Archive | life RSS for this section

It’s not the truth that confuses kids, or, reflections from a closeted queer childhood

“My hot take on LGGT 'education' (aka legally being allowed to mention that not everyone is cishet in a school without losing your job) is that if your kid is old enough to make fun of other kids by calling them gay, they're old enough to be told that they're being a bigoted little shit.” —@Neeerts

(Click to embiggen)

I get extremely tired of hearing the lament, “But children will be confused!” thrown out any time anyone suggests that maybe it might be all right for movies or TV shows or books or just adults who happen to be near children to admit that queer people exist. It is not the existence of same sex married couples that confuses children. It is not the existence of transgender people that confuses children. It is not the existence of nonbinary people that confuses children. It is not the existence of asexual people that confuses children. What confuses children is when adults lie to them and then try to obfuscate it. And that includes lying by omission by trying to keep children from knowing that any of those things exist.

And the thing is, the people who most adhere to this idea of protecting children from even knowing that non-cisgender or non-heterosexual people exist all do a really poor job of that. Because I guarantee you that the children of those parents are the ones at school bullying any classmate who seems gender-nonconforming by calling them homo or sissies or some other slur. Kids may or may not understand the intricacies of adult relationships, but they glean and infer a whole lot about same aspects of sex and romance and related topics from the adults around them.

Some adults seem to completely forget what it was like when they were children. And that manifests in a couple of different ways. To illustrate, I’ll tell the story of two playdates.

Now, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word “playdate” meaning “a play session for small children arranged in advance by their parents” didn’t come into the language until 1975, and these two stories from my childhood predate that (one happened in 1969, and other in 1971). And I’m not sure that 9-year-olds or 10-year-olds fall into the definition of small children, but the idea was mostly the same.

The first one happened early in the third grade. It was the first time I recall that my Mom took me to the home of one of my friends from school or church for the explicit purpose of letting us kids hang out. Mom also visited with my friend’s mother for a bit before taking my little sister to some other event, but I and my friend hanging out was the purpose of the trip. It was a fun evening, we spent most of the time in his room talking about comic books, as I recall. No big deal. Eventually Mom came back to pick me up. We went home. We had a few more similar get-togethers like that, usually with me being dropped off at his place, but it least one time his parents dropped him off at ours.

The second one happened in the middle of fourth grade. Because of my dad’s work in the petroleum industry, we had moved three times between these two playdates. Two of the moves involved crossing a state boundary. All three moves involved me being enrolled in a new school. At some of those intervening schools, we hadn’t remained in the area long enough for me to make much in the way for friends. At the third place, though, I quickly became very good friends with a classmate. Both of us were in orchestra (it was the first year I could join), and our mothers had met when they came to pick us up after practice.

So eventually, a plan was made when my classmate would be dropped off at our place for an evening. But the plan quickly became weird. Dad and a few other people made strange comments. I was getting teased about this friend.

Why? Because she wasn’t a boy.

When she was dropped off, her dad made some comments that made both Dad and Mom laugh, but just confused me. Most of the fathers of kids I’d known most of my life had owned guns. So why did her dad tell me about his gun and how handy it was to get to?

We spent most of the time sitting at the dining room table talking about our favorite books (she and I shared an adoration for The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew). At the end of the evening, Mom drove my friend home and I rode along so we could keep talking. When we pulled up in front of her house, Mom told me that I was supposed to walk my friend to the door. I said, “Sure.” We both got out of the car and walked up to the front door. I remember that her family’s dog was barking really loud in the house, and she made a comment about how we needed to make sure the gate was latched, in case the dog got out of the house.

We walked up to the porch. She said, “Good night.” I said, “See you at school!” She opened the door and went inside. I walked back to the car. I spent at least half a minute making certain I had latched the gate correctly, then I got into the car.

And Mom was very angry at me. “When you walk a girl to the door, you don’t just leave her there and walk away! You’re supposed to go inside and thank her parents for letting her go out with you!”

“I didn’t know that.” All of those times the year before when the other friend and I had gotten together, neither of us had been sent in to thank the others’ parents for letting us hang out. Why was this different?

There was some additional fallout, including a lot of teasing at school the following week. The upshot was that my friend didn’t want me to talk to her any more in class or at orchestra rehearsal. I was very confused about the whole thing. Not because I didn’t know why the other kids were teasing us. I knew what “girlfriend” and “boyfriend” meant. But I also knew that those words didn’t describe our relationship—we really were just two orchestra nerds who liked reading! Once that teasing started, I at least had a slightly better idea of what some of the weird comments from adults beforehand had been about.

Vintage photo of two men sitting in a forest and kissing. “Men May Kiss Men”

(Click to embiggen)

I have no idea if the boy I was friends with during the first part of third grade was also queer. At the time I didn’t know that I was, for goodness sake! It is true that one of the reasons we got along so well is because we both tended to be frequent victims of the same playground bullies, so maybe he was. Or maybe we were both just 9-year-old comics nerds who happened to hit it off. But none of the adults around us ever worried about us both being in either his or my bedroom with the door closed for several hours. No one’s dad made shotgun jokes when we got together. At the time, I had no interest in kissing other boys (that would come up a couple years later, when puberty hit like a freight train), and certainly had never thought of kissing him. We were just two guys who thought Spiderman was cool.

