Archive | life RSS for this section

Speech without consequences isn’t free…

“Speech without consequence is't free, it's privilege...” © Tauriq Moosa

“Speech without consequence is’t free, it’s privilege…” © Tauriq Moosa (Click to embiggen)

A few years ago a lot of people were sharing a link to a video along with shocked comments. The video was a black and white clip from an old PBS show in which I think it was four various serious white guys in suits were discussing politics. The specific topic I think was the Voting Rights Act. Anyway, the show was originally broadcast in the sixties. What was so shocking to many of the people sharing the link was first that one of the experts said a lot of blatantly racist stuff as his argument (“it’s a well known fact that negroes are less intelligent, on average than white people” was only one of the things he said). But even more shocking to the people sharing it, but the supposed liberal on the show not only didn’t dispute any of the racist things, he actually agreed with at least some of them. The liberal argument wasn’t that any Black people are just as intelligent and moral and civilized as white people, the argument seemed to be that even inferior people deserved civil rights.

The clip wasn’t a parody, let’s make that clear.

Most of the people who were shocked were either too young to have been alive in the 1960s, or too young to remember that time. At the time blatantly racist beliefs were considered not just a legitimate opinion to hold, but was largely accepted as reasonable interpretation of reality. Now, there were always people who thought those beliefs were wrong, but they were still very much in the minority when this particular show was recorded.

That minority was growing. Over the next many years more and more people came to the conclusion that not only were those racist beliefs factually incorrect, but that adhering to them was seen as immoral. A tipping point was reached, and there was a wave in which a number of conservative pundits and opinion columnists and such found themselves being dropped by mainstream news organizations.

And they freaked out a bit.

The freak out is understandable. For example, a particular columnist got fired by the New York Times, I think it was, after writing a column criticizing busing (where students were bused to schools further from their neighborhood in order to try to achieve racial balance in public schools). And it wasn’t the criticism of bussing itself that got him fired, it was the fact that one of the reasons he said desegregation of schools was bad was because the white students would be held back by the Black and Latino students because the latter were obviously less intelligent. It was an assertion the columnist had made many times in editorials before this one, so you can understand why he thought it was still a legitimate argument.

The expectations of polite society had shifted around him, and he had failed to keep up. A year earlier, it was still socially acceptable to believe white people were inherently mentally superior to people of other ethnicities. You could express that belief in print and in person and still be welcome at people’s parties and so forth. Many might disagree with him a year or more earlier, but they still viewed it as a topic upon which reasonable people could disagree. And then, you couldn’t any longer.

Racism didn’t end. What changes was how blatantly racist someone could be and still get accepted in polite society.

Plenty of conservatives adapted. They figured out ways to continue making arguments for their positions using euphemisms and dog whistles. Maybe even a small number saw the light, somewhat, and recognized that systemic social and economic biases were what caused the disparities they saw between the races. But it was almost certainly an extremely small number.

I bring this long anecdote up to set some context to a much more recent hot topic. Changing social norms of what expressions of bigotry are considered acceptable isn’t something new. It is an ongoing thing. And while it is a gradual thing, these tipping point moments can catch some privileged people by surprise. It seems sudden and even disconcerting to them, in part because they usually go through much of live in a bubble of privilege.

And to clarify, I don’t mean that only rich people live in these bubbles. Privilege takes many forms. One of those forms is that people who disagree often don’t feel safe (physically, socially, financially) to express their disagreement. People who stand up for themselves or challenge certain kinds of comments in various social or work situations are perceived as “making waves” or “creating unnecessary conflict” and “not being a team player.” So, speaking up when a co-worker makes a misogynist or homophobic or transphobic joke carries a risk of everything from not being considered for promotion to being let go.

So people who are offended, feel attacked, or otherwise disagree with the sentiments—whether expressed explicitly or implied—learn to laugh nervously and change the topic, or otherwise not rock the boat. This perpetuates the mistaken belief of the bigot that what they said is perfectly reasonable. Some people laughed, right?

And it isn’t just the workplace where these bubbles happen.

The bubbles can insulate people holding those bigoted views right up until that tipping point is reached.

The recent flurries of pushback from the bigots has been to try to appeal to free speech and to bemoan so-called cancel culture. There are two problems here: you can’t make a free speech argument when you are specifically trying to silence your critics. And marginalized people have been “canceled”—losing jobs, entire careers—for years. When I mentioned above about losing one’s job for speaking up? That’s something that happens to women, people of color, queer people, trans people, and so forth all the time.

The reason these guys are upset is because it’s happening to them instead of to us. More of us feel we can speak up about other people’s bigotry, and we are. They were perfectly happy to live in the bubble and watch others miss out on promotions, lose their jobs, sometimes get driven out of neighborhoods, et cetera. But suddenly some people are actually subjecting them to (in most cases) mild consequences, and suddenly they think they are the victims.

No. They have been the privileged aggressors acting like jerks to other people. It’s not that suddenly people are offended by things that used to be just fine. Those those were always offensive. All that’s happened is that far fewer people are willing to give these jerks a free pass.

‟Speech without consequence isn’t free, it’s privilege. And more and more, we are using free expression and digital tools to fight back against harassment that has always been there—but for which it’s never been the harassers’ problem to deal with.
And if these hypersensitive men can’t deal with responses to their abusive behavior online, maybe the Internet isn’t for them.”
—Tauriq Moosa

It’s Pride Day, 2020 — Happy Pride!

