The birds are hungry! We’ve been going through a twenty pound bag of birdseed about every ten days. At $17 a bag, that was expensive. So, yesterday, Lee went on-line searching for a less costly bag of seeds the birds would actually eat. We’d bought cheaper varieties only to have them sit untouched in the feeders. He found a twenty pound bag for $6.99 at a tractor store about ten miles from our home. It had great reviews, so we went there last night to buy a bag.
Sitting in lawn chairs by the front door, was a man dressed in camouflage. At his feet was a massive, overweight white boxer. Beside him, in another lawn chair, was a young boy also in camo about ten years old. As we approached, the dog and the boy stood up and walked towards us. Lee reached down to pet the dog as the man greeted us with, “How you folks tonight?” While we both answered and stroked the friendly pup, the boy lunged closer until he was inches from Lee’s face and shouted, “I know you!”
Lee and the boy shared of meeting at the electronics store where Lee works. Then the boy asked if we’d buy a raffle ticket to support his 4-H club. The prize was to be our choice of two different guns. The 4-H event the $5 contribution supported was the BB shooting competition. The dad joined in as both told of how fierce the competition was and how it was strictly funded by this very fund-raiser. The dad told of how they’d been beat last year by a girl from a neighboring county who was competing for the very first time.We visited for a few minutes, talking of dogs and kids and sporting competition in general.
Once finally in the store, we were warmly greeted by the cashier, a small woman with a big smile. We don’t often venture into tractor stores and were delighted to find a vast array of dog food, toys and treats along with all things animal. I loved the smell, like a very clean barn. We quickly found the birdseed in the middle of two rows of seeds and feeders of every size. Lee carried the twenty pound bag as we leisurely meandered down every row, unable to not look at everything. I stopped to take a picture of the baby ducks. They were real ducks by the way.
At least a dozen times, we were asked if we needed help. Each time, the clerk smiled and looked us in the eyes. When not offering to assist us, we could hear her talking with other customers. She was equally friendly, greeting human and dogs, who were obviously welcome there, alike. Finally, we checked out, reluctant to leave the store that had surprised us not only by all the unusual things they sold, but by the unusually friendly and welcoming manner we have been treated.
I tend to cringe when I see camo. It’s almost like seeing a Civil War confederate flag. I halfway expect the KKK to come from behind whoever it is, flying towards us on horseback in their white robes, torches in hand. Fortunately, I usually cringe for nothing. I certainly did last night.
I like to think that by our friendliness we penetrate stereotypical impressions. I like to think that by connecting with someone with a smile, we invite another to see us differently by seeing us the same, if even for a moment.
Last night, the friendliness of others invited me to see differently and penetrated my own stereotypical impressions.
Lee and I attended the Gay Straight Alliance Youth Summit at Georgia State University this past Saturday. I’m not sure we were really supposed to be there, but we were. Our friend Vanessa has two daughters. A friend had invited us whose brave daughter is very active with GSA and has been trying for a year and a half to start a GSA group at her high school. Mother and daughter had gone to the summit last year and told us we must go this year, so we did. We met them all there.
It was amazing. There were at least 150 people, the majority high school and college students and a handful of supportive teachers, counselors and parents. P.F.L.A.G. and Georgia Equality had a notable presence. They began the day by going over terms used to identify and describe us. They also talked about the terms that belittle and shame.
I learned a lot. I’m over 50. I’ve only been a part of this “community” for four years. The first thing I learned was that the most accepted umbrella term now is “queer.” It makes me cringe a bit, I admit. It was a negative shaming term most of my life. Yet, I see so clearly how a term that identifies us all is helpful.
