Permission to Notice

Yesterday at the gym, after spending an hour on the weight machine circuit doing drop sets, I walked past the gorgeous personal trainer (let’s call her PT) and nearly walked into a wall. Last week I caught myself checking out her butt. That is absolutely the first time that has ever happened. I mean, sure, I’ve been checking out guys’ butts all my adult life. That just meant I was awake and my eyes were open. But a woman?

As near as I can figure, I have only been allowing myself to notice beautiful women for about eight years. The first class I took in seminary was an anti-racism/anti-oppression class, where I realized how institutional racism and sexism were, as my brother would say, a thing, and I also realized that I had classism and homophobia to deal with. Working in academia for two decades means the classism is being continually reinforced from the outside, but Boston is a fairly liberal city, so aside from the same old story of heteronormativity, I feel like the homophobia is coming from the inside.

It is strange. I have always thought beauty was a neutral category. (There are no neutral categories.) I thought that I noticed attractive people (men) simply because they naturally stood out, like a streetlight on a dark road. Undoubtedly, there are a handful of Outrageously Beautiful People for whom that’s true, who walk onto the train and the squeaking of all the passengers’ heads swiveling to follow them is deafening. But they’re the exception, not the rule.

The first women I noticed was about twenty years older than me, a white-haired dean who was 95% of the time breathtakingly efficient and capable. Nervously, I asked a lesbian friend if the dean was hot. “Absolutely” was the reply. Okay. Good call. (Trust your instincts.)

So yes, I guess I understand that giving yourself permission to see things or people in new ways can open up new possibilities. But when did I become the kind of person who walks past a beautiful woman and nearly walks into a wall?

Boston Pride 2016, Continued

So tonight I went with some friends to the vigil for Orlando held in the plaza in front of Boston City Hall, and prayed and held silence and signed the book for our brothers and sisters in Orlando, to let them know we care. I still need to process all that, and I will write about it soon, but for now, a look back to Saturday and what I spent the time doing when I wasn’t either watching the parade or dancing my ass off.

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Needle. Haystack. Backbeat.

 

One

A sea of exhausted queers, underdressed, rained on,

Milling jubilantly across the plaza. Three flags:

Stars and Stripes, Massachusetts Indian, Rainbow.

Sixty-nine reasons to salute. Save the environment.

Adopt a shelter dog. Get tested. Buy a t-shirt.

Help veterans stop our warring. Eat fried dough.

There on the steps, a woman break-dances to music

Coming from the stage, to the applause of her friends

And strangers. One onlooker, all in black leather,

Turns away. We text and call you, give up,

Then turn around, and there you are at last.

 

Two

Parking lot block party between tall brick

Buildings echoing the DJ’s words, the backbeat

So deep my bones reverberate. Broken tarmac

And puddles of Bud Lite Lime make a rough

Dance floor, but I’ve lost my friends. I looked

Away for a moment and once again I was

Alone amid a few hundred tightly packed

Tattooed women’s bodies gyrating. Buzz cut

Blue hair bump and grind. Surely salmon swimming

Upriver move to no such background music,

Though the press of bodies must be something

Like this. How then to find four particular

Fish in the struggling river? Wandering the edges

Will not suffice. Only leaping into center stream,

Zenlike, gets it done. I abandon my goal,

My isolation, and finally find what I seek.

 

Three

Black light disco ball and all the young men

Packed wall to wall and taller than all

My lost friends: I am tired of losing them.

Even more than the vibrating drums and lights

Is the slight pall of sticky spilled drinks

On the floor. All these men so intent on

Scoring block my view as the lights

Scramble my attention. Trying to make out

Lyrics, like making out faces, is too much

Of a chore. Some searches are just doomed

From the start. At least I can still find the door.

 

Photo by Paula M. Grez.

Words come so hard

Some well considered thoughts from our friend at Valprehension.

Valprehension

I don’t want to say nothing about Orlando, about the massacre at the Pulse nightclub. I don’t generally comment on news items, because I don’t feel adequate to the task. But I also don’t want to just stick to my already-scheduled posting pattern as if nothing happened.

I am numb and dissociated. This is another reason I don’t generally write about these things. Words aren’t really accessible to me in this state. They come so slowly.

