Love Rally in the Common: #1 Wingardium Leviosa

So when I came home Friday night after attending the Boston Love Rally in the Common, I went to clear my email, and came up against my first experience of homophobia.

This was an extended Facebook post in response to a meme I had shared:

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I did not think this was a radical statement, but rather the sort of thing any reasonable human being would agree with.

Oh, but Facebook.

The commenter was the leader of a popular culture Facebook group. I had had one disagreement with him before, when I posted something about rape culture, which he disparaged as propaganda. At that time, I acknowledged that women didn’t generally talk about these things but that I was sure if he talked to his mother, sisters, aunts, female friends, he would hear stories of sexual harassment and sexual assault, so many that it would surprise him.

This time he said, in small part: “I don’t like queers. (I’ll use the word queer as I can never get straight the ever changing alphabet soup acronym) I met my first one when I was 6 or 7. I of course did not know why I did not like him. I did not find out what he was until 20 years later. Same for a certain guy in high school. Again, I was unsophisticated, didn’t have a label for him. Found out later. Some I seem to have no issue with, many others simply provoke a sense of unease and physical revulsion. But get this, I am JUST like a gay person. I don’t deserve to be attacked, called names, shunned or marginalized because of my natural feelings. This is the thing you CryBullies do not embrace. If people are not with you, you attack them. Now, do I go around attacking queers because of my physical revulsion? No. Live and Let Live. I simply avoid them. I LOVE Trump because he is anti-you, —- —–. You and all of your CryBully friends. Martin Luther King would NOT be doing as you do. He would support what he chooses, but he would NEVER attack those who choose to not believe as he did. MLK would NEVER be a CryBully. Think about that.”

I have put a few things out on my Facebook feed since the election ended, and some things were probably less than even-handed, it is true. But why is it this particular meme that seemed to enrage him with my extremism? That is what I don’t understand.

I am glad that I did not see this until after midnight. In the time between its posting and then, my brother, his wife and son all posted defenses of me and what I had shared. This made me feel safer. (Never underestimate the power of allies when they step up.)

Obviously, I have left that group. I have not unfriended him and I have no intention of responding to him directly in any way, although like many of my friends, I will be posting a caveat and invitation to unfriend me if they disagree with what I post.

I have never claimed that Obama’s America is perfect. Has he stood up against policy horrors like the Trans Pacific Partnership? No. Has he stood up for Standing Rock? No, he is just letting that play out. I have been writing letters and signing petitions on these issues all year. Meanwhile, far too many acts of police violence against people of color and brutal murders of trangender people and white men raping women on the local level have soaked our newsfeeds red, and the law fails to support the victims. (More letters, more petitions.) So no, America isn’t perfect.

But for a long time it has been better than when we had segregation, and lynchings, and legal discrimination–oh, wait, that’s been returning lately. It has been better with more representation in the political process and the media of the non-white, non-male, non-Christian, non-straight Americans who make up a very big portion of America.

And in the last decade or two, it has become relatively safe in most parts of this country, especially in cities, for LGB people, who are out and even married. So I thought we were getting somewhere.

So much for that dream. Silly ignorant white girl. You should have known better. Just because it was good for you doesn’t mean it was good for a great number of people in this country, people you couldn’t see because they were far away or you just weren’t paying attention while you worked your three jobs.

So yes, now I am paying attention. And now I commit to act in more constructive ways for the people I haven’t been paying enough attention to. I cannot choose the reality of what America is: racist, sexist, homophobic. But I can choose the truth of what America always has the possibility to be: diverse, welcoming, egalitarian and loving of our neighbors even when we disagree. Have I always been good at this? Hell, no. But I can start now.

The haters are going to hate. You can’t change that. But I have been training all my life for this moment. Let it come.

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“There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.” J.K. Rowlings

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?

Rilke Was Right

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From 1903 to 1908, the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke carried on a correspondence with a young poet who wrote to him asking for advice, and long after, his letters were gathered into a book, appropriately enough titled Letters to a Young Poet. I feel a bit like that young man, putting feelers out into the world to say, “How do I do this thing? Am I doing this right? How will I know?” And I would like to thank my readers who have entered the conversation with me.

As Rilke said, “We would easily be made to believe that nothing has happened, and yet we have changed, as a house changes into which a guest has entered…. [M]any signs indicate that the future enters into us in this way in order to transform itself in us long before it happens” (55). I think this is true, and probably one of the reasons that some changes or discoveries that we make about ourselves end up having either a ring of inevitability or a “D’oh! How could I not have seen that?” to them. Of course I couldn’t see it. You live into your answers very gradually.

So the two things I think I have been attempting to do with this blog is 1) articulate the questions I am learning how to live into, seeking clarity from the articulation on the one hand and feedback from others’ experiences on the other, and 2) make some poetry that can turn the feelings into art, for myself, for the world. Again, Rilke says, “A work of art is good if it has sprung from necessity” (20). So a lot of questions and a little bit of art here and there, hopefully good.

A small bouquet that I can share with you.

Rilke, Rainer Maria. Letters to a Young Poet. Trans. M.D. Herter Norton. New York: Norton, 1962.

Ode to Toaster Ovens

for Katherine Moennig

 

I used to think of toaster ovens

As practical things, a way of making bread

Warm and crisp, heating frozen pizza,

Recreating an unfinished meal when

The microwave was on the fritz. No more.

 

The transformation they call to mind

Now still contains heat and crispness, still

Takes the frozen unfinished thing, warmly

Embracing it, making it not only nourishing

But more desirable. Heat enhances flavor,

 

Teases the tongue, tells us it is time

To gather around a table, light candles,

Uncork and pour the wine. Heat reminds us

Who we are and what we hold most dear,

Especially when we thought we knew, and didn’t.

 

Moving from A to B

Between any two letters of the alphabet, infinity

Runs rampant, with fragments of letters, fractals

Like the paisley inside the peacock on the butterfly’s

Painted wing. The fractions closer to A are stiff:

Chutes, ladders, railroad tracks going in only one

Direction. As you edge closer to B, you find curves:

Buttons and bees, beer caps and tiny basketballs

Like the ones you see on TV at a bar, from across

The room. And you wouldn’t even be in the bar

Except for the L sitting next to you, rooting for

Her team. You root for her team too now.

 

Halfway between A and B, you find the square

Of the cocktail napkin, but also the ring etched

In water, the rectangular business card, but also

The number scribbled hopefully on the back.

More and more these days, I find myself

Attentive to middle spaces, littoral waters,

The city halfway down the coastline on the map,

The fourth of seven chakras, green like the leaves

Of the lotus blossom growing from my heart.

Other letters also litter the landscape: Q and P

And the letters of my name and after my name.

I will use them all to write this letter

To myself on learning how to be.

My First Adventure on OK Cupid

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Okay, so admittedly my profile, if they read it at all, says that a) I am bisexual and b) looking for a relationship with a woman and c) You Should Message Me If you are a little butch and a little bit beautiful, you care about the environmental crisis and you think Jesus was pretty queer, blah blah blah. So here is my first interaction with a person.

Guy: Hey, beautiful. I’m Wright. And you are?

Me: Gay.

Never thought I’d say that and it is only 50% true, strictly speaking, but God, people, READ THE FUCKING PROFILE.

Illustration by Mike Allegra. Hell, Mike’s Cupid is gayer than any of these guys. And I mean that in a Really Good Way. I’ve heard lesbians complain that Ellen Degeneres dresses “like a man” but these girls clearly don’t know a lot of straight men, because the vast majority of straight men in this country can’t dress themselves without a whole lot of help.

What to Do Once You Get Her Number

  1. Grin to yourself. Outwardly, remain cool. Slip her card into your card case as if this feat of dating dexterity is something you do every week rather than once or twice a decade.
  2. Imagine calling her. Panic. Realize that you have nothing to say that could be considered witty or interesting or remotely intelligent or even grammatically English.
  3. Keep it tucked away safe. Take it out now and then to look at it. Repeat #2.
  4. Google her. Tell yourself this is not stalker behavior. Clear your browser. Distract yourself with work.
  5. Write five poems that no one within forty miles of your closet could tell were in any way gay. Post one on your blog. Repeat #4.
  6. Check out her photography portfolio online. Wonder why the single photo of her doesn’t show the glow you see when you look at her in person. Repeat #5.
  7. Write a poem that is, face it, just a little bit gay. Wait for the glitter to fall on your head.
  8.  Repeat #2-7. Keep waiting.

Crush

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Nature is funny. She gives tiny iron fillings to pigeons,

So that they can navigate, by knowing in their beaks

Which way is magnetic north, those two annoying poles,

North and south, feminine and masculine, how to find

Their way home again. I rub my nose, hoping my fingers

Will turn red with rust, but they never do. I turn right

 

And left, hoping that one way will feel more right

Or left than the others, but somehow, all I feel is

Dizzied. I suddenly realize that, before this moment,

I have never truly turned south before. My tongue

Speaks northern languages: French, the language

Of love, Japanese, the language of sacrificing yourself

 

In battle, and English, the language this woman speaks

With no accent until she is tired or perhaps has had

One pink drink too many. Her eyes are dark, polished

Oak and her grin like the full moon on a dark night.

I must focus on my work. The moon pulls at the tides,

Distracting them from reaching their usual shores.

The Bisexual Cento

 

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I was on a blog the other day and the poet’s “and” list was exactly like a cento, a poem created from the single lines of other poems. I was looking at the Tag Cloud for this blog today and saw the ones that stand out:

 

Bisexuality, Catholic school, cufflinks,

Joss Whedon, androgyny,

butch, femme, hair, Jesus,

Katherine Moennig, ally,

lesbian, menswear, perception,

shoes.

Queering Holy Week, Cont’d.

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So Wednesday, my church did the Women’s Stations of the Cross, a service made up of short (1 page) monologues by all the different women that Jesus interacted with and healed, recalling their relationship with him and watching as he makes his way to his death. Written by Katie Sherrod, it’s a moving service, especially for those of us reader involved in it. The last time we did it, I read his mother Mary receiving his body, Station 13, which was harrowing. This year, I did 12, Mary Magdalene watching him die on the cross. Sherrod uses some of the ideas from the Gnostic gospels rejected from the canon by Constantine in 325, including that Jesus called her “beloved disciple” and that Peter was jealous of her–these details get seeded into a few of the other women’s parts as they look to her as a leader among the women followers. We love the service in part for its good theological and elegant emotional writing and for its being a service led by non-clergy who are all women. So not transgressive in a big way, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t play well in Rome.

I was going to go to the Holy/Maundy Thursday service on Thursday evening but ended up binge-watching Season 5 of Ellen instead. Watching the earlier seasons I remembered why I had stopped watching it in the nineties–her funny but hapless dates with men in the first three seasons reminded me too much of my own failed efforts in that directions. Oh, the irony. Season 4 and 5 are encouraging for similar reasons.

Since I had already gone through the crucifixion on Wednesday, I spent Good Friday evening at a lesbian happy hour, a monthly meetup that always draws 50-80 women of a variety of ages and backgrounds. A woman I had met the previous month and found interesting did remember me (teachers are better at remembering names than other folks apparently). She is a flannel shirt butch but also kind of feminine with a brightness about her that draws people to her, so she is always surrounded at these events. I met almost a dozen women, from a physical therapist to an MIT grad student

A doctor who is recently out and I were talking. She looked past me at a woman sitting at the bar, fifties and relatively feminine, and asked if I thought her attractive. Assuming she was asking for encouragement to go talk to her I said, “Sure.” She turned to the woman and said, “My friend here thinks you’re attractive” and introduced us. Luckily the woman’s older friend was a realtor, so we could talk about how the Internet has changed her field and I managed to conduct a four-way conversation about nothing much until I could drift into another small group. Before she left, the doctor said, “I’m always looking to help people!”

Thanks, doc. The next time I need a wingman, you won’t be the first I’ll call.

Another set of women, finding out that I’ve only been thinking I’m bi for three months, reacted in a way I’m getting used to: not quite hysterical laughter. Finding out I’m only out to four people, they assured me, “Oh, honey, your parents already know. They might not know they know, if they’re old, but they know. Your siblings and friends too.” Yes, yes, terribly funny. Glad I amuse. I suspect that being lesbian is more straightforward than being bi (you should pardon the expression).

They also thought that “since you like men” might explain my attraction to somewhat more masculine women like Katherine Moennig and Ellen Degeneres (and the lady in plaid behind me regaling her new friend about the gay scene in Santiago that she should check out on her vacation next week). I managed to get myself back into that conversation, successfully guessing that the vacationer was Swiss (I recognized the accent). I was drinking a mai tai, which had a purple flower in it, which I gave to the Chilean who talks like a born American and she tucked it behind her ear and went off and joined other conversations.

I met a writer who gave me bad advice about writing and relationships, neither of which I intend to take. When I saw Flower Girl again she told me she had gotten a lot of compliments on it. She wondered out loud whether she would get anyone’s number by the end of the evening.

I said, “You could have mine.”

She looked surprised, so I said I thought she was cute.

“It’s because of the flower, isn’t it?”

“No, it’s why I gave it to you.”

Eventually, we exchanged cards. This flirting thing is hard. I feel like I am trying to flex a muscle I haven’t used in years and never was very good at in the first place.