(I struggle to find my place here. I am straight. Yet, I no longer live in the straight world. I am not a part of a straight couple. Oh, I also learned the termed “heterosexual” is out now. I won’t go into that right now though … A reader suggested the other day that I was pansexual. They mentioned that term Saturday. It’s used synonymously with omnisexual. While theoretically that does describe me, it doesn’t really feel authentic. Pansexual means (as I understand it) that the sexual attraction follows a personality or emotional attraction and is not dependent on a certain gender or orientation. Yes, that works for me logistically and I don’t reject it completely. I find that concept beautiful in and of itself, by the way. However, I was attracted to Lee as a man. I relate to him as male. So, that leaves me ‘straight” and without a name. That is, until now. Now, I fit quite well under the inclusive “queer” umbrella, used to describe the other 15% of the population that is strictly “straight.”)
Throughout the day, I heard the young people there relay (when asked) if they experienced bullying, threats and harassment. Almost all said they did. Some told of being threatened daily and of being afraid of being jumped, beaten, or even stabbed. The Summit provided them, at least for a day, a safe place, an accepting place, a home even. I wondered how many of their parents knew they were even there. I wondered how many were afraid to come out to their mothers and fathers. One told of being thrown out of his house when he told his family. How many of them were being themselves for perhaps the first time ever without fear.
There were a few who said they never experienced any sort of bullying. Imagine!
In another life, I worked with teenagers in a spiritual setting. I would accompany them on weekend “rallies” and “retreats.” The first time I went, I was amazed at how the kids behaved and more amazed by how they were treated by the adults there. They were respected and honored. They were the leaders of the events with the adults functioning in a supportive role. This one day felt much the same way. The difference on Saturday was that these kids had found self-respect and honor not necessarily from the adults in their lives, but perhaps in spite of them.
It broke my heart thinking of these beautiful young people leaving that safe place and returning to homes where they hid and schools who hated them and adults who preferred to think they did not exist. Still, I felt lighter by the end of the day. When I was in high school, I’m sure at least 15% were queer. I knew no one who would have dared claim that name then. There was no GSA, much less a summit. There was no discussion or demonstrations. There was no discomfort felt by our presence. There was no Pride or rainbow. There were no brave politicians or even teachers willing to fight for equality for queers. There were no out teachers, either. There was no safe place, for even a second.
Straight kids came too on Saturday. They came to support their friends and start GSA groups at their schools. They stood and sat together as one.
Their generation will not tolerate the insanity and fear of my generation.
While we were both still floating in the experience of the summit, on Monday, we received an email from a woman at Storycorps. Last year, Lee and I had recorded an interview for the non-profit. They had given a presentation at the Phillip Rush Center and asked for members of our community to go and tell their story. Anyone can do it and can talk of anything they like. The stories are all filed at the Library of Congress.
For our story, I interviewed Lee. Our focus was on his being transgender. Our personal love story was woven in the telling. Anyway, we received this email saying that part of our story was going to be aired on WABE, the public radio station in Atlanta. It was at that studio we made our recording through Storycorps. They aired it twice on Tuesday and it’s the featured story on the Storycorps website right now. It’s only 4 minutes of the 45 minutes we talked, but it’s a beautiful little section.
Here is the link
It was a bit scary letting people know it was going to air. For Lee, it is coming out again, and again and again.
It’s crazy that “being lesbian” seems so much easier.
Perhaps it is the assumptions that are easier, to agree with the assumptions that people make.
We struggle ourselves with the pronouns.
We strive to make people comfortable and meet them where they assume we are;
as far as they can go without experiencing any discomfort.
We do ourselves no favor.
What a price when someone’s momentary discomfort is more important than our own authentic self truth and honesty.
No more. I will not tolerate the fear and insanity anymore. It was my own. It is worn as a crown by my generation. It has defined my gender, the conforming and gentle lady who empowers others and not herself.
We are the courageous product of the 60’s. We defied the racist agenda of the generations before, yet walked in deep paved footprints and called them our own, carrying a torch of separation and discrimination.
We even let them highjack Jesus, as my brother in love Eric says, and claim the footprints were made by a vengeful God of hate.
My grandson says, “Don’t be a hater.”
I picked up a bumper sticker Saturday from the ACLU.
Gentle, yes. Loving, yes. Outloud, yes.