Tuesday, December 21, 2004

As the Year Ends...

Another year rolls rapidly to a close. We've had a few laughs, and shed a few tears. We've eaten too much, spent too much money, and drank too much. We haven't exercised enough, slept enough, or loved enough. For the most part, this year was pretty similar to last year, and once again we hoped to be more of what we wanted, and less of what we wanted.

Somehow, this year does feel different. The "queer" among us, not limited to the same-sex oriented, but the really queer; the oddballs, the freaks, the mold-breakers solidly became the enemy in the so-called culture wars. From the war resisters to the proponents for transportation alternatives, the sexually liberated (subject to the occasional wardrobe malfunction) to the gay couples who just want to be married, all of us who struggle day after day to redefine America have found ourselves the object of increasingly aggresive scorn and malicious attack. Yes, sodomy laws were struck down, but being able to lawfully slurp the sushi did nothing to make queer couples feel safe at home or at work, or protect their families. Yes, African-Americans became more visible in the party of the prosperous, but Black kids are still less literate and more prone to violence, both as victim and perpetrator. People in New York City who want to challenge its smog-sucking citizens to stop depending on fossil fuel-based transportation (come on now, do you really need a pickup truck to drive from Bensonhurst to Manhattan every day?) were arrested under questionable circumstances. McGraw-Hill agrees to remove any reference to homosexuality or "alternative" relationship (you know, anything other than male-female marriage) from health education textbooks published in the state of Texas because they have a definition of marriage law. We have four more years of the most dangerous Presidency in recent memory.

On the other hand, not all is gloom and doom. McDonald's eliminates the super-sizing option and offers a healthy meal in the form of a main dish salad and water, with a pedometer as a free gift. Democrats have a Black man as the next best thing who doesn't potentially have a skeleton in his closet -- the possibly worst thing in Barack Obama's closet is that he's biracial, which he's been so public about it's a nonissue. New York City's Board of Education eliminates social promotion. The blatant lack of talent among pop stars is finally coming to light with not one, but two embarassing episodes (perhaps not as tragic as that fateful MTV show featuring Milli Vanilli, but I digress). Low carb is petering out. Even the most diehard Atkins practitioner I know was recently spotted eating an apple! Big drug companies are rightfully getting their balloons popped with recent reports of the hazards associated with Cox-2 inhibitors.

Who am I kidding? I want desperately to believe things are getting better, and for some, okay for me, things have gotten better. I have my own band. I can run a 12:30 mile. I've made great new friends. My wife is still awesome. Despite all of this, I'm still stuck in the fear that we are entering a dark phase in America, one where the war in Iraq will pale in comparison to the gun-free war that will rage on this soil. I am protected in my urban oasis, living in a cocoon of supposed civil authority. I can walk down the street in my city holding my lover's hand, speak publicly about her, have pictures of her on my desk at work. I can be out at work, even heading the company's lesbian and gay employee group. I have museums, books, theater steps away from my home. I live in a city where amusements, intoxicants, and food from all over the world is at my fingertips, at any time of day or night. I am seen as the other because I am black-skinned, female, lesbian. I am other because I am educated. I am other because I am not a White, heterosexual man with a wife and two kids, a fat retirement account, a house that I own, and a car in the driveway. I am afraid that my urbaneness, my education, my cultural elitism will make me a victim in my own home.

As the end of the year approaches, I pray that I won't be a victim, that no bombs will fall on my home, that I won't become a stranger in my homeland. Let this year end as the last year did, but with greater hope for a better year to come.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Mars & Venus

I know men and women are different, in obvious and not-so-obvious ways. I refuse, however, to believe that there is a great gaping chasm between us. Our relationship isn't a perfect one, but then what is perfect?

When I came out in 1989, I thought the "gay" world was an idyllic one. Men would never be sexist. Racism wouldn't exist. We'd all live in a fabulous queer utopia where everything was beautiful and clean and fun. And then I started visiting New York's Lesbian & Gay Community Services Center (as it was called back then).

I mean no disrespect to The Center. It was then, and still is a a great place. I soon learned though that the gay community wasn't all I thought it would be. Older men attending SAGE (Senior Action in a Gay Environment) meetings would alternately hit on the young gay men or talk about the ones of color and how "criminal" they were. Young people coming to the now-defunct GLYNY (Gay & Lesbian Youth of New York) meetings didn't like the old coots. The women in the women's groups didn't like the men, and White women who identified as third world didn't understand why they couldn't attend meetings run by women of color. As strange as it was to my youthful eyes, it was a wonderful place, full of possibility. I wouldn't trade any of my experiences.

In late 80's New York, gay men and lesbians rarely, if ever, partied in the same places. Lesbians were a bit aggresive, and I don't just mean the butches. If you heard about a fight in a club, chances were good it was between women. Guys didn't fight much, but there was a lot of sex -- chasing it, having it, and chasing it again. I didn't make a lot of male friends in the clubs -- okay, I didn't go to a lot of clubs, but I did make friends through community work. I was a member of Lavender Light: The Black and People of All Colors Lesbian & Gay Gospel Choir for about 12 years. I belonged to Salsa Soul Sisters, Third World Women, Inc.(now called African Ancestral Lesbians United for Societal Change -- what's up with the really long organization names?) and it was through these groups that I began to relate to my gay brothers.

I was blessed with the love of incredible Black men, beautiful in heart and spirit. People like Rory Buchanan and Craig Harris, Dwayne McKinley, James Moody, and David Macedon. Tony Teal, Chas Brack, Lidell Jackson. I listened to them tell their stories, I laughed with them. I cried, and still do sometimes, at the loss of Rory, Craig, Dwayne, James, and David. I can still hear Roger Carroway and Darnell Pritchard sing. I still see William Cox's smile, his ever-present camera and lilting Panamanian accent, and remember how graciously he served the guests at my wedding. I've lost touch with Tony, Chas, and Lidell, but the things they've all taught me have affected me deeply.

Things have changed. Yes, there are still some queens who refer to women as fish. And there are some dykes who think effeminate men and drag queens are scum, but much has changed. You won't find many man-hating radical feminists itching to overthrow the patriarchy (although I'm a bit challenged by women's events that won't let mothers bring their sons). And, a lot of gay men are emulating lesbian homesteading patterns -- a little less sex and a lot more settling down. Men and women even party together -- females are even DJ'ing boy parties. The supposed rift between us is closing, and I think both men and women are benefiting.

I have to shout out to the fellas in my life, the brothas who taught me not just about manhood, but about humanity. Bishop, Archbishop, Calvin, Mark, John, Anthony, Jaysane, thank you for shaping my early adulthood. Jess, Byl, Louis, Allen, Isaac, you are my newest brothers whom I love deeply. Rev. Gary and Bill (ya nut!), thank you for helping me see that White men can jump. To my heterosexual brothers Orlando, Dallas, Roy, who appreciate and embrace my unconventional femaleness, thank you for your openness. I'm sure it ain't easy dealing with a woman who doesn't fit the mold.

My sisters, every man is not a bad man. To my lesbian sisters, give up the women-only vision. It won't work. There are times when it is necessary and appropriate for women and men to have separate time, but that is the exception, not the rule. Stop judging your gay brothers for remaining single, if they choose to, or having lots of sex, if they choose to. Yell at them if they're having unsafe sex, but don't judge. To my gay brothers, some lesbians do need to lighten up, but we're not all tight-assed prudes. Ask us for relationship advice, but don't think we have all the answers because we're far from perfect. Don't be afraid to fall in love. Love occasionally hurts, but so does that intense gym routine you're so into. Please wear a condom. We really don't care if you have 20 or 200 sex partners, but please practice safe sex with every one.

With all that's happening in the world, it's far more important that we stand fast and together. Who cares what planet we're from?

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Merry Whatever

In my adulthood, I've never been fond of The Holiday Season. Sure, the pretty lights and syrupy music associated with Christmas warm my heart in some way, but it's all so saccharine. I don't appreciate feeling forced to be festive. Quite frankly, it pisses me off that admission to the same club I'd go to on any other Friday night quadruples on New Year's Eve. It's the same DJ, and the same club tunes. It's the same crowd, only dressed up for the occasion. I'm baffled as to why holiday decorations start appearing shortly after Halloween. I think the uproar about the removal of Christian-themed holiday music from clearly secular settings such as a public school is nonsense. I resent being made to feel like a failure if I don't go into debt buying gifts for everybody. I could go on about my love/hate relationship with The Holiday Season, initial caps because it's become an initial caps kind of thing, but I won't.

I am all for gift giving. Gift giving forces you to show appreciation for the people around you because it's much easier to give a pen to the guy in the cubicle next to you than it is to say "Dude, I totally love you because your wit and conversation bring a ray of sunshine to my day." Even if it is forced, we have an appreciation machine set up for us. I offer you this: we all have gifts we've been given, and in this gift-giving season, make a list of gifts you already have, and and give them to yourself again. This is the only time that re-gifting is acceptable.

1. If you have a spouse, partner, girlfriend or boyfriend, thank your lucky stars. They may not be perfect, and your relationship may not be perfect, but if you treat each other with respect, decency, and kindness, you have a gift. Appreciate that gift. Do something nice for them, in whatever way you can. You don't have to cook to do breakfast in bed. Buy bagels & coffee.

2. Employed? Count yourself fortunate. Hate your job? Count yourself fortunate anyway, show up to do the best you can, and prepare for a gracious exit. Love your job? Good. Let your boss know.

3. Parents still alive and in your life? Be thankful, and talk to them regularly. Share your life with them. You don't have to share your visit to Mistress Miranda's Den of Iniquity, but let your folks know that they did a good job raising you. You and the family don't get along? That's okay too. If conditions are not conducive to getting together, wish them well and hope for whatever is best for all parties involved. You'll sleep well at night.

4. Got things (money in the bank, shelter, food, a car)? Take good care of them, but don't let them become your master. Share even a little of what you have with someone else, and try not to think less of anyone who doesn't have what you have. You've given yourself the gift of generosity and unloaded judgement.

5. Alive and kicking? All parts in at least 85% working order? You have the gift of life. Give yourself the gift of healthy, nutritious food, lots of water, a little exercise every day, and a decent night's sleep. You'll be rewarded with longevity, better brain power, and reduced stress. Add in soul-feeding through quiet time, brain-boosting by learning something new each day.

6. Children in your life? Be the example you want them to see. Tell the truth, live with integrity, laugh a lot, and don't take things more seriously than needed.

7. Look at yourself in the mirror and forget about what you think you're supposed to see. Even the genetically blessed among us thinks they're not perfect. Most Hollywood beauties are a mess without makeup. The hottie with the body may have garbage can breath. The guy with the broad shoulders may be a complete disappointment downstairs thanks to the steroids he takes to get those shoulders. No one is perfect, but you're the best and only you you have. Teeth crooked? You've got teeth. Butt too big? Somebody out there is looking for a chick with junk in her trunk. You are your own gift, and without you, you can't give a gift to anyone else.

Merry whatever you celebrate.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Literatim

Lest you think I've really lost my mind, I can assure you that the title of this post is a real word. According to Merriam-Webster, it means letter for letter. What a fabulous word, which is the subject of this post (words, not fabulousness).

I've been slowly spreading the word about this blog because I still suffer from tortured-artist syndrome: pay attention to me, but don't let me know you're paying attention. And, while I appreciate the attention, I'm not quite sure how to take your criticism.

I think most people have a creative trait. Some use sounds to create, others use images. Some use words. Those of us who never get in touch with the creator within may be living an unfulfilled life. You know the type -- they're often very smart, but aren't that good with people. They want the facts, and only the facts, and they're quick to offer what is meant to be helpful, but may teeter on that fine line of help and judgment.

Recently, I told a good friend about my blog, and she let me know she enjoyed reading it -- even though I am sometimes tangential, it was great to read. Stop the presses. Tangential? Isn't the very nature of a blog tangential? Does a blog not serve as one big receptacle of occasionally-disconnected ruminations? A collection of emotional vomitus? Whatever the hell I need to say and demand your attention for?

On a related note, I had a conversation with someone who told me that someone "went out on a limb" for me. Whenever I hear that phrase, I wonder how I should feel. Should I be flattered? Insulted? Terrified? There is nothing, nothing at all benign about that phrase. The pressure is on.

I offer you this. The word carries more power than you could ever know. Don't take that for granted.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Quick Hits #2

Happy December, dear readers. It is officially the Holiday Season, the one time of year where American consumers are reminded that no matter how empty your bank account (or your spirit) may be, there is joy in rampant consumerism, and it is the duty of all good Americans to spend, spend, spend. Anyway...


World AIDS Day
World AIDS Day has come and gone. I, too, have lost family, friends, and colleagues. More than twenty years has passed since the discovery of this decimator, and according to studies, we have made little progress in prevention and treatment. Rates of new infection and deaths are still equal to those of the mid-1990's. Why can we make bigger cars and smaller phones, but can't get people to understand that a condom has to be worn during sex, and that demonizing the sexually active won't stop the spread of HIV? Will the Angry White Male, AKA The Check Writer, stop seeing himself as inconvenienced by everyone who isn't like him? Will he ever stop feeling threatened by Black women, the group experiencing the highest number of new HIV infections? Will he ever stop flushing money down the crapper on "abstinence only" programs? Hasn't the church always preached abstinence until marriage only to discover that few people wait until the honeymoon to become sexually active? Or can it be that the Angry White Male has discovered an easy way to get rid of those he thinks are expendable anyway -- gays, Blacks, drug abusers, the poor.

I'm sick of red ribbons, five-mile walks, begging people for money to give to yet another organization. I'm tired of drug companies getting rich off of poor countries' suffering, and I'm disgusted with holier-than-thou fat cats withholding their toys because no one wants to play the game their way. The truth is that people are having sex; married, unmarried, men with men, men with women, women with women. Young and old, Black and White, Christian and non-Christian, everybody's doin' it. Save your judgements, oh ye of supposed superior faith, for "with what measure you judge, you shall also be judged," and support real programs, including condom distribution and honest sex education.

Gratitude
I planned to create a longer version of my "What I'm Thankful For" list at the end of the year, but it seemed so odd to not post anything for Thanksgiving, that I've decided to start early on my year-end wrap up.

As always, I'm thankful that although I live in a country that doesn't always respect all of its citizens, all of its citizens have the opportunity to make lots of noise about being treated poorly. Yes, the vote was snatched out from under us. Yes, Canada, Belgium, and The Netherlands seem quite appealing, but boys and girls, one should never allow themselves to be kicked out of their own home. Feeling threatened? Stand up and fight.

I'm thankful that I had a meal earlier today. Chances are better than good that I'll have one later, and one or more tomorrow. Many haven't had the same chance I had, and I may not be so fortunate tomorrow.

I'm thankful I have a body that is fully functioning. The size of my hips and thighs is irrelevant. I have a round belly. I wear glasses. I'm moving around, I have my senses, and I am coherent enough to type this. This could be my last post. And, my official race time in the Prospect Park Turkey Trot (5 miles along the park's rolling hills) was 1:05:47 -- five minutes faster than I projected, and three minutes faster than I thought I finished.

I'm thankful to have met incredible people from around the world, from a variety of beliefs and cultures. They've changed my life, for better or worse. So many people would never dream of leaving their small town to meet someone unlike them. I'm grateful for courage.

I'm thankful for the love of someone whose existence proves to me that angels are real.

Don't wait until Thanksgiving to think about thanks.