The shooting in Orlando was absolutely an act of terror against queer communities. I was weirdly heartened when I first saw it was being investigated as such. Because that was before I realized why – why, of course – the powers that be had been so quick to make that connection. It is not that the criminal justice system and the mainstream media suddenly developed compassion and understanding for the terror that these acts…

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The Orlando Massacre and Beyond

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People fear what they don’t understand. From the ancient ancestors imagining an angered thunder god sending down lightning and destruction, picking out scapegoats as their preferred victims, and sacrificing them in the vain hope that a smaller amount of “their” spilled blood would stave off the larger amount of “ours,” humans have always been good at spreading their confusion and pain and fear around.

I have a friend who teaches middle school, fifth-graders, ten and eleven years old. In her homeroom she has a many-pages-long protocol for an active shooter attacking the school. They practice drills, twenty-first century survival skills for children. She is a teacher, like the teachers in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut (where 20 students and 6 adults were killed on December 14, 2012), and although we haven’t discussed it, I am sure that she has considered to what lengths she would go to protect her students in the event that the drills became real one day.

I know this because I have considered it myself, since the shootings at Virginia Tech University on April 16, 2007, when the shooter killed 32 people and wounded 17. This was the first shooting at a college or university in a long time. Previously, most of the school shootings had happened at high schools; somehow I assumed that teenagers were more likely to be unstable than students a few years their senior, but the Virginia Tech shootings made me realize that I too could one day face the unthinkable at one of the universities I teach at.

Colleges don’t make protocols for these scenarios. College life is unlike middle and high school life in their uniformity of scheduling and classrooms. So if you work at a college, you have to think these things through for yourself. Could you talk a gunman down? Should you try? Does your classroom have two exits or only one? One of my criminal justice students pointed out that the safest place to be was near a gunman. Far away you haven’t got a chance in hell of closing the distance and overpowering him; even close up, it would be suicide, although as in Sandy Hook, a teacher might just consider that an acceptable choice if she or he thought there was a chance of success.

So tonight I was at a Pride Block Party. We had already held a moment of silence for the 50 Latin@s killed at the gay bar Pulse in Orlando, Florida (and the 53 still on the wounded list). Then, because Pride is all about standing against institutionalized oppression and ignorant hatred, we danced.

Intermittently, my lesbian sister texted the newly-out me to warn me that, given that the shooter had made comments about the Boston marathon bombers, Boston might be the site for a copy cat. I took her warning seriously, thought about exit strategies considering the narrow space we were in with a brick wall all along one side. Another of her texts pointed out that young people in the group might not be as savvy to the possibility of gay bashing, since the US has gotten a good deal friendlier toward gays than it was during the Stonewall Riots of 1968. I pointed out that as a teacher, I automatically consider the younger people; teachers teach, yes, but we also often protect. Sometimes it is just from bullying, or insensitivity or ignorance, but it does seem to be an unstated part of the job.

I could say that nothing happened tonight. I will not add “of course,” because if the US failed to take the murder of small children four years ago seriously, it will hardly take the murder of more than twice as many gays seriously. I do not expect better gun laws any time soon, alas, nor do I expect the violence to end. But yes, we were lucky in that no one else tried to attack our Pride celebration, or from what I have heard (so far) anyone else’s, so far.

But something has happened. We were reminded, at the height of our celebrations (which is of course how backlash so often works) that we are still vulnerable (not that the trans community needed the reminder, with the scandal of anti-trans violence a worldwide pandemic). Our straight allies, those who are not racing to blame radicalized Islam-against-Americans-in-general as the culprit, were reminded that achieving the right to marry has not granted us any more practical financial or physical protection from the haters.

And here’s the other thing that happened, and maybe I am the only one who put the bits together in this particular way, and maybe I’m not. But towards the end of the party, it rained lightly, just as it did yesterday at the parade. Only this time, we got an actual rainbow out of it, the symbol of hope from the story of Noah, where God promises not to wash the world away ever again.