Love is love!

Love is love!

This has been a weird week (heck, it’s been a surreal year!). But today is Pride Day. A day when ordinarily I and my husband would be walking from the hotel where we had been attending Locus Awards Weekend the previous two days, and we’d watch the Pride Parade, then walk to the Pride Festival. But this year everything (including sci fi conventions) has moved on line, so that we can avoid gathering in large groups and causing more spikes of the pandemic.

But it is still Pride Day, even if we’re all social distancing and meeting virtually. It’s a day to commemorate the time that a bunch of queers got fed up with police brutality and decided to fight back.

Two signs being held up in a crowd, each depicts Marsha P. Johnson, sports the Trans Pride Flag colors, and the phrase: “There would be no pride without black trans lives!”

There would be no pride without black trans lives!

It was the night that Marsha P. Johnson hurled a shot glass at a cop when they began their usual routine of lining up everyone in the gay bar, then singling out all the trans and gender-non-conforming people to arrest. Marsha wasn’t the only trans person of color to fight back that night, and she wasn’t the only one to keep fighting for queer rights, helping to found several of the organizations who took the fight to both the streets and the halls of government. When you hoist that rainbow flag, remember to thank those trans women of color who started it all.

Pride Day Links:

Corporations disappointed they won’t be able to commodify queer culture this year .

Every year Joe Jervis at Joe.My.God.com reposted the complete text of the very condescending story that the New York Daily News ran shortly after the original Stonewall uprising. I think it’s good to remember how people saw (and many still do) our community and concerns: LGBTQ History: “The Foot Wore A Spiked Heel”.

Gill Foundation Pledges $250K To Protect Stonewall Inn.

LGBTQ people have been marching every June for 50 years.

Marsha P Johnson’s home town petitions to erect statue of her to replace Christopher Columbus.

Happy Pride Month!

President Barack Obama Celebrates LGBTQ+ Equality (Clip) | Logo TV:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Black Trans Lives Matter | Full Frontal on TBS:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

The Kinsey Sicks: The Sound of Sirens (Simon & Garfunkel Parody):

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Show Me Your Pride – By Miss Coco Peru – OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

This Is Me | Boston Gay Men’s Chorus:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

If I had gone marching, this would have probably been my ensemble. Happy Pride!

Still a joyful, radical fairy—and still proud of all my fellow survivors

“STONEWALL MEANS REVOLTING QUEENS…AND DON’T YOU FORGET IT,” Gay & Lesbian Pride Parade, Boston, Massachusetts, June 1984. Photo c/o Men of All Colors Together collection, via @northeastern.

Revolt!

I had several ideas for today’s post, but the craziness of fitting a week’s worth of work into four days so I could take Friday off got in the way.

So I decided maybe I should just repost this, originally posted on 21 June, 2018.

Pride means love and survival—confessions of a joyful fairy

“Queer as hell and felling swell”

(click to embiggen)

I’ve been to a lot of Pride parades and festivals since attending my first in 1990. One year I participated in the San Francisco Pride Parade one weekend, flew back home to Seattle where I marched in our parade the following week, and then in August I found myself in Vancouver, British Columbia where I hadn’t realized it was going to be their Pride Parade. San Francisco’s was like so gigantically larger and brasher than any other I had ever seen, while Vancouver’s was small but very enthusiastic.

“Pride equals power”The reason for the parade, ultimately, is to declare our existence–our survival in a society that is less than welcoming. We’re here. We’re your daughters, your neighbors, your sons, your co-workers, your friends, your siblings, or your parents. We’re not mysterious creatures lurking in seedy clubs–we’re the guy sitting across from you on the bus reading a book, or the two gals sitting in that next pew at church, or the pair of guys in the grocery store discussing how many hot dogs to buy for the cookout, or the grey-haired guy trying to read a label on a bottle of cold tablets in the pharmacy, or that kid on the skateboard going past your bus stop, or that guy sipping a coffee at Starbucks, or that gal a couple table over at the same coffee shop laughing at something on her computer.

We’re real, we’re everywhere, and we have hopes and dreams and worries just like you. We’re not asking for special rights, we’re asking for the same rights you take for granted. We’re asking to live our lives as openly as you live yours.

I enjoy watching the parade to acknowledge that survival. I cheer while watching the parade to express my admiration, support, and love for all of these survivors.

I cheer for people who are being brave and marching in their first parade; we see you and welcome you to the tribe.

I cheer and applaud so that those whose families rejected them and told them never to come back will know they have another family, and we’re clapping for them right now.

I cheer so that group of teen-agers (half of them straight and there to support their bi, gay, lesbian, and trans friends) will get the recognition they deserve.

“Why do some people feel more comfortable seeing two men holding hands than holding guns?”I cheer so the couple in their matching sequined costumes will know someone appreciates the work they spent (perhaps being up all night gluing those sequins on).

I cheer the older couples walking together holding hands; we see your love and we celebrate how long you and your love had endured.

I cheer the younger couples walking hand in hand; I wish I had felt free to do that at their age, but I hope they have a bright future.

(click to embiggen)

I applaud and cheer so that the trans* gals and trans* men know they are seen for who they are and we think they’re beautiful, wonderful, and I am proud to call them brothers and sisters.

I cry when I see those who are carrying a photo or wearing the name of a deceased loved one; we see your loved one and share your grief.

I cheer for PFLAG so that straight parents who have spent countless hours explaining to friends and relatives that their queer kids have nothing to be ashamed of, and yes they are very happy, and no those things you’ve heard or read about their health and lifespan are all myths will know their efforts are appreciated by the whole community.

I clap and cheer and laugh and cry as the parade goes on and on showing how big and wonderful and diverse and amazing our community is.

(click to embiggen)

The very first Liberation Day Parade in New York City, was a protest march on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots (the first Pride was a riot). People were afraid of what would happen at the first march. Only a couple dozen people showed up at the starting point, with their protest signs. But they marched. And all along the announced route of the march, the sidewalks were lined with people. Street queens, and trans people, and gay men and lesbians and queers of many other stripes.

(click to embiggen)

And then completely unplanned thing happened. As the small group of marchers went by, queer people and supporters started stepping off the curb and joining. By the time the marchers reached the Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park, the crowd numbered in the thousands.

It has been a tradition of Pride Parades ever since, that spectators step off the curb and join the march.

So when I march, there comes a point where I do that. I have cheered and applauded and made sure that others were seen. I have witnessed their love and courage and unique style. Until it is my turn to join the march. To be visible. To declare by my presence in that throng that I am queer. I’m here. And I will never go back into the closet.
Me with my rainbow parasol

The Missing History of Decoration Day

Memorial day is not about the living

Today isn’t the day to say ‘Thank you for your service.’

Once again it’s Memorial Day, and once again I find myself having conflicting feelings. There is, of course, the part of me that gets irritated at how so many people treat every even slightly patriot holiday as another occurrence of Veteran’s Day. And that’s wrong for many reasons. If nothing else, if someone is a military veteran or still serving, this day can be extremely emotional day, because they may be thinking about people they knew who didn’t make it back

If you aren’t sure what to say today, NPR has some suggestions: Don’t Say ‘Thank You For Your Service’ This Monday.

The other set of feelings I get revolve around the revisionist history everyone publishes about the history of Memorial Day. Memorial Day didn’t become an official holiday until the passage of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968. You’ll find scores of articles and web pages telling how the Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day (true), which was first celebrated at Arlington National Cemetery in 1868 (false). Decoration Day was celebrated in several parts of the country, mostly in the South, long before the Civil War.

Leading up to Decoration Day, volunteers from the community would cut the grass in the cemetery and pull up weeds and generally do maintenance. In modern times, city and county governments take care of cemeteries that are not maintained by a company or a religious organization, so we don’t think about things like the grass and weeds around grave. Then come Sunday was the day to bring flowers to put on the graves, have family reunions, and celebrate the lives of all of our deceased family members. My Grandmother observed that version faithfully her whole life. ‘Decoration Day’: The South Honors Its Dead.

“…on that day, everybody who’s connected to each other and to the people underground convene and have in effect a religious service in the cemetery.”
—Alan Jabbour, the author of the book Decoration Day in the Mountains

As I said, Grandma celebrated the old version her whole life, and she was literally in the process of placing a silk flower arrangement on the grave of Great-aunt Maude (and pulling up some crab grass that was obscuring the marker) when she died. So you may understand while I have strong feelings about the missing history of Decoration Day.

Anyway, for Grandma (originally posted on Memorial Day 2014):

Memorial, part 2

copyright 2014 Gene Breshears

Flowers for Grandma’s grave.

Grandma always called it by the older name, Decoration Day. As I’ve written before, the original holiday was celebrated in many states as a day to gather at the grave sites of your parents, grandparents, et cetera, to honor the memory of their lives. It was often a time of picnics and family reunions. At least as much a celebration of their lives as a time of mourning. The connection to military deaths didn’t happen until 1868, and particularly in the south, was often seen as a pro-Union, pro-war, anti-southern celebration.

I didn’t understand most of those nuances when I was a kid. The modern version of the holiday, celebrated on the last Monday in May, didn’t even exist until I was a fifth-grader, when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act went into effect.

Grandma observed it faithfully. Every year, as May rolled around, she would begin calling distant relatives and old family friends. Grandma knew where just about every person descended from her own grandparents was buried, and she made certain that someone who lived nearby was putting flowers on the graves of those relatives by Memorial Day. She took care of all the family members buried within a couple hours drive of her home in southwest Washington.

She was putting flowers on the grave of my Great-aunt Maud (Grandma’s sister-in-law) on the Friday before Memorial Day, 2007 when she died. My step-grandfather said he was getting in position to take a picture of her beside the grave and the flowers (there are hundreds and hundreds of photos of Grandma beside graves with flowers on them in her photo albums) when she suddenly looked up, said, “I don’t feel good!” and pitched over.

One weekend she had blown out the candles on the cake celebrating her 84th birthday. The following Friday, while putting flowers on Great-aunt Maud’s grave, she died. And one week after that a bunch of us were standing at her graveside. It was just down to a few family members, and we were at that stage where you’re commenting on how pretty the flowers that so-and-so that no one had heard from in years were, when someone asked, “Isn’t grandpa’s grave nearby?”

Grandpa had died 23 years earlier, and was buried in one of a pair of plots he and Grandma had bought many years before. And after Grandma re-married, she and our step-grandfather had bought two more plots close by.

Anyway, as soon as someone asked that, my step-grandfather’s eyes bugged out, he went white as a sheet, and said, “Oh, no!” He was obviously very distressed as he hurried toward his car. Several of us followed, worried that he was having some sort of medical issue.

Nope. He and Grandma had been driving to various cemeteries all week long before her death, putting silk-bouquets that Grandma had made on each relative’s grave. Aunt Maud’s was meant to be the next-to-the-last stop on their journey. Grandpa’s silk flower bouquet was still in the trunk of the car. My step-grandfather was beside himself. He’d cried so much that week, you wouldn’t have thought he could cry any more, but there he was, apologizing to Grandma’s spirit for forgetting about the last batch of flowers, and not finishing her chore—for not getting flowers on Grandpa George’s grave by Memorial Day.

The next year, several of us had the realization that without Grandma around, none of us knew who to call to get flowers put on Great-grandma and Great-grandpa’s graves back in Colorado. None of us were sure in which Missouri town Great-great-aunt Pearl was buried, let alone who Grandma called every year to arrange for the flowers. Just as we weren’t certain whether Great-great-aunt Lou was buried in Kansas or was it Missouri? And so on, and so on. One of my cousins had to track down the incident report filed by the paramedics who responded to our step-grandfather’s 9-1-1 call just to find out which cemetery Great-aunt Maud was in.

copyright 2014 Gene Breshears

Flowers from us, Mom, and my Aunt Silly on Grandpa’s grave.

Mom and her sister have been putting flowers on Grandma’s and Grandpa’s graves since. Our step-grandfather passed away three years after Grandma, and he was buried beside her.

Some years before her death, Grandma had transferred the ownership of the plot next to Grandpa to Mom. So Mom’s going to be buried beside her dad. Mom mentions it whenever we visit the graves, and I don’t know if she realizes how much it chokes me up to think about it.

We had put the flowers in place. We had both taken pictures. Mom always worries that she won’t remember where Grandpa’s grave is (it’s seared in my head: two rows down from Grandma, four stones to the south). Michael helped Mom take a wide shot picture that has both Grandma’s and Grandpa’s spots in it.

I thought we were going to get away with both of us only getting a little teary-eyeed a few times, but as we were getting back into the car, Mom started crying. Which meant that I lost it.

Grandma’s been gone for more than 10 years, now. But every time we drive down to visit Mom, there is a moment on the drive when my mind is wandering, and I’ll wonder what Grandma will be doing when we get there. And then I remember I won’t be seeing her. It took me about a dozen years to stop having those lapses about Grandpa. I suspect it will be longer for Grandma. After all, she’s the one who taught me the importance of Those Who Matter


Flowers from Mom and I on Grandpa's grave this year.

Flowers from Mom and I on Grandpa’s grave this year.

And if you are one of those people offended if I don’t mention people who served our country in the armed forces on this day, please note that we also put flowers on my Grandpa’s grave. Grandpa served in WWII in Italy. He didn’t drive a tank, he drove the vehicle that towed tanks that couldn’t be repaired in the field, and one of the two medals he was awarded in the war was for doing a repair of a tank while under fire. After the war, he came back to the U.S., met Grandma (who was at that point working as a nurse and trying to support her two daughters), and eventually married Grandma and adopted my mom and my aunt. Many years later, he was the person who taught me how to rebuild a carburetor (among other things). He was a hero many times over. And this post is also dedicated to his memory.

Adventures in feeding the birds and squirrels… and some blogging weirdness

Three years ago we moved from where we had been living in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle to this place just north of Seattle. While we had use of two flower beds and part of the yard at the old place, there hadn’t been a good spot to put up a bird feeder. Here, we don’t have a yard, but we have our “veranda” a deck 38’ long and 5’ wide, shaded by tall pine trees, and three stories above the ground. I supplemented out less-than a dozen flower pots with a bunch more pots and planters, so I have plenty of flowers… and I got a bird feeder to hang from the eave of the veranda.

I’ve been watching the birds ever since.

Before the current situation, I was only home during the daytime when I could see the birds three or four days out of most weeks. But since February I have been here every day. And the birds and squirrels have just gotten more interesting.

I no longer have just one bird feeder. I have the big seed feeder, a suet cage, a hummingbird feeder, and a squirrel feeder.

The squirrel feeder is attached at floor level, as it were, and is almost always stocked with dried pumpkin seeds (which are more nutritionally useful for squirrels than either birdseed or peanuts). The squirrel feeder has a hinged lid system that is supposed to thwart crows and jays and the like. So far I’ve never seen those birds at the feeder.

Part of the purpose of the separate squirrel feeder is to give the squirrels something easier to get to than the seed feeder, to keep them from spilling half the seed out of the feeder to get the few bits they are actually interested in. It mostly works.

I have gotten used to both the sounds of the many chickadees, juncos, sparrows, and the occasional finches at the feeder. The one or two crows that are too big for the feeder but like to forage on the deck under the feeder, and the sound of the lid of the squirrel feeder opening and closing.

There are at least three squirrels that regularly come to our deck. I know this because sometimes all three are here at the same time. The very fluffy tailed squirrels I can’t tell from each other. But one squirrel—the troublemaker I named Ivan back when he was terrorizing the Cooper’s Hawk that decided to hang out and eat the smaller birds for a month autumn before last—is easy to distinguish if you can see his tail, because it is the most bedraggled excuse for a squirrel tail you will ever see.

One morning earlier this week I was working, only passingly aware of the chirping of some birds outside and the irregular sound of the squirrel feeder lid going up and down. Suddenly, I heard some rapid and unfamiliar animal/bird sounds. I looked up in time to see the chickadees and juncos that had been at the feeder and under the deck fleeing. An millisecond later I saw one of the squirrels leap from the deck to a branch, followed by a crow that appeared to be trying to eat the squirrel!?

The crow was so closely chasing the squirrel that I couldn’t see the tail and identify whether it was Ivan or one of the others. Whichever squirrel it was, they fled into the pine needles up the branch. The crow swooped away, flying high in the sky, but then seconds later it dove back at the spot on the branch the squirrel had been at a moment before. It didn’t catch the squirrel, but swooped away and looped up to land on some branches above.

The squirrel is nowhere to be seen.

By this point I have set my work laptop aside and I’m standing at the window, trying to figure out what the heck is going on.

A few seconds later the squirrel’s head peeked out of dense cluster of sub-branches on another branch. Crow is still hopping between a few bare branches, head snapping back and forth as if scanning.

The squirrel remains motionless.

After a minute, the crow flies off. Squirrel doesn’t move for a bit, then pulls back and vanishes into the green. I shrug and go back to work.

About five minutes later I hear the tell-tale sound of the squirrel feeder lid—except much quieter than normal. So I stand up to look again. Ivan (I can clearly see his tail, now) is sitting by the feeder eating a pumpkin seed. When he finishes, he very slowly pushes the lid open, sticks his head in to get another seed, and then even more slowly pulls back, so the lid closes so gently that it makes a much softer sound than I’ve ever heard it.

I watch him repeat this careful, more quiet eating process for a minute, then I go back to work.

Later, I happen to look up and see Ivan the rail. I notice that when Ivan moves along the rail, he hobbles on three legs, holding is left forepaw up as if injured. He later makes a leap into the tree all right. I see him throughout the rest of the day poking about on the deck, sometimes using all four legs, but often limping.

I have no idea what was going on. The crow’s trajectory definitely started on the deck near the squirrel feeder, which is up against the wall. So the crow had to be walking around on the deck when whatever happened, happened.

So far since the incident, Ivan continues to open and closer the feeder very slowly, so clearly he’s trying to be quiet in hopes the crow won’t come back.


Edited to Add: So I went to check something else on my blog, and I saw the first draft of this post was what was showing, not the final with the meme… I had to restore a saved copy to get the post back. I reposted it… but a DIFFERENT draft was what was visible after that. So, I’m trying re-posted the whole thing as a new post, and if that works, will edit the other one…

Software is weird (or, I don’t know if I was the fumble fingers or if the backend was)

If you followed a link expecting a post about birds and squirrels: Click here.

I wrote a blog post based on some texts that I sent to friends describing a weird thing that happened outside my window. I re-wrote and expanded the text more than a bit, and added a silly meme. I scheduled it to post in the morning and went to bed. The next morning I went to check something else on my blog, and saw that the post had gone live… except it was just the unedited text from the text messages. No meme picture, no corrected typos, et cetera.

I had to restore a saved copy to get the post back. I reposted it… but a DIFFERENT draft was what was visible after that. So I copied the text and code from the restored draft and made a new post.

I’m going to try replacing the weird post with this text. Who knows what will actually appear to the web when I click update.

Confessions of a boy who wanted to be a diva, in spite of the bullying

“Boys can be Princesses, too.”

“Boys can be Princesses, too.”

Sometimes a headline sends you into a weird internal spiral remembering traumatic moments, such as: A babysitter was caught on video slapping a boy for being a “gay a** b**ch” & his family went to war – For once, there’s a happy ending.

When I first saw the headline, I didn’t see the subhead about the story having a happy ending. Instead, I found myself reliving the times as a kid that I was teased and/or punished for acting wrong—and usually not understanding what I had done that was so wrong. For instance, I loved singing along to music played on the radio, my parents’ records, or the TV… and sometimes the reaction from family and friends was encouraging. And other times I would get teased or yelled at or even spanked for my antics. And to me there wasn’t a clear difference between the times that my dancing and singing would make people happy and the times when I would get called a sissy or freak or pussy.

The first time I remember anyone calling me a faggot was when I was nine years old… and it was a teacher who did it. He wasn’t my regular teacher. The school district I had just transferred to had elementary students spend a few hours each week doing fairly simply physical education activities under the supervision of a secondary teacher. We were lined up in the gym waiting to be taken back to class one day, and music was playing from somewhere. I don’t remember why, nor do I remember what the song was that was playing, but I recognized it, and I was doing jazz hands and bouncing to the music while singing along when the teacher walked up, grabbed my arm, and (at least how I perceived it at the time) yelled in my face to ask whether I was a little girl or a little boy?

I stammered back that I was a boy. And he shook me and growled, “Then stop acting like a faggot!”

When our regular teacher arrived to collect us, the phys ed teacher explained that I was in trouble because I had been acting up and distracting the other students. So for the next several days I wasn’t allowed to go outside for recess. I had to stay in the classroom with my head down on my desk. I was told that I needed to spend the time thinking about how bad it was to distract other students from lessons.

None of which made sense. The lesson was over. We were standing in line. Absolutely no education was going on, we were just standing in line waiting for our regular teacher to come get us.

That’s not even the worst of it. Because the phys ed teacher had called me a faggot, and it wasn’t a word I was familiar with, I asked my regular teacher what it meant. And I got in trouble even more for saying “dirty words” in the classroom. But I was just quoting another teacher!

It was only a month or so later when a Sunday School teacher gave me my very first own dictionary, and one of the words I eventually looked up in it was faggot. And in that dictionary the word is defined as “a bundle of sticks, twigs, etc bound together used for fuel etc.” Which didn’t help at all. How was me singing along to music acting like a bundle of sticks?

To get back to the story linked above, when it says “The child was participating in a viral “Savage” dance challenge with his sister. He looks longingly at her as she continues to dance.” I really understand that part about looking on longingly as others were allowed to do what I couldn’t do. It wasn’t always gender-based, which is what made it so hard for me to figure out what I was doing wrong all the time.

The end result was that those of us who didn’t conform to gender stereotypes—whether due to sexual orientations, or gender dysphoria, or simple statistical variance—all found ourselves crashing and burning between various metaphorical Scylla and Charybdis with neither map nor compass nor guide to see us through.

Which means that many over us spent years waffling between extremes around our own identity. Which brings me to another headline: Queer Rock ‘n’ Roll Legend Little Richard Is Dead at 87. Some versions of the blog post that eventually became this one started after I saw the first story a few daya ago about the death of Rock star Little Richard.

Little Richard was an extremely flamboyant rockstar whose stage persona inspired a large number of performers ranging from James Brown to Prince. At different times in he career he flirted with being out; other times he blatantly admitted to his queerness—for example when he said that “if Elvis is the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll than I am the Queen” as well so the several times he described himself as “omnisexual.” Unfortunately, at many more parts of his career he denounced gay/lesbian people, and transgender people, and referred to parts of his own life as a struggle against sexual sin.

I went through several drafts this weekend of a post about him… and then I found the blog post that covered most of my points more succinctly than I had been able to:

Although rock ’n’ roll was an unabashedly macho music in its early days, Little Richard, who had performed in drag as a teenager, presented a very different picture onstage: gaudily dressed, his hair piled six inches high, his face aglow with cinematic makeup. He was fond of saying in later years that if Elvis was the king of rock ’n’ roll, he was the queen.

…Little Richard will always represent a sad existence to this once-closeted gay boy of the 1970s and ’80s. If it had just been my own self-loathing that made me feel embarrassed for him then I would only fault myself. But his clear struggle between his faith and his sexuality — at one point he became a preacher and more recently he denounced gay and transgender people as “unnatural” — represented everything that is wrong with organized religion, and I found his willingness to go along with it humiliating for everyone concerned. Still, you have to believe that the joy his music brought so many people is something that will be remembered far longer than the harm he caused so many LGBTQ people — himself included — during his 87 years on planet Earth.

When Little Richard appeared on various musical variety shows during the 60s and 70s, he represented a painful contrast. Part of me loved his stage persona and performance, but another part of me was deeply ashamed, because while I was still struggling with my own sexuality, he was clearly far outside of the acceptable boundaries of gender expression. Yet I still identified with part of what he was doing.

It wasn’t until many decades later that I learned that the original version of his first top forty hit, Tutti frutti referred to the kind of black gay man who wanted to be sexually dominated by other types of men. When he decided to record the song, he cleaned up the lyrics, but there were whiffs of the meaning that carried through, nonetheless.

I guess what I’m saying is that part of me understands why Litte Richard was never quite brave enough to come out and stay out. While another (much smaller) part of me understands why he had so much trouble negotiating his shame. But the greatest part of me remains deeply disappointed that he kept retreating back into self-loathing.

Alas.

Little Richard, Tutti Frutti:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Why I hate hay fever reason #6529 (plus reason 3786 & 3113 & 2488 & 2149 & 1364, and don’t forget #47)

icanhascheeseburger.come

Except I’m too grumpy to remember to say please.

I was going to have a new entry in my why I love sf/f series today, but I needed to have time and energy to finish it Wednesday night, and that didn’t happen. I felt rotten all day Wednesday. I don’t want to get into all the symptoms, but not all of them are the sorts most people would associate with hay fever, and while some of them might happen if one has contracted the novel coronavirus…. and many weren’t. I didn’t have what any medical person (except my GP of more than 2 decades) would consider a fever—normally my body temperature ranges from 94-point-something to about 97-point-something if I’m not sick. My temperature very rarely goes above 98 unless I’m sick.

So for the last few days I had some weird symptoms, and yesterday they intensified and my temperature kept running above 98. And, as I said, I just felt bad overall. Very early after waking up I got some very stressful (and irritating) news at work, and the work day just kept getting more and more stressful. Wednesday is what I usually call my meeting hell day, anyway, with three half-hour meetings and two one-hour meetings every Wednesday (frequently running over), plus another one hour meeting on alternate Wednesday. Yesterday had the biweekly meeting plus an urgent extra meeting. And it was a day I was supposed to release a documentation set. Which means I’m trying to keep working during every meeting.

All of which contributed to the stress. And since the stress started so early in the day, there was no way to know how much of my feeling rotten was because of yet another day of moderate-high pollen count kicking my allergies up, how much because I had caught some kind of bug, and how much was because of the stress.

I got through the day. I hit my deadline. Some compromises were agreed to for some of the infuriating issues. And I was exhausted and still feeling rotten. I had planned to attend the Virtual Silent Reading Party again. What I actually did, after the takeout my husband picked up for us for dinner, was log into the party, then curl up with pillows and a blanket where I could hear the piano music…. and slept for a bit over four hours.

When I woke up, my temperature was back down to 97.3. I didn’t feel good, but I felt a whole lot less awful. I was awake for a while and tried to finish the blog post, but I just couldn’t string words together. This morning when I woke up, many of the symptoms had subsided. My temperature was 96.1. I felt much, much better.

The pollen count today is much lower today than yesterday.

The game that I usually wind up playing for the ten-ish months out of most years that pollen, spore, and/or mold counts are high enough to trigger my hay fever is “Cold or Allergies?” The first few days of even a severe cold are impossible to distinguish from a bad hay fever day. Because on a bad hay fever day I won’t just have sinus congestion and itchy eyes. I can have a cough. I can have gastrointestinal symptoms.

This year the game is “Cold, COVID, or Allergies?” And it’s just about every single day since early February. And it’s exhausting.

I still don’t know what was going on yesterday. Did I catch a bug when I went out to pick up a prescription a few days before? A minor virus that only took my body a couple of days to defeat? Was that plus the hay fever and the stress the whole explanation? Did I catch something worse than a minor virus, one that made me feel sick for a few days and now the symptoms are subsiding not because I’ve completely over come it. So am I contagious with whatever it is?

I don’t know. Fortunately since I’m already working from home, washing my hands a bazillion times a day, wearing a mask whenever I go out, and so forth, I’m not likely to infect anyone if I do have something, whatever it is…

Knock wood.

Confessions of the child of rednecks, or, not all kids had access to the same resources

This first dictionary I ever owned…

I want to talk about a personal sore point. Many times over the years I have made disparaging remarks about things other people did not know which I thought were common knowledge. I realize that I really shouldn’t. Especially because I get my own dander up when people are dismissive of any comments I have made about certain deficiencies in my own education which I am well aware of. One specific phenomenon is that there are words that I encountered in various books I read as a child, but it was many years later before I ever heard another human speak them outloud. I had been able to infer the meaning of the word from the context in which it was used. In my head I pronounced it based on what I thought the spelling implied. But sometimes I was wrong about that.

On more than one occasion when I have explained that (and trust me, I feel super embarrassed when I realize I have reverted to the incorrect pronunciation), someone has pointed out that the pronunciation is available in dictionaries. And that just makes me feel even more embarrassed but also more than a bit angry.

I am obsessed with dictionaries. I own more than five bookshelves of various dictionaries, for instance, and a rather large number of unabridged dictionaries. But here’s the thing: that’s me, as an adult pushing sixty who has had the luck to work in the tech industry for decades and make a decent living. I have access to dictionaries now, yes, but I didn’t always. And I am not, by any means, the only kid for which this is true.

I’ve mentioned before that my father worked in the petroleum industry, one consequence of which is that I attending ten different elementary schools in four different states. My dad’s specific job title throughout my elementary years was “roughneck.” The pay wasn’t great. It was a heavy labor job with no union benefits.

In second grade we moved from a town in central Colorado that had a really well-funded public school system to a town in southwest Nebraska which had a less advanced school system. The first day I got to go to the school library I saw that they had a large unabridged dictionary on a pedestal that was too tall for me to reach it. When I tried to get to it, the librarian stopped me and explained that only kids fourth grade and up were allowed to use that dictionary, because it was printed on very delicate paper that us clumsy second-graders would surely tear if we tried to use it.

I was so incensed that I wasn’t allowed to use the dictionary in the library, that I complained about it for many days after to anyone who would listen. My Sunday School teacher was so moved by my righteous outrage that she found the dictionary pictured up above. When she brought it to me, the spine was gone, but all the pages were there. She told me that this way I would have my own dictionary.

Mom helped me patch the broken spine with masking tape. The dictionary was not as thorough as the unabridged dictionary at the library. There are just a lot fewer words in that dictionary than the other. Also, most words had one simple definition, which means that for some words a lot of the less common meanings of words just weren’t included. Don’t get me wrong, I was ecstatic to have a dictionary of my own. Unfortunately, many of the times I needed to consult it (when I found a word in something I was reading where I couldn’t deduce the meaning from context) the word I was curious about wasn’t in the book.

Mom bought this dictionary at a used bookstore.

A bit over a year (and three towns) later, Mom decided to get her GED. I’ve mentioned before that my parents were only 16 years old when they married. Mom dropped out of school after her junior year, because she was pregnant by then. Anyway, for the GED classes she was taking she needed a dictionary, and she decided that she should have one of her own, rather than swiping her son’s, so she bought that dictionary. For the next many years there were two dictionaries in the house. The one Mom bought wasn’t much better than the one I owned. But sometimes when a word wasn’t in one, it was in the other, so that was an improvement.

I didn’t get access to an unabridged dictionary until the second half of fourth grade. But even then, it was only when I could go to school library. The town we lived in for the next couple of years did not have a public library. So the school library was the only option.

And I know that there are many, many kids who had less access to those sorts of educational resources than I had. And on some level it doesn’t matter that many of us got better access when we are older, some things we learn as kids will occasionally surface when we get older.

So, sometimes our childhood deficiencies continue to bite us in the butt for decades later.

Back to the two dictionaries pictured above. Many years after getting that first dictionary, I carefully removed the horribly deteriorated masking tape and constructed a new spine with acid-free book tape. That’s my handwriting on the spine. Specifically, that is me trying my best to write legibly. Infer from that what you will about how sloppy my penmanship is.

Many, many years later, Mom mentioned that the dictionary she’d bought herself was the only one she owned, so for her next birthday I bought her a much more comprehensive Merriam-Webster dictionary. Some time after that, when we were visiting for a holiday or something, Mom brought out the old dictionary and said she never used it anymore because the newer one was much nicer. She was thinking of getting rid of the old one, but before she did, she wanted to offer it to me. Of course I took it.

I sometimes wonder just how much that incident in second grade when a librarian told me I wasn’t allowed to touch the unabridged dictionary has contributed to my obsession with dictionaries.

Who knows?

Talking to myself – it’s how some of us think, okay?

“If you see me talking to myself, do not disturb. I'm having a staff meeting.”

(Click to embiggen)

I don’t know how young I was, precisely, when my parents decided to talk to me about my imaginary friend. It was sometime before I started kindergarten, but I don’t know how long. I also don’t know if either of them thought I was already too old for that sort of thing, because the conversation very quickly went south, as I explained, quite emphatically, that I didn’t have an imaginary friend. I was talking, I said, to the voices in my head.

That was not a phrase my dad was at ALL happy to hear come out of his son’s mouth.

What I understood, even then, was that the voices were different parts of me. I was processing things by having a discussion with myself. I knew that the voices weren’t really voices. I knew that the voices were just different ways of looking at the situation I was thinking about or considering. I didn’t think that I was getting messages from god or something. I knew that all I was doing was thinking.

But I didn’t quite have the conceptual framework to explain that. So what my dad perceived was that I was confessing to suffering from severe delusions or some other mental illness… and you may recall from some earlier blog posts about my evil grandmother, Dad was raised by a woman who believed two contradictory myths about mental illness: 1) that it isn’t a real illness, and 2) mental illness was a form of immorality that was evidence of bad blood in a family. And my evil grandmother had opposed my parents’ relationship (and tried to engineer a divorce after they married many times), because she believed my mom’s family was nothing but bad blood (with the odd exception of one maternal great-grandmother that I have never quite unpacked).

In short, Dad went ballistic. I was never, under any circumstances, to tell another person about these voices! And if he caught me talking to myself in circumstances where anyone outside the immediate family heard, I would be punished. And yes, than means that several times over my elementary school career, I got a beating because a teacher mentioned at parent-teacher conference or report guard about me talking to myself at school or on the playground.

It wasn’t something I was doing on purpose. Being inside my head is like sitting in a crowded conference room. There are constant conversations going on inside there about everything from what I am seeing or listening to at the time, any number of work and personal projects, anything I have read recently, and so on.

No amount of shaming and beating would stop my brain from working that way.

I did become increasingly careful about trying to keep the conversations inside my head. To this day, under many circumstances, if someone overhears me talking to myself, I feel extremely embarrassed.

But inside my head, the committee just keeps going on.

And the voices have their own personalities, usually represented by taking on the voice of various actors/characters from various movies/TV shows/et cetera. Some have changed. For most of my childhood and well into my twenties, the practical and sensible voice sounded like Walter Cronkite. Somewhere around season three or four of Star Trek: the Next Generation that voice morphed into Patrick Stewart’s voice.

The most dramatic change was the voice that thinks most of the socially inappropriate and sexual innuendo-laden thoughts. From puberty until one particular fateful night in my late teens, the voice always sounding like comedic actor, Paul Lynde. Then, when two older friends took me to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show for the first time, suddenly that voice became Tim Curry as Dr Frank N Furter and it has never changed.

I started writing at a fairly early age, too (5 year old me tried to write a collection of stories based on my stuffed animals, entitled “Uncle Bunnys” {note misspelling} which thankfully is lost to the mists of time). And as I began creating my own stories, various characters I created became new voices in my head. And some of them love commenting on my real life, so I don’t just hear them when I’m thinking about stories or trying to write them.

They also, I should note, love to comment on the actions of fictional characters in any movie, show, or story that I take in.

The worst is when I am working on one of my one stories, and then a character of my own that doesn’t even exist in that world feels the need to chime in and tell the character I’m writing at the moment that they are doing it wrong. Whatever it is.

For many years I have had to warn new co-workers that when I’m deep in a problem, I mutter to myself a lot. And if the computer or software I’m working with (or something I’m reading) vexes me, my muttering swears like a sailor. One coworker I shared a cube wall with for a few years laughed when I warned him, “Join the club!” And yes, after that we got in the habit of commenting on each other’s muttered swearing when we heard it.

Some years ago when I was explaining this, someone asked how it was possible to think if there are voices always going on. I tried re-explaining that the voices were me thinking, but they didn’t quite get it. So I wound up asking a question that I’m sure he thought was me being flippant: “How on earth to you manage it without any voices?”

More seriously, I think the part I was failing to convey is that when I get in a groove on a task, most of the voices go quiet. I’ve made a decision and now I’m executing it.

I also realized that this might be why I’ve have always done a better job at writing or drawing or painting if I’m listening to music. It’s like any of the excess processing power my brain might otherwise use to second guess what I’m doing has been taken up with processing the song I’m listening to.

But that’s just a guess. In the end, it’s all just me.

And seriously, I have a hard time understanding sometimes how anyone whose brains don’t work this way manage to figure anything out.

%d bloggers like this: