This Week: My Half-Gay Agenda

  1. Coffee. Every day. On Monday, fireworks like glitter in the sky.
  2. But tomorrow, a coffee date. With a goil. Oy veh. How exciting!
  3. I am about ten pages in to my newest novel, about the search for the perfect butch. Wish me luck. Send me ideas. Send me warnings. (You could send me money too, but I have enough good sense to know how unlikely that is.)
  4. There was something else. Rainbow-colored boas were NOT involved. I think.

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.

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.