But everyone, including apparently our own parents, assumed I and the second friend were romantically interested. I can’t speak for her, of course, but since I’m not merely gay, I’m really most sincerely gay, that was the furthest thing from my mind. And 10-year-old me was just happy to have found someone who liked reading some of the same books as I did.

To circle back to the opening topic: People who assume that grade school children are too young to know about romance and such are the same people who call small boys “lady killers” and cute baby girls “future heartbreakers.” They are the same people who assume any time a young boy is friendly with a girl that it’s a crush. They are the same people who make those stupid shotgun jokes.

If the kids are old enough to hear bullies calling other children “fags” or “homos” or “sissies”, they are old enough to know that actual LGBTQ+ people exist, that they are members of their community, and that they are humans who deserve respect and love just as much as anyone else. If kids are old enough for adults to tease them about their supposed girlfriends/boyfriends, they’re old enough to know that sometimes a guy can have a boyfriend or even a husband, that sometimes a gal can have a girlfriend or even a wife.

Confessions of a former self-loathing closet case

“Homophobia Kills. Homophobia can lead to a slow and painful death. Homophobia seriously harms people around you. Homophobia in the familiy can lead to teen suicides.”

Quit being a homophobe (click to embiggen)

There are people who firmly believe that because of the saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” that the only aspects of homophobia that cause harm are actual physical assaults, targeted arson, and the like—and that any of us who push back on anything less than a physical attack are overreacting. Not just overreacting, they say that us calling out the homophobes is worse than the original homophobia. And that’s just bull. Pointing out that a person is acting or saying bigoted things is not worse or somehow less civil than the original bigoted actions, comments, or policies. Facing blowback for things you do and say, especially in the public square, does not make you a victim. And while it is possible for a reaction to be disproportionate, there isn’t a simple, objective way to measure that disproportionality. But what I can say with certainty is, if you’re one of those people who have ever used that “sticks and stones” philosophy to excuse someone being a bigot, you have no right to criticize any words that are sent back to the bigot as being out of line.

All of this is true even if the bigot in question happens to also be a member of the community the bigot is expressing bigotry toward.

I’ve started a blog post with this title several times over the last two years, and then trashed most of it—usually extracting a small part out to use as the basis of a slightly less provocative blog post. A pair of news stories crossed my stream within the last week that got me thinking about this again, and once again I pulled this out of the drafts and tried to start writing it. I am not going to link to the news stories in question for reasons I hope become clear. The reason I have toned down previous blog posts on this topic can be summed up by something I saw this morning on twitter from Alexandra Erin, a writer and satirist I follow, in reference to a completely unrelated topic: “…when you put something out in the world, you are responsible for how it lands.”

Erin is talking about satire and how easily it can be misunderstood, but the principle applies to all writing. It doesn’t matter whether I intend something to hurt someone else, if it hurts them, it is still my fault. That doesn’t mean the intention doesn’t matter, it means that intentions don’t negate the fallout. Here’s a simple example (which I think I first read in a blog post on tumblr, but I don’t remember for certain): say you’re an adult tasked with watching some small children playing on a playground. One kid, in their excitement, inadvertently bumps into another kid, who falls off the jungle gym and skins their knee. Do you run up to the crying kid with the skinned knee and lecture them they they shouldn’t cry because the other kid didn’t mean it? No. You clean up the skinned knee, you comfort the hurt child, you caution the other kid to be more mindful of what they’re doing, and you have them apologize for their carelessness.

I’ve written more than once about self-hating closet cases who cause harm to our community and whether they deserve our sympathy. The whole reason they are self-hating is because of the homophobia they faced growing up. Our society is steeped in toxic notions about what is and isn’t acceptable for one to be interested in depending on one’s gender. And just as toxic notions about mannerisms—including how one talks and walks—that are acceptable depending on your gender. Not all queer people are obviously gender non-conforming (and not all gender non-conforming people are gay), but gender non-conforming kids are bullied and harassed. Even the gender conforming queer kids are hurt by that, because they know that if anyone finds out about their same-sex crushes or whatever, that they will be subjected to the same kind of hatred from some classmates, some teachers, and some family members.

We are taught from a very early age to loath ourselves and to expect loathing from others. For many of us, the need to deflect at least some of that loathing causes us to denounce and participate in the shunning and bullying of others. Because if we denounce the faggots loudly, no one could possibly believe we’re queer ourselves, right?

Which means that I feel a lot of guilt for some of the things I said and positions I endorsed in my early teens.

So yes, I feel a lot of sympathy for kids who are living in terror inside those closets. The sympathy starts to go away when those kids grow up, are exposed to examples of how life can be better out of the closet, but they continue to attack other queer people even while cowering inside their own closet. There is a bit of pity, sometimes, but the longer they are exposed to better information (sexual orientation isn’t a choice, all those stories about health issues for queers are myths, queer people can live healthy and happy and long lives, et cetera), they less they deserve our consideration.

And that doesn’t change if they happen to come out of the closet but still insist on vilifying and otherwise attacking their fellow queers. A young man who comes out of the closet but lends his voice and face to campaigns to deny civil rights to his fellow queers—who goes on national news shows and records political ads saying, “I’m a gay man, and I agree with these people that think gay people don’t deserve equal rights” isn’t simply expressing an opinion. He is contributing to the hostile environment that sometimes literally kills other queer people.

Because we’ve long had proof—from medical studies first conducted by a Republican administration—that contrary to that sticks-and-stones saying, words do hurt. All that anti-gay rhetoric leads to the death of hundred of queer and gender non-conforming kids every year, among other very real harms.

So-called homocons who assist anti-gay organizations in oppressing other queer people should not be surprised when they face blowback. Queers and allies standing up for themselves in the face of that oppression are not bullying. It isn’t a both sides thing, it’s self-defense. Particularly in a case where, say, the adult homocon who has already appeared on TV more than once to denounce gay rights campaigns, then leads a bunch of haters in a loud protest angrily chanting anti-gay slogans at a children’s event. That isn’t a “morally ambiguous transgression” it’s despicable—plain and simple. Especially when you go on TV again to defend your actions.

When other people call out the bigotry, that’s not mob violence, that’s consequences. Maybe you should have thought about that before agreeing to go on TV. Again.

Yes, when we say things we are responsible for how they land, regardless of our intentions. But that’s a two-way street. And when a self-loathing queer who assists bigots has been given a number of chances over a few years to reconsider his hateful words and deeds, there comes a point when there is no one to blame for any of the consequences except himself.

Confessions of a self-reconstructed queer

“Your idea of me is not my responsibility to live up to.”

“Your idea of me is not my responsibility to live up to.”

One of the stories of the week in the most recent Friday Five was a link to a series of tweets where Alexander Leon, a writer and human right activist, talked about an aspect of coming out that lots of people don’t understand, and many queer people seldom talk about. The tweets were an attempt to sum out an essay he had written but had never gotten published. Towleroad has subsequently published the entire essay (along with some cute yet informative pictures from Leon’s childhood): Out of the Closet and Into the Fire — How I Stopped Performing and Fought to Become Myself.

Queer people don’t grow up as ourselves, we grow up playing a version of ourselves that sacrifices authenticity to minimise humiliation & prejudice. The massive task of our adult lives is to unpick which parts of ourselves are truly us & which parts we’ve created to protect us.
—Alexander Leon

This is a topic I’ve touched on a few times before, but usually buried in a discussion about people who were part of our lives when we were closeted and how they react when we come out. Specifically, the idea that some of our loved ones didn’t actually love our true self, but rather they loved the mask or facade (or as Leon calls it, armor) that we had adopted in an attempt to protect ourselves from the bullying as well as the much more subtle forms of homophobia.

That particular bit manifests in many ways. Some of them talk about how we’ve changed so much they don’t recognize us any more. Some of them get annoyed (or worse) any time we mention anything that reminds them we’re queer. And I do mean anything. “Why do you have to keep calling him your husband?” “Because that’s who he is? Would you be happy if I started referring to your spouse as ‘your friend’?”

Our family, our friends, are often not aware that life after the closet isn’t the simple relinquishing of our previous self and the effortless taking up of a new-and-improved queer persona, but rather a complex and arduous process of unlearning the often toxic ways in which we have dealt with negative feelings about ourselves and our place in the world. They see the closet door wide open and don’t understand how we could still be hurting.
—Alexander Leon

When, in the past, I’ve called it a mask, that implies that unlearning those coping/hiding behaviors is as simple as taking the mask off. Even the analogy of armor is somewhat misleading—unless you think of it as a kind of cyberpunk armor, which computer chips are surgically embedded in our bodies and wires go through us to connect to and control portions of the armor. It isn’t as simple as just taking off a set of armor and putting on a new ensemble of clothes. I don’t think it’s an accident that a disproportionate number of gay men claim the Star Trek: Voyager character Seven of Nine as one of their favorite characters.

It isn’t a simple process. One reason it is so difficult is because the false self we were constructing wasn’t just meant to fool potential bullies—we were also desperately trying to fool ourselves. That leaves us living in a super-charged imposter syndrome.

It’s not fun. I am deliriously happy with most aspects of my life. I’ve been successful in my career. I have somehow managed to get married to the most capable man in the world (who also happens to be incredibly funny, sweet, kind, smart—as more than one friend has said, he’s awesome and gives great hugs). I have amazing, talented friends.

But…

I’ve been completely out of the closet for just a bit over 28 years, now, and I still occasionally catch myself deflecting and dissembling in certain circumstances. There are still times when I find myself asking why I said something that I know I don’t really agree with or care about, and then realizing it’s on one of those topics—things someone once told me I’m supposed to like because that’s what men are interested in, or something I’m not supposed to like because it’s “girly.”

Which is really wild coming from a guy who was feeling proud of the big sparkly purble rhinestone earrings I’d picked to go with the dangly purple-wires-twisted-into-the-shape-of-steaming-coffee-mug earrings a friend gave me for Christmas; proud because more than one stranger I ran into that day told me that they liked my earrings.

Feelings are, by definition, irrational. One’s identity is a complex combination of feelings, thoughts, memories, and a whole bunch of subconscious supplements. Becoming who we are is an ongoing process of discovery and re-invention. It isn’t easy, but things that are worthwhile seldom are.

The third workday after Christmas vacation, or Three Kings Day and returning to mundania

In Western Christianity, the feast of Epiphany commemorates principally (but not solely) the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child, and thus Jesus' physical manifestation to the Gentiles. It is sometimes called Three Kings' Day, or Twelfth Night, and in some traditions celebrated as Little Christmas or the Twelfth Day of Christmas.

