaction to others’ disappointment, fear, and anger at something that doesn’t need an opinion.

In fact, homophobia, transphobia, and acts against the queer community fueled by hatred conspire to form the perfect storm. Lightning bolts come at us through major events. Sodomy laws weren’t completely abolished until 2003. Gay marriage wasn’t legal until 2008. AIDS has been a never ending struggle because it has been the proof that conservative Christians needed that being gay was a sin and we could die from it. Conservative Christians are still struggling with the sin aspect, when other scientific progress has been institutionalized. For instance, we no longer think of the left-handed or the divorced as morally bankrupt.

Hypocrisy echoes like thunder all around us.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus and the Disciples are out on a boat in what is now Lake Kinnaret, then called the Sea of Galilee. Mark writes that it is storming, and Jesus is asleep in the boat. The Disciples are scared, and wake Jesus up. They say, “Teacher, do you not care that we are in peril?” In short, what they want is for Jesus to wake up and help bail water.

Biblical stories are often told in parables. This one is not spoken by Jesus, but imparts a lesson all the same. In the Bible, storms are often used to represent chaos. The Disciples internalize it by saying, “Teacher, do you not care that we are in peril?” Jesus isn’t having it. Instead of working through the storm, he yells at it.

It obeys.

The AIDS crisis begat the slogan “silence equals death.” To me, that plays right into our gospel, because as all these messages of fear and hatred are coming at our community, progress is not measured in how well we go along, but how well we stand out.

We dismantle chaos when we yell at it. We dismantle chaos when we refuse to take it in. The storm is not of us, it is around us.

What pride means to me is not pride in the fact that I’m gay. It’s pride in yelling at the storm, even when my voice was shaking.

Amen.

The One That’s Mostly About My Sister

It’s the middle of the night and I just randomly woke up. I can’t get back to sleep, so I’m going to tell you about a funny conversation I had with Sam and then start reading. If I’m not hooked, I’ll go back to bed. If I am, I can’t think of a better way to spend a few hours than blissed out on the dopamine of a good book.

So, Sam wished me a happy Pride. We were talking about the events, and I asked her when the parade was. Then, I said, “I used to feel embarrassed about having to ask straight people when the parade was, but then I realized that no introvert willingly knows when events this size happen. We know it’s coming up, but we’ll wait until we know the approximate date and time before asking the exactly details.” I think it’s because we’ll spend time being anxious about the crowd- it’s sensory overload on every level imaginable. I like to be surprised with answers like “it’s tomorrow” or “it’s three days from now.” I do not want to know that the Pride parade is in three months. That’s three months of worrying about how to participate in the smallest increment of time possible.

She replied by telling me when it was (I don’t remember now…. I’ll have to look it up….. again), and then said that straight people like to be asked when the Pride parade is because they like proving they’re in the know. They like being thought of as “hip.”

Fine with me. I am not hip. I am the worst gay who ever gayed.

I’ve really only had one Pride parade that was so fun I never wanted the night to end. My sister marched with me, and we were both really young. I think she was 15-16, so that would have made me 20 or 21. There is nothing better than seeing the Pride parade through a kid’s eyes, because they notice everything and their perspective is just, well….. It’s better. They’re blown away by the floats, beads, flags, etc. and they just want to love you up and make you feel appreciated. They GET IT. Kids understand better than most adults, because they don’t like it when they feel like their loved ones are being attacked for something they can’t change, and the idea of one night to celebrate with a big party in the middle of the streets is catnip to a teenager. I think the meaningful parts of Pride move her differently than me, and I can tell you exactly why. If someone’s going to hate their sibling, it has to be them. Anyone else is just asking for a knock-down drag-out. Earrings will be taken out. Ponytails will be hastily made.

It’s not just the neighborhood block aspect. It’s also that my sister isn’t gay. She hasn’t had years and years and years of being picked on, so she has no immunity to it. We’ve never had this conversation, but I think it’s a tiny bit like Quentin Tarantino being worried that Jamie Foxx would recoil at saying the n-word while filming “Django Unchained.” Foxx said not to worry. It was Tarantino that was going to be uncomfortable, because for him, it was just Tuesday. If you are queer, homophobia and transphobia are just the iocaine powder to which we’ve built up immunity.

The struggle did not go unnoticed. The Pride parade impacted my sister’s life just as much as it did mine. She gave me so much self-confidence and love. I gave her the will to take on state and federal legislators who want to outlaw trans medicine by exposing her to what was going on in my community early and often.

My sister is pretty much the straightest straight woman I know, but at the same time, I’ve “raised her” to be a better gay person than I’ll ever be. Like, there’s no contest.

She’s a lobbyist for a federally funded health clinic that serves the queer community, working in Austin and DC. She knows more about queer issues than I’ve forgotten, and if I have questions about trans medicine, she’s the person I ask first (I’m not trans, I just always have questions about medicine). She was one of the people fighting prohibition of giving teenagers puberty blockers and the ban on trans girls in sports.

I don’t have the desire, will, or stamina to talk to Texas Republicans about that, because the fact that puberty blockers would alleviate their concerns was beyond them. Puberty blockers are a non-permanent way to treat gender dysphoria in children while giving them plenty of time to see a therapist and decide if they’re happy with their bodies as is, or whether they’d like to have surgery. It also gives them an “out” if they decide not to transition at all. As soon as you stop taking the pills, puberty resumes. I can’t imagine the disgust I would feel for my body if my entire brain was wired as male and I started seeing breasts grow in. By keeping trans people’s bodies immature, it also makes surgical transition easier later, because your face hasn’t grown into the appearance of your assigned gender- the one people decided for you because you’d just been evicted from your first apartment and measured on the Apgar scale.

For trans women, this could mean that their Adam’s Apples aren’t as pronounced and their facial features stay soft. For trans men, this could mean that their hips don’t widen in preparation for childbirth, they don’t start menstruating, and they only have to have bottom surgery later on.

It’s also misogynistic that this stuff is being targeted at trans girls, because I’ve never heard a legislator talking about males assigned female at birth and how that would affect boys’ teams. No one brought up trans men during the bathroom bill debate. It’s almost as if being female is the problem.

I don’t have the chutzpah to even read this blog entry to legislators, but my sister will keep knocking down obstacles on my behalf.

She is my Pride.

Dear Black People,

I hope that you are not offended by my opening salvo, but one of my favorite shows on Netflix is “Dear White People,” and it seems rude not to write back. However, I am not here to be as flip and funny as that show. For instance, there will be no take-downs of shows that made me laugh so hard there were tears and snot running down my face. I hope and pray there will be no “white people are weird” moments, because I agree with you. I’m just here to talk about yesterday, and what it means for our collective futures.

I have said many times that no minority has the capability to be racist. Prejudiced, sure, but not racist. This is because racism is clearly a top-down, systematic, institution. No minority has the kind of power to create such a thing.

Though I would never compare my own struggle to yours, I feel so much empathy and sympathy toward it. Even though I’m as white and nerdy as they come, I am a woman and a lesbian, two things that have worked against me my entire career.

The one shining moment of equality that I’ve ever experienced was in Texas, of all places. I needed two forms of ID to get my driver’s license renewed, and I realized that I only had one… my old driver’s license. And then I remembered that I had a copy of Dana’s and my domestic partnership license from Oregon in my backpack, and I asked if they would take that. There was the usual “let me ask my manager,” but then they said “yes.”

I’ve also experienced some truly cringeworthy moments, the white people are awful moments that we share- the difference being that people can immediately tell that you’re black. They can almost immediately tell that I’m female. But knowing I’m a lesbian is just conjecture until I come out to them. It is not the same, but I hope that we can share some common ground.

For instance, when I was in high school, I told one person that I was a lesbian and two hours later, the entire school knew. One of the percussionists in my orchestra used to hold up Playboy centerfolds where the conductor couldn’t see them and whisper at me to look in his direction. It was mortifying, and it went on for days.

Later in life, I had a boss who spent 30 minutes talking about her children. She said, “I know you’re not going to have any, so I guess you can talk to us about your cat like that.” She also forced me to wear make-up because she said that I always looked like “I didn’t feel good.” Believe me, I was much more comfortable in my own skin without makeup, because while I am not androgynous, I’m not a girly girl, either.

When I was a teenager, I worked at an early childhood daycare center. They didn’t know that I heard them say I shouldn’t be around children, but they didn’t know if they could fire me for that. Over the next few weeks, there was a concerted effort to make me look incompetent instead.

Another story from my junior year in high school was that I had who I thought was a fantastic English teacher, and she would ask me to do things like help her with bulletin boards. I felt safe enough to come out to her, and after that, she had me transferred into a different class.

I realize that the last few paragraphs seem like I’m trying to make this entry all about me, but that is not my intent. I am trying to say that I will always be a part of the Black Lives Matter movement, because if I have had these experiences, you have stories that are 80 times worse.

Yesterday, while the verdict was being read on Derek Chauvin’s case, police shot and killed a 15-year-old girl. She had a knife and was not only lunging at another girl, she lunged toward the police. What I will never understand is why lethal force was necessary in that instance. Perhaps the police could have used defensive moves to take away the knife. Perhaps they could have used a taser to get her to drop the knife altogether so that they could get her into custody alive. She would have stood trial and probably done some time in juvie, but at the end of it, she would have been able to come home to her parents. Shooting four bullets at her was not, and should never, be the answer.

It should be known that the police are also trigger happy with white people, but the reason the Black Lives Matter protests are so important is that the police act as judge and jury in the moment and decide the punishment is death at a rate far greater than they have ever done when white people commit a crime.

Timothy McVeigh is a prime example. He blew up an entire building in Oklahoma and was taken alive to jail. The important part here is that though he died at the hands of the state, it was a jury’s decision. No police officers decided to kill him in that moment, at the site.

We can also add Dylann Roof to the mix. He killed nine people at a Charleston AME church, and was taken alive- even given Burger King on the way to the police station after a manhunt that lasted two days. He did not receive the death penalty, but life imprisonment. So, even though he will never live with his family again, they will get to come and visit. And again, he got to stand trial. No one in that manhunt decided that they were responsible for punishing him.

Getting caught stabbing someone is the least of our worries. Let’s start with the idea that black kids and adults can apparently be killed for holding anything. A toy gun (Tamir Rice), snacks (Trayvon Martin), and it was a cigarette that provoked the white cop’s ire in the Sandra Bland case. Worse, black people don’t even have to be holding anything. Ahmaud Arbery was killed while jogging through a park, though not by the police- by white supremacists in Georgia.

So now we’ve arrived at the part where it’s not just the police. It is all white people, clearly some more extreme than others. Most white people would not identify themselves as racists because they aren’t physically or emotionally violent towards minorities, particularly black people.

Or are they?

I get that most people aren’t physically violent, but the emotional piece is ever-present and pervasive. Believe me when I say that most of the time, white people do not even realize what they’re doing. They have grown up in a racist system that they can’t even see because it’s always been there. White supremacy is still a problem; extremists still exist. But every white person in America has committed the sin of blindness. I am including myself in that crowd, because the color of my skin still allows me privileges it doesn’t give you.

I can buy a car or a house easier than you. If you buy a nice car or house, the police are more likely to believe it isn’t yours.

Remember when Henry Louis Gates was arrested in front of his own house because when he came back from a trip to China, he found that his front door was jammed, so he and his driver tried to pry it open? The neighbors called 911 and claimed someone was breaking into the house. Gates is one of my favorite authors and has been on TV for interviews plenty. (“Finding Your Roots” hadn’t started yet.) Yet, no one recognized him or believed him in the moment.

If it can happen to a respected scholar, it can happen to any black person in America….. like Amanda Gorman, who had literally just been on TV a few weeks before, and if I remember right, it was a national broadcast (that’s the one joke you’ll get in this piece).

I am heartened by the election of Rev. Raphael Warnock, for a very particular reason. He went to Union Theological Seminary after he graduated from Morehouse. At Union, he went all the way to a doctoral degree. He is the antithesis of everything the Religious Right (which is neither) has done to the Republican Party. Instead of living in a comfort zone thisbig by emphasizing fear of hell and damnation, he is letting his votes be inspired by what the historical Christ would have wanted. He is bringing the kindom of God through the soul of politics, which I would support even if I was an atheist…. because his theology is one of civil rights for all, feeding and caring for the least of us, and changing our racial identity as a country, which for a long time has been rightly compared to South African apartheid. He is not trying to convert people to his religious beliefs, just using them to ask himself the important questions.

In “The Black Church” on PBS, Henry Louis Gates paraphrases James Cone’s work in “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.” I had heard of Cone and the title of his book, but I’d never read it in depth. It struck me where I live.

Gates said that when Africans were first brought to the United States, slave owners forced Christianity on them because there was a lot in it about how slaves should behave (that is a whole different story for another day, but sufficed to say, that interpretation is abominable…. and at the very least, the slave owners should have paid more attention to the master’s responsibilities, the bare minimum for people that misunderstood those scriptures so badly). The slave owners didn’t anticipate that the slaves wouldn’t identify with those scriptures at all, but the man who was beaten and crucified, someone they could indeed understand.

To take it a step further, there is no such thing as competitive suffering. Jesus did not suffer more than American slaves, and to say he did is to undermine you both. Howard Thurman said it best when he entitled his magnum opus “Jesus and the Disinherited.” Martin Luther King, Jr. carried a copy of that book everywhere he went, and he kept it close to his heart- literally in the inside pocket of his suit jacket.

There’s probably nothing that I, a nerdy white lady, can offer you in the way of comfort. However, I believe that these two books might become important to you, even if you are not religious. I will also add a second book by James Cone called “Black Theology and Black Power,” which argues that Jesus’ liberation of both Jews and Gentiles alike was the same message that Black Power was preaching. In fact, you’ll read that it was Malcolm X who shook Cone out of his complacency….. Malcolm said that “Christianity was a white man’s religion,” and it stuck with Cone long enough for him to realize that Malcolm was right. The church universal has a lot of work to do in terms of widening the net and dissociating itself from white supremacy…… going back to ancient missionaries trying to bring white European Christian culture to people who already had civilizations older than theirs.

White, heterosexual, cisgender supremacy has become inextricably interrelated with white church. It’s just more polite. Hidden behind smiles and “bless your hearts.” If there is anything the Trump administration showed me, it is that there are still so many people who would treat you as lesser than just because your skin looks different, and treat me as if I am sin personified. I don’t go to a church like that, but I am wary of walking into any of them with which I am not familiar…. or if I’ve heard the things that go on there.

Any church that looks at the Bible as if God literally had a pen in their hand and wrote it all down is ridiculous to me. It was written in a time and place that has no bearing on our own, in addition to being inspired by many, many people…. some of whom made it into the canon, and some who did not. I look at theology as a lens through which I see everything else, and I have to admit, I did not write that sentence. Marcus Borg did. The best analogy I can bring to the table is a scene from “Shadowlands:”

Harry: I know how hard you’ve been praying; and now God is answering your prayers.

Jack: That’s not why I pray, Harry. I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.

I can only hope that the reverse is true with the Black Lives Matter movement… that through the fog, we will carry the light together, bringing along everyone else.

Love,

Leslie

Straight Fragility

The Black Lives Matter movement has changed me in ways I didn’t know I needed. I am beginning to stand up for myself, not afraid to make waves. I hope that I am a white ally in the best sense of the phrase, but I am not naïve enough to think I won’t stumble along the way. The thing I think I’m doing right is that I absolutely know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I am not having the same experience they are, and unless they are a person of color who is also LGBTQ+, they aren’t having the same experience as me, either.

This knowledge has made me less afraid to claim what is mine- to look at what the Black Lives Matter movement is doing, and drawing similarities as to what I can apply to my own life as a minority of a different stripe.

For instance, today it was a Facebook group that asked for a queer roll-call. I got a ton of notifications that said “I’m straight, but I’m an ally.” In what universe is being an ally and being queer equivalent? They may have fought for marriage equality, but they could get married while they were doing it. They’ve never felt the pain of rejection and the internalized homophobia it causes. They’ve never had someone claim that part of their identity is a mental illness. They’ve never had anyone stare in disgust if they gave their spouse a peck on the lips goodbye. They’ve never had to seek out safe space, because being gay in a non-safe space can range from uncomfortable to downright dangerous.

The main difference between the struggle regarding race and sexual orientation is that people can automatically see that I’m white. I haven’t dated anyone for five years and change, so I don’t wear any outward signs that I’m also a minority. Now, because I fit the stereotype of short hair and nails, boys’ clothes, etc. they might have their suspicions, but they can’t say so definitively unless I tell them. Until I was 36, I thought they could, and then I met a straight woman who dressed like me, with roughly the same haircut, and it was a light bulb moment. I wasn’t actually advertising anything. I now know this is true due to the sheer number of men who’ve asked me out on Facebook Dating (man, that algorithm is off).

I also think that straight people wearing the pride flag or associated accessories is problematic. I’m trying to get used to it because it’s popular, but I am, shall we say, old school. Enlightened straight people are over others mistaking them for queer, but for me it is also a matter of cultural appropriation………………. and because I know that my friends mean me no harm, and in fact are cheering me on, I try to let it roll. I know who’s an ally or not among my friend group, but if I meet someone who lights up my world and it turns out they’re straight, my throat tightens. It’s hard putting toothpaste back in the tube, capiche?

The double standard that’s my work to release is that I don’t care if men do it. I’m not interested in them. Whether a man is straight or gay is of no consequence. With women, depending on how much I like them, the effect varies in severity. If I can’t see myself dating them anyway, it’s a simple “nobody’s perfect.” If I can, there may or may not be waterworks I have to pass off as allergies….. because not only am I disappointed, pining for a straight woman is the oldest cliché in the book…. I mean, if Eve had a lesbian friend, I guarantee she was miserable. It makes me feel embarrassed and stupid, and that will last years longer than the actual attraction, because I tend to get stuck in my flaws and failures. If I was weird to you once in 1992, I’m still thinking about it.

The other thing that gets the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up is the community moving toward acceptance of straight people using the word “queer.” I realize that it’s shorthand for all the letters. I get it. The longer the acronym gets, the more comfortable I am with using it, too. At the same time, it feels like being called the f or the n word. I am much more easygoing about queer people reclaiming that word for themselves as opposed to giving straight people license to use it. Not everyone feels the same way I do, and that’s a bitter pill to swallow, because people are increasingly of the “get over it” mindset and I’m just not there- and maybe not ever. Younger people do not have the same word association that I do.

It’s a conundrum, because I feel that the strides younger generations are making are positive. I also feel that if they knew what it was like before they were born, they’d have a different outlook. That’s the other difference that really shines, because unless you are actually the child of a queer person, you don’t inherit our institutionalized pain…. and even though Lindsay (my almost six-years-younger biological sister) didn’t inherit it, she lived through it with me, so we have roughly the same outlook. She uses those lessons every single day in her job (it honors me to no end that I’m part of the reason she took it). She works in government relations for a queer health care outfit in Texas, which in my mind is God’s work. I wouldn’t want to meet with Texas Republicans on issues like trans health care. I would vomit before work out of nerves every single day. She’s just far enough removed from those specific fears to be effective.

It is again why straight allies are so important. I am not interested in denying their contribution. I only get wigged when I feel they are trying to say “we’re in this together.” No the hell we are not. You can run your mouth all day long about gay rights, and other straight people will hear it better from you. But you’re not going to think before going into an unfamiliar situation that it’s possible everyone will hate you when they know. Moreover, that fear is tripled going into an unfamiliar church. The Religious Right is the source of most of the things that cause me pain, because their bile is still infecting millions. You are not in danger if a trans person uses the same bathroom as you. You are not in danger if I’m in the locker room with you.

I mean, I’m not even going to hit on you unless you’re wearing a pride flag.

Unintended Consequences

News just broke that Jussie Smollett has been indicted on felony charges for giving a false statement to the police regarding his racist and homophobic attack. The two men that were arrested previously claimed that Smollett paid them to attack him because Smollet had arranged hate letters to be sent to himself that contained “a white substance” and they were not getting enough attention by local and national media.

To a complete outsider and armchair psychiatrist, this looks like some kind of mania, so I’m going to go easy on him. I have a huge amount of sympathy for doing the wrong thing while not being able to see the world for what it really is. But having sympathy is not the same as thinking that he shouldn’t have consequences. Consequences are the only thing that really work in terms of forcing self-reflection.

Just because my actions created emotional issues and his created legal ones don’t have much weight with me. They are two sides of the same disastrous coin…. well, legal trouble creates emotional trauma, so in this case, the coin has landed on its edge and Smollet is looking down.

The main reason I believe this can be chalked up to mental illness is that he didn’t play this out to the end. Being such a public figure only increases the chances that he would get caught, because the case is automatically more high profile.

And past that, there are the consequences for the queer community at large, not that Smollett ever signed up to be any kind of poster boy, but to me, the unintended consequence is possibly less enlightened people regarding the plight of LGBT people will say that things in the United States aren’t that bad. This attack was rigged, so maybe others are, too.

I would argue that violence against gay men and transgender people is worse than it is for lesbians, statistically, because lesbians fly under the radar, due to the fact that most men think we’re cute and harmless, playtoys for their fantasies and not individuals with agency. There’s also the demeaning and insulting trope I run across frequently, that it’s cheating for straight women to sleep with other men, but women? That’s not cheating at all. That’s an opportunity.

I will never forget one of Kathleen’s friends taking us to a bar where the friend’s parents were drinking and the dad asked us to kiss in front of him. First of all, eww. Second of all, that’s your daughter’s friends. I wasn’t angry because he was drunk, but I was eager to leave because I was extremely nauseous.

So, my hope is that people do not write off emotional and physical violence toward our community, because it happens all the time. ALL THE TIME. We don’t need to make up threats, they’re already here. And with a conservative federal senate and even more conservative state congresses, the law isn’t often on our side. Before the indictment came out, I was reticent to believe that a black gay man would get a fair shake from the Chicago Police, anyway.

From what I have seen, the investigation looks fair, but surely you can see where I’m coming from based on past history.

It will be interesting to hear what Smollett has to say when he is ready to give a statement. I am willing to forgive him, but not to let him off the hook. Apologies must come with changed behavior. Otherwise, the apology is null and void. The intended and unintended consequences are going to be a ripple effect for a long time to come.

What happens when the next queer person is attacked? It’s only a matter of time. It could be happening right now. Are they going to be believed? Or will the echo of Smollett’s attack create more scrutiny than before?

I want to know that when I say something happened to me, that I will be given the benefit of the doubt immediately.

And so do all my brothers and sisters.

The Invisible Hand

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

-S. G. Tallentyre (Evelyn Beatrice Hall)

We are in a moral morass thanks to the SCOTUS ruling that a baker does indeed have the right not to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple due to religious beliefs. It would have been a totally different case had the baker just posted a sign that said, “we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone,” and kept his mouth shut. But, he didn’t. He brought in the phrase through counsel that “decorating cakes is a form of art through which he can honor God and that it would displease God to create cakes for same-sex marriages.” Here’s where that gets tricky. It was masterful to bring in artistic expression…. probably the only reason that this became a SCOTUS case in the first place.

Let me be clear- these are the ramblings of my legal brain, after completing a course in Constitutional Law (in which I did very well) and becoming a paralegal in the state of Texas, which does not give me license to either claim understanding of Colorado law or dispense legal advice, but does prove that I understand rules of civil procedure. It has nothing to do with how I feel morally about being treated like a second class citizen. I am talking about jurisprudence, which often departs from morality.

The truth is that the ruling was sound. I’m sorry, it’s terrible, and it’s the truth. One paragraph in a news article regarding Kennedy’s opinion stands out to me, and apart from anything else, it is the question at issue on which the entire case rests:

Kennedy, the author of some of the court’s most important gay-rights rulings, began by explaining that the case involved a conflict between two important principles: on the one hand, the state’s power “to protect the rights and dignity of gay persons who are, or wish to be, married but who face discrimination when they seek goods or services”; and, on the other, the “First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion.”

