Monday, December 5, 2016
Okay, I need to explain some things first. I hope everyone has a happy and joyous season, whether it be Thanksgiving, Christmas, Channukah, Kwanzaa, Yule, Solstice whatever your observance may or may not be. What I will share is not about what you are doing, but only my own personal perspective on the season. I know I'm not alone in what I will be sharing, and that makes it worthwhile I think.
Here's the thing. For some of us, this is a particularly difficult time of the year. We live in a world where love does not always prevail, and bad things happen. Look around in the inner cities for instance. They are the throw aways, cast outs from families, communities etc. In my case, my wife and I are both ostracized from family. The season is us two, and we are growing old. We are fortunate, for we found each other. What makes this season difficult for so many is the constant reminder of being "other." I look on the pages of facebook, and people are planning to get together, to celebrate the season, to buy gifts for loved ones, to see their children and their grandchildren and I so do celebrate their joy. But it's also a constant reminder of my own daughter and my own grandson that I will not see, or my spouse's son from whom she is separated as well. We turn on tv, and there is just one schmaltzy tear jerker happy ending movie after the other, as if there were an intentional effort to remind us constantly... well you get my point.
Now I'm a big girl. With 69 years under my belt and headed for the big 70, I've learned to cope. It's not like I had a choice anyway. I've memories of a time when I was part of large family gatherings when my presence was welcomed and I so loved gathering with loved ones, but I was to learn that in my family, there was not sufficient room for a member who was trans and gay. What do we tell the children? I was selfish they said. ::shaking head:: I even heard that one family member put forward the idea that I was looking for the 'easy' way. Yeah right.
So the holidays are now going full force. There is no place to run or hide to get away from it. I wish the usual for my friends and even for people I've never met a wonderful holiday. I hold in my heart all those others who are for one reason or another separated from family or loved ones. This is not my best time of the year. So forgive my private scrooge moment when I offer that I simply will be glad when it is all over.
Monday, October 10, 2016
Coming out often is not one event, but many events over many years. In my case, the normal labels became confused along the way. You see in this photo a child who is confused and a bit melancholy, though I learned early on to cover that up. During the previous year, I experimented with my first coming out. So I'd been visiting a neighbor girl, and we were having a tea party. I dressed up in her Sunday finest and I was the Mommy and she the Daddy. The year was 1950. We had been playing for awhile, and it all felt so fun and so right. Then we hear footsteps coming up the stair and my Mom walks in. She looks startled, and snaps, "Put on your own clothes and come home now! I did so and came home and she said nothing. Then that night, she came to tuck me in. She smiles as she tucks me in, "You're a good little boy."
"Mommy? I'm a girl..."
"No you aren't and I don't want to hear that nonsense ever again!" I'm 69 years old now, yet I still recall that look in her eyes. Anger yes, but there was something else I could not identify at that young age. I now know it was fear. I did not understand, but I did know there must be something terribly wrong about me. From then on my parents set out fully intent on butching me up. Cowboy costumes, guns etc for Christmas etc. I could only be my true self in private when nobody was looking. Don't misunderstand though. I tried really hard to be what they wanted to be. But always there was this little voice inside telling me a. something is wrong and b. it was probably me.
We moved to Tyler, Texas from Illinois and it was a whole new world. By the time I got to be in the third grade, I was getting beat up almost daily, and they were calling me queer and I did not know why and I felt so terribly alone. I fought back as best I could because if I didn't my Dad made it perfectly clear he'd beat me worse. But I did find some respite. Out behind the garage, I dug a pit, about 3 1/2 feet deep. Above it I took sticks and vines and used some of the red clay in which I'd been digging and created a small private hut that was My Space. I even built cubby holes into it, and there I could play the roles I could do no where else. I also would sit in that space with a notebook and I began early on to journal. I couldn't keep the journals. That was too scary. But I could write out my feelings at that young age, and I truly think it kept me alive. As puberty approached, I figured out not only was there this inner feminine, but that I was attracted to guys. I tried to avoid it, but it filled my hormone filled dreams and made life even more scary.
So I grew up. My dad passed away in 67. Soon after I dropped out of college for a year and took off traveling, like so many in that time, I landed in San Francisco. While I spent some time in the Haight, I was drawn to the Tenderloin where I found other people like me. But I could not stay, and I returned to Tyler, and my closeted life continued. Finally I decided to make my last ditch effort at being straight.
Like some other people I've met over the years, I married a lesbian. She was a nurse and over time a drummer in a lesbian band, but then we were making our way trying to fit into something that would be called normal. We gave it our best shot, and even had a daughter, but it could not last and we split up only 3 1/2 years later. I began to find my way to the gay bars more and more. No one person, just satisfying my need to be myself and to express that feminine side more freely. I wasn't really a drag queen though,although I had a number of friends who were, but where they often (not always) were just playing a role, my feelings were not a caricature but reality. I did meet other transgender queens along the way and the feeling grew that it might be possible. For a time though, most of this was in the fog of alcohol and drugs. It was not until I entered a program to become sober that the feelings and the realization that I would have to be true to self began the journey towards reality. Still while I could be out to many of my friends, I could not be to my family. Mom had once told me that if she ever found out that either I or my former wife were gay, she would go to court to get our child and we would not be welcome again. I loved my Mom, even with her feelings about either of us being gay. So with my family, I had to be on the down low. But Mom died in '88. I gave some time to mourn, and then gradually I began to come out to more and more of my family. I also met a man who I fell in love with.
