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.

Jazz Tales

I got into The High School for Performing and Visual Arts in 1992 as a trumpet player. I sort of made a mistake in choosing four academic classes and three performing groups.HSPVA Old Logo I was in the wind ensemble, the symphony, and Jazz II, the preparatory band for the one that won all the awards. I got my chance to audition for Jazz I, and I blew it. In hindsight, I could have won had I not been exhausted, because my embouchure was never right. I could only play for about an hour before my face started sliding down into my neck…. and because I was in three performing groups, I never had the time to back off and correct it. Plus, the audition was after school, where I’d already played for three hours.

When I was good, though, I was on fire. I wouldn’t have gotten into a performing arts magnet if I wasn’t. An audition is one slice in time, and it determines the big picture- the entire school year, possibly the entire time at said school altogether.

I am comforted by the fact that professional musicians don’t have it any easier. It’s just as common to blow a huge audition as it is a small one. The thing that made me the most angry is not that I didn’t win. It’s who did… a girl who straight up bullied me from the first day to the last. For some reason, she didn’t have a horn at one point, and my dad thought he could make it better by lending her his. It did not work. For some inane reason, a group of kids in my English class called themselves a family, and said bully said I was the dog. She barked at me every day, and this is just one example out of many.

I have a really, really long fuse… but after a year and a half of this, I backed this girl up to the balcony on the second floor and grabbed her. I wasn’t strong enough to throw her over, but she didn’t know that. I said, “this is going to stop. Right now. My family has been kind to you and every day, you still treat me like shit. That IS OVER.” Unsurprisingly, it didn’t stop the bullying altogether, but it helped. At least when she wasn’t bullying me, she had the good sense to give me the silent treatment. In retrospect, I can think of several good reasons why she was my high school bully, but that isn’t my story to tell. I will only say she was fighting a battle I couldn’t see and didn’t feel the need. Her sob story would have provided context, but not an excuse for the way she behaved. I wasn’t interested.

I was also outed to the entire school and my parents simultaneously, thanks to my counselor “being concerned” and calling them. The entire school came first- someone posted a flyer with a picture of me saying I was a “dangerous lesbian” or some crap like that….. which led to one of the percussionists holding up Playboy centerfolds where only the trumpet section could see them. I don’t exactly remember how long this went on, but I learned early to stick to my guns. If you weren’t bothered, they got bored. It all came to a head when I was sitting out on the lawn, eating my lunch, and the evangelical Christians came outside (link is to a PDF), carrying their Bibles, and read me all the clobber passages they could find. (As an aside, “clobber passages” is code for all the verses that Biblical literalists take at face value and think that the Bible is condemning homosexuality, when in reality, they’ve missed the point entirely.) I ran to my counselor and told her what happened, and she said, “well, what did you do to provoke them?” With that group, all you had to do was exist.

During that time, though, I got to hear some of the greatest jazz minds in Houston, and have now graduated to the international stage. Times like these are what made it all worth it… stars such as Robert Glasper, Eric Harland, and Jason Moran. I am very lucky that I have gotten to see all of them in concert, two here in DC (Glasper & Moran). Robert Glasper played The Reach, and Jason Moran played a small theater inside the “KenCen.”

The Glasper concert was crazy in a good way. So many hip-hop fans, with lights,IMG_0026 sound, and special guest Yasiin Bey. I managed to get an okay picture of them, because I was in the balcony and had to use optical zoom to get their faces. In case you are not familiar with either of them, Robert is at the piano and Yasiin is standing on the left.

After the concert, I wanted to joke with Yasiin that he was my favorite alien (because I for damn sure wasn’t going to tell the Ford Prefect he was my second favorite). By the time I made it to the crowds of people surrounding Robert, he was already gone. I did get to tell Robert that he’d sat behind me in history at HSPVA, and that was enough. It was literally the most fun I’d had in ages. Because I was a high school friend, I got more hugs than everyone else. 🙂

Jason’s concert in a small venue was something I couldn’t say was fun as in raves. It was fun like the way spelunkers explore a cave. There were just levels upon levels of mind-blowing musical figures, something he’s been able to do since high school and has just upped his game more and more over time. I got to talk to Jason afterwards, but more on that later.

The concert shook me to my core. It was music I wouldn’t, couldn’t forget. It was centered around the 20th anniversary of “Black Stars,” with The Bandwagon and Sam Rivers. The intro was a documentary about the making of the album, and then they played it live. Sam Rivers is now dead, so they brought in another player that was so reminiscent of his sound that when I closed my eyes, he was right there.Black Stars

I left the concert shell-shocked. The frenetic music was playing in my mind, and instead of going home, I walked down the steps from the Kennedy Center and out onto the path on Rock Creek Parkway. I meandered to the Lincoln Memorial, then just kept on going. It must have taken me three or four miles before I even considered finding a Metro station. The entire time, I was trying to think of a way to turn Jason’s music into words, and I still don’t have them. I suppose the best I can come up with is “you just had to be there.” I’m listening to the album right now, and nothing will ever be as transcendent as the live show (of course). The piano gave me a brain race that I don’t experience unless I am listening to jazz that’s hard to understand on the first pass. And by that, I do not mean that the music is inaccessible to non-jazz fans… only that I was analyzing it from top to bottom, trying to put together the theory behind it. Music theory has never been my strong point, but I made a barely-educated effort.

As for talking to Jason, as soon as I said my name, recognition hit him. He said, “how long has it been?” I told him that with the exception of Facebook, probably 20 years, maybe longer. I asked him about his family, and told him about writing to “Ten” for over a year. He honored me by turning around and telling his bandmates, “hey! She wrote to “Ten” for a year!” I asked him about his commute, because he lives in Manhattan and is also The Kennedy Center’s artistic director for jazz. He said it wasn’t bad, and I was so glad to hear it, because it meant more Moran concerts in my future. He told me that in the spring he was going to do a Duke Ellington series. I said, “you are a brave, brave man.” We both got tickled, and it was so much fun to share something that really made him laugh.

For the uninitiated, Duke Ellington grew up here. His first job was selling peanuts for the Washington Senators.senators

To announce an Ellington series for his home town crowd could only take someone of Jason’s caliber. The crowd would trust him to play Ellington well, and if I know Jason at all, I know there will be some of his own ideas- paying tribute to Ellington in the most sincere way possible, but jazz is meant to evolve over time. All jazz players influence each other, and the music moves forward…. but it’s not just jazz. Jason listens to and remembers all kinds of artists. I remember from an article a distinct Björk phase……….

My only wish is that I could have seen the big picture with my little freshman mind. I got to be “raised” by the best- master classes with Clark Terry and Wynton Marsalis, and literally the best jazz director most musicians will ever experience. Dr. Robert Morgan is internationally known for being the teacher of some of the greats.

And also me.

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