In Western Christianity, the feast of Epiphany commemorates principally (but not solely) the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child, and thus Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles. It is sometimes called Three Kings’ Day, or Twelfth Night, and in some traditions celebrated as Little Christmas or the Twelfth Day of Christmas.

Most years I try to take down all the Christmas decorations on New Year’s Day. And most years I don’t quite manage it. In those years where I don’t finish the undecorating on New Year’s, my fallback deadline is Epiphany/Three Kings’ Day. This year, I took down the outdoor lights as well as the lights and decorations in the windows on New Year’s Day, but didn’t get to the tree and other decorations until this last Saturday. And even worse, even though I took down the outdoor lights, I didn’t put them away. I did untangle and roll-up the light strings, but they were just stacked up in the living room for the two days that I went back to work last week.

That latter bit is tied to the rest of the undecorating. All the Christmas decorations, including the outdoor lights, are stored away in a set of smallish boxes carefully crammed onto the shelves in the walk-in closet. So the only way to put anything away is to pull out all ten boxes and open them up so things can be packed into the as I unwind the tree.

Since I took the tree down Saturday both Michael and I have commented on feeling a sense of disorientation when we walk past that part of the house. It’s a little worse this year because we also left the card table up much longer after the party this year. The last couple of years we extended the dining room table by putting the card table at the end of it. And while the dining room table had this dark red cloth table cloth, the coffee table got one of those green plastic temporary table cloths. So it look festive enough for the party, but sort of tacky afterward. This year, though, I picked up a long poinsettia and holly table cloth for the dining room table, and a shorter whit and gold snowflake one for the coffee table. So it looked much less tacky after the party… and I just left it there until this last weekend. So two different parts of the living room-dining room-library space that had been occupied by something furniture-ish are now empty. And it just feels weird.

Meanwhile, I’ve discovered what may be a new (and very unwanted) tradition. To explain it takes a bit of background: The first Christmas here in Shoreline, two years ago, was the first time after we downsized from the 20-some much bigger boxes full ornaments (also known as, the cumulative whackiness of 22+ years of choosing a new theme for the following year’s tree, scouring after-Christmas sales for discount ornaments that would match said theme, plus picking up or making new ornaments that following season to complete the theme). Even with the downsizing, we still have way more ornaments than are needed for or 7′ narrow artificial tree. So the decorating still involves choosing maybe not so much a full blown theme as an emphasis. The first year for basic color we put on only the red, green, and gold glass ornaments. Then any ornament that could be called arctic or antarctic (polar bears, penguins, snowy owls, seals, and all the Alaska Snow Babies, for instance). Plus a few faves that always go on no matter what.

That meant that a particular box of 12 red and green ornaments glass ball ornaments had gone on the tree. But when we were undecorating, I could only find 11 of the red and green glass balls. Before I boxed everything up and put them away, got Michael to help me search under furniture and such trying to find either the missing ornament or evidence of broken shards of the ornament. We couldn’t find either. Michael suggested the roomba might have pushed it into a spot in one of the back rooms that we hadn’t so carefully searched. So we put the boxes away, and I made sure that the box containing the other eleven was easy to get to, in hopes that we would eventually find the missing ball in some weird part of the house.

Two years later, still no sign of the 12th red and green ornament.

Last year, our second Christmas here, for basic color I pulled out all the purple and pink glass ornaments, and a lot of the Star Trek and Star Wars ornaments… but also some of our favorites. And again, when I was putting them away, a box set of 9 purple pine cones with silver glitter had gone on the tree, but I could only find 8 purple pine cones when we took the tree down. Again, neither of us could find the ornament underneath furniture or in weird corners of the room. So again we boxed everything and hoped it would turn up.

One year later, still no sign of the 9th purple pine cone.

This year I pulled out the ice and snow colored ornaments, plus anything that could be construed as a character from a story, and our usual favorites. Stories meant that this set of 6 Winnie-the-Pooh themed ornaments that consist of pressed board printed with colored illustrations from the original book, with pink-tinted scalloped edges went on the tree. Ice & snow meant that a set of blown glass ornaments that looking like inverted clear rain drops with hand-painted poinsettias around the “equator” of the broadest part of each drop also went on. When I was undecorating the tree, one of the rain drops broke in my hand (but I didn’t get cut!), which was sad, so the box with its six spots for the ornaments only has five ornaments, now. And I could only find five of the Winnie-the-Pooh ornaments.

So, once again, we have one missing ornament from a set that we can’t seem to find anywhere in the house.

Now, ornaments break and otherwise occasionally get lost, I get that. And maybe during the previous 22 years one ornament a year was the norm, and I just didn’t notice because we had so friggin’ many different sets; I don’t know. But this is beginning to annoy me. I mean, by now we should have found some sign of one of those lost ornaments somewhere in the house, right?

My New Year’s Wish for You, 2020

Love will save us.

We are told that love should be hidden, or private, or otherwise not talked about in the open. And some of the people who are most likely to repeat this horrible lie are people who claim to be followers of a carpenter from Galilee, who said that loving one another was the essence of his god’s commandments.

Love is love.

Anyone who tells you otherwise is an agent for evil. Don’t listen to them.

Stand up for those who are rejected by society as a whole. Stand up for the defenseless. Stand up and be counted.

Confess your love. There should be no shame in admitting that you love the people who make your life bearable, worth striving for, or better than it would be without then.

Proclaim your love.

And feel no obligation to defend those who are not willing to embrace and promote love—true love, not the empty promise of hypocrits who claim to love while they condemn the love of others and advocate stripping legal rights from others. Not “all sides” are equal, and no one with an actual moral compass thinks so, so don’t be drawn into that trap.

Love will save us.

Real love, not the love of hypocrites.

You will save us. Your love will save us. Embrace that truth and never let it go.

Love will save us.

Getting Meta and Merry on Boxing Day

More gay lights! Hey, it's right there on the box. It must be true!

More gay lights! Hey, it’s right there on the box. It must be true!

When I talked about why we have been avoiding visiting my family on major holidays the last few years, I realized that I haven’t emphasized quite enough a positive outcome of this. When I visit before Christmas to drop off presents, I usually wind up having long and very pleasant conversations with several of the relatives. That those conversations are mostly one-on-one means that I’m never quite sure what we’ll end up talking about.

Last spring, for instance I wrote about one form of gatekeeping that sometimes happens in publishing under the guise of believability. And as an example of things that some people find unbelievable, I went on a rambling discussion of some of the reasons I referred to my late paternal grandmother as Evil: Believability isn’t just about fiction, or Let me tell you about my Evil Grandmother. During two long conversations, one with Mom, and the other with Aunt Silly, we both got onto the subject of my two grandmothers.

And I was a little bit surprised that this Aunt—who had never been the daughter-in-law of my Evil Grandma—had a relevant story to add to Evil Grandma’s saga. I shouldn’t have been, because she had still been a teen-ager and living at home when Mom and Dad had starting dating. Both Mom and Dad had been in her wedding party when Aunt Silly got married. Aunt Silly had still been living in the same tiny town until maybe six months after both I and my almost-twin cousin were born. But for some reason it had never occurred to me that Aunt Silly would have had more than a few casual interactions with my Evil Grandmother.

First, the shortish version of Aunt Silly’s story (which involves a urinary tract infection that I had when I was only two months old). Evil Grandma had been babysitting me for the day, and was certain that the only reason I wouldn’t stop crying was because my Mom coddled me too much. But when the crying reached a point she couldn’t stand, she’d taken me to Nice Grandma’s house, where Aunt Silly happened to be with her own baby.

During the conversation with Nice Grandma, among the weird things Evil Grandma said was that there was no reason to check a baby’s diaper until a certain number of hours after she’d changed it last. And when both Aunt Silly (who admittedly had only been taking care of her first child for a couple of months) and Nice Grandma had expressed disbelief, Evil Grandma insisted that since I refused to eat, there had been no reason to check the diaper. And she had repeated the assertion that the real problem was Mom’s coddling

And whether the diaper was wet or not wasn’t the issue: it was that Evil Grandma had not noticed that parts of a baby’s body that shouldn’t be were bright red, and even when confronted with the evidence (and after a visit to the doctor and trip to the pharmacy), she remained insistent that it had been perfectly reasonable to assume the problem was Mom’s coddling rather than a medical issue.

Second: Mom’s story is an addendum to the tale that I called the Second Coda in the above linked post of the phone call to me from Evil Grandma when she was in a hospital, on a respirator, and thought she was about to die. After that rather dramatic call, I tried to get hold of my younger sister, because I had no idea if anyone had called her to tell her Evil Grandma had had a stroke. The number I had for my sister turned out to be no longer connected, so I’d called Mom.

A few days later, Mom says, she was trying to get an address to send a ‘get well’ card or something to Evil Grandma, and whoever she had gotten hold of at the hospital, instead of giving her the hospital’s mailing address, had transferred the call to Grandma’s room.

Grandma was no longer on the respirator at that point, and was talking a little bit better. Mom had not expected to actually be talking to Evil Grandma. Mom says, “After I told her who I was and she replied that she was surprised to hear from me, I just blurted out that I had heard she wasn’t well and wanted to make sure she knew that I forgave her, and hoped that she could forgive me of my part in our disagreements.” Evil Grandma had replied, “Thank you. I love you.”

And in other developments: As seems to happen every time I visit Mom, she offered me a bunch of odd things that used to belong to one of my grandmothers or great-grandmothers. Which makes me wonder, once more, how so many members of Mom’s side of the family seem to have a kind of Tardis-like ability to store an apparent infinite number of things in a couple of ordinary closets. I wound up saying “yes” to a couple of the things (but also “no” to a bunch of others). So now hanging on my Christmas tree are two pairs of bells that had been crocheted by my paternal great-grandmother.

And while I was hanging them up, I realized that while I have memories of both of my Great-grandmother’s Christmas trees, as well as Nice Grandma’s eclectic ornament collection, I can’t remember what Evil Grandma’s Christmas trees looked like. I have memories of looking through the presents under her tree, sometimes by myself, but also sometimes with Grandpa or Dad. Both of them were world champions at the art of carefully turning a package over and and around to try to figure out what was inside. Please note that I didn’t say shake—shaking is what amatuers do. You tilt is slowly this way and that, your fingers spread wide over the surface, so you can feel how whatever is inside moves. You can identify bits that are heavier. And especially if the package is big enough in comparison to the contents, you can hear the sound it makes as it slides when you tilt it.

Anyway, I know what corner of her living room that Evil Grandma put her tree every year, but I don’t recall what kinds of ornaments she had and so on. Which seems weird given both my life long obsession with Christmas decorations, and that almost ever single Christmas before my parents’ divorce was final (when I was 15 years old), was spent at her house.

