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You Have the Right Not to Remain Silent

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

http://archive.pba.org/programming/programs/storycorps_atl/5558/

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.

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March 1, 2012 Posted by | The Gay Me | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Little Boxes

Simple cardboard box

Image via Wikipedia

We live in a box.

Really.

It’s a 960 square foot box, but a box nonetheless.

I love the safety and security of our box. It’s warm and cozy and light filled.

It’s open and inviting and private. It’s easy to get too, but off the beaten path.

It’s large enough for our families to visit comfortably, but just the right size for the two of us.

It’s not so big that it consumes our time. We have little trouble keeping up with it.

We know where everything is. It’s familiar.

We know where the light switches are and how far to turn the faucets to get the temperature of the bath water just right.

We know where dust collects and spiders make webs.

We know we’ll trip the breaker if we turn the microwave on while the little electric fireplace is also running.

There is great comfort in its familiarity.

It holds few surprises and provides us a foundation on which to live.

It gives us too, a place to step out of and away from and gives us a place to come back to.

Our box both protects us and confines us. It is our sanctuary. If we never venture out, it becomes our prison.

Our mind is also a box. It is all those things our home is. It is our sanctuary. Yet, if we never venture out, if we never step outside our own thoughts and ideas and beliefs, our minds becomes our prison.

I use to think I lived far outside any box. It turned out, I’d just found a community of boxes just like mine.

If we don’t step out of our boxes and our communities of identical boxes, our world is destined to be small and truth destined to be defined by the delusions of our own mind or the minds of the fearful like-minded few we let in.

We received an email yesterday, inviting us to join other groups protesting outside a church a couple of hours from here.

The object of the protest was not the church, but the group they had invited in, the Exodus group.

If you aren’t familiar with them, they try to shame and brainwash  people into believing they aren’t really gay.

We wanted to go, but Lee had to work this afternoon and I didn’t want to give up my morning with him and go alone.

So, instead, we took out 3 month old Boston Terrier puppy, Sam and went for a long walk along the lake shore by our home.

The drought that has plagued our region the past year has done us a great favor.

Tiny islands that are normally only assessable by boat are now connected to the shore and to each other by sandbars exposed by the declining water level.

We can literally walk to an island and then to another and another and another.

These tiny bits of land are untouched by progress or economic decline. Owned by the Army Corp of Engineers, they have been left in their natural state and serve as a refuge for wildlife.

Now, they serve as refuge for us and our neighbors and others who have discovered how easy it is to get to them and how beautiful they are.

Many walk with their dogs and even let their pets off leash once they get across the first sandbar.

It is rare when we walk there and not meet others walking with their dogs, jogging or even sitting on a beach beside a small fire. In the mornings, we see the evidence of late night revelers or even campers.

We want Sam to be very social.

Our other dog, a chihuahua/Pomeranian mix, though an angel to us, is a terror around dogs she doesn’t know. She doesn’t care that she weighs only five pounds. There is no dog she would not attack if given the chance. It takes her time to warm up to other dogs and people. For that reason, she stays at home, but we walk Sam every day and sometimes twice each day. Because of my health, to do this is a double joy after the years of not being able to walk much of anywhere.

Sam thinks each person we meet is there just to say hello to her. She also thinks every other dog wants to play.

She never even barks but licks and jumps and shakes with welcoming joy. When it is just Sam and I, we often make new friends, stopping and chatting with other dog families.

When it is the three is us, Lee, Sam and I, we often meet the same response we meet out in the rest of the world. We get the polite hello or nod, but little else, despite our best efforts.

This morning, was different.

We met a couple with a blond spaniel. They had beautiful British accents. They told us how they’d traveled all the around every reachable island and except for a few rocky areas, had traveled with ease.

We met a very young couple sitting by a fire eating Girl Scout cookies. They especially loved Sam and Sam thoroughly enjoyed climbing into the girl’s lap, getting a little closer to the open cookie box.

The couple with the two Corgis were extremely nice as well. Even the jogger in the blue jacket nodded and halfway smiled.

Sam when we first got her

 

I’m quite sure we all live in very different boxes and communities of boxes, but this morning, we each stepped outside them to play with a little dog.

I’m not sure who stepped outside first, us or them.

We were a bit like Gilligan’s Island, a bunch of strangers, strange to each other, together on a deserted island… Sam would be our Gilligan… uncharted territory for sure.

Who can resist that face?

February 18, 2012 Posted by | The Gay Me, The Straight Me | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

My Last Valentine

Where have I been? Dace, I apologize for not responding. I took a long blog break, computer break really, only using my phone for web world connections most of the time. I read your posts though , as they came across my email and enjoyed each one.

I think I am back. I’ve written a few posts on my life with heart disease blog, a lighter sort of posting mostly about our vegan intentions and efforts. Life and living seems to be easier these days. I’m either use to the threat of dying from this disease or I really am miraculously much better. I like to think it is the latter. How else could I walk the streets of downtown Atlanta at last year’s Pride Festival in October? I was in a wheelchair the year before.  How else could I walk the shores of the lake by our house? How else could I be back at all?

I wonder too, is life easier as the perceived “same-sex couple?” or, am I simply growing use to it as well? The stark differences remain. In fact, as I go and do more, I see the difference more. When I walk along the lake with just our little dog, Sam, people stop to chat. They smile and look me in the eye. When Lee goes with us, seldom do people stop or barely even say hello.

If time allows, we “win them over.” In a restaurant, we usually bring a hostile server around with our warmth and smiles. Sullen cashiers often come around, too.

There is a loneliness though. It is not a personal, as in my own loneliness, but a piece of life that is not available to us well beyond the legal gaps in our basic human rights. Other than with family, and only some family at that, there is an absence of men in our lives. Despite our being in truth a heterosexual couple, we are almost void of heterosexual couple friends.

Women are comfortable around us, both straight and lesbian. Men, however, are not. With the exception of a very few, even the men who claim to be comfortable exert a quiet hostility towards Lee and cannot seem to resist the urge to make snide remarks disguised as funny comments or sad jokes. Daniel, Charlie, Johnny, Jim, Keith, you are the exceptions should you ever read this.

Perhaps it is Lee’s own guardedness that calls this out in men. Perhaps, it is Lee’s silent demand that they not see him as a woman who puts them on edge. Who is on guard first, Lee or them? And, why?

Perhaps, it is the wholeness, the completeness, the quiet strength of Lee that intimidates them so. I have known a few so well, these biologically correct men, through failed relationships and painful marriages. None of those come close in strength, nor in gentleness. None have dared to see me nor have allowed me to really see them.

I’m reminded of the movie, “What Women Want.” Lee has lived that movie, without the comedic punch lines. Lee knows too well the woman’s heart and mind. Not only has he lived in a woman’s body, he has been allowed in where few men are allowed or dare to enter. He has been the confidant and safe place, much like the gay guy friend of a group of giddy girls. Perhaps straight men know that and are intimidated by that truth, that Lee has gone where they cannot go and would never have the courage to go if allowed to. Of course they would not be allowed there, though. It takes that gentleness and wisdom that only comes by personal understanding and even experience to gain entry.

With all the harshness of a bigoted world, life is indeed far easier still.

Despite all a cruel world and the insanity a fearful humanity can dish out, life has never been so kind.

Despite all the attempts of religiosity to demonize a loving God and the layers of human love that reflect It, love itself is far greater than their efforts.

I have beside me a most gentle man of strength.

He is my last Valentine.

Life saved the best of the best for last.

I love you Lee.

February 12, 2012 Posted by | The Gay Me, The Straight Me | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave

My Beautiful Brother In-Law

My “in-laws” came to visit for a few days. I consider them my parents in-law and I believe they consider me their daughter in law. They are delightful people and very easy company. Lee has two brothers. One of them is gay. The statistic I chose to believe says that throughout history, 15 % of the human population has been gay. So, my in-law’s children are outside the normal percentages. 66.6% of their children are LGBT. They should get some sort of prize for that, some sort of medal.

I’ve thought a lot about what it was like for Lee to grow up as he did, in that mega church centered environment. He was prayed over countless times and they tried to exorcise his demons more than once. His brother was teased and tormented with only his big “sister” to defend him. Lee started drinking when he was thirteen, not sure who or what he was. I’ve thought about his brother, growing up in that town, that school, that home as well. He’s an entertainer and has been dancing his whole life. Family pictures are of him all decked out in some outrageous outfit and Lee in a ball cap. The other brother didn’t come along until a couple of years before Lee left home. He must have felt someone dropped him onto another planet.

I hadn’t given a whole lot of thought as to what it was like for the parents. Obviously, for many years, they believed there was something terribly wrong with their children, something that needed to be fixed. I’m sure they were afraid and desperate, believing as they did that their precious babies were doomed to a fiery hell if they couldn’t save them. After all, in their church, and according to their Bible, they were abominations.

Just as Lee had to find on his own just who and what he was, so did his parents. Somehow, they have reached a peaceful place where the sexual orientation and gender identity of their children are no longer things they fear and attempt to change, but aspects of their children they accept and even embrace. I don’t believe they fully understand Lee and the way he identifies with men. Their love, though, is undeniable and fierce, as a parents love should be. I know it was painful for them, getting to this peaceful, respectful and loving place. Even as I type this, I automatically type “her” instead of “he,” falling into their language of identifying my husband as their daughter.

While they were here, we went out to eat. We went shopping. We went to the grocery store. Lee and I held hands as we always do. Not once did they flinch or seem in any way embarrassed by us. Not once in all the times we have been with them, have they appeared anything but at ease around us, no matter where we were or who we were with. They remain devout believers of their religion. They remain active in their church. They still live in the same house, in the same small town. When I think of the change that had to occur in their minds and hearts, I am both amazed and inspired. These changes took place not in the safety of a new town under the umbrella of anonymity, but in the broad daylight of a small community that, like all small towns, views each other through the lens of a microscope. They are a very brave and courageous family. My Lee is the bravest of the brave and I am fortunate beyond words.

August 26, 2010 Posted by | The Straight Me | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mouths of Babes

My grandson Zachary has “special needs.” He was a preemie and for the first year of his life, went through most of the list of preemie complications. A  M.R.I. of his brain, says he should be wheel chair bound with severe mental impairment. It is true that he seldom walks. That is because he runs almost everywhere he goes and has never been in a wheelchair except to play in mine. He is slightly developmentally delayed. Though he is eleven, he reminds me often of a five or six year old in his innocence. At other times, he displays wisdom far beyond his years, or even beyond the evolution of humankind itself.

Last year, he began using the term, “gay” in name calling. He even used the term, “fag” a couple of times. Of course, we were shocked, but also aware he was copying what he had heard and seen and even been called at school. We asked him if he knew what either term meant and he did not. That my relationship with Lee could be something  to illicit being called a name, escaped him then and still does.

He spent a few days with us before school started again. One morning, he sat with Lee and had the following conversation,

Zachary- “You’re a man in a girl body.”

Lee- “That’s right.”

Zachary- “I think that’s really cool.You’re really a man, but you look like a girl.”

Lee- “That’s right.”

Zachary- “I think it’s cool.”

Lee-“I’m glad.”

Zachary does not have 20/20 vision and has his share of physical challenges. He also has a willingness to embrace those that are different and a curiosity to learn. Instead of judging or assuming, he asks questions. He often says things that shock us and even embarrass us. He holds nothing back. There is never confusion when it comes to what Zachary thinks or how he feels about something. His honesty is at times alarming. Mostly, it is refreshing.

He probably understands more about Lee and I than many in our family and most of our friends. He understands because he has asked. He asks because he is genuinely interested. He is interested because he cares.

We fear what we don’t understand. I believe that most prejudice vanishes once the issue becomes personal. When it’s personal, we seek understanding. In that seeking, we ask questions. We ask the questions because we care. We care because it’s personal, especially if the one who is different is someone we love. At least, I’d like to think it is that way. That hasn’t always been my experience. At least it is with Zachary.

August 17, 2010 Posted by | The Gay Me | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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