We met at a Dignity Chapter and he was the greeter. Soon someone replace him so we could talk. And talk. We were like two schoolgirls, back and forth and we began spending all of our time together, then there was "that kiss", a kiss that sealed the deal and we were a couple. It was a time when I learned how to really love. This was the love of a lifetime and soon we were setting up house. But there was one thing I had to do. It scared the bejeezus out of me. I had to tell this man, the love of my life, that his partner would be beginning a journey to transition, to truly be how I feel. Here was a man who'd never dated a woman in his life. Yet I was asking him if he could stay with me as I became a woman. To my huge relieve, he said yes. So by bits and pieces, beginning with a rather familiar androgyny and then transition in earnest, my next journey began.
Coming out originally as gay troubled some, including my daughter. But when I began transition, I lost almost all of my extended family, including the daughter and my brother who slipped farther away. It was so much to deal with and the hurt was incredible. But even with the pain, at last I was being truly that person who always dwelled inside and it was the most wonderful feeling in the world. I managed to keep my job when I transitioned. Something else came up though. For the first time I noticed I was attracted to women. My husband noticed it too. With hormones something had shifted. I preferred women in terms of attraction to men. But, I loved my husband. Skip and I talked about it, and I sure wasn't going anywhere. Love is love after all. Then in '97, he became ill and a few weeks later he passed away. He had contracted viral encephalitis. Suddenly I was alone again. But with time I healed. With transition completed, I was attracted to women. I began dating, had some false starts along the way. I got lots of support from my MCC congregation in Houston.
My community held me up during this dark period. See I had come to a place when closets were not desirable besides impossible. I became involved with the community center, hosting a lesbian film night monthly. I volunteered with Lesbians in Business, worked my buns off for Annise Parker who ran for and became a member of city council. She later would become mayor of Houston. I was involved all along with TATS (Texas Area Transexual Support) and GCTC (Gulf Coast Transgender Community.) Then I met Robin. We fell in love, my second love in this lifetime. She and I embarked on a life adventure that led to a very public wedding in San Antonio Texas using a narrow court decision in that state. It was all in the papers, so for a time our lives were quite public and all remnants of a closet were gone forever.
I turn and look out at the world today, and I see young people coming out and transitioning and a level of openness in society I never could have dreamed of in my wildest fantasy. Still I know it is hard for some. Open-mindedness is not universal, and some states bend over backwards to discourage those who are anything other than the norm they visualize. It can take great courage to come out. I can only say, when you do make that decision, no matter who you are or how old you may be, there is a community of people ready to welcome you with open arms. In my life, I heard the call of Harvey Milk to come out. I did so not once but many times as the circle of self truth expanded. I can only say that in taking those steps, I found a freedom and happiness I could not have ever imagined. Yes I did so in an earlier time, and I lost a lot. But I gained so much more. So come out, come out, wherever you are!
Saturday, August 13, 2016
Here we are, well into 2016 and once again on pace to be a new record year for the violence towards transgender lives. Here they are. Hold them in your heart. Say their names. Pray that this senseless killing comes to an end. Notice their race. Most are trans women of color. I'm so weary of the drip drip drip of trans lives, beautiful lives, cut short for what? Are our lives so threatening? I'll never understand this kind of hate though I've witnessed it in my own life.
Trans Deaths from Violence: 2016
Jasmine Sierra, Bakersfield, Ca, Latina trans woman. Dead in apt physical trauma, January 22 Misgendered by media so we did not find out until March
Monica Loera, Austin, Texas 43 year old Latina transwoman. Shooting January 22.
Kayden Clark , Mesa, Az 24 year old White Transman shot by police. He was having an autistic meltdown. Many upset that he was shot and killed when they called to prevent him from committing suicide.
Veronica Banks Cano, Black trans woman, San Antonio, Tx Found dead fully clothed February 19
Maya Young, Philadelphia, Pa, 25 year old black trans woman stabbed multiple times, February 20th (announced on the 23rd)
Kayderie/Candicee Johnson, Burlington,IA, a 16 year old black genderfluid child shot several times and left in an alley.
Demarkis Stansbury, Baton Rouge, 30 year old transman shot to death February 27th (misgendered in press)
Courtney Yochum 32 year old black transwomanMarch 24thLos Angeles, Domestic dispute
Shante’ Isaac (Thompson), Houston, Tx 34 year old blackTranswoman shot in head along with another person, male in Midtown April 10th
Keyona Blakeney, Montgomery County Md 22 year old black trans woman. Blunt force trauma April 11. Found dead in motel room.