In that vein, I find for the baker as well. Again, artistic expression is key in this First Amendment ruling. It is also important to note that this case began before Kennedy’s landmark gay rights rulings occurred, so some of the ruling reflects being “grandfathered.” On the other hand, the state of Colorado did itself no favors:

The Court concluded that the [Colorado Civil Rights] Commission’s actions violated the State’s duty under the First Amendment not to use hostility toward religion or a religious viewpoint as a basis for laws or regulations. Under the facts of this case, the Court determined that Phillips’ religious justification for his refusal to serve Craig and Mullins was not afforded the neutral treatment mandated by the Free Exercise Clause.

This conversation is not over, but it does not begin and end with this SCOTUS ruling. It begins with the American population. An overwhelming majority of Americans support gay marriage, and, in fact, its sanctity. It is time for the hand of the market to reflect it. More powerful than any court decision is not giving money to businesses who discriminate against anyone, and to fight like hell for sexual orientation to become a state and federally protected class.

I understand both sides of the issue- wanting to correct a wrong, and also being skeptical of wanting to give a raging homophobe your money in the first place.

And if you are a liberally religious person, it is time to stand up and reclaim Jesus as your own. Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, so as theologian Jim Rigby proclaims, it cannot be essential to his teachings. I personally believe that because Jesus was all about widening the net of acceptance, he would be horrified at current Biblical literalism. As in all things, I could be wrong, but I doubt it. If we are to have true religious freedom in this country, the Religious Left needs to do more to make itself known- not that they are not fighting the good fight, but they do not have the clout, basically controlling an entire political party, of the Religious Right. It is not my goal for the Religious Left to control the Democratic Party, because I believe that separation of church and state should remain intact.

I do believe, however, in protesting all of the freedoms that the Religious Right says we should not enjoy, because they are trying to create a theocracy…. As in, you can have religious freedom as long as it’s the one we believe, too.

Never forget that we also have the right to fight like hell for freedom from religion, as well. Even as a liberal Christian, I am on board with this, because again, separation of church and state should remain intact. Religion can and should influence how we vote, but as a result of going into our closets to pray and meditate, not trying to subvert the entire political process.

We were warned a long time ago, and we didn’t listen:

Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.

-Barry Goldwater

It has become so prevalent that the word “Christian” is associated with bigotry and literalism that it sometimes makes me sick to my stomach to admit I am one, because I don’t want to be lumped in with the uncompromising Word of God™ that needs no translation after thousands of years, becoming stagnant and not the ever-living document it was meant to be. For instance, I think that we are constantly adding to the Gospel, that our words are no less important than the ones set forth for us by the writers of the Old and New Testaments. They were just regular people, like us, who felt divine inspiration…. and not only that, it was a regional council in 1546 which resulted in the Canon of Trent.

Furthermore, the King James edition was specifically made to reflect the views of the Church of England, the basis for the Protestant church today. So think about all of those regular people we left out…. all of whom had something to say and weren’t deemed worthy of inclusion.

We all need to keep writing the Gospel of our lives, whether or not it is deemed officially worthy of inclusion, because even if we are not included in “canon,” it is already well-documented that it doesn’t matter. Someone else long ago threw out regular people’s truths because it didn’t line up with their beliefs…. but that doesn’t render them invalid.

Because if we’re going to talk about religious freedom and the government, it has to reflect the changes in our own lives, as well. My favorite stories are the ones in which Biblical literalists step into the light of inclusion, leaving behind the comfort zone that is only “thisbig,” due to the threat of hellfire and damnation…. or simply reaching out to someone unlike themselves after un-thinking that it is unpleasing to God.

The reality is that reaching out to people unlike yourselves is the entire point of the Gospel. For that part, there is no translation needed.

We have to prove it with our money. Few things speak louder than fear of losing money or going completely bankrupt because of discrimination. We may have to drag bigotry out of society kicking and screaming, but it is what needs to happen. We cannot rely on the courts to do it for us. Some things have to start with realizing what is true for us, and acting on it.

Sometimes, the invisible hand of God working in our lives coincides with the invisible hand of the free market. It can either be life-stifling or life giving.

You get to choose.

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces