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.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:
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”.
President Barack Obama Celebrates LGBTQ+ Equality (Clip) | Logo TV:
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Black Trans Lives Matter | Full Frontal on TBS:
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The Kinsey Sicks: The Sound of Sirens (Simon & Garfunkel Parody):
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Show Me Your Pride – By Miss Coco Peru – OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO:
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This Is Me | Boston Gay Men’s Chorus:
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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 2Grandma 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.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
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.
I used to sometimes write April Fool’s posts. My rules were 1) that the joke couldn’t be something that would alarm people if they didn’t realize it was a joke, 2) the butt of the joke always had to be me, 3) nothing related to any disaster or illness or danger to anyone.
But even when I tried to stick to those rules, a couple of times one friend or another wouldn’t realize it was a joke right away and sometimes read something between the lines.
With the world in the middle of a deadly pandemic, with a President fond of spouting false information (and who is more concerned with the TV ratings of his press conferences than the thousands of severely ill citizens), this really isn’t a time to write parodies or satires of current events.
So, no jokes from me. No linking to any parody articles. It’s Wednesday. It happens to be the first day of the fourth month of the year. Which happens to be the day that a writing activity I often participates starts.
Therefore, I wanna talk about Camp NaNoWriMo. That’s right! It’s April, and that means an opportunity to do a writing project with the help, encouragement, and maybe even a little competition with friends near and far!
The non-profit that organizes National Novel Writing Month every November also sponsors two related events, one in April and one in July, called Camp NaNoWriMo. You set your own word count goal, can set up writing groups so you and your writing buddies can cheer each other on, and so forth.
With the goals being self-defined, one might wonder what the point is. I like having the expectation that I’ll publish my word-count (or number of words revised, or whatever) regularly. It is fun having a few people to watching and available to commiserate with, as well.
My previous forays at Camp NaNo have met with varying degree of success. This time around I mostly just need something to motivate me to work on my fiction at all. I’ve been quite bad at it. The last thing that I set out and finished was the Christmas Ghost story.
In these trying times, lots of people turn to the arts (if you’re binge watching shows on line, catching up on those audio books you’ve been meaning to get to, et cetera to get through a shelter-in-place or related ordered lockdown, you’re turning to the arts) in times of crisis. And so some of us should try to make more art, as well.
Wanna give it a whirl?
Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou!
Beannachtaí na Nollag!
Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus un laimīgu Jauno gadu!
Felix Dies Nativitatus!
Mariah Carey – All I Want for Christmas Is You (Make My Wish Come True Edition):
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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!
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.
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.
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.
Some years ago I found myself in a weird conversation, trying to explain what it was about a certain kind of holiday movie that my Mom loves—she records dozens of them off of certain cable channels and likes to re-watch them. They make my skin crawl, and when I was trying to explain why, the friend kept pointing to a lot of Christmas movies I love that, to them, induced the same sort of eye-rolling they experienced when I described the ones I don’t like.
There were a couple of reasons for the communication mismatch, but I’ve since realized that the biggest one was that I hadn’t correctly identified what was fundamentally common to all these movies that bugged me: most of them are built around some variation of the premise that the only place where people who truly love and understand you is the community in which you grew up.
And for a whole lot of us—especially queer people—that is the absolute opposite of truth.
The real truth is that, here in the big city far away from any of the small towns I grew up in, I am far less likely to have a stranger react with obvious disgust if I introduce my husband as my husband—let alone have them immediately correct me that Michael is my friend. But that’s the reaction I often get not from strangers, but from people who claim to be friends back home.
So, I want to be clear: I have a lot of fond memories of my childhood. There are many people I knew back that that I genuinely loved and admired at the time, and many for which I still feel fondness. But for too many of them it is at best a bittersweet fondness. Because when a person who formed a big part of my life refuses to accept that the person I love and have committed my life to is my spouse—when they claim to still love me yett disapprove of the person I love (not because of who he is, but because of his gender), when they vote for politicians who want to take away what legal rights I have, when they openly talk about how legalizing my relationship is going to result in hellfire raining down on the land—it’s more than a little difficult to believe in their love.
I love my mother. I love my sister. I love my aunts and many other relatives. But I also know that to varying degrees they don’t support my right to live my life openly as a queer person. When I visit the small town where many of them live—the place where I graduated from high school and attended the first part of college—I feel on edge and defensive. And it’s not me being paranoid. From the anti-gay bumperstickers to the casual political comments, it is very clear that some of them only tolerate my presence so long as they don’t realize what I am.
For many of us, our families of origin remain what we might generously call a demilitarized zone—a place where a kind of cease-fire is enforced, though a cold war continues, and unmarked minefields abound.
So that’s why certain holiday movies and songs don’t quite resonate with me the way they do to some. The towns where I grew up aren’t where I’m most likely to find the sunshine of a friendly face. Our blood relatives are not where the light of unconditional love gleams.
So for many of us, the home sweet home is the place we went to when we escaped those communities. The people with whom we are happy in a million ways are the friends and found family we have assembled since growing up and leaving behind the narrow-minded denizens of our communities of origin.
I can get as sentimental and schmaltzy as can be about the family I have found and built since learning to be my true self and live openly. And that might induce eye-rolling for some, but it is not, by any means, something that makes one’s skin crawl.