The Safety Pin Controversy



So I have been thinking hard about the safety pin thing this week.After the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, where a majority of voters voted for the UK to leave the European Union, an uptick in race-based and other hate crimes was followed by people wearing a safety pin somewhere visible on their clothes to show that they were allies and willing to help people facing such crimes and other harassment. Similarly, after this recent election in the US, we are seeing an uptick in hate crimes and the stepping forward of people willing to stand in the way.

I have read pieces, both for wearing the pin and against it, and this is what I have come up with. I am not going to wear one on my coat. Thirty years of on and off again martial arts training is a fine thing but what I really need is some serious training in de-escalation tactics, and I do know there are some places in Boston where I can get some. This will happen soon, but not this week. I am still struggling several times a day not to vomit when I think about my fears for our fascist future. Presumably, this physical response will go away in a few days or weeks. I really hope so. Or at least that I could just literally vomit and get it over with.

But I have put a safety pin on the lapel of each of my blazers, because I want my students to know that I am a safe space and a resource. For now this seems like the best compromise I can come up with.

The Orlando Massacre and Beyond


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.


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.



Nonchalance in the face of kind rejection is the better part

Of valor: not pressing the attack or retreating at speed

And screaming, neither arguing that the person turning

Away from me, turning me away, is my enemy (she is not)

Nor misguided (though she obviously is) but accepting

That everyone who is not gunning for me is potentially

My ally. Ally: what a loaded word. It can mean so many

Things: not enemy, but not one of us either. I was an ally

Not long ago. Not in the fight, not on either side.

A cheering section busy looking at my nails:

Sign a survey, mark off a ballot, send in a check,

Fly a flag of truce and bank their money.

Now I realize how much more is required: a hand,

A shoulder, a willingness to walk not just the one mile,

But two or ten. Closeness cures myopia: big surprise.

The Bisexual Cento



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,


The Strangeness of the Blogosphere


I have a blog about my cat that has three readers. I have a blog about poetry that has almost two hundred and a connection on my facebook page. And then there is this, whistling in the dark and waiting for other people in similar straits to walk by and notice my nervous ramblings. I look for them too, with tags like “butch” and “bi” and “closet,” even though I never felt I was in a closet until I realized I wasn’t the girl my parents (and I myself) expected me to be (extra pop culture points if you get the reference!).

I keep asking myself, “How important is this stuff really? It’s not like I am in a relationship. For that matter, my heterosexuality for the past eleven years has been just as theoretical as my presumed bisexuality is now. How important is sexuality unless/until you are in a relationship?”

But then I look at all the anti-gay rhetoric and legislation happening, and I think politically my voice probably does matter and my votes matter. They mattered when I was “just” an ally and they matter now; it’s hard to say how much has changed between then and now except I am not just speaking/voting for the sake of my family and friends. Someday it could be my own freedom or happiness on the line. And the fact that that even makes a difference tells me I was a pretty inadequate ally.

And last week at dinner with R, one of the very few people I have talked with about any of this, I mentioned how in the process of cleaning out my (actual) closet, I realized I should probably sell my kendo armor and punching bag that are in there, and she starts laughing at the irony because suddenly I am actually in the (other) closet and trying to make space for myself, and I suspect that at some point I am going to have to write about all of that, but right now, I have spent more time in the last few weeks thinking about shoes than I have over the previous forty-odd years of my life. Which feels strange. As does the time I spend on WordPress reader looking for blogs by people standing in the doorway of their closets hemming and hawing as I am.

And then, once in a while, you get a comment from somebody who is a bit ahead of you on the learning curve. This comment has helped me a lot:

“The shoes thing, yeah. Slipped on my first pair of Docs when I was 19, and my world changed forever. I was instantly transformed into the bi butch punk that I still am to this day. Dorothy Gale and her ruby slippers ain’t got nothin’ on me. And when my butch grrl puts on her wing tips, she becomes one hot genderqueer butch lezzy. Mm-MMMMM! Never underestimate the defining and transformative power of the shoe.”

Imposter Syndrome or What Else to Call It


So last week I told my therapist about realizing I am bisexual and going to lesbian meetups to test the waters. She seemed happy for me and said I looked more relaxed than I had seemed in a long while (and she has known me for over fifteen years). I mentioned that I feel a bit like an imposter, taking on an identity in a time and place where it is safe to, reaping the advantages that others have fought and suffered for, without having done any of the work myself beyond being a fairly passive ally.

She pointed out that women today reap the advantages of being able to vote, work, wear whatever clothes we want and define ourselves without having to adhere to someone else’s will or standards because women a hundred years ago and fifty years ago fought for that. We didn’t march with them or chain ourselves to courthouse stairs. We didn’t earn those advantages. But that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve to have them.

I suppose the key with things like LGBTQ+ equality is the same as with feminism. Many young women today think we are living in a post-feminist world, even when women are still making 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, etc. There is still work to do and just as I try to find ways to include feminist thinking, and increasingly environmentally ethical thinking, in my teaching and writing and buying practices, so too I have to continue and expand these things for issues in the queer community, especially as we have been seeing the backlash against the 2015 Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage. As Gandalf would say, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”