Reece Walker Wichita Ks 32 year old local advocate, black trans woman stabbing May 1st
Mercedes Successful, Haines City, Fla 32 year old Black trans woman. Shooting Death
Amos Beede May22nd 38 year old Transman in Burlington, Vt. Blunt force trauma from 4 homeless attackers. Died days later.
Goddess Diamond, June 5th, New Orleans, La, Blunt Force Trauma, then burned in car.
Dee Whigham 25 year old trans woman, found dead from stabbing in motel room in St. Martin, Mississippi, nursing student, originally misgendered.
Sky Mockabee 26 year old black transwoman found murdered in Cleveland, result of online date gone horribly wrong.
Deeniqua Dodds 22 year old black transwoman shot in Washington DC July 4, 2016, died on July 14th.
Erykah Tijerina 36 year old Latina transwoman, homicide in El Paso, August 10, 2016 found in her apartment.
Rae’Lynn Thomas 28 year old black transwoman, killed by her mom’s ex who called her Satan in Columbus, Ohio
Friday, July 1, 2016
Over and over I hear people expound on how this is a Christian nation. While some, not all, of the founding fathers were Christian, their own words seem somehow pertinent. Here's a list of quotes. Again, note the surprise at the end.
". . . Some books against Deism fell into my hands. . . It happened
that they wrought an effect on me quite contrary to what was intended
by them; for the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be
refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations; in short, I
soon became a thorough Deist."
"When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when
it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so
that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power,
'tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one." -- Benjamin
Franklin, 2000_Years_of_Disbelief by James A. Haught
"Religion I found to be without any tendency to inspire, promote, or
confirm morality, serves principally to divide us and make us
unfriendly to one another."--Benjamin Franklin
"The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason."--Benjamin
Franklin, Poor_Richard, 1758
"Lighthouses are more helpful than churches."--Benjamin Franklin
Say nothing of my religion. It is known to my god and myself alone.
-- Thomas Jefferson
Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of
every person's life, freedom of religion affects every individual.
State churches that use government power to support themselves and
force their views on persons of other faiths undermine all our civil
rights. Moreover, state support of the church tends to make the clergy
unresponsive to the people and leads to corruption within religion.
Erecting the "wall of separation between church and state," therefore,
is absolutely essential in a free society.
We have solved ... the great and interesting question whether freedom
of religion is compatible with order in government and obedience to the
laws. And we have experienced the quiet as well as the comfort which
results from leaving every one to profess freely and openly those
principles of religion which are the inductions of his own reason and
the serious convictions of his own inquiries.
-- Thomas Jefferson, to the Virginia Baptists (1808)
Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction
of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, and imprisoned; yet
we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity. What has been the
effect of coercion? To make one-half the world fools and the other half
hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.
-- Thomas Jefferson
"... I am not afraid of priests. They have tried upon me all their
various batteries of pious whining, hypocritical canting, lying and
slandering. I have contemplated their order from the Magi of the East
to the Saints of the West and I have found no difference of character,
but of more or less caution, in proportion to their information or
ignorance on whom their interested duperies were to be played off.
Their sway in New England is indeed formidable. No mind beyond
mediocrity dares there to develop itself."
"History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people
maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of
ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always
avail themselves for their own purposes."
What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on
society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual
tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they
have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no
instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people.
Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an
established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government,
instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not."
. . . Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on
the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of
miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern
part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in
favor of the rights of mankind."
The 1796 treaty with Tripoli, negotiations begun under Washington and
signed by Adams states:
"[As] the government of the United States of America is not in any
sense founded on the Christian Religion"
"Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and
irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause.
Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which
are caused by the difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the
most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be depreciated. I
was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked
the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every
denomination so far that we should never again see the religious
disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society."
George Washington - letter to Edward
John Leland (1754-1841) was a Baptist preacher whose life involved
writing about and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and about the
proper relationship between religion and government. In the latter
passion, Leland agreed with the position of Thomas Jefferson and James
Madison, both of whom he knew personally. Leland spent approximately 14
years in Virginia from 1776 to 1790-91. He was a major leader of the
Baptists in Virginia. He helped Madison by rounding up support for the
defeat of the assessment bill in Virginia in 1784-86, and by supporting
the ratification of the new constitution (only after being assured
that Madison did favor the addition of a bill of rights), He worked to
get Madison elected (over Patrick Henry's hand-picked James Monroe) to
the House of Representatives of the First Federal Congress. He returned
to his home state of Massachusetts in the winter of 1790-91, where he
remained an active minister and champion of separation of church and
state and disestablishment till his death in 1841. He wrote articles
against establishment while in Massachusetts and testified before the
Massachusetts legislature on at least one occasion.
Research by Jim Allison
Excerpt from July 4th Oration by John Leland, July 5, 1802.
. . . Disdain mean suspicion, but cherish manly jealousy; be always
jealous of your liberty, your rights. Nip the first bud of intrusion on
your constitution. Be not devoted to men; let measures be your object,
and estimate men according to the measures they pursue. Never promote
men who seek after a state-established religion; it is spiritual
tyranny--the worst of despotism. It is turnpiking the way to heaven by
human law, in order to establish ministerial gates to collect toll. It
converts religion into a principle of state policy, and the gospel into
merchandise. Heaven forbids the bans of marriage between church and
state; their embraces therefore, must be unlawful. Guard against those
men who make a great noise about religion, in choosing representatives.
It is electioneering. If they knew the nature and worth of religion,
they would not debauch it to such shameful purposes. If pure religion
is the criterion to denominate candidates, those who make a noise about
it must be rejected; for their wrangle about it, proves that they are
void of it. Let honesty, talents and quick despatch, characterise the
men of your choice. Such men will have a sympathy with their
constituents, and will be willing to come to the light, that their
deeds may be examined. . . .
Source of Information:
Excerpt from "July 4th Oration by John Leland, July 5, 1802". The
Writings of John Leland, Edited by L.F. Greene, Arno Press & The New
York Times New York (1969) pp.260-270) Originally published as: The
Writings Of The Late Elder John Leland Including Some Events In His
Life, Written By Himself, With Additional Sketches &c. By Miss L.F.
Greene, Lanesboro, Mass. Printed By G.W. Wood, 29 Gold Street, New York
1845. Nedstat Counter
"The national government will maintain and defend the
foundations on which the power of our nation rests. It will offer
strong protection to Christianity as the very basis of our collective
morality. Today Christians stand at the head of our country. We want to
fill our culture again with the Christian spirit. We want to burn out
all the recent immoral developments in literature, in the theatre, and
in the press — in short, we want to burn out the poison of immorality
which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of
LIBERAL excess during the past years" — Adolph Hitler (Taken from The
Speeches of Adolph Hitler, 1922-1939, Vol. 1, Michael Hakeem, Ph.D.
(London, Oxford University Press, 1942), pp. 871-872.)
I suppose times of intense change, revolutionary change even, whether for good or evil, lends itself to extremes. Thus as part of our discourse we hear that Muslims are terrorists, Mexicans carry drugs as if by sheer virtue of their nationality, race, or spiritual journey, every one like them is lumped into the same tiny box. Not only race, nationality, or spiritual belief now, but also I am seeing the ghost of Agism Past rear its ugly head once again. See, hard as it may be to imagine, I remember my own youth and young adulthood. We were in the midst of great change then too. We were moving out of the time of great conformity and extreme oppression of other races, beliefs etc also known as the fifties into the sixties when change was in the air. Our childhoods were filled with the stories of Communists under every leaf and the McCarthy hearings and we were determined to change the status quo. I recall expressions like "Don't trust anyone over 30." On the other side, so many older people looked askance at "the youth of today." Shaking their heads and wringing their hands. "Why when I was their age, I never..." But of course they did, but chose not to recall their own explorations of independence.
Our reality and if allowed our strength is in our diversity, not in our sameness. I've learned having been young, middle aged, and now old, that sometimes great wisdom and sometimes great foolishness can come from the lips of old people. Some learned many lessons and embraced wisdom, while others remained oblivious all the way into old age. I could say exactly the same thing for the young, and of the middle aged as well. Sometimes in talking with young people I will receive a pearl of wisdom so precious, not from experience, but from eyes that can look outside the box. Anytime we categorize and place people into a box of sameness rather than accept them in the rainbow of diversity that is the human condition, we not only limit them, but ourselves.
What inspired all of this? Two articles. One from Ozy yesterday suggesting old people should not be allowed to vote. That suggestion is so antithetical to any concept of a democratic society, I'll not even waste my time ranting about it. The other came today. Vox suggests that "old people become more conservative with age because science says so." Look someone does a study and publishes it, with or without peer review and suddenly it's an absolute. Look, some old people grow more conservative. More often I think conservative experimentation happens in middle age when conformity is demanded, and many revert to liberalism as they grow older. BUT THERE ARE NO ABSOLUTES. How old was the dude who killed the worshippers at that church in South Carolina?
So maybe we can start to chill with the agism, whether one is young or old, perceived or not. It's getting old really quick.
Jessica Wicks aka Long in Tooth (just fooling, mine are false)aka Cantankerous Old Crone aka (fill in the blank)
Friday, March 18, 2016
Donald Trump takes it a step further. He calls for attacks on all sorts of people, and ignores every tenant of constitutional protection. Consider this quote from Adolph Hitler in his work Mein Kampf:
1. Keep the dogma simple. Make only 1 or 2 points.
2. Be forthright and powerfully direct. Speak only in the telling or ordering mode.
3. As much as possible, reduce concepts down into stereotypes which are black and white.
4. Speak to people’s emotions and stir them constantly.
5. Use lots of repetition; repeat your points over and over again.
6. Forget literary beauty, scientific reasoning, balance, or novelty.
7. Focus solely on convincing people and creating zealots.
8. Find slogans which can be used to drive the movement forward.
Now watch any speech by Donald Trump. It was said by an ex wife that he kept a copy of Mein Kampf by the bed. Okay, that’s okay. I’ve got a copy on my Kindle because it is important to know history and the lessons for us today. But copying his blueprint is quite another thing.
Let me address the remarks by people saying they are afraid. That’s okay, and understandable. However we cannot let that fear dominate us or stand in the way of standing strong in the face of this assault on our democratic sensibilities by pure racism and hate. As FDR said, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” Years ago, I did a multiyear study of the Holocaust. What I learned was that what happened in Germany could happen anywhere. Certain factors were needed.
So what about us? Could it happen here? Consider this. After WWI, thanks to a Great Depression and crippling reparations imposed by the allies combined to leave ordinary families uneasy and quick to seek a strong leader who would bring them something better. Hitler was that person. Look at our current society. We are moving out of the Great Recession, but wages are less, and fewer benefits are offered. Money has been focused among the very rich at the expense of all the rest of us. Citizens United created a system where our politicians fear their corporate donors more than the populace who elects them, and their votes no longer represent the people. Now Donald Trump would not improve that one iota, but he is able to play on the fears and insecurity of these people.
Hitler once was said to have stated that had there not been a Jewish people, he would have needed to invent them. Lest we forget, it was not only Jews he targeted. Slavs, gays, and many others were utilized to stoke the fears and hates of his followers. Hmm Mexicans being called rapists and killers and his so called war on Islam… sound familiar?
Now I am not saying he is Hitler. I am saying that he stokes the same fears of the other, in his effort to be the strong man savior for all who are afraid. He’s a bully, and quite content to extend violence to get his way. We may feel fear, but the only way for anyone to deal with a bully, especially one who would emulate Hitler, is directly. We also need to remember, just as with the early followers of Hitler, that not all were bad people. They just wanted a decent shot at life when they voted him Chancellor of Germany. Many paid the ultimate price for that early endorsement, made possible by their willingness to overlook the bigotry and hate being offered up by their leader. They allowed themselves to be swayed to believe that really was the root of their problems. Many asked later, what we could have been done to prevent what happened. Together, hands outstretched, they ignored the obvious and for that paid a massive price.
As a child I was bullied. I learned the hard way that bullies had to be confronted, even when there was more of them. We confront this bully with truth, with love, and if it goes too far, then perhaps by violence. I pray not. I’ve watched black people be assaulted and he defends it. I’ve seen other black and Muslim people not allowed to come to his rallies simply because they were black or Muslim. He constantly encourages violence and laments the “good old days.” Does he mean the good old days back in the 20’s when his father apparently was arrested in conjunction with a brawl involving a KKK dispute? The fifties when everything was just wonderful unless you were non-white or poor? Yes he is selling folks a bill of goods. But if they buy in…. well, that must not happen. Last I heard, his followers were forming a group to “defend” the candidate against protesters. Perhaps they can call them Brown Shirts? Stand strong my friends, and just respond “Oh hell no!!!”
Sunday, March 6, 2016
Today, one of my best friends ever is being memorialized following his all too soon passing. I cannot be there in body sadly, but my spirit is with all those who loved this incredible person I called friend.
I first met Andrew in the early nineties. This was before I had fully transitioned, and I had moved to Westheimer Square Apts in the Montrose neighborhood of Houston with my beloved Skip. One day Skip walks into the apartment and says, "I just met this cute guy outside and he seems really nice.
I laughed, and said, "Well invite him to dinner!" He did and a life long friendship ensued. Understand, we were considerably older. We were in our mid/late forties and he was 18. We had an amazing visit, and sat and visited for hours. From then on we would hang out, and watch the drama play out (often we were part of that drama) in this amazing community of people. He always threatened to write a novel about this place. I ultimately did. It really was like Houston's version of Barbary Lane. He loved to tease Skip, watching the two of them go at each other laughing as they did and we used to do long walks together. It was the prequel to his photography style which would come later. Skip could not always make those because of his rheumatoid arthritis, but when we got back, we'd sit around and just talk about... well... everything within our hearts.
Some memories from Westheimer Square:
My beloved Skip became ill in '97 and passed away soon after. It truly was my dark night of the soul, and as i tried to sort it all out, one constant was my friend Andrew. We would talk, and sometimes he'd just sit and listen while I poured out my grief. I had lost so much, family, my beloved as my transition had exacted a heavy toll. But there consistently was Andrew, ever the true friend. He allowed me to share my inner thoughts and he shared his own.
I met Robin in '99 and we moved to Minneapolis soon after. That did not mean the end of a friendship however. Every few weeks he'd call, and we would talk on the phone literally until one of us had no juice left in the phone battery. You know, it's been interesting since we learned of Andrew's passing, how many people I've connected with who I already knew through our long conversations.
I remember when he came to visit in Minneapolis some years back. He was an accomplished photographer by then, and I did it as a hobby. We walked all over Minneapolis,taking photos, comparing notes and telling our stories in the coffee shops, and even speaking out loud how important our friendship was. How I treasured our time together that year.
After the visit, we continued our friendship via social media and phone. He stayed so busy, so we understood that it was best for him to call me. Which he did faithfully for all these years. There is no one else on this earth with whom I could talk so deeply and completely. Perhaps such friendships are rare. They certainly are for me. About two weeks before Andrew passed, I got a post via FB and he was curious as to my response. I sent it, and expected to hear back, but did not. It also was past due for one of our phone conversations. Then Gina (his stepmom) got ahold of me and told me my friend was gone.
Andrew, I'm going to miss you so very much! I'm getting older now, and my own time will be coming soon enough. What I know is that the days to come will be a little less bright, and I will glance from time to time at my phone and know you won't be calling anymore. I will grieve, and then life will regain some sort of normalcy, but that normalcy will be some shade of beige or grey, for the aurora formed by your presence among us has faded away as you passed through death's door. All that remains are the memories and the tears.
Finally, Andrew, I've no idea if there is anything beyond that door. But on the chance there is, I have a couple of requests. Those who knew them will understand. Lionel? If you see him, kick his butt for me. After the way he treated Merlyn, he's got it coming. Caroline, give her a big hug. For the readers of this blog, she's the cute girl in the photo above with the kids closet to the viewer. Like you Andrew, she left us way too soon. She's likely dancing ballet among the stars in my mythos of a world beyond. Then there's Skip. You'd know what to say to Skip. It's comforting to know that the two of you would be exchanging barbs, laughing all the while as you wait for me to get there. Rest in power my friend. Rest in power...
Friday, February 5, 2016
Who I’m Supporting for President and Why
Okay, I’ve not talked much about the race this year. I’ve got lots of reasons for that. First the few times I’ve said anything, the opposition jumps all over it with uncommon rancor and ugly accusatory language. I’ve neither the temperament nor the time to deal with these childish outbursts. Second, I’m a Democrat. Whoever is selected will get my support. Their differences are subtle, far more than their advocates would let on. Please understand one thing. If you are voting for someone else, that’s fine. I respect your right and ability to make that decision. Just know that my decision has been made. I can read the papers and hear discussions on issues and evaluate them same as anybody else. We are diverse as people, so our choices will be diverse. DO NOT USE MY BLOG, GOOGLE PLUS, OR MY FACEBOOK PAGE TO MAKE YOUR CASE FOR SOMEONE ELSE. Spend your energy elsewhere with someone whose mind is not made up. I am not the enemy because I am not supporting your candidate. You are not the enemy because you are not supporting mine. Now let me tell you my choice and why.
I am voting for and caucusing for Hillary Rodham Clinton. There are reasons that resonate with me for why I’m doing that. Actually politically I’m pretty far to the left of Ms. Clinton, and much that Bernie Sanders says resonates with me. In a far better world, I could vote for him and caucus for him easily. But I live in the political mess that is America in 2016.
First let’s state the obvious. We no longer live in a democratic republic. Big money elects our Congress and to a great degree our president. This is especially so now with the advent of Citizens United. Congressional districts are gerrymandered assuring the Congressional House will remain under Republican Control. Only one house in Congress has any hope of selecting a Democratic majority. With the infusion of literally billions of dollars of corporate dollars into our political races, we are presented with a dilemma. Though corporate money dominates, the two parties are NOT the same. On a host of issues from lgbt rights to civil rights to war to taxation, they have significant differences.
I’ve heard the other side say repeatedly how Clinton has ties to Corporate dollars. Here’s the thing. In an oligarchy, that is a bit of an advantage. Make no mistake. Whoever gets the nomination will be subjected to the full frontal attack by the Republican attack machine and those corporate interests that support them.
Which brings us to the issue of labels and attack ads. Sanders’ supporters repeat over and over how crooked Clinton is. Welcome to the product of the Republican attack machine. She has been attacked with untrue accusations ever since the days her husband was president. Reality check: If you repeat “Benghazi” enough times, people will believe it. There is not one accusation brought against her, either with Benghazi, emails, etc has ever been substantiated. They didn’t have to be substantiated. By repeating them over and over they have been planted into the psyche of the American voting public. Now imagine what would happen with labels like “socialist” being used. How about soft on defense? Remember how John Kerry was painted as soft on defense despite being a hero in Vietnam? Before they were done with him, people thought he as a coward and a fraud. Clinton for all the attacks stood strong and prevailed. Furthermore in the Senate she showed her ability to work across the aisle, something essential in getting anything done.
Now I’ve heard over and over about what Bernie Sanders did back in the sixties around race. My first inclination is to say, “So what? What have you done lately?” Locked in my mind I can see Senator Sanders being confronted by members of Black Lives Matter in Seattle. I’ve never seen a man look more impotent in my life. He responded with fury and refusing to talk. If he cannot deal with a protest from two women standing up to him, someone tell me why we think he can endure against the massive Republican attack machine. In addition, when he speaks around racial inequity, he keeps going back to the standard class/economic opportunity argument. He fails to see even at this late date that with race, even when a person is economically advantaged, they still face inequity thanks to racism. That is why he has failed to win support among Black and Latino voters overall.
In my opinion, the candidacy of Bernie Sanders is at the wrong time in history. There is a massive struggle required to which Sen. Sanders himself stated that will require people all over America to organize and to engage in a revolution to take back the country. It means dismantling Citizens United and restoring many of the anti-trust protections offered in another time. It means demanding by force if necessary to change the tax structure. When the power is restored to the people, then the election of a Bernie Sanders carries with it meaning. Until then, a president must find ways to work across the aisle, in an environment where moderate is not considered the opposite of progressive.
There are some stark realities also facing us. Certain court appointments can destroy marriage equality, legal protections against lgbt folk, dismantling of Obamacare and further erosion of laws that protect us against the excesses of industry. There are several protections, environment and social implemented by presidential decree that would go away.
I do not believe Candidate Sanders could withstand the onslaught of Republican propaganda. I know he could not implement the things he says he would do. Not in the system as it exists today. I would hope the Sanders people would join efforts to dismantle the obstacles to true choice by the people. That’s a revolution I willingly join. I hope whichever candidate will embrace Black Lives Matter. That’s a change that simply can’t be delayed.
Then there is his striking naivete' when it comes to foreign policy. Ours is a dangerous world, and he has for decades now been purposefully disinterested in what is going on in the world politic. It's almost as if he has been frozen in time with opinions set in his youth.
These are my primary concerns. I met Hillary Clinton (she was Hillary Rodham then) years ago when I was a paid worker in the George W. McGovern campaign, and I was impressed with her. Sadly the McGovern election was also a campaign with high ideals but nothing in terms of a political constituency to back it up save some of us young folks who believed that change was at hand. Instead we had delivered to us a resounding defeat. Understand though that for friends who disagree, if your candidate wins, I will work for him with all the passion I do my own. Whatever happens, we must not allow a Republican win this next go-round, or the last vestiges of our democratic system surely will be in peril.
Go Hillary!!! (I still like you Bernie!)
Sunday, January 10, 2016
Impermanence and Expanding our Souls: A Response to Today’s Sermon at First Universalist
Some days a sermon reaches and grabs my heart and simply won’t let go. Today was one such day. First, there was a powerful story by member Frederic MacDonald-Dennis. He spoke of attending college at the University of Alabama in the mid eighties, a black gay man at a predominantly white college with a fairly well known racist history and face it, being gay was no easy journey in 1984. His parents supported him even though privately afraid for him. His friends tried in every way to discourage him, but he followed the message in his heart, and as most often is the case, it was the message of truth.
Jen Crow spoke on our reluctance to honor the passages that surround us in life. Our denial of death despite our certainty in truth that it is a journey we all shall take. She spoke of listening to the voices of the ancestors, allowing their knowledge and experience to become a part of our lives. How much richer and expansive is the soul who embraces the experience of all the passages around us. How we grow the soul, in listening to the voices of those who’ve gone before us even as we create new experiences of our own.
I’m sure most of us have our own experience to draw upon. It’s my own experience however, that I know best, though I can say with some certainty others will share some parts of my own journey in theirs.
Let me begin with the things Frederic spoke about. I of course was not born black, so I can hear about the experience of racism, but it’s always obscured in part by the race lens through which I grew up as well. I came along earlier, during the days of the old Jim Crow South. The only black person I knew was as was so often the case in that part of the world in that time, the woman who came to our home and helped with cleanup, washing dishes and vacuuming and paid pitifully little as was also the custom of that day. But, on growing up gay and transgender in Tyler, Texas, that was an experience that was very much akin to my own. You know, I was not out when I began college, but everybody seemed to know, and my earlier years were marked by intense bullying, at least until I learned to express myself in ways that helped me evade some of it. But out of it all, as a matter of survival, I learned to listen to my inner voice. That voice nurtured me and led me along paths where life was possible and glimmers of light seemed possible. Unlike Frederic, my parents were not supportive, and I had to keep my closet firmly in place until my Dad passed in ’67 and my Mom in ’88.
I even in those early years learned of a story of race that I had not been taught growing up. My friends thought I was crazy when during college I went to some of the Black Power meetings of the day on campus, and listened for the first time of other stories. I’m not sure why I did that. I just know I’m a better person for having sat and listened to their voices rather than the ones of a world built upon white supremacy. From them I received my first early lessons that would guide me forward to this day, still learning but in a far different place. Perhaps I listened because it was the same nudge of connection I felt listening to Frederic’s remarks today. Perhaps it was the early stirrings of that little inner voice that has led me to this day. The voice that led me from the encounter with police in a gay bar raid in ’69. For that matter the one two years earlier that led me to take off from college and travel to the west coast and land in San Francisco and see for myself that I was not the only gay person in the world. I also had been writing reflectively since age ten or so perhaps, trying to find my way through the darkness. Oh how that saved me, shining a tiny ray of light in a sea of darkness.
Then there was Jen’s message. Oh Jen if you could only know how your message resonated within my heart. For me, death was virtually impossible to ignore. As a very young child my grandfather on my Mom’s side died. He lived in the back woods in Arkansas. When we arrived, his body was laid out on the kitchen table. He had not been embalmed yet. We slept in the adjoining living room on floor pallets, the light shining on his dead body even as it periodically twitched. Before embalming, those movements are not uncommon, even after death. Also there were the coins in his eyes. I was maybe five at the time, and that was fodder for nightmares for years after that. ::chuckling:: I used to dream repeatedly that Jesus was chasing me in my dreams and that if he caught me, I’d be dead.
Then at age 10 thereabouts, my other Grandpa came down with brain cancer. There was a tradition in those days, and each family member, first the parents, followed by the grandkids, entering individually for a formal last talk. It’s then the one who is dying imparts a final message of wisdom. I remember that conversation so well, then days later he died. My cousin Sandie and I had been downstairs at the snack area in the Dallas hospital. We heard two young doctors talking about a death and a coming autopsy. They seemed quite excited about it. We realized they were talking about our grandpa and cousin Sandie screamed and sobbed uncontrollably. Later he went to the funeral home, and per tradition, we took our turns, even the kids, sitting with the departed. The body was not left alone until time for the funeral.
It wasn’t over yet. My uncle died in a car wreck in ’67, then two weeks later my aunt died. Exhausted, I was caring for other family hurt in the car wreck, then off to Arkansas for another funeral, and then two weeks later, my dad died from a heart attack. We’d fought just a week before and I returned to Dallas to care for family. He called once, but Dad could not say he was sorry and I was quite stubborn myself, then I get the call and he was gone. You know, I had a tremor that lasted for the next two decades, until I finally set down and made peace with him in my heart. Then all sorts of wonderful things happened.
The eighties were not any better. So many friends passed on from AIDS in the eighties, people I’d grown to know and love. I’d moved to Houston where I could be more like me. I kept count for a while, but then I lost count and just quit. Memorial services and funeral parades in my world, even as the outside world simply seemed to wish we would go ahead and die off. I call this my radicalization years. Then in “88 my Mom died after contracting lung cancer. Starting in ’84, we had made our peace and got to have an adult to adult relationship and I love so much that happened. We talked together right up to the last day of her life. It was some of the most intense living one can do.
Then came ’97, my year of the dark night.. My partner, the love of my life, the man who taught me how to truly love, became ill from viral encephalitis. I cannot sufficiently share the depth of our love. I’d lost family to transphobia for I’d transitioned, was barely holding onto my job, and then this happened. He was in coma for a few weeks and then passed over, literally dying in my arms. Then a couple of weeks later, my friend and I are talking, ready to walk street patrol against bashers in our gay neighborhood, and suddenly she drops to the floor, and dies in my arms as well. I felt the life go out of her body. I sat on the stairs as the paramedics tried and failed to resuscitate her, rocking back and forth sobbing quietly. I’ve never been so lost. Oh what blessing for beloved community, people slipping into my life holding me aloft as I healed.
So, after all this darkness, there is light to be found. I stand here as testimony to that reality! When people speak of talking to their ancestors, it’s always been very real for me. Their voices whisper in my ear. Long after he passed away, my father would enter my dreams. You know, as adults, there are still times to hear good fatherly or motherly advice. In the dreams, it was as if he and later they were always alive, and we had he most wonderful talks and I’d hear the answers and ask the questions I needed to go on.
No, I’m not a Spiritualist. My wife is and I respect her journey, but it isn’t mine. I can’t tell you if they truly are my ancestors who speak to me, or my own subconscious actively at work to help me stay centered. See it really doesn’t matter. There are voices beyond me who help me find the way forward, assuring voices, voices that protect. I remember a police officer trained our work group after a brutal crime took place in our premises. He spoke of that gut nudge. Whatever it is, I treasure that little voice inside. That same voice makes itself visible in my dream life and speaks to me with such clarity as to be real. I still see Skip in his real form, smelling his scents and feeling his presence and my beloved Robin who is still very much alive stands alongside, providing a continuity of love and compassion/passion. It’s warned me how to avoid moments of danger well before consciousness revealed the same. Once I was surrounded by bashers and my life seriously in danger in my inner city Houston neighborhood, but there was the voice, leading me out of harm’s way. I do not have to know where it comes from to understand its value in my life journey. Speaking of it in term of my ancestors resonates, even as it has with people worldwide for thousands of years. I treasure my ancestors, past and in the relatively more recent times. Embracing the realities of all the passages in our lives I think really do make us more complete as people of compassion, as beloved community.
So thank you Frederic, and Jen for speaking today to my heart. Jen, I love the idea of an ancestors’ garden for our church hope that when in the not too distant future I pass on, my ashes will find a place there. The music by Ghost Revival was awesome as well. I’ve also spent time at Lakewood, and sat on the hillside at James Tuttle’s grave looking out over the lake below. For those in our church not familiar, he was a charismatic pastor of our church for the last half of the 19th century. He came from Rochester where he knew Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony, and brought the breath of the liberal spirit to our First Universalist congregation. Nearby was the gravesite for Charles Loring, another church member and the founder of our amazing park system. Somehow it was fitting and special to be bringing in new members of the church family on the day we spoke of our ancestors as well. Thanks to Elaine and all of those who now are part of our beloved circle. It was a very special day for this soul, and I and the ancestors thank you for it!