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I know too much about human intransigence and sea-level rise to take it literally as a promise from God, but I do believe that humans are powered by symbols just as cats are powered by the sun. So I will take this as a sign that love is more powerful than hate, even if it does require more work. I am in the community now, and in the game, or war, or whatever it is. And I, too, was at a gay club last night with my friends. It could have been us. It could have been everyone. It could have been my out-of-state sister or friends or the friends of friends. So, for all intents and purposes, it was.

And, that rainbow tells me, it’s time to get to work.

 

Photo of rainbow over JP by Paula M. Grez.

Boston Pride 2016

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Like Glitter for Ashes

 

So used to ashes, damp in the mud beneath trim

Trees adorned in scarlet and gold bangling

Leaves, I barely know how to recognize

The faerie glamour when I see it, as if all

The glitter falling through the cool air was inevitably

Falling for someone else: story of my life.

 

Even the air today scintillates, although

The sky is cloudy: mixed signals, also the story

Of my life. Relying on the old standard plot

(Boy meets girl, girl pursues, boy flees), I would once

Have found frustration here, the logs damp,

The scattering of twigs and balled-up newsprint

 

The makings of an unlightable fire.

Instead, this time, I let the glitter fall

On my hands, my face. The world shines

With more than one or two colors–the greys,

The blues. Now there is also pink and lilac,

Spring green like leafs in their infancy,

 

Orange like a warning, and that old classic,

Imperial purple. Shimmering with suggestions

Of color, bubbles rise like balloons.

Music beats, my breastbone vibrates.

All around me, women join the tribal dance.

I shimmer all the new colors, join the dance.

From our friend Bluejay of Happiness

It’s utterly flabbergasting to belong to a social group that is both mightily derided and highly celebrated. On the one hand LGBT people are condemned by several religious and political forces, yet on the other hand, we have earned the love and respect of more enlightened groups and individuals. The 1960s were harsh, often terrifying […]

via What Is LGBT Pride? — bluejayblog

The Manual Typewriter of Choicelessness vs. The Fabulous Rainbow Socks of Acceptance

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In case you weren’t sure, this will be a not-entirely-aimless post about my first out Pride and all the thinks and all the feels. Be warned.

In preparation for my first (real, not as an ally) Boston Pride, I looked for rainbow-striped socks. It took me five places and the one I just randomly thought might on the off-chance have them, Party Favors, did, although the socks have piano keys on them, but who is going to notice that?

Tonight was the Boston Dyke March. We gathered on the Boston Common, women wearing their hair in ways from the sublime to the ridiculous to the fabulous and EVERYTHING in between. Rainbows everywhere, including the flag under which we, the lesbian dodgeballers and friends, gathered (after five women figured out how to enlarge the holes in the flagpole with keys and make the zipties smaller with the same tools. I knew I should have brought my pocket knife, but there you go).

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About twelve or so years ago I went to an arts conference that had Adrienne Rich as the headlining speaker. I thought then that I was seeing a lot of lesbians. Wrong. I have never seen this many lesbians in the same place, and even weirder (queerer?) that the same place was a place I have lived, studied, worked and shopped: Boston Common, near Emerson College, the Back Bay, and environs.

I never thought I would be the sort of person who would find herself chanting, “We’re here, we’re queer. We’re fabulous, so don’t fuck with us.” But life, as it turns out, takes you in directions you could never have anticipated. This is not a bad thing.

Strange, sure. Surreal, absolutely. But bad? Hell no.

One of the things that made it surreal was the police detail directing traffic around our march. Being Hermione Granger, she who “when in doubt, go[es] to the library,” in advance of my first official pride weekend, I went to the library and borrowed David Carter’s Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution. (Well, honestly, I am hardly going to celebrate a holiday I don’t understand or know about, am I?) Reading about the police entrapment that led up to the Stonewall riots and police brutality that occurred during them and then seeing the Boston cops waving at cars, waving at us, smiling at us: wow. Just wow. I was barely one when Stonewall happened. In my lifetime, all these things have changed so much, not just going from riots to parades, but going from the social stigma of same-sex couples holding hands or dancing together to the Supreme Court ruling for same-sex marriage…it’s all so overwhelming and fast.

A friend of mine tonight said that the difference in speeds between the struggle for rights for gays and for racial minorities probably was caused by finding gays in one’s family and neighborhood, something that is less likely or impossible to happen with people of different races. I had never thought of it in those terms, although certainly my sister being a lesbian started me off as an ally in the first place, and my older parents as well. (My brother was a theater major, so he didn’t probably need the family thing. Also, he is straight enough to make up for both my sister and myself, and that has to help too, I suspect.)

Still, I have only been out for five months. And before that I had no idea that I was in. When I was growing up straight was the default font, but not the way Microsoft Word makes, say, Cambria 11 point default and then you have a hundred options. When I learned to type, I had a Royal manual typewriter, that had Courier font in only two sizes, 12 and 10. Being straight was default: Courier 12. Being gay was not default: Courier 10. If you were not one, you were the other.

And maybe that is one of the coolest things about the rainbow: it’s not so fucking binary. It is by definition Both/And rather than Either/Or. It’s All Of The Above and Multitudinous and We-Are-Fucking-Legion.

So even though I still don’t feel 100% that I belong in this really amazing huge parade of women doing themselves in their own very particular ways, I have friends who say, “Oh no, you totally belong here.” And that makes me feel a little bit more okay with all these recent changes.

Which is, let’s face it, kinda fabulous.

Compliments, Clothes, Cupids, Curiosities

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Weird Day #179. Today I got four different compliments on my clothes. As I was heading off to work, a (presumably straight) guy complimented my grey straw Fedora. At work, one of my straight female colleagues complimented my, what,”ensemble”? On the train home, a young Asian man (probably straight) complimented me on my earrings and asked if I worked at the museum. This felt much more like a “my girlfriend would love those” rather than “they would go SO well with my silver lamé” to me, but who knows? Just as I was getting off the train to go to the gym, a large almost definitely straight woman said she liked my outfit. She was wearing a loose tank top, cropped jeans and flip flops.

This is so, so weird, children. I was wearing black brogues, grey pants, a purple/lilac striped shirt with silver cufflinks, a blue chambray blazer with a purple paisley pocket square, silver necklace and earrings, and the Fedora. I am pretty certain that at least three of the comments were completely non-ironic. I was a trifle overdressed for the job we were doing at school. Two of the guys were wearing T-shirt and jeans. Most of the women were wearing pants, blouse, and sandals/flats/sneakers. But I felt spiffy. Just not spiffy enough for anyone to be anything except confused, I guess.

So all of this would be strange on its own, but the day didn’t end there. (That only happens in deep December in the wilds of Canada. This was barely 3:00 after all.)

I will skip the part where I checked out the very hot personal trainer at my gym who is almost certainly straight or how her being in the building motivated me to sweat a lot more than usual.

I will skip to 6-ish, when I was looking at my very quiet OKCupid profile, recalling a conversation I had with a friend before dodgeball this past Saturday about how nobody is really engaged with their profiles/interested in people like us/whine whine. And I saw a profile that didn’t have much to say but had a cute picture. So I took the bit in my teeth and messaged, “Hey Cutie, Write something so we can find out more about you besides your winning smile!”

Now normally, when I have tried to message anyone, lo, these last two months, I have either gotten complete radio silence or a thanks, but I’m not interested message.

Four minutes later, she messages back, “LOL. What do you want to know??”

Now here’s the thing. Just then I get another message from OkCupid with a tagline that sounded familiar and a greeting to me by a nickname I only went by once, Freshman Week in college.

It was my sophomore year roommate, a woman who came out six years ago and has spent the time since figuring out divorce, child custody arrangements, new work arrangements, two girlfriends, and a new house still up in Maine. I am not in regular contact with her outside Facebook, although when she came out she came down to Boston and we spent the day with me telling her she was still a good person and Jesus still loved her. I even gave her a book of gay icons painted by a monk, which I had originally bought for my sister. So it is not so surprising that she would contact me on seeing my profile.

But what this means is that I spent two hours alternately flirting with one person I didn’t know anything about and having The Conversation with someone I once knew fairly well and with whom I have a lot in common (introverted Leos, birthday twins, etc.).

I may see the one at a party after the Dyke March on Friday. The other may come down to visit sometime this summer.

How does everything seem to happen all at once?