Monday, January 30, 2017

Our Bodies for the Revolution

As I watched the premier of Philly-based Interact Theater's MARCUS/EMMA last Wednesday, I thought about the Women's March on Washington, which reached seven continents on Saturday, January 21.

Marcus Garvey was a native Jamaican and one of only two children in his family of eleven children who survived to adulthood. He studied philosophy in London and became a great American orator, advocating for Pan-Africanism and founding the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. (Video: Know Yourself Speech) (NYT obituary.)

Emma Goldman was a Russian-born anarchist who immigrated to the United States as a teen. She'd already been a victim of her father's steady abuse, endured rape at the hands of a suitor and borne witness to brutal state violence. Within a few years, she was at the center of New York's anarchist movement advocating for worker's rights, women's rights and free love (although she was too far left for the suffrage movement). (Video: The Revolutionary Life of Emma Goldman.)

In the play, Emma is an oversexed older woman who seduces the younger Garvey. They were contemporaries, but didn't meet in life. Somewhere in their fictional seduction, they find common ground: human suffering.

Both revolutionaries had early and regular reminders of mortality and the power of having one healthy human body: Garvey's nine dead siblings, Goldman's regular beatings. They brought the power of their physical bodies directly to their revolutions, and therein lay the strength and integrity of their message.

Bodies: the actor's bodies onstage in passion and violence embodying our revolutionary forebears; the physical bodies of millions of Americans in dozens of cities denouncing the discrimination, misogyny and narcissism of our president.

In recent years, Black Lives Matter knew it first. Perhaps only through risking our bodies can we keep them safe.

The history of progress is written in the blood of men and women who have dared to espouse an unpopular cause, as, for instance, the black man's right to his body, or woman's right to her soul. -- Emma Goldman. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

To Meryl, with Love

Hollywood actors are: educated, diverse and liberal, "just a bunch of people from other places." And Meryl Streep is their queen.

She didn't disappoint last month, accepting her lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes and delivering a speech that cut right to the heart of the issues of this election: insiders vs. outsiders, freedom of the press and what we can possibly do next.

Some of my favorite moments:

"This instinct to humiliate, when it's modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody's life because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing...When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose."

"We need a principled press to hold power to account, to call them on the carpet for every outrage. That's why our founders enshrined the press and its institutions in our constitution."

And, quoting Carrie Fisher, "Take your broken heart. Make it into art."

Long live, Queen Meryl. We're going to need her wisdom in the days, months and years to come.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Not-gay Novel

Let Me Explain You by Annie Liontas is not a novel about being gay, and it's not a novel about how a Greek immigrant family comes to terms with their oldest daughter being gay. But it sort of is.

The main character is an egotist named Stavros Stavros, the father of three daughters, the owner of two restaurants, and the ex-husband of one woman, who announces in an email to his family in the opening chapter that he will die in ten days.

There's a lot going on in this novel. The novel takes a close third-person perspective that sometimes sits with Stavros; sometimes his oldest daughter and namesake, Stavroula; sometimes his ex-wife Dina; sometimes one of the other two daughters, each with their short list of working class struggles.

Because there is so much going on, and because I read this hoping for a little more lesbian action, I was particularly honed into the treatment of the lesbian character and oldest daughter.

In one of the first chapters, she rewrites the menu of her restaurant to honor July, the name of the coworker she has been pining after for years. It's awkward, and another 200+ pages go by before they find themselves in a late-night kitchen, with food as the metaphor for love and desire.

The possibility of an affair, one of the primary drivers of the book, ends without a kiss, unless you count Stavroula's "We just frenched," joke, uttered as they worked together to tie a rack of lamb. Let's just say the comic release of the book wasn't the kind of release I was hoping for.

I've been reading more first novels, imagining what mine will be, gathering courage from the idea that these writers toiled away for so long before finding a pathway and putting this first work into the world. I liked this one, and there's probably more for me to excavate in that father-daughter relationship than I'm ready to do right now.

But my novel will definitely be gayer.

Angels and Miracles for Trump

I just watched John Dickerson's Christmas interview with Stephen Colbert, and it has me thinking about the worldview I derived from my early Catholicism.

Stephen Colbert and I were both raised Catholic, and there's something in our perspectives that matches. We were taught to believe in angels and miracles, so it's possible for us to believe in things we do not understand. We were taught to question and doubt our own thoughts and desires, which allows a way in for radically different perspectives.

Angels and miracles create a space, for me, to imagine my way into my father's psyche, a man I love who thought Donald Trump was the right choice. I can imagine it even though my logical mind resists it. 

"An unquestioned belief is almost vestigial," Colbert says. "It doesn't motivate you in any way...a belief is a filter. You have to run things through it, so you know how you see the world. It's a lens, not a prop."

Trump's election is the last thing I would have wanted for our country. But it has opened an opportunity for me to question and recommit to my beliefs and choices. 

The result? I'm grateful for the meaning I find in my work. I believe more than ever that exercise keeps me sane. I love my friends. Sonia is still my favorite. 

Two things I plan to do differently in 2017: call more Congressmen. Write more everything. 


Monday, January 16, 2017

Dear Ellen, I'm Ready

Why have I been resistant to, or skeptical of, the awesomeness of Ellen? Internalized homophobia, or mistrust of how she can still be so incredibly cute at the age of 58?

But seriously, Ellen is so joyful, even when she's talking about oppression and patriarchy.

I was reminded of Ellen a few weeks after the election, when President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He had the nicest things to say about her bravery.

Seeing the video above, and reflecting on the kind words of the best President of my lifetime, made me comb the archives for what she had to say after the election. Donnie will be sworn in on Friday, and I needed a little hope. She didn't disappoint.


Dear Ellen,

My happiness -- my particular (hopefully) marketable brand of gay happiness, that is -- will be different than yours. 

I'm a little too melancholic to maintain your indefatigable optimism. I have that academic's bias that in order to say something new, we must be very logical and serious about it all. 

But I'm ready for a little silliness, too. Thanks for the reminder. 

Yours very truly, 
A Lesbionic Sister

Monday, January 9, 2017

Why We Write Novels, Inspired by Trump Supporters

I grew up in rural America among those who elected Trump. In mocking interviews, his supporters say, "I don't care about the facts. I know it’s true."

Or, “you have your facts and I have mine.”

Working in education, I see an opportunity for curricula about facts vs. opinions. But these statements go deeper than poor critical thinking, to the root of subjectivity. 

Imagine person A and person B.

Person A decides by age 25 that evangelical Christianity is the answer to life's pain and a path toward meaning. She goes deep into religion, and everything she encounters in life seems to affirm her religion. If you think that religion is not circumspect enough to inhabit the modern world, look again. 

Person B has been exposed to religion for her whole life, and never once inspired. By age 25, she is reading every book she can get her hands on and believes literature is the path to truth. The study of philosophy, history and psychology make sense of the world, and everything she encounters in life seems to affirm the primacy of empirical understanding.

My mother is person A. I am person B. This is why one writes novels.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Questions about Writing for the New Year

What I Can Do by Mary Oliver

The television has two instruments that control it. 
I get confused. 
The washer asks me, do you want regular or delicate? 
Honestly, I just want clean. 
Everything is like that. 
I won't even mention cell phones. 

I can turn on the light of the lamp beside my chair
where a book is waiting, but that's about it. 

Oh yes, and I can strike a match and make a fire. 

Mary Oliver's poem reminds us that poetry still exists in our digital world. We can still make fire. There is something fleshy and physical about the reminder. 

Mary Oliver is a gay writer. Mary Oliver is not a gay writer. I feel the same way about Michael Cunningham. They are lofty and ambitious and smart as hell; they transcend.

Some mornings, I am pressed to come up with a queer topic. Are they all queer topics if they're coming from me? Or are they all queer if (as Sonia likes to say) I'm "just making things up with my fingertips"?

Is queer writing necessary, or a distraction? 

Better yet, is all poetry queer? 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Juliet Takes a Breath

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera had at least three entry points into my life.

First, following the election I sought book lists. In particular (1) provocative books to read after the election and (2) new queer and feminist books. Rivera's title was on the second of these lists, and I ordered it immediately.

Second, in reading her bio, I learned that we're in very similar lines of work -- seriously, we have almost the same job title -- and yet she's had time in the past few years to write a book. I took it as a point of motivation for 2017.

Then -- if you can believe it -- I was paging through an issue of my college alumni magazine as I was putting together this year's intention collage, and I learned that Gabby Rivera graduated from Goucher College, just like me. One year after me, in fact.

I'm reading her book now. I'm also writing mine.

And just in case you'd like a glimpse of that intention collage...

Hey Hetero!

This photo exhibit by Tina Fiveash is today's (first) gem. It's been circulating somewhere on earth since 2001, and was translated into Greek last year for an exhibit in Athens.

I can't imagine kissing my love openly on the streets of New York, let alone the streets of Athens.

My two trips to Greece were in 2001 and 2002. Culturally, they still had that Mediterranean machismo going on. I was repelled by the men and their comments, liberties and assumptions more times than I can count.

Much has changed in Greece since my last visit: the debt crisis, instability within the EU and the Syrian refugee crisis.

It's interesting that Hey Hetero! came to Greece at the height of political upheaval. In Greece, rooted in Socratic Method and so proud of its philosophical tradition, is it possible that it took instability of this pitch to begin breaking down decades-old misogyny and heteronormative thinking?

Or is that silver lining a little too easy?

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Confession: I've Been a TERF

I just finished this page-turner. Reading it, I felt like I was in college again, but college was cooler (and easier).

The most disconcerting revelation: I've been a TERF, a trans-exclusionary radical feminist, or at least, I held one belief in common with them.

"Janice Raymond and Sheila Jeffreys have argued that trans surgeries are a form of mutilation, carried out for political reasons because of the way gender is constructed in male-dominated society."

I wouldn't have used mutilation. But I had to admit: I'd had similar thoughts, and thought myself completely original for having them. Did gender reassignment surgery serve the patriarchy by confirming a false dichotomy?

My question also came from a new-age belief that we're born into this world with circumstances and challenges to learn lessons. I thought it followed that the gender we're born with had something to do with our destiny on earth.

Of course, it does. But that doesn't negate trans experiences, or anyone's choice to have gender confirmation surgery.

I dropped my skepticism about the necessity of surgery after I met trans people who seemed truly happy and -- dare I say it? -- "well-adjusted" after surgery.

One Small Beauty or Happiness

I'm back. And still finding my voice, the voice of this blog.

The next experiment: less than 200 words, one small beauty or happiness each day.

Christmas 2015: Sonia and I did not send Christmas cards; we weren't living together. We went to my parents' house for Christmas Day brunch. It was just the four of us. There were many silences, my parents' and Sonia's. I carried the conversation, resentful that no one else seemed to be making much of an effort. We exchanged gifts awkwardly and ducked out quickly, avoiding the extended family gathering later that day. Sonia went to her own parents' dinner alone in the evening.

Christmas 2016: Sonia and I sent Christmas cards to my entire extended family, signed with both our names. Christmas morning, we popped into her friend's engagement party then drove 90 minutes to my aunt's house, where everyone was polite. Even the Evangelical relatives were kind and welcoming. My mother was still wound as tight as a spring, but I was at ease with Sonia by my side.

The effect of that -- the simple presence of her, the confidence and calm it carries -- is entirely new. I'm so grateful.