Thursday, November 17, 2016

Parker (Part 2): On Being Organic

Parker is taking a "legitimate" (his word) acting class so that he can make better porn.

When we talked a few weeks ago, he was engrossed in a scene from the play Edmund by David Mamet, which he'd been working on for class.

He described Edmund as "born on third base," which he had to explain to me because I immediately went to the baseball-sex metaphor, which doesn't even make sense here. He likened "born on third base" to "born with a silver spoon in your mouth." Ok, got it.

In the course of the play, this family man (you get it: picket fence, office job) "in a flourish of self-centered, willful badness, casts off all of these trappings." Those are Parker's words, too. He's doing some casting off of his own these days.

The first fifteen minutes of our conversation was dominated by Mamet's play: the storyline, the description of the scene Parker is working on, and a little background on the class. Most of the other students are recent university graduates looking for connections, help with their showreel or insight into their portfolio. They're not sure if Parker is kidding when he says he acts in porn.

He's taking the course for two reasons: to get more skills as an actor and to make better porn. He wants to push himself to create something that's a little more beautiful.

"I would say that 99% of the time, the sex is just improvised," Parker said. "Just let it roll. Do what feels good, do what feels natural. If there's narrative involved, you'll get a script. If there's not, you just arrive and fuck."

Here was my chance. "There should always be a script!" I interjected. "I think most women would agree with me." Finally, I had the ear of someone in the industry. Why don't they all know this?

They do. "I think most people would agree with you," Parker said. "But here's the thing, they're not going to pay for a script when they can just say, 'ok, here's the set. You're fucking him. These are the positions. And um, yeah. Go for it.'" 

Sonia, who was making breakfast in the kitchen as Parker and I spoke on Skype, disagreed with me about the script. She told me later that she found it incredibly sexy, the idea that porn could be that natural. But of course, so much of what we've seen looks neither natural nor particularly enjoyable. As a result, it hasn't been a big part of our sex life.

Can porn be life-affirming? Yes, and! If it's going to be, we need smart, articulate people in the industry with a nuanced understanding of gender, sexuality and the cornucopia of possible acts of sex (Happy Thanksgiving!).

He talked about the challenge presented each day by his work:
Because the scripts are so loose, as loose as they are, the challenge is the big thing for me. I really enjoy being in that place and not being comfortable, and then being like 'I have to figure this out. This is difficult. How can I make this as good as it can be? How can I bring this to life?' I enjoy the creative elements of it: going through the script, seeing what I can put onto this. That's fascinating. Then, I really enjoy the physical performance side of fucking on-screen. That is terrifically enjoyable to me. 
He also talked about the path that led him to porn. The serendipity reminded me of the early days of my nonprofit organization: one person led to another led to another, and eventually you sat down across from the person who would help you realize your dream. But that explanation is too neat for Parker.

He described his continual progression -- from BDSM and a realization of gender politics, to the end of a relationship, to a party where he met a director, to other directors and eventually someone who would show him how to become an escort in a safe way -- as "little grains of sand that build the steps that I'm climbing up."

He wants me to resist neat stories, and warned about the easy meta-narrative that would do his story a disservice. "I wouldn't be in the position I'm in now without all those little details, and swimming my way, stumbling my way through gathering them up."

Parker is a philosopher who is still unsure whether words can serve his journey. He lives with depression and anxiety, half-imagined careers, memories of relationships that went from dynamic and challenging to stuck. Everything pulls him away from the trappings of Edmund at the beginning of the play.

"I've come to the realization that that's not how life works, you can't just will yourself" to have a certain career or life, he reflected. "You can't take the resources you have and decide to go from here to there. 'I'm going to go there, be that.' One of the reasons porn worked for me is because it's been organic."

I'm pretty sure Parker meant by organic, natural development or growth. But organic also connotes, "relating to living matter." The body. That rang truer. 

This man is a thinker. I remembered why I liked him so much, why we never ran out of things to talk about when we were nineteen and our world was just beginning. 

Although he's thinking about porn, and thinking about it in nuanced and artistic ways, the act of it may provide a little relief, an opportunity to be pure flesh. I wonder how often most of us live in our physical bodies this wholly. 

Sex or not, the experience of being wholly physical must produce an afterglow.

"When you come away from a day of filming and you feel like it's gone well, you're so buoyed up, it's so great. Teamwork is oftentimes really enjoyable...when the teamwork is working, it's kind of buzzing. You're in it together and the engine is rolling. That is exhilarating."

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Open Letter to Trump Voters

I know who you are.

You are the Italian, male partner of my cousin who owns a small pizza shop in a dying factory town. You're ambitious but always complaining that you can't find good help. Sometimes, you note the race of your employees that don't work out, and I remain silent. I never questioned to your face that you might not be a very good boss, especially to people who don't look like you.

You are my white, male cousin who served six years in the Navy and had a young marriage turn to dust. By the time you found your second wife and fell in love, you were no longer motivated to explore the world or move out of your comfort zone for a job. You moved back to the county where you were raised and got a job at the paper where your dad worked.

When you were traveling the world with the Navy, you imagined more greatness for yourself. Now you work 9-5, struggle with health issues, and find comfort in the evangelical church. I truly don't know what to say to you. I don't understand why you would look the other way when faced with a hate-spewing monster, or worse, vote for him.

You are my aunt, the stay-at-home, Christian wife of my mother's brother whose interests and hobbies are limited to scrapbooking and other forms of nostalgia. Although you take a passing interest in my work with urban youth, I don't correct you when you frame our conversations about my work in terms of "us" and "them."

I never tell you, "If this is how you see the world, then I'm not on your team."

I wasn't always silent. In my early twenties, the end of college and early working life, I engaged each of you in conversations, some of which ended in tears. The tears were always mine. These were the Bush years and the first Obama election.

What will I do about Thanksgiving and Christmas this year? My black friends on Facebook are inditing me to engaged in a deeper way with my racist family members, to point out hate speech when it comes up, to speak up. Despite the fact that I have so much more knowledge now, I'm reluctant.

Facts and passion may not be enough to change the minds of my relatives, who have decided that we are living in a subjective world, that objective truth and objective justice do not exist.

I don't want to relive the tears of my young cousin's wedding, my aunt going on and on about the number of new Hispanic mothers she sees in her work, always on welfare, always having more children. Her cheerful judgement of their worthlessness. Then, I did speak up.

Her husband, my uncle, doubled down. "You don't know what we see," he said. "You might see something different where you live, but you can't see what it is like where we live. And we're paying for them."

I think that's when I left the room. It's not that I couldn't see; it's that I have different eyes.

The nurse is my godmother, the one who was supposed to be responsible for -- I don't fucking know what -- my spiritual understanding, my enlightened upbringing.

This week, a black woman I know was walking down the street and was trailed by three white Trump supporters. "You'll be under ownership again soon," they said, and laughed.

They laughed.

In South Philadelphia, there were at least two instances of pro-Nazi graffiti.

At the University of Pennsylvania, black freshmen and others were personally, directly threatened with lynching by an online troll who texted threats to their phones, possibly from the University of Oklahoma.

If you voted for Trump, here is what I need from you: denounce his sexist and racist rhetoric today. Do not wait. If you voted for him because you believe in the same God as Pence or because you're dissatisfied with your possibilities for the future, denounce his sexist and racist rhetoric today. If you voted for him because something he said resonated with your lizard brain and you really believe he's going to be a positive change for America, denounce his sexist and racist rhetoric today.

And if you voted for him because of his sexist and racist rhetoric, dear God, don't you DARE call yourself a Christian.

In either case, read a book (something not by Sarah Palin, please). Make friends with someone who doesn't look like you. Get some new eyes. You've made a mess, and we're all going to have to clean it up.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Parker (Part 1): New Frontier

When I first met Parker, we were 19-year-old undergraduates at the University of Westminster in London. 9/11 had just happened.

A few days before, I'd been sitting in a London hotel room with my mother the night of September 11, 2001, and I came out for the first time -- as agnostic. Through her careful protests, I shared my ideas about how the universe might work, based largely on James Redfield's The Celestine Prophecy.

Then I put my mother on a plane back to the States. I was on my own for the first time.

Parker and I met in a drab college common room on the ground floor of a narrow building in the heart of the Victoria neighborhood in central London. A hundred undergraduates were crowded in for orientation, the anxiety and excitement palpable. We all sat in uncomfortable chairs in a circle around the edge of the room, international students and first year Brits. Our lives were just beginning.

I remember looking around the circle of faces, deciding whom to befriend. In my newly empowered state, with mixed results reinventing myself in my first two years of college, I was determined to do this study abroad thing right. I chose Parker, a gorgeous boy with the cheekbones of a god, and a young woman with a tie-dyed shirt and a pierced labret.

The three of us processed the aftermath of 9/11, ate mushrooms for the first time, head-banged in grungy basement bars and danced all night in cavernous clubs. We also ate meals together, watched movies and wondered about the world. By the end of my four months in London, they were my closest friends.

My senior year of college, Parker asked me with some reverence for a phone date. I was sure he was going to tell me that he was in love with me, which meant he was probably going to come out to me (that was usually how it worked).

Instead, he told me that he was exploring BDSM, that it was a part of him. He could share magazines to help me understand, if I wanted. It seemed important to him that I understand.

This was a new frontier, but I didn't flinch. It was like my friends from high school who came out as gay or admitted to abortions despite our years of Catholic education: I knew their hearts and knew all of the pieces of their decision-making. I could not find fault with them; instead, I needed to expand my perspective.

Something similar happened a few weeks ago. I shared my blog with Parker and he had some things to share with me, too: he'd taken up acting in porn in Berlin and working as an escort. I suspected he was queer or bisexual, too, so I asked if I could interview him.

Parker went to school for architecture and pursued careers in art writing and video game design before embracing a life of sex work within the past year. The new frontier for me here was not the fact of the sex work -- I've known anecdotally that there are plenty of people doing sex work who choose it and enjoy it.

The new frontier was that I hadn't loved anyone in the industry. I hadn't had the chance to see how the work fulfilled them in a way similar to how I feel fulfilled in my own work. I hadn't explored big questions like love, ambition and satisfaction with someone who is both a fantastic critical thinker and has found peace and presence in sex work.

I haven't let Parker speak in this first post, but you'll meet him and read his careful analysis and irreverent skepticism in the few that are coming.

It felt important first, to say: I love him, and I'm unsure if we can ever be truly fair to a subject we love. I'll do my best.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Children Are So Cruel

One of the reasons that I started this blog was to have documentation of my relationship, as a queer adult, with my parents. I hoped that documenting the episodes of our relationship as it changed would give me perspective, and perhaps give others comfort.

There were some pitfalls and minor breakthroughs in encounters and conversations with my parents last year, and yet each of them felt like an echo of something that had happened before. I worried we were going in circles rather than breaking new ground.

I have little interest in circles.

About a week and a half ago on a Sunday, my parents joined Sonia and I for When the Rain Stops Falling (NYT review here).

The visit came about following a series of increasingly bitter emails between my mother and I last winter; after the dust settled, my father asked if they could come for a visit and see a play. It was a tradition I'd instituted in my early days in the city, a way of spending time with them and giving them a little exposure to worlds and ideas beyond what they're used to.

There are no plays in the summertime, so we were able to put it off.

I woke before eight the Sunday they came. Sonia had sprained her ankle, so my original plan was thwarted: a quick tour of the apartment followed by brunch and walking around the city. We adjusted, and I started cooking shortly after nine.

We'd have time between brunch and leaving for the play. I texted my dad to bring his drill. Our apartment walls seemed to be made of granite and I was having trouble getting our curtain rods up. That would give us something to do, and I know my dad enjoys few things more than a practical task involving tools. He was eager to help.

It was a brisk fall day, and I met them in front of our apartment complex, and led them inside. My mother wore purple and a determined smile. Dad was a little uncomfortable in a light suit, which he managed to sweat through before the play. They claimed to be impressed by our apartment building.

I've loved every place I've lived in the city, and my mother has done her best not to criticize them when visiting. The last place, she was most concerned by the stairwell, which she claimed was a fire hazard. It probably was. My parents built their home dream home by the time they were thirty-two; they don't understand choosing to live in an old building.

Most of the places I've lived were built in the early 1900s, which I thought gave them charm. I could also afford them.

My parents took their shoes off dutifully, and offered compliments about the apartment to Sonia and I. My mother even brought a gift wrapped in light green paper: a beautiful, heavy silver tray with a tree pattern. Sonia loves trays -- something about the implied luxury, I think -- but we both liked this one. Dad checked out the whole place; mom avoided the bedroom.

When they come for a play, I'm always torn between choosing something like The Importance of Being Ernest, The Lion King or The Nutcracker, and choosing a play I'd like to see. Every time, I choose what I'd like to see, trying within that to find a play as simply beautiful and non-controversial as possible.

Of course, I love theater most when it pushes my own boundaries. I'm inevitably mortified, sitting next to my father during an explicit sex scene or my mother as someone ticks off the reasons God cannot exist. The only difference this time was that Sonia sat next to me instead. My parents were good sports, despite the cursing and dark themes. I was shaken.

"Parents are so cruel," says one character about his mother's silence. This is a play about the secrets parents keep from their children, the secrets that may be horrible but are never as horrible as the silences that are built up around them.

I knew instinctively that the other line was coming, twenty or thirty minutes later, and it did: "Children are so cruel." It's also a play about children and the expectations we set forth for those who brought us into this world, the godlike expectations that are not fair and cannot be fulfilled.

Ok, I cried. A few times.

I was glad to have Sonia in the seat next to me in the final scene, as a father in the year 2039 handed down mysterious artifacts of his family history to his estranged son in a rare meeting. The artifacts passed through the hands of the ancestors and piled on the lap of a young man looking for answers.

We don't get those answers. They are impossible to know, within all those silences. Who were my parents before I got here? What were their desires and demons? Did they learn anything about life or happiness that could ease my journey?

If asked, my father is quick to point to the importance of family as the central value in his life. My mother would say it's accepting Jesus Christ. I don't mean those lessons, the ones they intentionally pass on. Those lessons are nothing more than their own incomplete stories.

I mean the deeper lessons that they haven't yet been framed or even acknowledged, the stories that arise out of their traumas and silences and wonderings.

Sonia would probably say that parents deserve respect, and it is not our right to ask these kinds of questions or try to see our parents this emotionally naked. She told me recently that I'm not fair to them. When she meets them now, absent years of baggage, they seem like genuinely kind people who are making an effort to understand their daughter.

It doesn't feel good to admit it, but she may be right.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Jenny (Part 3): On Becoming Honest

Jenny and I had beers on her front porch Sunday afternoon, and I realized how much time you have to spend with a person to get a decent interview, to make sure you've covered all your bases and captured at least a little bit of the nuance of their experience. 

Traister argues that even for most straight women, relationships with women are more fulfilling in every way. "So I just felt so lucky," Jenny said, "that I'm also sexually attracted to women, too, because I can get so much more from those relationships -- physically, mentally and emotionally -- than I could with a man."

"I'm generally happier when I'm in a relationship," she'd said the week before. "When I'm happy, it's because my life feels full. It feels like the things I'm doing are honest projections of me, and what I want, and what I want to give to the world."

As a teen, Jenny remembers meeting gay women and feeling an inexplicable admiration for them, an awe for their bravery. She remembers being impressed when any woman -- gay or straight -- was able to present themselves as strong and down-to-earth, in opposition to a culture that wanted them to preen and pluck and perform. 

After she came out, she realized that this admiration came because she knew deep down that she wasn't being brave in the same way.

Now, she knows who she is but still finds LGBTQ labels -- lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer -- spectacularly insufficient.

"Meeting someone new, I say 'gay' because I'm dating a woman, so I feel pretty gay," Jenny said. "I do identify as queer, but I don't say that when I am first meeting people, because they're like, 'well, what is that? What does that mean?' If they don't say that, they're thinking it, and that's almost worse."

Queer, for Jenny, carries with it an acknowledgement of the men and the F-to-M trans people she's crushed on and dated. As she puts it, "It's a little more than just lesbian." Queer also gives her the freedom to embody her own version of the strong and down-to-earth women she's admired. 

Jenny is petite, with a tough and determined walk. I most often see her in straight-legged pants, button-down shirts and dangling earrings. She explained her thinking behind her look. 

"I don't like to portray a whole lot of feminine qualities. I've been cutting my hair shorter and shorter. I have a very strong aversion to portraying myself as super-feminine. I don't want to be masculine, just somewhere in between. The last time I dressed really feminine was Halloween. That felt really right to, only on Halloween, put on a dress."

Five or six years after Jenny first started to settle into her own identity and feel comfortable in her own skin, she met her current partner. They've been together for a little over a year now, and the five year plan involves a child. Jenny hopes it involves her current partner. But marriage? Not necessary.

"I'm not sure that marriage is super-important to me. It's a huge waste of money. I'll have to spend money on having a baby. But yeah, I think in five years I want a kid. Just one. Then I'll get another one in seven years," we laughed.

There was something in our laughter that hoped it would be that easy for her to become a mother.

At least some of the confidence and excitement around this vision -- of a child and family, in a few short years -- comes from her current girlfriend.
My relationship has made me feel more fulfilled. Sometimes, I'm overwhelmed by that feeling of being fulfilled, but I feel that I could be with her for a long time and never get bored. She makes me feel confident in myself. I can bounce ideas. She's a question-asker who challenges me without making me feel stupid. 
I feel better matched in my relationship than I ever have, in terms of us being able to talk about anything. She's the first person I've dated who I can see a really long-term future with. In the past, I have been terrified of settling for something that's not right for me, or getting stuck in something, but that has nothing to do with being gay.
Maybe there's a key in there to gay happiness, or to what Jenny called "grown-up happy": learning to separate the trials and dramas of life, the hang-ups and heartbreaks, from our sexuality. Or at very least, to not blame our sexuality -- or bigots' response to it -- for the challenges we face.

Few people lead truly charmed lives. Gay or straight, everyone has their inner and outer demons to face. We're all just working towards being, in Jenny's words, honest projections of ourselves and what we want to give to the world.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Jenny (Part 2): Technology as a Practice Forum

As a member of the Oregon Trail Generation, Jenny came of age alongside technology. We have similar memories of this: chatting via AOL in middle school, discovering music via Myspace in high school and stealing it via Napster in college.

She described that feeling of entering her first chatrooms as a painfully shy middle school student.

"It was the first feeling of being anonymous," she said, "which gave me the freedom to say helped me learn that I could say whatever and it won't be shot down."

Today, school kids are identifying 100% with their online profiles, and cyber bullying carries all of the drama and danger of face-to-face bullying, so I wonder how many young people today discover this feeling of anonymity. When technology first emerged, it was everything.

Jenny remembered her AIM chats with her first (male) crushes, and how she used technology to make friends senior year of high school at Interlochen Arts Academy.
At Interlochen -- again I was really shy, really self-conscious -- I started a Live Journal, which was like the first blog. A lot of us had them, and I ended up making friends through that, that I was having trouble making just in the world...We had this whole interconnected thing. Because I was so shy, people didn't know me very well, but they got to know me more through my Live Journal. Then, I ended up dating one of the people who I'd connected to on Live Journal. He was a male who, shortly after dating me, came out. And I took many more years. 
Jenny described Live Journal as a Facebook-like platform in which you have a network of people, and keep a journal. You could share your journal with the public, keep it to your friend network or make it completely private. I was surprised to find that Live Journal is still around.

Her description of Live Journal, and how it worked for her, made me think of how I'm branding this blog. Although I'm sharing the blog with friends and family and even a few colleagues, my name isn't on it.

I can explore this writing voice and connect to readers and like-minded writers, all in a relatively anonymous setting, thanks to technology. In a year or two -- if it continues to feel satisfying and vital -- I'll find a way to weave together my current education-focused brand with Gay Happiness. But right now, the task is simple: write.

When Jenny first came out, she went immediately to OKCupid, but the way that she branded herself on her profile changed significantly in a very short time.

"I wasn't very popular on there right away," she said. "I was like, 'I'm not sure if I'm gay. I'm pretty sure, but I just want to date some women.' I don't think anyone wants to read that!"

In those first iterations of her profile, Jenny was trying to be as honest as possible. "I identified as bi," she said. "That lasted for about a year, and I changed it gay. After I realized that no one was going to date me if I seemed so unsure, I got rid of all that."

And that's the luxury of platforms like OKCupid. You're name isn't attached to it. You're free to change your identity daily with little to no consequences. You can experiment, see what feels right. Sometimes, you even feel like you're leveling up.

"There was a question on OKCupid," Jenny said, "'Have you ever had a girlfriend or same-sex partner?' For a while, the answer had to be, 'no.' Then when the answer was 'yes,' I felt so great!"

From her first curious flirtations with gay boys in high school, to embracing her own gay identity in her twenties, technology was pivotal every step of the way.

"Technology has helped me be more comfortable in was this practice forum where I could be a more honest, less shy version of who I was...It would have been much slower for me to get comfortable with myself without technology."

And that's why we're lucky, the Oregon Trail Generation and everyone who came after. Relationships, identity and our future's course have been taken out of the domain of stuffy living rooms and parent chaperones. 

Increasingly, young people have the chance to explore what they want their own future to look like in a forum that is safe from ridicule. And thanks to the Internet, there are more and more stories of gay happiness for these young people to stumble upon and see: it really does get better. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

Jenny (Part 1): Grown-up Happy

Monday night, in a walk through West Philadelphia, Jenny called herself "grown-up happy." It's not the giddy happiness of our first relationships or the inspired happiness of a newly discovered art form. There are fewer firsts, but greater calm. Occasional satisfaction.

Jenny and I met on OKCupid in our mid-twenties. We were both new to any kind of gay community and ready to get out there. I'd already suffered my first major heartbreak with a woman but would date men again; Jenny had just broken up with her boyfriend of two years because she was gay. 

Romance was never in the cards. We both needed a like-minded friend more than we needed anything else. We hung out weekly in those early years, and the friendship blossomed into one of my closest adult friendships. Before Sonia and I moved in together, Jenny and I lived together for a year. 

She agreed to be my first blog interview. After seven years, I still had plenty to learn.

Last Friday, I arrived at Jenny's third-floor apartment and we settled at her circular, dinette table -- the one I'd left behind when I moved out. She prepared a peanut butter treat for her white pit bull mix, Snow, so the dog would leave us in peace.

We'd shared dozens of meals over the same table but this felt different, more formal. We started with religion, family and community.

Religion played a peripheral role in Jenny's experience of being a gay person in the world. Although her mother's family was secularly Jewish and her father's family Christian, Jenny said, "both parents explained it: people who believe in God are silly, and God doesn't exist."

Easy enough. Or not.

Even being religion-adjacent can be tough for LGBT people. The atheists have an easier time with it, but even atheist parents are still parents. 

Jenny explained, "My mom, who grew up atheist, her uncle came out as gay back in the 70s. She and her parents had already gone through this. But she was very adamant that she know -- 'you can't be bi, you can't be questioning' -- she needed to know, 'because I need to know what your future is going to look like.' Besides that, she was very accepting."

The Christianity on the other side of the family was a little tougher to navigate. 
My dad didn't really believe me for a while. He wanted me to go to therapy. He wouldn't let me tell his family, and that's where the religion part plays in. He thought his dad would view it as this moral dilemma -- either disown your granddaughter or accept something that you completely disagree with and hate. So he basically said, "Don't tell him until you're going to marry a woman." In his mind he was thinking [my grandfather would] be dead before that would happen. 
When I finally did tell [that side of the family], I was in my first long-term relationship with a woman and I wanted to bring her to my cousin's wedding. I told my cousin, and asked her what my grandfather would think. She [disagreed with my dad], and she was right. 
My grandfather took a few days to respond to my email and said, "this isn't what I would have wanted for you, but I still love you and accept you." Even now, if I'm single, he'll ask me if I'm going to date a man. I'm glad he'll say things like that rather than just not talk about it at all. 
I certainly felt this huge weight lifted once I was able to come out to that side of the family...I was watching my cousins get married and have babies, and to their knowledge I hadn't dated anyone in years. That was so weird and dishonest, so once that didn't have to be the case, I felt so much better.
Whatever chosen family and communities we can build up around ourselves as gay people, there is no denying the import of the love and acceptance of our family of origin.

Despite her religion-adjacent traumas with religion in her extended family, Jenny explored her own spirituality in different ways throughout her life.

"When I was a teenager, I started going to synagogue with my best friend. I connected a lot to her family's ritual around Judaism, and the community that they had around Judaism, and how it brought so much warmth to their lives." 

What if these were our standards for religious communities: warmth, inclusivity, richness and support? 

Jenny's personal spirituality matured when, in her mid- to late-twenties, she worked in hospice as a music therapist. Despite her resilient personality, I remember sitting across from her those years -- usually on someone's porch with beer or wine in-hand -- and noticing a new weight and intention in her approach to daily life. 

It's not easy to be around death all the time, even if the dying are older folks who led long and relatively healthy lives. Not all of Jenny's clients were that lucky, though. There were too many rough days without a supportive supervisor or administration. She had to find the answers for herself. 

"What I realized then was that music was my larger-than-self form of expression and form of connecting," she said. "I was very attached to music since I was five, so maybe there was always a part of me that was using music [to connect to spirituality] without even realizing it." 

I learned a few things through this first interview, and I'm so grateful I could run this experiment with one of my dearest friends. I learned that transcribing an interview takes a hell of a lot of time, and that I need to ask interviewees to trust me, rather than offer to let them read the post ahead of time. There's an urgency to blogging that will keep me engaged, and I lost it for a moment this week. 

Strangely, this interview with Jenny felt more like our first intimate conversations than it did our more recent, more comfortable friendship. The stakes were higher: to listen carefully, guide the conversation in a worthwhile direction and be true to her words. I'm grateful she's a key part of my community. 

Jenny's also been thinking a little bit about her communities lately, those she shares with her girlfriend and those they navigate separately.

"Moving to West Philly in the past year or two," she said, "I've developed a really strong queer community. I go to a party with some of these people, and the minority of people are straight couples. When I was first coming out, this was the kind of community I craved. It took years for me to find it, and now it feels so normal and so good. It helps me to interact more openly and honestly in my other communities."

From our first times dipping our toe into the pool, nodding across the bar and whispering to one another, "do you think she's gay?", to our now mostly-LGBTQ friend groups, Jenny and I ran toward queer adulthood arm-in-arm. I couldn't have asked for more thoughtful or kind partner in crime.

Perhaps because of that, there's a lot more interview to share. Stay tuned for Part 2. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

On Interviewing Angels

My first blog interview is tomorrow, with Jenny. She's getting up a little early on a Friday to let me come over and spend the morning with her and her dog, Snow. As I begin this new part of the writing journey, I'm thinking about the damage that generalizations do, and how we can't avoid them. Also about sameness and difference.

No two childhoods are the same. No two gay people are the same. No two coming out stories are the same. And yet, by gathering multiple human stories on a similar theme -- how LGBTQ people find their unique brands of happiness -- I feel like an outline or shadow will begin to sketch itself. If not guidelines or instruction manuals for young gays, then a reassurance of the plurality of gay happiness.

Jenny introduced me to Mary Oliver years ago, and this poem resonated this morning:

By Mary Oliver

You might see an angel anytime
and anywhere. Of course you have
to open your eyes to a kind of
second level, but it's not really
hard. The whole business of
what's reality and what isn't has
never been solved and probably
never will be. So I don't care to
be too definite about anything.
I have a lot of edges called Perhaps
and almost nothing you can call
Certainty. For myself, but not
for other people. That's a place
you just can't get into, not
entirely anyway, other people's

I'll just leave you with this.
I don't care how many angels can
dance on the head of a pin. It's
enough to know that for some people
they exist, and they dance.

Mary Oliver is a poet who lived for forty years with her partner (they called them companions back then), photographer Molly Malone Cook. Cook passed away in 2005, but Oliver is still going strong at 81, just a few years younger than my grandmothers.

Tomorrow, I will start interviewing the angels and trying to get into their heads.

But first, I need to figure out how to turn my phone into a recording device, and delete enough data to be able to hold these interviews. It's the Oregon Trail Generation -- I'm confident I can figure it out, but it's not second nature. I don't already know how to do it.

To the next chapter!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Going Into Strangers' Homes

When I wrote arts and entertainment and feature stories a few years back, my favorite part was the interview. I couldn't believe that there was a "real job" that allowed you to invite yourself into stranger's homes, sit down on their sofa, meet their partner and children and proceed to ask them questions about the business, art or hobby that was most central to their lives. I was young, and I rightly recognized it as a privilege.

As I talked to more and more people about this blog, a new project emerged: interviewing ordinary gay people who have found their "gay squared," gay to the power of happy. It looks a little different for everyone.

My parents' generation believed that to be gay was to be sentenced to a lifetime of sadness. That perception is swiftly changing, and it's changing because of the proliferation of gay and queer stories and role models.

There are infinitely many ways to live, and it's up to each of us to find a way to live authentically and get as close to happiness as we can. There can't be too many examples of how to do that: the more, the better.

An initial draft of my lead interview questions follows.
  1. Can you tell me a little bit about the religious and spiritual background of your childhood? (Thank you, Krista Tippett.)
  2. When did your sexual orientation begin to emerge, and what did that look like? 
  3. Who were the key role models and influences in your life as an adolescent and young adult? 
  4. How do you define your sexual identity now, and how did you come to embrace that identity? 
  5. Has technology played a role in helping your find partners or like-minded communities? 
  6. How have the swiftly changing politics around LGBTQ issues affected your life? 
  7. What does happiness look like for you? 
I will always try to see the home of the person I am interviewing; homes can tell us so much about a person. I may offer some in Q&A format, but I prefer the flexibility and depth allowed by feature-style writing. I can't wait to get started.

For ease and momentum, I'll begin with friends and ripple outward into larger networks of diverse gay people of all ages. If you would like to be interviewed, email me at I look forward to hearing your story.

Monday, September 26, 2016

In Praise of DeBoer vs. Snyder

Here's a confession. I may not be watch enough news or be politically active enough to write the blog I'd like to write. Since my beloved Jon Stewart left the Daily Show, I barely catch the news.

Two weeks ago, there were helicopter search parties outside our apartment building, and we didn't learn the full story for a full three days (until Monday morning). It turned out, it was an actual crazed shooter who fired over 50 bullets off on a Friday evening, in public places, leaving at least two dead.

It happened blocks from the apartment I share with Sonia. Given that, it's easy to see why I have trouble keeping up with the status of gay marriage in the U.S. (although it's easier since the Supreme Court weighed in), or the status of gay couples jointly adopting, a much murkier topic.

I recently went deep into a 2014 court case in which an unmarried lesbian couple, both nurses and state-licensed foster parents, had three children by adoption in Michigan. One partner adopted two of the children; the other partner adopted one.

"Unable to jointly adopt the three children, plaintiffs initially filed the instant action against the state defendants requesting that the Court enjoin them from enforcing section 24 of the Michigan Adoption Code...which restricts adoptions to either single persons or married couples."

They didn't want to challenge marriage equality originally; they wanted to challenge the law that said that two people who are not married could not adopt jointly. If they prevailed in that case, it would mean that a brother and sister could jointly adopt, or a mother and daughter could jointly adopt.

But marriage equality's time had simply come, everywhere at once. "The Court concluded the hearing by inviting plaintiffs to seek leave to amend their complaint to include a challenge to the MMA," which defined marriage in Michigan as between one man and one woman.
The state defendants, in support of their argument that the MMA has legitimate purposes, offered the following reasons for excluding same-sex couples from Michigan's definition of marriage: (1) providing children with "biologically connected" role models of both genders that are necessary to foster healthy psychological development; (2) avoiding the unintended consequences that might result from redefining marriage; (3) upholding tradition and morality; and (4) promoting the transition of naturally procreative relationships into stable unions.
The court case is a pleasure to read because, immediately after this list, the plaintiffs parade out expert after expert to refute the claims. It's beautiful.

Healthy Psychological Development
David Brodzinsky was the first witness. "He testified that decades of social science research studies indicate that there is no discernible difference in parenting competence between lesbian and gay adults and their heterosexual counterparts."

What did matter, according to Brodinsky, was:
[the] quality of parent-child relationships; quality of the relationships between the parents ... [t]he characteristics of the parent, the styles that they adopt, parental warmth and nurturance [sic], emotional sensitivity. The ability to employ age appropriate rules and structure for the child. And the kinds of educational opportunities that children are afforded is important, as well as the resources that are provided for the child, not only in the family itself, but the resources that, from the outside, that impact the family and the child in particular. And of course, the mental health of ... the parents.
From Brodzinsky's expert witness report:
Every major professional organization in this country whose focus is the health and well-being of children and families has reviewed the data outcomes for children raised by lesbian and gay couples, including the methods by which the data were collected, and have concluded that these children are not disadvantaged compared to children raised in heterosexual parent households. Organizations expressing support for parenting, adoption, and/or fostering by lesbian and gay couples include (but are not limited to): American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychiatric Association, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Psychoanalytic Association, American Psychological Association, Child Welfare League of America, National Association of Social Workers, and the Donaldson Adoption Institute.

The court's point-by-point breakdown of the defendants' main arguments is a quick read that will make you believe the legal system is working. Start reading on page 21 of the decision.

All were challenged convincingly on the basis of evidence, investigation and logic.

An expert, Gary Gates, came forward to point out that 5,300 children are being raised in the state of Michigan by same-sex couples. Each of these children has only one legal parent, leaving them in "legal limbo" if that parent dies or becomes incapacitated.

A historian (a historian!), Nancy Cott, testified that, "from the founding of the colonies through the early years of the republic, civil authorities regulated marriage to foster stable households, legitimate children and designate providers to care for dependents who otherwise would become wards of the state." Turns out, gay marriage would achieve these same ends, in our brave new world.

The court decision, written by Judge Bernard A. Friedman, reflects an understanding that preserving tradition is not an end in itself, nor is it justifiable when you are threatening the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens.

Six years prior, in May 2008, Michigan citizens voted that marriage remain between "one man and one woman." The decision addressed this, too, saying that some citizens' religious convictions were not sufficient to strip other citizens of equal protection under the law. And then:
As Justice Robert H. Jackson once wrote, [t]he very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One's right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.
In less than a year, the decision was reversed. Gay couples and their children in Michigan did not receive equal protection under the law again until the Supreme Court decision of June 26, 2015.

The names of the plaintiffs who hadn't intended to challenge marriage equality, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, will forever be attached to the Supreme Court case, the greatest civil rights victory of our time.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Most Satisfying Thing(s) about Delaying Children

One of the most satisfying things about delaying children is the pleasure of adult friendship. Whether it's traveling with old friends to visit new cities or catching a play on a Thursday with a new friend from around the corner, I thoroughly enjoy and appreciate grown-up company and conversation.

Kids are cute (and just maybe getting increasingly cuter), but I do not envy my young friends and family members who have babies and toddlers right now. I believe them when they say they are experiencing some of the highest highs and lowest lows of their lives, but I'm also quietly noting how sleep deprivation can contribute to emotional roller coasters. 

Friday night, Sonia and I made tacos with chicken in adobo sauce and cabbage salad. Then I drank the better part of a bottle of red wine while we watched a few episodes of Homeland. Short of her reminder that I wouldn't want to be groggy for my Saturday (a good one, although I don't always like to hear it), it was a perfect evening. 

We're lucky enough to have evenings like that fairly often. When we talk about it to a couple with two children, however, their mouths hang open in envy. 

Ok, so one of the most satisfying things about delaying children is the appreciation of time spent with your partner. The other is adult friendship. 

Tonight (Saturday), Sonia's staying home while I go to an art opening and poetry event with my newest friend, a professor of creative writing at a local college. She's a thirty-something writer like me, at once confident in the ways she's spent her years so far and a little nervous that she's wasted some time. 

Can I blame this one on the patriarchy? What better way to cut women off at the knees than leading us to question, while at the height of our productivity, energy and power, whether we should be having children instead?

About a year ago, the professor invited me to sit on a panel at her college. The audience were undergraduate writing majors, and the topic was life after graduation. Two of the four panelists were MFA professors encouraging young writers to saddle themselves with another two years' of graduate school debt to "pursue their art." 

I couldn't in good conscience stand for that. I told them to travel or get any job they could, get some experience in this thing called life, start paying off loans, and see if they had the discipline to write every day. I think the professor liked my attitude, and we went out for our first beer shortly thereafter. 

Two of my twenty-something coworkers recently decided, in my general proximity, that no one makes new friends after college. While that's not true, it certainly gets harder. In recent years, I met one of my closest friends through OKCupid, two others because they lived in the apartment above me. One by being overconfident and a little bit bitchy on an otherwise-male panel. 

As a young person growing up in a rural area, I was a poet. I dreamed. I gazed up at the stars and marveled, imagining my future and its possibilities. Even then, those possibilities included culture, travel, theater, community, close friends, lovers and a commitment to remember what it felt like being a child. 

As I've written before, childhood didn't suit me. It was awkward and monotonous and quiet. I wrestled with vague demons and kept to myself. I promised myself that when I got out, I'd travel to all of the cities, read all of the books, see all of the theater and connect with all of the friends I could. 

So far, so good. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Sexual Orientation, Identity & Why I Choose "Queer"

From yesterday's blog
Sexuality is a dynamic and lived experience like age, career identity or political party. But if I'm truly committed to Sonia, does it make sense for my sexual identity to reference a bunch of hypothetical lovers I'll never pursue? 
This question merits a little more explanation. In particular, the difference between sexual orientation and sexual identity. 

While looking up definitions for clarity, I found out that the Kinsey Institute is still going strong, and it had a baby!

The mission of Kinsey Confidential is "to disseminate accurate, research-based information geared towards college students."

I subscribed to their podcast. One place this blog could lead me is to a future career in sex education curriculum or advocacy. We need to start educating about sex and sexuality a lot sooner than college, and better navigate difficult conversations with the religious right on the topic. But I digress. 

Kinsey Confidential defines sexual orientation as both sexual attraction and sexual behavior (where you land on the Kinsey scale between heterosexuality and homosexuality) "as well as sexual identity, romantic attractions and behaviors, membership in sexual communities (e.g., lesbian, bisexual, gay, kink, BDSM), sexual fantasies."

In other words, the big picture. Many things are contained within sexual orientation. As far as I can tell, sexual orientation has limitless labels. I can be a "woman-loving-woman submissive" or "a bisexual sex worker who works with men but only has romantic relationships with women" or "a gay man looking only for a couple of bears (exactly two) for a monogamous relationship."

Sexual orientation resists simple definitions. I wanted to offer mine here, but the best I can come up with is "queer cis woman in a relationship with a woman, with broad tastes in fantasyland."

When I think about listing each aspect of my sexual orientation, it's overwhelming in the same way writing a resume is overwhelming. It's difficult to remember and qualify each line item.

Sexual identity is simpler. According to Kinsey Confidential, sexual identity is "the label that people adopt to signify to others who they are as a sexual being."

Simply, I am queer. Sonia is bisexual (as she reminded me yesterday, mostly because of Ryan Gosling).

Sexual identity is the one that makes me feel like a grumpy, emo teen. A few reasons for this.

First, I resist the implied authority in the definitions. The terms themselves, especially lesbian, gay and bisexual, were defined in another time, probably by white men in power. The definitions haven't changed much.

Second, I resist the simplicity and historical weight in the words. The terms were coined when society had a different view of the fluidity of sexuality. These identities are perceived as static, and humans are not.

To call myself "lesbian" now would create a false narrative in which I was a lesbian when I had relationships with men and that I was being untrue to myself in those relationships. There is also an implied discovery that I'm lesbian, which suggests a lack of self-awareness.

This was not my experience, nor do I think it's the experience of the majority of broadly-defined queer people today. We know what sexual identities and orientations exist, and we try them on for size earlier and earlier. Then, we love who we love, with increasing impunity.

I choose "queer" for two reasons. First, in that it reappropriates a word that had a negative connotation in the past, it is pushing our language forward. Second, it is broad enough to encompass the fluidity of sexuality as it unfolds over a lifetime.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

True Sexuality, Insufficient Words

Two questions this morning.

Is sexuality an endgame or a lived experience? And who needs to know what you're practicing or what you're fantasizing?

Following last Saturday's family victory, I've been wondering about the word "bisexual." It seemed to get in the way of my parents', and perhaps other family members', willingness to accept that I'd chosen a woman for my partner. It allowed them to have a "this is just a phase" phase, when they could hope I'd eventually choose a man.

It made them less kind to the women that I've dated, and less accepting.

When I used the word "bisexual" when I came out to my parents in 2009, I thought it prudent. I'd just met the first and only woman I'd ever dated. I was 26. Chances were, we wouldn't end up together, and I was still attracted to (some) men.

Lately, I've discarded "bisexual" and been careful with "queer" because it seems that the most relevant piece of information that I want people to know is, "Sonia is my partner." So maybe, "gay"? For simplicity or even advocacy, do I need to embrace a "gay" (or "lesbian") label if I'm going to spend my life with a woman?

The short answer is, of course not. Sexuality is a dynamic and lived experience like age, career identity or political party. But if I'm truly committed to Sonia, does it make sense for my sexual identity to reference a bunch of hypothetical lovers I'll never pursue? Is it even fair?

On a recent Savage Lovecast, Dan Savage advised a poly guy to consider coming out in a way that gay people used to do in the (bad) old days. Basically, let the parents meet the partner as a friend first. They'll chat about vacation spots or dinnerware or job woes and grow to really like the partner without burdening them with the responsibility for your newly revealed sexual identity.

The guy is dating a couple, but he hasn't yet come out to his family as bi or poly. Dan's almost-always-100%-on-point advice is:
The first order of business is to come out to your parents' as bi. It's unfair to the couple that you're involved with to make them the focus of that. "Hey, here are my friends. I'm fucking them both. Ta-da!" That will put this couple that you're dating in a very uncomfortable position, particularly if your parents do the pivot that a lot of conservative parents do, and get angry at the romantic partner or partners of the kid who's just coming out. 
Dan advises the guy to come out as bi and introduce his parents to the couple as friends (in no particular order). Then, when he's ready to have the poly conversation, he can reference that nice couple they met the other night. "That can help lay the groundwork for creating the fissure, the little crack in your parents' brain that you can drive the wedge into, to open their minds."

I could have lived a parallel life in which I grew to be 34 without having once talked to my parents about sex (if we had anything like "the talk," I don't remember it). Talking about sexuality, in that it is proximal to talking about sex, is not done in our family. If you respect your parents, you simply pretend that it doesn't exist.

Dan's advice to the poly guy was comforting in that it reminded me that each of us can decide exactly how we come out to each person, what the steps are and how much we reveal.

The flip side of the coin is overwhelming. If I had to create a strategy like this one for each coming out -- to a coworker, to a cousin, to a new acquaintance -- I wouldn't have time for life or work. Perhaps parents are the only people worthy of a strategy.

For everyone else, you just have to decide upon the words, a little piece of wrought language weighed down with the expectations and interpretations of generations before you. An insufficient phrase that is as close as you can get.

Which is why I'm sticking with, "This is my partner, Sonia," until further notice. It's the thing I'm sure of.

It's as truthful as I can be.

Monday, September 12, 2016

"This is my daughter, and her partner."

In a long walk through the city on Saturday morning, I listened to Krista Tippett's interview with Mirabai Bush. She spoke about coming to meditation practice in the 1970's.

"I began to see the basic nature of the impermanence of thoughts as they rise and fall away, and I started taking them less seriously," she said. "It gave me a kind of radical self-confidence: that I belonged here on the planet and that I would be able to understand the basics of how it's all unfolding."

I vowed to keep Mirabai Bush's words top of mind as I steeled myself for unpleasant encounters and anxiety at my cousin's wedding later that day. I would recognize them rise in my mind, and watch them fall.

Armed with this reminder, I pulled on the dress Sonia had ordered me from Rent the Runway, and we set off for the suburbs. The Catholic church was pale and drab. There weren't any flowers and the microphones didn't work.

Sonia and I arrived ten minutes late, entered the sanctuary just as the bride and groom reached the altar and sat in the last occupied pew on the left. No one had told the participants how to turn the microphones on. Even my parents, in the fifth row, couldn't hear a word.

When people clapped a second time, we knew it was over. After thirteen years of Catholic school (K-12) going to mass twice a week, I couldn't tell if it had been a full mass.

After the ceremony, something extraordinary and bizarre happened.

The first pews of people began filing out behind the wedding party, followed by the second row of pews and everyone else. My family -- aunts, uncles, a few cousins and finally my parents -- began to pass by the place where Sonia and I stood.

Everyone was smiling, some tentatively. Sonia and I stepped into the aisle and said hello to them, one by one. I said, "This is my partner, Sonia," after I hugged each aunt and uncle, and most of them hugged her, too.

This partner title is an upgrade, for which I'd asked Sonia's permission on the road to the wedding. We made cowboy jokes.

At previous family gatherings, I'd introduced Sonia as my girlfriend. My mother and aunts call their friends "girlfriends" sometimes, so this led to a little confusion or willful ignorance. Partner felt more permanent. They took it in. They seemed to take her in.

We were in a receiving line preceding the actual receiving line. The line backed up, as they do. We slowed and found things to talk about. Sonia bantered with my aunt about a pillow infomercial; my uncle awkwardly mocked the way I'd said "shopping." It was ok.

At the bar at cocktail hour, my dad introduced us to someone he'd been talking to from the other side of the family. "This is my daughter, Rita," he said, "and her partner Sonia."

After seven years, it was finally working.

One drink later, he revealed that he'd given my brother one of the three family time shares and was feeling guilty about it, especially considering I'd paid my own way to college. He fumbled, clearly unplanned, and asked me what he could do to make it up to me.

I swallowed the feeling of being wronged. I don't have a right to my parents' money or possessions, and I cannot control their generosity.

Sonia and I sat at a table with a few other young couples from the city; my parents were on the other side of the room with my aunts and uncles. A few hours into the dancing, I swayed to a slow dance with my dad.

When I announced that we were leaving shortly thereafter, mom pulled dad across the dance floor to say goodbye to Sonia. He kissed her on the cheek as they said goodbye.

I hadn't once consciously used the morning reminder: I am not my thoughts. The reminder itself was sufficient to propel me into the day with confidence and resolve.

And something that hadn't occurred to me as possible actually happened: we had a good time.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Ani DiFranco on Family, Happiness and God

Ani DiFranco's music played in my 1987 Honda hatchback on repeat until I knew every word, and then I keep singing along for another few months. This was late high school, early college. Music that I came to love in those early years (it was exactly Fleetwood Mac, Ani DiFranco & Leonard Cohen) became a part of me. 

She was my first example of a cool lesbian, but she wasn't one. 

somedays the line I walk 
turns out to be straight 
other days the line tends to 
I've got no criteria for sex or race 
I just want to hear your voice 
I just want to see your face  
their eyes are all asking 
are you in, or are you out 
and I think, oh man,what is this about? 
tonight you can't put me 
up on any shelf 
'cause I came here alone 
I'm gonna leave by myself from "In or Out," released on Imperfectly, 1992 
That was her testimony on her third album, and she claimed the labels "bisexual," and "queer," over the years. She wrote songs about love and sex with men and women.

I didn't subscribe to music magazines. The Internet was still infantile. I listened to Ani's albums in the late 1990s and early 2000s. She affirmed my own advocacy (I had friends who were gay), but I wasn't seriously thinking about dating women at the time. I was straight. I just loved her music. She was a poet, like me.

Not So Soft. Puddle Dive. Not a Pretty Girl. Little Plastic Castle. These albums gave me the anthems that smoothed my rough ride into becoming an adult woman. When it was safe enough and armed with Ani's strength, I practiced Hollaback from sheer rage.

So why did I feel self-righteous, in the early 2000s, when I learned that she'd married a man? It was never outside the realm of her possibility. She hadn't deceived us.

Now, she lives with a husband and two children, Petah and Dante, in New Orleans. If you're going to quiet your indignation, get a picket fence and still practice advocacy (she canceled a show in NC this year to protest their anti-LGBT law), that's the town to do it in. A town worthy of her.

Love or happiness have quieted her rage. "I have that typical songwriter’s disease," she said in an interview with Adam McKibbin in 2009, "where when I have a problem, I reach for my guitar, and when I’m happy, I’m busy being happy." 

After her daughter was born in 2007, she wrote her best love song. 

So I'm beginning to see some problems 
With the ongoing work of my mind 
And I've got myself a new mantra 
It says don't forget to have a good time 
Don't let the sellers of stuff power enough to rob you of your grace 
Love is all over the place 
There's nothing wrong with your facefrom "Present/Infant", released on Red Letter Year, 2008
And where is God in all this happiness? Nowhere. In 1999, she wrote and sang, "Up up up up up up / Points the spire of the steeple / But God’s work isn’t done by God / It’s done by people."

Amen. Good deeds and aspersions alike, on this plane, are practiced by humans alone. 

My spirituality tends to be more in the vein of, if there is a God it exists within us, and the responsibility for justice is on our shoulders. What if we just looked to each other in this way? What if the steeples didn’t all point up? What if they all pointed at us, and we had to care for each other in the way that we expect God to care for us? I’m much more interested in that.” —Ani DiFranco, interview by Matthew Rothschild, The Progressive, May 2000
We do not hold humans to this expectation because humans are incredibly disappointing most of the time. Love is rare; balanced and respectful relationships are rare; altruism might not exist. We can't lift humans up with reverence and worship them, the way we can a myth. 

Ani turns to the atom.
The glory of the atom 
Begs a reverent word 
The primary design 
Of the whole universe 
Yes, let us sing its praises 
Let us bow our heads in prayer 
At the magnificent consciousness 
Incarnate there 
The smallest unit of matter 
Uniting bird and rock and tree 
And you and me  
Oh holy is the atom 
The truly intelligent design 
To which all of evolution 
Is graciously aligned from "Atom," released on Red Letter Year, 2008
YES. The glory of nature and the universe, what we do understand that boggles the mind, contains plenty of reverence and meaning for me. 

And raising our expectations for humans, that we meet one another eye-to-eye and take greater responsibility for one another's care and just treatment, could contain plenty of holiness. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Dreams of Pregnancy

They say dreams of pregnancy are not usually about pregnancy itself, but about being pregnant with possibility. Women dream about being pregnant when they are on the verge of something, not when they're actually contemplating getting pregnant. In my case, perhaps there's a little bit of both.

The dream itself isn't worth going into, except to say that it took place in my parents' bedroom. A woman doctor put her finger inside me to confirm that even though I was spotting, I was still holding the baby.

I'm not too high on dream interpretation, but I believe in symbols and stories. Dreams create an opportunity to unpack something that's scratching at the subconscious. My parents' home, where I lived from the age of four until I left for college at seventeen, is never far from my dreamscapes.

My gay identity and relationship with my parents are complicated by the fact that I couldn't wait for childhood to be over. I don't remember acting like a kid, being carefree or comforted by the presence of adults. I was not abused. But I was never comfortable, either.

Flannery O'Connor said, "Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days."

I was a wide-eyed, thoughtful and anxious child. Although sometimes moody, I was a pleaser who gave the impression of being wise beyond my years. My brother and I received unsolicited compliments from our fellow churchgoers about our impeccable behavior. I learned well how to keep my inner life protected.

To this day, Jenny will note discord between how I claim I'm feeling and what I'm outwardly projecting. I've learned to say things like, "I was self-conscious about that," or "that made me anxious," because I literally don't know how to act in a way that will show those emotions to a friend or partner.

Maybe feeling one way and acting another is simple adulthood, and I learned it sooner than most. If that's the case, I'm ready for whatever is next. My father's side of the family is Dutch, German and Scandinavian. Whatever is next, I will not learn it from them. They do not talk about upsetting or complicated matters, at least not with one another. This wedding on Saturday is beginning to weigh.

Although I'm out to most family members, I still have a hard time, in each new social setting, entering and navigating their rituals and conversations. Sonia will be with me. I hope I am pregnant with the possibility of being strong and confident and -- dear God can I hope -- a little funny.

On Tuesday night, I went out with Jenny and two friends, a lesbian couple pregnant with their second child. The couple was open and forthcoming about their process in the manner of a truly tight and confident family. We discussed sperm banks, using a known donor and adoption as ways we'd all considered making our families.

Of course, the pregnancy dream could have simply been a wisp of a memory from that night. Sonia and I have talked about adoption, but the possibility of me carrying a child isn't off the table.

After dinner, I walked with the couple and told them a little bit about this blog. "I don't know what it is I'm trying to work out," I found myself saying, "But I'm working something out, and enjoying the process."

I rambled a bunch, too. I need to work on my elevator speech.

Whatever happens Saturday, I'd like to think that I'm pregnant with that unknown: what is here, where it is leading me.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Why I Began Watching Transparent (Finally)

I've read a few back issues of Harper's Magazine while watching the still lake waters last week. In the April 2016 issue, a review of Transparent by Emily Witt spoke directly to the world I want to see: a post-religious world in which individuals must come to terms with identity and sexuality (their own and other people's) based on personal, owned values.

That world doesn't look as idyllic as we might hope.

Witt writes, "If Maura is an exemplar of self-actualization -- the person who, after suffering for so long, finally expresses her true self -- her children represent the dark side of a world in which existential decisions are no longer scripted by religious doctrine and social custom but must be discerned through personal exploration."

Maura (Jeffrey Tambour) is the main character, a father of three named Mort when we first meet her. Each of her three children have their own sexual awakenings on the horizon.

Sarah (Amy Landecker), a mother of two, leaves her husband within the first few episodes, to reignite a flame with her college girlfriend. We learn that Josh (Jay Duplass) is still in a relationship with his babysitter from childhood, although the family doesn't seem to know it. Ali (Gaby Hoffman) has an interest in sexual escapades, mostly with men so far, that I suspect serve as a distraction to some deeper desire or knowledge.

While the world without religious doctrine and social custom is still an imaginary future world for me (and most Americans born outside of our major cities), I believe it exists. Seeing Maura's secular children playing out their existential woes in the face of their parent's transition, however, isn't pretty.

Where religious doctrine may condemn and social custom may shame, the secular response seems to be a dive deep into personal neuroses.

Without religion to lean on, I'd hoped their wrestling would be more nuanced, vulnerable and insightful. There's still time for that.

I'll be tuning in for the characters -- they're likable even when they're careless or clueless.

I'll also be tuning in to watch the characters' relationship to religion. The characters are Jewish and there's an emerging rabbi character (Kathryn Hahn), who is present immediately following Josh's discovery of Maura's true identity.

If there's any religion that can overcome the desire to oppress, perhaps it's Judaism. Witt writes, "Now that we are all free to be you and me, [the director] Soloway suggests, perhaps it is worth consulting religion, which may have more than oppression to offer."

I'll try to keep that in mind on Saturday, when Sonia and I will sit through my cousin's Catholic wedding with full mass. It will be the first time I've brought Sonia to a formal event, although she went to a picnic with most of these folks last summer.

The event snuck up on me. We just got back from vacation; there hasn't been time to send off the "We've moved in!" postcards as I'd hoped, so we're going in armed only with one another and the power of repetition.

When I told one of my aunts that my girlfriend, Sonia, and I had moved in a few months back she asked, "Oh, into a two bedroom?" Her voice was hopeful, as though she could still call Sonia my roommate, if only I answered "yes."

"Nope," I replied. "Just a one bedroom. She's my girlfriend."

Such is the power of religious doctrine and social custom. Anything that doesn't fit, does not compute.

My cousin has promised, unsolicited, that we will not be the only gay couple at the wedding. As my brother would say, "If the kids are okay, then the old ones have done enough." Let's hope so.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Word Have Meaning. Period.

I sat uncomfortably with yesterday's post, Word Have Meaning, Unless They Don't.

Stephen Dunn is one of my favorite priest-poets. I found his work in my early twenties, and met him at the Dodge Poetry Festival a decade ago. I'd read everything he'd published. I know how people feel when they meet rockstars.

The ground was soaked with rain from the previous night. Large white tents with audiences ranging from 50 to a few hundred were erected in grassy fields, and I trekked through the mud and hay to reach the tent where he was reading.

He'd won the Pulitzer a few years before. He must have been in one of the bigger tents, but I remember his reading as small, off-beaten-path, sparsely attended. He was all the more magical because he was mine.

During his reading, I did this thing I used to do when I was a young poet, staring in such a way that I was sure I could see someone's aura radiating outward. I started doing this at Beatnik poetry readings as a teen in the late 90s. It was probably a trick of vision and light.

A few years later, in the tent listening to Stephen Dunn, his aura was white, the highest order of auras. I drank in every word. I loved him.

Afterward, I approached him to sign my copy of his book. I was going to tell him how his words had saved me, made me feel less alone. How I revered his nuanced thought and planned to use him as a model for the kind of poet I wanted to become.

I chickened out. When I reached the man, I thrust my book to him, stammering, "Uh -- could you please sign my book?"

I still believe in the poets of nuance, even if Dunn wonders, as he gets older, if the priests had something to offer all along. I came to poetry as a religion because it offered me what religion never had -- gray areas, rich questions, a land of no absolutes.

That 19-year-old wannabe Beatnik once wrote, "The only life that interests me is with the outcasts, in the gray areas, along the fringes."