Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Words Have Meaning, Unless They Don't

The second of my Happiness Project commandments, "words have meaning," began unraveling the moment I wrote it. For insight into the power and limitations of words, I turn to Stephen Dunn.

In a poem dedicated to his brother, he writes, "What is the past if not unfinished work? / Swampy, fecund, seductively revisable? / One of us has spent his life developing respect / for the weakness of words, the other for what / must be held onto; there may be a chance for us" (from "Our Parents" in Different Hours).

It is the poet, of course, who develops the reverence for the weakness of words. "Poet" was one of the first identities, at fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, that I took on wholeheartedly. It felt like a spiritual calling.


If the poet doesn’t yield to the priest,
as Stevens says he shouldn’t,
and if both reside in the same village,
and call on their powers to rectify
or explain the latest disaster,

does the priest become less persuasive
because his ideas are likely not his own,
and is the poet suspect for the same reason?
Would a good priest find the right words,
as the good poet would, in among the many words

passed down for centuries
on what to think, what to believe? Or would reverence
always get in the way of the true,
thus possibly giving the poet the edge?

That is, if the poet mistrusts words, as he should,
makes them pass hard tests, knows that they must
be arranged and shaped in order to convey
even a smidgen of truth, wouldn’t he,
although self-ordained, be more reliable?

But what if the villagers believed
they were saved by a prayer the priest said
on Sunday among the ruins? And all the poet
could do was elegize the ruins?
Would the real and the imagined fuse,
become something entirely new?

And what if the poet and priest were one,
each invoking the other as the crops grew
and rain was steady in rainy season, or,
just as confusing, things got worse
and prayers proved useless, and poems
merely decorated the debris where a house

once was? Would it be time for the priest
to admit he’d known but one book? For the poet
to say he’s read many, and look, it hasn’t helped?
Or has the issue from the start been a great need
that can’t be fully met, only made bearable
and sometimes served by those who try?

Stephen Dunn from Lines of Defense, W.W. Norton & Company, 2014

Religious zealots, Zen Buddhists, political activists, radio show hosts and poets all have different uses for language and different relationships to language. In this blog, I hope to expose the way language is used to silence and oppress and to highlight those occasions when it is used to celebrate and uplift.

The relationships will get dicey. The priests are everywhere, and many of them have good intentions. The poets profess to many faiths.

Still, priests and poets have different reference points for truth. I'm glad Dunn put these two in the same village. I might put them in the same room. It's time they talked face to face.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

My Five Commandments

I know from working with elementary-aged children that no one can keep more than five rules in their head at one time.

Although these are inspired by Gretchen Rubin's Twelve Commandments in her happiness project, I've settled on five that feel right to me. Number 1, 3 and 4 are loosely based on my "Discipline, Empathy and Grace" mantra.

1. Wake up early.

2. Words have meaning.

3. Walk a mile.

4. Look up!

5. Change the backdrop.

Each one of the above strikes me as simple and deep enough to remain resonant. The first is pretty self-explanatory; the second, "words have meaning," is the thing that gets me up each morning. So much evil is rooted in intentionally ambiguous language.

My evolving idea of the sacred includes, first and foremost, a reverence for language. It cannot solve the world's problems. It cannot say even what we most need it to say. But it is the best tool we have, and the more we can agree on the meanings of words, the more we can be speak and be understood.

My third commandment, walking a mile, is a reminder to exercise - literally at the very least walk a mile each day. But also, to walk a mile in another's shoes. I'm working on a blog post right now about queer #BlackLivesMatter leader Patrisse Cullors that will be richer for more time taken. The more distant someone's experience is from mine, the more reading required.

Look up! "When I look down, I just miss all the good stuff / when I look up, I just trip over things." That's Ani DiFranco, on the terrible application of opportunity cost in life choices. For my part, I intend that "look up!" encompass both catching all the good stuff and paying attention well enough that I'm not tripping over things. There's magic in a well-placed exclamation point.

This week is a good reminder that my travel radius has gotten shorter. Walking a mile in another's shoes is easier when you "change the backdrop," by traveling outside of your comfort zone. When I hear podcasts about the Syrian refugee crisis in Greece, my empathy is awakened more because I visited the Temple of Olympus, beside the former psychiatric asylum that is now a refugee camp. Travel and exposure lead to increased empathy and understanding, if you're paying attention.

It's been fifteen years since I was in Greece. It was another lifetime for me, and for that country. I suppose the devoutly religious see change of that magnitude and cling to their religion as comfort.

I see it and say, I need to get out more. There's a lot of work to be done.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Finding Our People

Sonia and I arrived to the New York side of Lake Champlain, Plattsburgh, NY, Saturday night around 8:00pm. Our very first experience was a quick-and-dirty wake-up call to the importance of doing a little research before picking a restaurant.

On the surface, it sounded like just what our tired bones and hungry bellies needed: a marina restaurant on the water just a few miles away serving Italian food. Dominic's at Treadwell Bay Marina. We could sit on the water. Let's go.

We made our way through a packed but silent parking lot, the outdoor tables peaceful and visible just past the entrance.

We opened the door to a cacophony of sound: nearly every table filled with grinning, middle aged white people shouting to one another, their late-teen, early-twenties sons and daughters running around as waitstaff.

We probably would have stood at the front door for fifteen minutes without being acknowledged, except that I can be a pushy bitch when I want to. We asked to sit outside, but the hostess warned us about the water bugs (Sonia hates bugs of all kinds).

No tables inside, either, despite a handful of empty ones in sight, because "He's serving a table of thirty right now. It's a private party," according to an 18-year-old brunette with purple streaks who looked like a deer in headlights.

"Who is he?" I wondered. Whoever he was, the place seemed to be falling apart without him.

I ended up suggesting we sit at the tiny bar, which boasted three (not four) barstools. The hostess thanked us for the idea as she set menus beside a group of very drunk white men. Sonia tapped them on the shoulder to alert them to our presence. They finally moved so we could sit down.

It didn't get better. We ordered drinks, then one of those drunk men -- these are not children, these are people with pension plans and boats -- proceeded to insist on "Three Jager shots" repeatedly for the next ten minutes. He was built like a refrigerator and continued to yell at the kids behind the bar, inches from Sonia's left ear, even after he was told that they didn't have Jager behind the bar.

We told them to pack up the food we'd just ordered and stood outside with our drinks until it was ready. At home, we at quietly as we looked out onto the water of another marina where we were staying.

The view is something. Here's what it looks like in the daytime.

Sonia is really good at planning vacations. I'm lucky.

Today, we're off to Burlington, VT. Home of the Pride Center of VT, Outright Vermont, and too many gay-themed blogs to count (but here's one and here's one and here's a very cool local lesbian comic).

We're ready. I have a feeling we'll have better luck finding some folks we wouldn't mind standing next to in a bar.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Coming Out to Extended Family

Because of my fluid sexuality and the fact that I only see some of my extended family every couple of years, I'm still coming out to some of them, most recently on Tuesday. My aunt, my mother's brother's wife, and my 16-year-old cousin passed through the city to look at colleges, and invited me to dinner.

The women in my family are not kind to one another. I have eight aunts and seventeen cousins, about half of whom are women, and I've never liked the dynamics or behind-the-back conversations. I blended in and seldom contributed, so I heard it all.

This ankle-biting was disguised as having the best interest of the children or the women themselves at heart. Aspersions were cast for having a live-in boyfriend, then for not bringing him around at the holidays. They noticed when kids were spoiled, and whose fault it was. Innocent vanities didn't escape judgement: the aunt who only buys name brand clothes, the cousin who dresses too provocatively for a family gathering.

You get the idea.

This particular aunt is an outcast on my mom's side, which I think may be the reason she's been so kind to me. She's more cosmopolitan than the other women in the family, she knows it, and they resent her for it.

I've always had a soft spot for my 16-year-old cousin. She was the youngest cousin with a gap of 18 years, so she didn't have any of the fun we did, growing up on vacations running around with cousins our own age. She was also an adorable baby at a time when I was starting to wonder if I'd have any of my own.

Shortly after our dinners arrived at the upscale hotel restaurant, I was talking about my sleep schedule. "I've gotten on a 10pm to 6am sleep schedule," I said, "Since my girlfriend Sonia was studying for a test earlier this summer. She's not studying anymore, but I'm still getting up early. I started a blog."

Then, of course, my cousin asked about my blog. In this way, I managed to come out to them without so much as allowing them a breath to process the information I'd shared and ask a more personal question. Who is this girlfriend? How long have we been together? How did we meet?

Even when I dated men, I resisted talking to relatives about my dating life. Thank God, there's only a few of them left who don't know about Sonia. This post-vacation "We've moved in!" postcard should do the trick.

When there was another lull in the conversation, my aunt asked about my work. I'd trained extended family members to do this. I helped start a nonprofit organization, and for years it's all I talked about. The classic distraction: "Hey! Look at all of the cool work I'm doing over here, so you won't ask me about my personal life."

Despite my awkward coming out, a few minutes later, my cousin dropped a comment about her theater teacher's girlfriend. Her theater teacher is a woman. When I told my brother about this exchange, he texted, "Yeah as long as the kids are good, then the old ones did enough."

The kids, the millennials like my cousin, are good. Before we said goodnight, she told me that I was her favorite cousin.

My revelation hadn't changed that.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Isaac Knew Abraham's Plan

My strongest remaining tie to Catholicism is the stories. I love the resonance of Bible stories, especially the story of Abraham and Isaac. They are a part of my mythology, too.

The Abraham and Isaac story resonates with me because it is so utterly horrible and so familiar. My mother has faith like Abraham, for which she would sacrifice anything "of this plane."

In case you're not familiar, the Abraham and Isaac story goes like this. God tells Abraham to bring his eldest son, Isaac, to the top of the mountain, and kill him there like a sacrificial lamb on an altar. Abraham, without a single recorded question in any of the Biblical texts I found, proceeds to the mountain with his son. Abraham carries the knife and the fire (no matches back then), and Isaac carries the wood. You need a lot of wood to burn a recently dead anything. 

It takes the three days to get to the place where God wants Abraham to kill Isaac. Imagine that journey, with Isaac (who I picture as between eight and twelve at the time) asking questions like, "The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for burnt offering?"

I understand that Biblical times were different: harsher, with shorter lifespans and perhaps not as much attachment to life, but I still can't give Abraham a free pass. Isaac was his only legitimate son, born to him and Sarah late in life. There was no promise of another. 

Don't even get me started on how, for every Biblical scholar who wants to condemn homosexuality based on the line "You shall not lie with a man as with a woman," there are a dozen twisting themselves in knots to justify or gloss over the use of sex slaves by so-called men of God. Because in fact, Isaac wasn't Abraham's only son. He had a son, Ishmael, by his slave Hagar, who are only mentioned when convenient because of their status as second class citizens.  

Oh. I didn't want to get started. 

Returning to the story, Abraham gets as far as binding Isaac's limbs and laying him on top of the altar, on top of the wood. Do you think Isaac might have picked up on what was happening, offered a little struggle? Could he ever forgive a father who was willing to do that to him? 

There's a streak of masochism in Christianity that repulses me: Abraham the willing victim of God's request, Isaac lying down, mute, on the altar like the sacrificial lamb his father plans him to be. 

I have found the gay Christian blogs (bless their hearts) that work so hard to make the words say what they want. Although I respect the endeavor, for me, it's not different enough than the endeavors of the bigots, using the stale and ancient words to condemn homosexuals, women who've had abortions, or other social pariahs who don't fit with white, middle class values. 

That's what the Christianity that I know has become in America: white, middle class values and self-righteousness disguised as spirituality. In the Evangelical church, there's a little religious ecstasy mixed for a release. 

They need that release. It is a struggle, for many Christians I know, to live their lives contrary to so much actual evidence (the history of the earth, global warming, the nature of evil, you name it). Even gay Christians in progressive and accepting churches have to reconcile with the fact that several branches of their own religion would cast them out. 

Religion is one of the greatest crimes of humanity, compelling generations of victims to live in direct opposition to their own self-interest. 

The greatest victims of religion are those who believe fully, who are willing to sacrifice their children, standing right in front of them, for the promise of an afterlife they haven't seen. 

But of course, we their children are also in trouble. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Fluid Sexuality and Why Everyone Is Queer

The movie Kinsey (trailer here) came out in 2004 and was my first introduction to the idea that human sexuality may exist not as a binary (with bisexuals carefully balancing between the two extremes), but as a fluid spectrum.

Today, there are dozens of internet hacks creating ridiculous surveys to reveal your sexuality to you. The most simplistic I found, at the very top of Google, was by Dr. Epstein.

Doctor of what, I wonder. (Yes, that's mine!)

There were less than a dozen questions about dreams, waking fantasies and real life. Each question had a weight of exactly "1," and they were added up in the end. Because the only difference, for me, was the frequency of sexual activity (much more with Sonia than with a random male), I was bisexual leaning toward homosexual, but with a range that took up nearly the entire chart. 

More thought went into OKCupid's Sexuality Spectrum Quiz, but don't try to take it unless you have an OKCupid account, or you're willing to get one. The questions were more nuanced and reflected a more contemporary understanding of sex and sexuality, but you can't see your results without an account. One of the perks of having a live-in girlfriend is that I don't need one of those anymore. So go have fun, kids. 

Where you fall on the spectrum changes through time. For me, I guess that means that I'm somewhere in the 2-13 range on Dr. Epstein's chart at any given moment in time, which is the same as saying nothing at all.

When I was twelve or thirteen and had my first sexual encounters with my best friend (a girl), I didn't label myself. At some point subsequently, I called those encounters "experiments."

Through high school, college and my early twenties, I was mostly straight. I identified as straight, I sought the attention of men and enjoyed it when I got it. I had at least one phenomenal boyfriend that I grew uninterested in for no good reason, and one good fuck buddy who was too old for me and broke my heart. I enjoyed all of it, and made out with some women, too. 

When I was 26, I met my first girlfriend in the basement bar of a gay nightclub. She hit me like a ton of bricks. Even though I thought it may be a one night stand, I called my best friend Liz immediately afterward, excited and giddy, as though the world had just opened up. 

"Your life story is not your life. It's your story." Who said this? 

I repeat it now because I'm aware of something I could have also said about that one good fuck buddy, who is still a dear friend: "He hit me like a ton of bricks. Even though I thought it might be a one night stand, I called my best friend Liz immediately afterward, excited and giddy, as though the world had just opened up."

Yup. It still works. 

As a result, I called myself bisexual, queer and gay. Now I use "gay" to explain my living situation in shorthand (we're not roommates), but most of the time, I just say, "My partner is a woman," or "Sonia is my girlfriend." 

The Oregon Trail Generation, and the millennials that followed are understanding this fluidity more than any generation. I'm so grateful to have been born into this time. Growing up with the Internet, I was able to find, in each city I lived, work, community and lovers who fit the life I wanted for myself. We can curate our lives with more grace and communicate ideas whose time have come with more speed than ever before. 

On the ground, that means more people identifying as (and joyously reappropriating) queer than ever before. Not only do I not want to be put in your box, but I won't presume to create my own label. I know that I am a mutable and developing being who won't stop changing until I'm dead. 

So let me live how I please. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Choking on Credal Arguments

Joanna Macy - A Wild Love for the World, an On Being interview with Krista Tippett, stopped me in my tracks yesterday. I stood in the kitchen, frying my mother's zucchini from a too-abundant crop, when I heard Joanna Macy describe becoming devotedly Christian at 16 and how, four years later, everything changed.

"When I went into studies of Biblical history and theology, I began to choke," she said. "I found there was something that I balked at terrifically, which were credal arguments about items of belief, but also any hint of exclusivity, that there were people who were 'beyond the pale.'"

After 13 years of Catholic school (K-12), I left the church by my second year of college. Since that time, I've struggled in my arguments against the Church because I didn't know everything. In Macy's words, I recognized that fallacy. I need not know everything about a religion in order to decide that it doesn't serve my journey.

Senior year of high school, my best male friend, in the moment when I thought he was going to confess his love to me (how many of us have been in that boat), instead came out to me, and made me promise not to tell a soul. We went to the same Catholic school.

Three years later, I learned that a girl I'd known and loved since Kindergarten had had an abortion that same year of high school. Catholic credal arguments against homosexuality and abortion would never trump the innocent struggles of young people I loved, whose high school traumas were linked inextricably to the church calling them sinners in their moments of greatest strife.

According to Catholics, my friends were "beyond the pale." If an institution as powerful as the Catholic church could not offer comfort and support to its own children, honestly trying to navigate the world into which they were born, I didn't want any parts of it.

I've softened in my distaste for the church, the more I've become exposed to its evil stepchild, Evangelism. Where Catholics twist themselves in knots to provide sound reasoning on their credal arguments, Evangelists cater to the same lowest denominator as Fox News. It's all pomp, circumstance and emotionality; they don't even try to develop sound arguments.

My sexuality is intertwined with my spirituality. Both come from love, and from my sense of purpose. About twelve minutes into the interview, Macy talks about falling in love with the Tibetan people because their joie de vivre shone through their hardship so clearly. They are what drew her to Buddhism.

The ever-wise Tippett pointed out how Macy was drawn to the lived experience of the faith before learning more about its tenets.

I want to live my sexuality and life with Sonia in a way that reveals my own joie de vivre, clearly and emphatically, to anyone who is paying attention. It will require more grit and unabashed optimism than I generally wear publicly, but that struggle feels purposeful.

The next step is a picture postcard to the extended family. We'll get a shot on vacation and send it to the extended families and friends, a sort of "We've moved in!" announcement despite the homophobia expressed by several of them.

With the postcard, we'll know officially who's on our team, and the rest of them be damned. At least some part of finding joy in life must be curating the people you choose to have in it.

Vacation begins Saturday!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Sonia Saves the Night

For eight years, college through the age of 27, I was one hell of a waitress. Sometimes it was my full-time gig; other times I used it to supplement my income while freelance writing.

One of my favorite places to work was a big, purple windmill near my parents' house, where they served country cookin' and Greek food, diner-style. The waitstaff was mostly rural and white; the kitchen guys were all Mexican and lived in a single house across the street, sending money back to their families.

I preferred the kitchen guys, even though they flirted with me. It wasn't entirely unwelcome at the time, and they stayed on the other side of the line or kept a respectful distance.

The restaurant never had enough help, which meant more tips for me. I didn't mind. I'd have six to ten tables in a shift, at least one of them an 8-top. It's where I built my multi-tasking skills (a great asset in the nonprofit world). It's also the origin story of the anxiety dream that still haunts me.

When you're running around trying to keep 30+ hungry people content and well-fed, it can get a bit hectic. When you're a pleaser like me, and genuinely want to keep everyone happy, too, it can be an impossible task.

To this day I have dreams that harken back to that time, with additional dream-like elements like the restaurant is on the side of a mountain (I can't get to the table at the top) or I have one table that's outside, but all the doors are locked. Other obstacles pop up along the way - I don't have the right change, the kitchen is out of a particular food or I'm stuck in slow motion.

I have these dreams when my anxiety is piqued. They've been rare since I quit smoking, but I had a few cigarettes Monday night, so I had the dream again. This time, there was a Sonia-related twist.

It was a typical restaurant-dream setting: a sprawling restaurant the size of the wing of a mall, a disgruntled white dude with a mullet who was insistent that I give him $18 cash back from his debit card (no one does this), $15 for him and $3 for his wife. The wife apologized for his rudeness. I left to figure out a way to get cash back and make sure they had the right change.

The usual obstacles came up: I squeezed through the first room, crowded with bodies both seated and walking around, so tight I could barely move through them. Other tables tried to wave me down along the way. I found the cash register, but it was empty.

I squeezed through another room, equally crowded, only to find Sonia, also in a waitstaff apron, with a black check book full of cash. As she counted out the money I needed, I woke up. I didn't even need to get back to the rude guy; the anxiety had dissipated. It was the first time the dream ever ended with a solution before I opened my eyes.

Sonia is good for me. Being partnered is good for me. And because this is the first time in my life I've lived with a partner, it's still novel to wake up from dreams (not to mention dreams in which my partner saved the day) to see her lying next to me.

It's Friday of my first week blogging about gay relationships and happiness, and I'm grateful. Now, if I could only figure out how to get a follower or two...

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Discipline, Empathy and Grace

Every January for the past fifteen years, I've made an intention collage. It's an excuse, once a year, to do a crafty project and anticipate the year to come. What do I want to bring into my life? Most collages include pictures of glasses of wine, books I want to read and short phrases about friendship, the future or financial goals.

About five years ago, I simplified. I spent my long, four-hour afternoon paging through magazines for large, beautiful letters to the words discipline, empathy and grace. The experience of making this different kind of collage had a more Zen-like quality. Instead of anxiously looking among all of the possible pictures and words, I skimmed calmly for exactly what I was looking for. The result hung on my wall for years.

I have never been more true to these intentions than in the two months I've been living with Sonia. So we may still be in the honeymoon period; I'll grant you that. Nonetheless, there's no denying the fact: I'm happier, calmer and more productive when I'm partnered.


Getting up early has been a struggle since I was a teen. I always have grand plans, which when I lived alone meant setting my alarm for 7:00am and then dozing for at least an hour. That's the worst kind of sleep. I've read the articles, but that didn't stop me from hitting the snooze button half a dozen times. It was a rare day that I jumped out of bed when the alarm went off.

When Sonia and I first moved in together, she was studying for a test that required her to get up at 5:30am. I got up, made breakfast, made the bed. I even motivated her many mornings. When she was finished studying for the summer, I continued rising early. Drinking less helps, too. Sonia doesn't drink, and giving up the weekday brews is good for my waistline and health. Now, I'm getting up by 6:15am to write before work, something I've been meaning do to for years.


I picked this trait at a time when I realized I'd broken a woman's heart because I'd allowed the relationship to go on for far too long, even though I knew my own heart wasn't in it. I knew I'd hurt her deeply, but was completely detached through the entire breakup. We weren't able to stay friends. Maybe this is normal, but I carried a lot of guilt. Maybe if I'd broken it off sooner, it could have been less painful.

It's always been easier for me to empathize with a stranger or acquaintance than with someone close to me, but that is changing with Sonia. Daily life together, and two years of dating before that, have helped me to understand what she's thinking and feeling about a situation, even before we talk about it. That doesn't mean I'm going to stop nudging her to be a little more social (like me!), but it has taught me when to back off and let her be Sonia.


I have never been particularly graceful. Like many aging women, I look back at myself as a teen or twenty-something and can't believe how lovely I was at the time. But I didn't feel beautiful; I felt overweight and awkward and insecure. There's a lesson in there. Now when I look in the mirror, I try to imagine myself at seventy, looking at myself now. I will regret it if I don't revel in my youth and vitality, so I'm learning to toss the self-criticisms aside.

How does Sonia support my gracefulness? Well...she encourages me not to be such a klutz! When we first moved in, I think I stubbed my left, second-biggest toe on every single new piece of furniture we brought into the apartment. Thankfully, I've gotten more used to where everything is in the new place. In all seriousness, I'm working out more -- and more regularly -- than I have since my early 20s, and it feels good. The clothes are fitting the way they should.

One day soon, I'm going to use discipline, empathy and grace to build my own set of Commandments. But for today, I'm just grateful, and yes, happy. This is what it looks like.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Flipping the Script on Christian Parents

I visited my parents last weekend. We hadn't had much contact for the six months prior. My grandmother (dad's mom) was in the hospital.

First, some history. I came out to my parents as bisexual seven years ago, at the age of 27. At some point a few years later, I called myself queer. Now that I'm living with a woman and hoping to spend the foreseeable future with her, I call myself gay.

In the seven years since I came out, my parents have tried to convince me that I wasn't this Other, that I was going through a phase, and/or that I was hurtfully disconnected from God. They also spent a good deal of time being utterly avoidant of my sexuality and related subjects, not unlike when I was a teenager.

For two years (when I was about 30-32 years old), I was single and I'd bring friends to my childhood home. Most of these friends were queer. My parents live in a rural area about 90 minutes outside of the city and some summers, we visited four or five times for barbecues, campouts or bonfires.

In retrospect, I brought these friends home to desensitize my parents to this idea that LGBTQ people were Other. By giving them the opportunity to meet and get to know several diverse, queer friends, I thought I could help them see that we couldn't all be put in some easy box.

But people, especially Christians, see what they want to see. They choose the frame of their pictures, sometimes quite literally.

In April, Sonia and I stopped at my parents' house to pick up a few pieces of furniture that they were getting rid of. We were moving into a new apartment. After we loaded the two bulky chairs and a corner hutch into the back of the UHaul, my mom asked us to turn around for a picture.

(No UHaul jokes, please! We waited two years to move in.)

As I turned around, Sonia was on my left, hesitant. My dad stood to my right. I pulled them both toward me for a picture, and my mom dropped the camera like a hot potato. She'd meant a picture with just me and my dad.

I was furious, and my rage fueled the next several weeks of email boxing between my mother and I, as I tried to set the perimeter for our relationship, and she quoted the Bible to me.

Her approach doesn't make sense. You may lose your oldest child, the only child who lives in any proximity to you, and you can't get it together to form an original or nuanced thought? The more dire the situation, the more she relies on vague Biblical maxims.

Last weekend, following the visit to my grandmother in the hospital, my mother gave me a handwritten card for Sonia. I cringed. I'd received dozens, if not hundreds, of those over the years. I gave her the benefit of the doubt and, when I got home, handed the card to Sonia, still sealed.
Dear Sonia,
I had hoped to see you today, look into your eyes, and tell you that you are loved. All human love is imperfect, mine most of all. I'm sorry if you were hurt by any action or word of mine, they were not conscious or intended on my part. I long for you and Rita to both experience completeness in the One who created us and loves us completely. I pray you will find it in your heart to know that you are welcome in our home and in our hearts.
Love in Christ,
She thinks she is some kind of saint. She's known Sonia for over a year, and has not yet acknowledged that our relationship is more than a friendship. How could we possibly feel welcome in a home where we are seen as incomplete, or have to pretend?

I love Dan Savage, and I wish I'd found him sooner. That one year ultimatum for Christian parents, or anyone having trouble accepting an LGBTQ child, is priceless. (Basically, get to acceptance in a year or I'm out of your life.) I'm thinking about calling into his show, but I'm afraid he'll tell me what is obvious to me intellectually: the relationship with your mother is toxic. Cut it off so you can live your life.

I'm getting there. Maybe I'm writing my way there.

Do you think it's possible for LGBTQ children to flip the script on their devotedly Christian parents, or will we never find a common language?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

On Humility and Not Knowing Yourself

Gretchen Rubin noted the Voltaire quote, "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good," as a kind of mantra she returned to throughout her happiness project. For those of us with high standards and fair ability to meet those standards, this is resonant. I'm taking it to heart this morning. It's going to be a short one.

Paulo Coelho, late-blooming writer and a kind of mystic to many readers of his book The Alchemist, recently told Krista Tippett that he doesn't know who he is. Keep in mind this guy is pushing 70, a writer with a simple elegance that gives him the aura of a guru.

"To be totally honest, I don't know who I am," he said, "and I don't think people ever will know who they are. We have to be humble enough to learn to live with this mysterious question: who am I? So I am a mystery to myself." Find more and listen at Paulo Coelho - The Alchemy of Pilgrimage.

The idea that we could be humble and recognize that we cannot fully know ourselves has a unique resonance for LGBTQ people, who are so often asked to put ourselves in a box so that the mainstream might understand us better. So that we may be less threatening in our otherness.

For all of our differences, I credit my parents with instilling in me a keen sense of justice and a deep trust in my own mind and heart. And although I used the word "gay" for this blog, I've wrestled with all of the language thrust upon (and yes, often owned and embraced) by LGBTQ people. It's part of the reason it's taken me so long to begin writing about my own otherness.

Although it's early in my own pilgrimage of this blog, I'll pose my first question to you, reader. How do these words: lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer work for you? How have they contributed to or detracted from your own joy in being a person traveling through the world?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Gay Squared

Gay squared: as in, both gay and happy. Is it possible?

After I finished Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, I decided to start a blog to find out what you think, and share my evolving thoughts on the subject.

The Happiness Project sat on my shelf for almost three years before I picked it up. It’d been given to me by Liz, my best friend from college and a straight woman, at a time when our relationship was strained. I didn’t picked it up for the same reason I never picked up the books called “Finding Your Pathway to God,” and the like, given to me by my mother from the age of thirteen onward. A gift in the form of a judgement.

I finally did pick Rubin's book up, following a yoga weekend, Liz’s alternative bachelorette party, during the summer of 2016. It was a quick read, pleasant and light. I liked the businesslike approach Rubin took to her own life and improvement. It felt familiar. Familiar, too was her self-deprecation, her love of urban life and her too-quick criticism of others, especially those closest to her. What wasn’t familiar, however, was her straight, nuclear family: loving husband, adorable girls, one set of grandparents around the corner, the other across the country but very present.

I’m a 34-year-old queer woman, the daughter of an Evangelical Christian and a Catholic, living with my Korean girlfriend, Sonia, in a major east coast city. Sonia is first generation American and has an actual language barrier with her own parents; my parents and I all speak English, but as you’ll see in future posts, that doesn’t always mean that communication happens.

Rubin’s book brought up some questions for me. What does happiness look like for LGBTQ people who can’t share their happiness with the tribe in which they were raised? (There are still too many of us in that boat.) How do we affirm our happiness in a way that makes it easy for others to see, regardless of creed? Perhaps most importantly, how do we protect our happiness from those who would demean it?

Alongside these questions, for me, is a unique relationship to technology highlighted in Anna Garvey’s article on the Oregon Trail Generation. I was born in 1981. In sixth grade, I typed the log of my science fair project on a typewriter; I stenciled the backboard with stencils purchased at A.C. Moore. The very next year, I typed my science project into our Apple computer and printed the pages out on our dot matrix printer, carefully removing those perforated edges.

As I was growing up, so was the internet. I remember venturing into my first chat rooms in seventh grade, meeting kids like me (at least, I hope they were kids) from around the country, making small talk and feeling the world open up. Prior to that, I’d only had books as evidence of what regular life was like outside my little nuclear family and immediate experience. Books and TV didn’t count, to my mind; that wasn’t regular life.

Now the director of a regional nonprofit, I cut my teeth using online outreach to find constituents at a time when most of my supervisors were still learning what social media was. From then to now, when I have found myself stymied, personally or professionally, I have turned to the web in various forms, whether it’s learning a new application or finding a top ten list of ways to talk to your Evangelical mother. Sonia and I met on OKCupid almost three years ago.

Which brings me to my relationship with you, reader. I'm looking for something, and believe in the discipline of daily writing practice, but it's easier with an audience.

What does gay happiness look like today, and how do we affirm it?

I look forward to sharing my observations, analyses and stories, and reading yours.