But I can’t remember what her trees looked like. I realize that for Great-grandma SJ, Great-grandma I, and my Nice Grandma I happen to have photos of some of their Christmas trees—usually with me standing in front of the tree at various ages. I also own a couple of decorations that originally were owned by one of those three. So I’ve had something to refresh my memory for them.

Finally: my Nice Grandma liked to have all the family get together to celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve. And once she had moved back to southwest Washington, where a whole lot of extended family members lived nearby, she’d host this big get-together where relatives, in-laws, ex-in-laws, and friends would show up. You never knew who you would run into at Grandma’s Christmas Eve, because she collected strays her whole life.

There was a point when her health started making it difficult to handle all the cooking and such, so we’d shifted to most of the Christmas Eve get-togethers happened at my Aunt Silly’s house. Then Aunt Silly sold her house and moved into a much smaller place, so the next few years a cousin who had a big house hosted instead.

The first Christmas after Grandma died was… odd. Everyone said they wanted to get together for Christmas Eve but it wasn’t clear who would host it. The cousin who had hosted the last few years wanted someone else to do it. Apparently a couple of other cousins weren’t sure they wanted to make the drive. There was a point during the discussion when Aunt Silly apparently angrily said to one of her kids, “…now that Mother’s gone, I’m the matriarch of the family and I’m in charge!” Which eventually led to Aunt Silly inviting folks to her place—but not many showing up.

It happened to be one of the years that Michael and I spent Thanksgiving with Mom but stayed in Seattle for Christmas. So we didn’t show up at anybody’s get-together.

Since then no one has felt the need to make a concerted effort to get all of the cousins together for Christmas. And I get it. Most of my cousins are grandparents themselves, now. Just trying to spend time with most of their own kids and kids-in-law and grandkids is hard enough. When Grandma was alive she actually was the matriarch of this branch of the family, and it wasn’t that she ordered people to get together for Christmas Eve, it’s that at least down to my generation, we all wanted to stop in to see her and get one of her signature hugs. If you wanted to know where most of the family could be found on Christmas Eve, you called to ask Grandma where she was going to be.

I usually call her my Nice Grandma because, certainly by comparison to Evil Grandma, she was. But she was also stubborn and opinionated. Traits I inherited from her in abundance, by the way. Her stubbornness wasn’t about being inflexible—I’ve said before that if you presented a case for why you disagreed with her, she would sometimes change her mind, and even if she didn’t she would acknowledge that you had the right to make your own decisions. She wasn’t focused on always proving that she was right, her priority was simply never to give up on those that she loved.

She would explain why she was giving the advice, and what she thought would go wrong if you did it differently. She wasn’t always right. And she wasn’t always pleasant. But there she didn’t believe in treating anyone with disrespect. She was always trying to be kind. It would never have occurred to Grandma to tell other people that they were supposed to do what she said because she was “the matriarch of the family.”

I mean, if you have to pull rank? You’ve already lost the argument.

It’s Time for Mistletoe and Holly

Whatever holiday you celebrate, and however you celebreate it, I hope this week has been a time of joy and love for you and yours.

Merry Christmas!

Shabbat shalom!

Blessed Yul!

Joyous Kwanza!

Festive Festivus!

Happy Christmas!

Happy Hogswatch!

Feliz Navidad!

God Jul!

Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou!

Beannachtaí na Nollag!

Buon Natale!

Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus un laimīgu Jauno gadu!

Felix Dies Nativitatus!

BLACK SANTA TRADITION CONTINUES THRIVING IN SOUTH SEATTLE, CENTRAL DISTRICT.

This Children’s Book Is All About a Black, Gay Santa Claus.

Cat-astrophe averted: Longview firefighters resuscitate 4 cats after house fire.

The Pope’s Xmas Message: Don’t Be Such Dicks.

Dance Of The Sugar Plum Lesbians.

Mariah Carey – All I Want for Christmas Is You (Make My Wish Come True Edition):

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

Have some more tunes: https://youtu.be/oO851xeYslI

Getting underwear for Christmas doesn’t have to be a bad thing…

Another Rainbow Christmas!

“Merry Christmas! Shabbat shalom! Blessed Yul! Joyous Kwanza! Festive Festivus! Happy Christmas! Happy Hogswatch! Feliz Navidad! God Jul! Merry Impeachment! Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou! Beannachtaí na Nollag! Buon Natale! Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus un laimīgu Jauno gadu! Felix Dies Nativitatus!”

“Merry Christmas! Shabbat shalom! Blessed Yul! Joyous Kwanza! Festive Festivus! Happy Christmas! Happy Hogswatch! Feliz Navidad! God Jul! Merry Impeachment! Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou! Beannachtaí na Nollag! Buon Natale! Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus un laimīgu Jauno gadu! Felix Dies Nativitatus!”

Slice the pecan pie,
And don’t be stingy with the homemade whipping cream,
Crank up the music,
We’re gonna sing and laugh to drive the darkness away!

‘Cause we need a rainbow Christmas,
Right this very minute!
Egg nog at the brunch bar
With rum and brandy in it!

Yes we need a rainbow Christmas,
Right this very minute!
My lyrics may be getting slurry,
But Santa dear, we’re in a hurry!

So fling ’round the glitter!
Put up more twinkling lights than the whole Vegas strip!
No need for fruitcake,
We’ve got a great big table of deliciousness, here!

Cause we’ve grown a little rounder,
Grown a little bolder,
Grown a little prouder,
Grown a little wiser,

And we need some loving kindness,
Shared with those around us,
We need a rainbow Christmas now!

Fill every wine glass,
Then raise a toast of full lives, to each other and
Join in the laughter,
Because our joy can push through all the darkness and stife!

‘Cause we need a rainbow Christmas,
Right this very minute!
Cocktails at the brunch bar,
With brandied cherries in it!

And I need a toasty lover,
Snuggling by the fire,
I need a rainbow Christmas now!

Yes we need a rainbow Christmas now!

Carols and Kris Kringle—the fourth day of Christmas vacation

Monday I dashed down to southwest Washington to visit my Mom, drop off Christmas presents for her and other relatives, and generally spread the holiday cheer before coming back to spend Christmas with my husband1. I had a good time. I had a great visit with Mom, got to spend some time with my sister, was able to not-so-subtly make it clear to certain family members that I fully support the announcement my sister’s youngest made last year that they5 are nonbinary asexual without starting a fight, got to hang out with the niece’s two awesome children, and had a nice visit with the silliest aunt in the world6.

It was mostly a good day. I got up without sleeping in too long, I managed to get everything packed into the car close to my target exit time, and the drive down was uneventful.

The drive back was a different matter.

I got onto the freeway a bit after 9pm, and it was intermittently foggy. So I was in the right lane, traveling a teeny bit under the speed limit because visibility wasn’t great (but it also wasn’t bad). There were about about a dozen sets of tail lights ahead of me scattered randomly across the three lanes within the space I could see. And I was only a few miles north of the town where Mom lives when suddenly all of those vehicles started hitting their brakes. And even more disturbingly, starting sort of errtically zigging and zagging!

I hit my brakes and tried to slow way down. Before I’d gotten as slow as I wanted, out of the fog it came: the road was covered in debris as if at least one of the huge logs from the log trucks one frequently sees in that part of the state had be dropped across the road from a great height.

Some of the broken pieces of wood on the road were small enough that you might run them over and only run risk of blowing a tire or scratching the body of the car. Some were big enough that you would seriously damage your bumper and front end. So suddenly I was doing the mad dodging thing.

It was exciting but not at all in a good way!

About half mile further I saw some hazard lights flashing on the side of the road. I expected to see maybe the log truck that had lost the lot, or possibly someone pulled over with a flat. What was there was an ordinary freight truck, with the driver walking along the side with a flashlight looking at his undercarriage.

The car was driving fine, so I kept going, but kept the speed down further than I had before. I pulled over at the first rest stop and walked around the car with a flashlight looking for damage. I didn’t see any. I refilled my coffee mug and got back on the road.

Forty miles later at the next rest stop I pulled over because I’d had a lot of coffee by then, and needed the break. A guy standing outside as if he was waiting for someone in one of the restrooms said, “wild night to be driving, eh?” I asked if he was talking about the debris on the road between Longview and Castle Rock. “That and the fog!”

When he went by, there were state patrol cars and a sheriff’s truck on the scene directly people into one cleared lane, but it was still a bit freaky.

When I got back to the car, I noticed a text message from a friend asking that I call when I had a chance. So I called, and learned that there had been some very bad news8 for this friend. We spent a while talking about it. I hope I was able to be helpful.

I texted my husband to explain the delay, and then I got back on the road.

There was no more fog, and the rest of the trip was a breeze.

When I got home, Michael was still awake. We shared about out days, and found out that he had had a lot of mostly minor annoyances all day long. And that another person of our mutual acquaintance had gotten some bad news not unlike the news of the friend.

I’m always a bit keyed up after driving on the freeway. I seem to be really good at bottling up my anxiety about having an accident until I get home… then it all comes out. It was just a bit worse than usual. So I had to read soothing fanfic for about an hour and a half before I could turn the running hamsters in my head off and go to bed.

Now, it’s Christmas Eve. We have a plan for what we’re cooking tonight and tomorrow. I need to run to the grocery store for a couple of things this morning, but then I should be about to kick back, listen to my Christmas tunes, and be lazy for the rest of the day.

I hope we all have a merry and bright Christmas Eve!

Edited to Add: I gave this post the title I did for two reasons that I then completely forgot to mention: I was running out wearing a Santa hat everywhere I went on Monday, and carried presents into each house in this cool red Santa bag that Michael found somewhere some years ago. And then, during the ride home, there was a point where the shuffle on the iPod full of Christmas music started hitting particular favorites, and I had the sound up singing along to the songs. Even the one song that I used to think was kind of trite, but that always made Ray cry when it came up. Since he died (back in 1997), whenever the song comes up I start sobbing. But after the third or fourth time it happened, I decided to embrace it, so I sing along as loud as I can to it. There I was, driving through south Tacoma, tears streaming down my face, and not always hitting the right notes because it’s hard to control while you’re crying. Even with that song, singing Christmas carols for the last hour was a great way to end the trip.


Notes:

1. Folks have trouble understanding why we don’t come down for the holiday itself. It’s not that my relatives don’t accept my husband, it’s that they do that weird thing where they frequently spout off homophobic pronouncements as if they have forgotten that we are a pair of queer married men2. And if we happen to call them on it, they reply with an affrounted, “You can’t call me homophobic! I’ve told you I love you, right?”4

2. And then there is all the casual racism and mindless parroting of Fox news tropes—accompanied with the attitude that if we disagree we are being rude; or if we say something they disagree with we’re shoving our politics down their throat3 and how dare we compare the evil political thing we said with them simply stating the obvious?

3. As if the constant asserting of all the misogynist, racist, sectarian, anti-science, homophobic, transphobic dogma (along with the insistence that we’re not allowed to disagree) isn’t shoving things down our throats?

4. So to sum up: holidays with the family mean we are required to constantly keep our mouths shut and walk on eggshells, while dodging bullets and accepting the bombs, slings, and arrows with a smile. And that is just a really shitty way to spend a holiday.

5. They are 17 years old, and I am just astounded at the courage they have to come out in that community. I sure as heck was too scared when I lived there and was that age!

6. The weird thing is that if I’m dropping in to visit for a short time and it isn’t the actual holiday, those other topics just never come up. My theory is that because I’m stopping at their house for visit, they just never forget that I’m there. The concept of me, gay son/brother/nephew/uncle never slips into the background of their minds to blend into generic “family.” I think it’s also just a different dynamic when you don’t have the entire family sitting around for several hours7.

7. A very good friend suggested that when it’s more one-on-one they are afraid to bring it up, because they won’t have other people to back them up? And I can certainly see that for a couple of the cousins—but I don’t usually do the one-on-one thing with those particular relatives.

8. I know this is annoyingly vague, but it isn’t my news to share.

Everybody knows some turkey…

For most of the last 20 years I’ve been lucky enough to have the job flexibility (and enough paid-time-off) to take a few long weekends before Christmas and some time off around the holiday itself. The last several years I’ve taken all of the Fridays after Thanksgiving plus the week of Christmas (and usually through New Year’s Day). Now, one of the reasons I do that is because there are always extra tasks to do at this time of year: presents to acquire for those I love; shipping of some of those presents to far away places; food shopping for the get-togethers with friends; decorations to put up; any extra cleaning or repairs around the house that we realize need to happen because we are trying to put up decorations; et cetera. Not to mention that I write a Christmas Ghost Story every year. And then there are family obligations.

For reasons spelled out in some previous blog posts, we’ve been avoiding spending the actual holiday with my relatives. Which means that I pick a day off shortly before the holiday to drive down to my Mom’s house, drop off presents, visit with her, take her to dinner, and stop in briefly to see other family members that live in the same town. Then I come back home to my husband the same day, and we have the actual holiday just to ourselves.

So, even though technically I have been on vacation for several days, I haven’t had a single day that feels like a vacation. The first day I had to do final grocery shopping for the party, wrap presents, drop off Christmas stuff with a friend who was leaving town, do some of the cooking, and finish the ghost story. The next day we both had to finish cleaning the house, cook everything for the party, host the party (including my performance of the ghost story). And then do some of the cleaning before going to bed. The next day I needed to do more cleaning, turn some of the leftovers into soup for us to eat, watch my favorite football team lose a game they should have won handily, and wrap all the presents I’m taking to family. Then the next day I have to get up, pack the car, drive a couple hours down the freeway, do all the errands down there, drive a couple hours back.

And then it will be Christmas Eve. And at a minimum, there will be some cooking for us (and I’ll likely have to run to the store for something). And then on Christmas Day there will at a minimum be more cooking.

Please note: none of the above is meant to be a complaint or venting. These are all things I am choosing to do because I want to spend time with people that I love and so on. But, I have had more than one friend or acquaintance who has heard that I’m on vacation ping me to find out if we could do some fun activity on one of the aforementioned busy days. All four of them have been perfectly understanding of the fact that I’m all booked up for those days, so I am also not complaining about them.

What I am complaining about are the dang brain weasels in my own head that start trying to make me feel guilty and admit I am a total failure because I don’t have time for unplanned things for a few days.

And those weasels usually manifest as either the voice of my late nice grandmother or the voice of my late evil grandmother, each in their own way twisting the screws of guilt to the maximum.

I had a blast at the party. It is wonderful to see these friends, some of whom I have known and loved and been celebrating with for 34 years. I love seeing people enjoy food I have made. I love even more getting to eat wonderful things those friends bring to the party. I love chatting with and hearing those friends. I love the various performances some of them bring to answer the Ghost Story Challenge. I love seeing friend unwrap presents and express delight at their gifts.

I know there are going to be many fun moments while I’m doing my one-day zoom through with family. I know I will enjoy hanging out with my husband on Christmas Eve and whatever we decide to do that night (likely watch some Christmas movies). I know I will enjoy whatever I find in my stocking from Santa on Christmas morning. I will have fun as my husband and I open the presents from under the tree. I will enjoy whatever meals we make on those day.

All of this busyness isn’t without purpose or meaning. But sometimes at least some slices of my brain gets whiney about it. And I know I’m not the only one.

And yes, there will be some more busy days. I skipped our usual laundry day because we were prepping for the party, so one one of these coming vacation days there will be a reckoning for that. There will be more cleaning. There will be attempts to meet up with some of the friends we haven’t gotten to hang out with. There will be at least one trip to a movie theatre.

But there will also be at least a few mornings where I get to sleep in and be lazy for part of the day. I just don’t know exactly which ones, yet.

%d bloggers like this: