Tag Archive | life

“You’re going that way”

Interior: Gene’s mind, wee small hours of Saturday morning.

I’m dreaming. I’m hanging out with a friend who died not quite two years ago.

We have a lovely talk about things I’m writing now, people we both care about, things I’m worrying about.

We went for a long walk in a lovely wooded area.

We stopped to sit somewhere and look at the view. One of my favorite pencils is sitting on a table. Along with a bunch of very small slips of paper.

I start writing. I write an entire… something. A scene? A story? I’m not sure.

I look up.

She smiles.

I tell her it’s all finished. Then I look down, and see that all of the slips of paper covered with my writing are in a small box, but all jumbled.

“You’ll have to put them back into order,” she says.

“I can do that now,” I say. I look back up.

She’s standing again. In different, but still comfy clothes. “Yes, but not here,” she says. She points into the woods. “I’m going this way.” She points behind me. “You’re going that way.”

I look, and there is an ordinary road. One I sort of recognize. It looks a bit like the winding road down a hill that I used to drive on a lot when I was a teen-ager. I had three different friends who lived on the hill above the town we all attended school in, back then.

There is a car. It has one of the Lyft light things in the front. There is a driver, but I can’t really see him.

“But I don’t want to go back,” I say.

“I’m going this way,” she repeats. “You’re going that way.”

And I can see down at the bottom of the road home: my home, now. Where Michael and all of our friends are waiting.

“Oh,” I say.

And I wake up.

(My subconscious is never subtle, you know?)

Time to tell the Rabbit Story, or, what happened the day I was born

My dad stands outside on a snowy day, with a gun and his gun cleaning kit.

This picture of my dad was taken by my maternal grandmother the same year I was born.

Usually when I tell stories about my father, they aren’t pleasant. He was a physically and verbally abusive man for as long as I could remember. And I’ve often talked about the contrast between the man in whose home I grew up and stories that various relatives would tell about what he was like “before the bad times.” This is going to be one of those stories. While it is a story that was told with great warmth and fondness by more than one member of the family, I do feel obligated to offer a warning that the tale will include some discussion of near-fatal medical complications associated with childbirth, as well as the hunting and killing of animals many regard as cute, and related subjects.

The most entertaining version of this story was told by my maternal grandmother (aka Nice Grandma), who was Dad’s mother-in-law. The most disturbing version I ever heard was from my Dad. This retelling will adhere mostly to Grandma’s version, but a few details from all the versions contribute. Buckle up, mind the content warnings, and let’s begin… Read More…

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.

Perfect is the enemy of the good, or, how trying to be noble actually advances the cause of evil

“He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

“He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

There’s a topic I have commented on a few times, and have lately been feeling that I needed to do a much more in-depth post for, but I keep going down rabbit holes of various types each time I try. It hadn’t really occurred to me that one of the problems was that a crucial portion of the modern electorate is too young to have lived through some of the bad parts of our history, society, and political system that I (as an old fart) take for granted. So I kept not mentioning a lot of important background information in my rants. Fortunately, I happened across a wonderful post elsewhere that covered that ground as well as the points I was trying to make. So I am copying it below,

First there is an anonymous question:

I’m 21 and tbh feel like I can only vote for Bernie, can you explain if/why I shouldn’t? Thanks and sorry if this is dumb or anything

Then there is this incredible answer from qqueenofhades.tumblr.com:

Oh boy. Okay, I’ll do my best here. Note that a) this will get long, and b) I’m old, Tired, and I‘m pretty sure my brain tried to kill me last night. Since by nature I am sure I will say something Controversial ™, if anyone reads this and feels a deep urge to inform me that I am Wrong, just… mark it down as me being Wrong and move on with your life. But also, really, you should read this and hopefully think about it. Because while I’m glad you asked this question, it feels like there’s a lot in your cohort who won’t, and that worries me. A lot.

First, not to sound utterly old-woman-in-a-rocking-chair ancient, people who came of age/are only old enough to have Obama be the first president that they really remember have no idea how good they had it. The world was falling the fuck apart in 2008 (not coincidentally, after 8 years of Bush). We came within a flicker of the permanent collapse of the global economy. The War on Terror was in full roar, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were at their height, we had Dick Cheney as the cartoon supervillain before we had any of Trump’s cohort, and this was before Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden had exposed the extent of NSA/CIA intelligence-gathering/American excesses or there was any kind of public debate around the fact that we were all surveilled all the time. And the fact that a brown guy named Barack Hussein Obama was elected in this climate seems, and still seems tbh, kind of amazing. And Obama was certainly not a Perfect President™. He had to scale back a lot of planned initiatives, he is notorious for expanding the drone strike/extrajudicial assassination program, he still subscribed to the overall principles of neoliberalism and American exceptionalism, etc etc. There is valid criticism to be made as to how the hopey-changey optimistic rhetoric stacked up against the hard realities of political office. And yet…. at this point, given what we’re seeing from the White House on a daily basis, the depth of the parallel universe/double standards is absurd.

Because here’s the thing. Obama, his entire family, and his entire administration had to be personally/ethically flawless the whole time (and they managed that – not one scandal or arrest in eight years, against the legions of Trumpistas now being convicted) because of the absolute frothing depths of Republican hatred, racial conspiracy theories, and obstruction against him. (Remember Merrick Garland and how Mitch McConnell got away with that, and now we have Gorsuch and Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court? Because I remember that). If Obama had pulled one-tenth of the shit, one-twentieth of the shit that the Trump administration does every day, he would be gone. It also meant that people who only remember Obama think he was typical for an American president, and he wasn’t. Since about… Jimmy Carter, and definitely since Ronald Reagan, the American people have gone for the Trump model a lot more than the Obama model. Whatever your opinion on his politics or character, Obama was a constitutional law professor, a community activist, a neighborhood organizer and brilliant Ivy League intellectual who used to randomly lie awake at night thinking about income inequality. Americans don’t value intellectualism in their politicians; they just don’t. They don’t like thinking that “the elites” are smarter than them. They like the folksy populist who seems fun to have a beer with, and Reagan/Bush Senior/Clinton/Bush Junior sold this persona as hard as they possibly could. As noted in said post, Bush Junior (or Shrub as the late, great Molly Ivins memorably dubbed him) was Trump Lite but from a long-established political family who could operate like an outwardly civilized human.

The point is: when you think Obama was relatively normal (which, again, he wasn’t, for any number of reasons) and not the outlier in a much larger pattern of catastrophic damage that has been accelerated since, again, the 1980s (oh Ronnie Raygun, how you lastingly fucked us!), you miss the overall context in which this, and which Trump, happened. Like most left-wingers, I don’t agree with Obama’s recent and baffling decision to insert himself into the 2020 race and warn the Democratic candidates against being too progressive or whatever he was on about. I think he was giving into the same fear that appears to be motivating the remaining chunk of Joe Biden’s support: that middle/working-class white America won’t go for anything too wild or that might sniff of Socialism, and that Uncle Joe, recalled fondly as said folksy populist and the internet’s favorite meme grandfather from his time as VP, could pick up the votes that went to Trump last time. And that by nature, no one else can.

The underlying belief is that these white voters just can’t support anything too “un-American,” and that by pushing too hard left, Democratic candidates risk handing Trump a second term. Again: I don’t agree and I think he was mistaken in saying it. But I also can’t say that Obama of all people doesn’t know exactly the strength of the political machine operating against the Democratic Party and the progressive agenda as a whole, because he ran headfirst into it for eight years. The fact that he managed to pass any of his legislative agenda, usually before the Tea Party became a thing in 2010, is because Democrats controlled the House and Senate for the first two years of his first term. He was not perfect, but it was clear that he really did care (just look up the pictures of him with kids). He installed smart, efficient, and scandal-free people to do jobs they were qualified for. He gave us Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor to join RBG on the Supreme Court. All of this seems… like a dream.

That said: here we are in a place where Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren are the front-runners for the Democratic nomination (and apparently Pete Buttigieg is getting some airplay as a dark horse candidate, which… whatever). The appeal of Biden is discussed above, and he sure as hell is not my favored candidate (frankly, I wish he’d just quit). But Sanders and Warren are 85% – 95% similar in their policy platforms. The fact that Michael “50 Billion Dollar Fortune” Bloomberg started rattling his chains about running for president is because either a Sanders or Warren presidency terrifies the outrageously exploitative billionaire capitalist oligarchy that runs this country and has been allowed to proceed essentially however the fuck they like since… you guessed it, the 1980s, the era of voodoo economics, deregulation, and the free market above all. Warren just happens to be ten years younger than Sanders and female, and Sanders’ age is not insignificant. He’s 80 years old and just had a heart attack, and there’s still a year to go to the election. It’s also more than a little eye-rolling to describe him as the only progressive candidate in the race, when he’s an old white man (however much we like and approve of his policy positions). And here’s the thing, which I think is a big part of the reason why this polarized ideological purity internet leftist culture mistrusts Warren:

She may have changed her mind on things in the past.

Scary, right? I sound like I’m being facetious, but I’m not. An argument I had to read with my own two eyes on this godforsaken hellsite was that since Warren became a Democrat around the time Clinton signed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, she sekritly hated gay people and might still be a corporate sellout, so on and etcetera. (And don’t even get me STARTED on the fact that DADT, coming a few years after the height of the AIDS crisis where it was considered God’s Judgment of the Icky Gays, was the best Clinton could realistically hope to achieve, but this smacks of White Gay Syndrome anyway and that is a whole other kettle of fish.) Bernie has always demonstrably been a democratic socialist, and: good for him. I’m serious. But because there’s the chance that Warren might not have thought exactly as she does now at any point in her life, the hysterical and paranoid left-wing elements don’t trust that she might not still secretly do so. (Zomgz!) It’s the same element that’s feeding cancel culture and “wokeness.” Nobody can be allowed to have shifted or grown in their opinions or, like a functional, thoughtful, non-insane adult, changed their beliefs when presented with compelling evidence to the contrary. To the ideological hordes, any hint of uncertainty or past failure to completely toe the line is tantamount to heresy. Any evidence of any other belief except The Correct One means that this person is functionally as bad as Trump. And frankly, it’s only the Sanders supporters who, just as in 2016, are threatening to withhold their vote in the general election if their preferred candidate doesn’t win the primary, and indeed seem weirdly proud about it.

OK, boomer Bernie or Buster.

Here’s the thing, the thing, the thing: there is never going to be an American president free of the deeply toxic elements of American ideology. There just won’t be. This country has been built how it has for 250 years, and it’s not gonna change. You are never going to have, at least not in the current system, some dream candidate who gets up there and parrots the left-wing talking points and attacks American imperialism, exceptionalism, ravaging global capitalism, military and oil addiction, etc. They want to be elected as leader of a country that has deeply internalized and taken these things to heart for its entire existence, and most of them believe it to some degree themselves. So this groupthink white liberal mentality where the only acceptable candidate is this Perfect Non-Problematic robot who has only ever had one belief their entire lives and has never ever wavered in their devotion to doctrine has really gotten bad. The Democratic Party would be considered… maybe center/mild left in most other developed countries. It’s not even really left-wing by general standards, and Sanders and Warren are the only two candidates for the nomination who are even willing to go there and explicitly put out policy proposals that challenge the systematic structure of power, oppression, and exploitation of the late-stage capitalist 21st century. Warren has the billionaires fussed, and instead of backing down, she’s doubling down. That’s part of why they’re so scared of her. (And also misogyny, because the world is depressing like that.) She is going head-on after picking a fight with some of the worst people on the planet, who are actively killing the rest of us, and I don’t know about you, but I like that.

Of course: none of this will mean squat if she (or the eventual Democratic winner, who I will vote for regardless of who it is, but as you can probably tell, she’s my ride or die) don’t a) win the White House and then do as they promised on the campaign trail, and b) don’t have a Democratic House and Senate willing to have a backbone and pass the laws. Even Nancy Pelosi, much as she’s otherwise a badass, held off on opening a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump for months out of fear it would benefit him, until the Ukraine thing fell into everyone’s laps. The Democrats are really horrible at sticking together and voting the party line the way Republicans do consistently, because Democrats are big-tent people who like to think of themselves as accepting and tolerant of other views and unwilling to force their members’ hands. The Republicans have no such qualms (and indeed, judging by their enabling of Trump, have no qualms at all).

The modern American Republican party has become a vehicle for no-holds-barred power for rich white men at the expense of absolutely everything and everyone else, and if your rationale is that you can’t vote for the person opposing Donald Goddamn Trump is that you’re just not vibing with them on the language of that one policy proposal… well, I’m glad that you, White Middle Class Liberal, feel relatively safe that the consequences of that decision won’t affect you personally. Even if we’re due to be out of the Paris Climate Accords one day after the 2020 election, and the issue of climate change now has the most visibility it’s ever had after years of big-business, Republican-led efforts to deny and discredit the science, hey, Secret Corporate Shill, am I right? Can’t trust ‘er. Let’s go have a craft beer.

As has been said before: vote as far left as you want in the primary. Vote your ideology, vote whatever candidate you want, because the only way to make actual, real-world change is to do that. The huge, embedded, all-consuming and horrible system in which we operate is not just going to suddenly be run by fairy dust and happy thoughts overnight. Select candidates that reflect your values exactly, be as picky and ideologically militant as you want. That’s the time to do that! Then when it comes to the general election:

  • America is a two-party system. It sucks, but that’s the case. Third-party votes, or refraining from voting because “it doesn’t matter” are functionally useless at best and actively harmful at worst.
  • Either the Democratic candidate or Donald Trump will win the 2020 election.
  • There is absolutely no length that the Republican/GOP machine, and its malevolent allies elsewhere, will not go to in order to secure a Trump victory. None.
  • Any talk whatsoever about “progressive values” or any kind of liberal activism, coupled with a course of action that increases the possibility of a Trump victory, is hypocritical at best and actively malicious at worst.

This is why I found the Democratic response to Obama’s “don’t go too wild” comments interesting. Bernie doubled down on the fact that his plans have widespread public support, and he’s right. (Frankly, the fact that Sanders and Warren are polling at the top, and the fact that they’re politicians and would not be crafting these campaign messages if they didn’t know that they were being positively received, says plenty on its own). Warren cleverly highlighted and praised Obama’s accomplishments in office (i.e. the Affordable Care Act) and didn’t say squat about whether she agreed or disagreed with him, then went right back to campaigning about why billionaires suck. And some guy named Julian Castro basically blew Obama off and claimed that “any Democrat” could beat Trump in 2020, just by nature of existing and being non-insane.

This is very dangerous! Do not be Julian Castro!

As I said in my tags on the Bush post: everyone assumed that sensible people would vote for Kerry in 2004. Guess what happened? Yeah, he got Swift Boated. The race between Obama and McCain in 2008, even after those said nightmare years of Bush, was very close until the global crash broke it open in Obama’s favor, and Sarah Palin was an actual disqualifier for a politician being brazenly incompetent and unprepared. (Then again, she was a woman from a remote backwater state, not a billionaire businessman.) In 2012, we thought Corporate MormonBot Mitt Fuggin’ Romney was somehow the worst and most dangerous candidate the Republicans could offer. In 2016, up until Election Day itself, everyone assumed that HRC was a badly flawed candidate but would win anyway. And… we saw how that worked out. Complacency is literally deadly.

I was born when Reagan was still president. I’m just old enough to remember the efforts to impeach Clinton over forcing an intern to give him a BJ in the Oval Office (This led by the same Republicans making Donald Trump into a darling of the evangelical Christian right wing.) I’m definitely old enough to remember 9/11 and how America lost its mind after that, and I remember the Bush years. And, obviously, the contrast with Obama, the swing back toward Trump, and everything that has happened since. We can’t afford to do this again. We’re hanging by a thread as it is, and not just America, but the entire planet.

So yes. By all means, vote for Sanders in the primary. Then when November 3, 2020 rolls around, if you care about literally any of this at all, hold your nose if necessary and vote straight-ticket Democrat, from the president, to the House and Senate, to the state and local offices. I cannot put it more strongly than that.

If you do anything other than show up to vote in November and vote straight Democrat, no matter who is in any of those slots all the way down the ballot, than you are voting for Trump, the White Nationalists, and their enablers. Period.

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.

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.

Being thankful for a peaceful day and other things

First, to all my readers who don’t live in the United States: Happy Thursday!

Second, here in the U.S. it’s Thanksgiving, a holiday often observed by stressing out while gathering with family, eating too much, and trying not to get into arguments with your racist uncle. We are told it is to commemorate a feast shared by the pilgrims (who we are assured came to the new world in search of religious freedom) and the Native Americans who welcomed them to these shores; while we sweep under the rug the fact that those pilgrims did not seek freedom, but rather wanted to impose a theocracy where they forced people to abide by their beliefs, that they only survived as long as they did because the Native Americans took pity on this group of malcontents who didn’t know anything about agriculture, and how eventually we stole the native’s land, massacred the women and children, made deals we later refused to keep, and then destroyed a significant amount of carefully curated land (driving many animal and plant species to extinction).

For a lot of us—specifically queer people—it is a doubly-stressful holiday. When we were closeted it was an annual reminder that many (if not all) of our relatives didn’t love us for who we are, but rather they love a facade we wore in self-defense from the homophobic beliefs of society and the self-loathing that society instilled. After we come out of the closet, it is the annual reminder that our queer selves are tolerated at best. We are expected to smile and sit quietly while outrageous and hateful things are said about people like ourselves and those we love. And if we commit the sin of letting that plastered-on smile slip and express an opinion of our own, we’re expected to apologize and agree that our lives, fears, and aspirations are not fit topics for polite conversation.

We used to spend alternating holidays with my Mom and the gaggle of relatives that live near her—Thanksgiving one year, Christmas the next. While then celebrating the other holiday at home. The last time we did that was the Thanksgiving right after the 2016 election. We knew it was going to be more stressful than usual, so we had planned to cut the length of visit shorter than usual.

It was worse than we thought. Instead of just having one or two people casually making racist and related comments, and just about everyone occasionally quoting a Fox News talking point or something a televangelist said, it seemed like everyone had turned into the racist uncle. Since then, we’ve stayed home for both holidays. Several days before Christmas (since I get a ton of paid-time-off from my work, I always have a few extra days in December), I drive down to deliver presents to the relatives there. I spend most of the day with Mom. I visit at least briefly with folks while I drop things off. And something about it not being the actual holiday makes everyone less likely to start spouting off their religious talking points.

So far, no one has come out and asked me if we’re skipping the holidays on purpose. I suspect it’s only a matter of time. But for now, this seems to work.

It will just be the two of us for Thanksgiving again this year. And I know I already have more food planned than we could eat in a single day. My husband keeps pointing out that we’ll just have leftovers for a few days.

Enough about that. Without further ado, here are some of the things I’m thankful for:

  • my smart, kind, sexy, hard-working husband
  • pickled foods
  • people who help other people
  • coffee
  • music
  • purple
  • living in the future
  • storytellers
  • all the hummingbirds, chickadees, juncos, sparrows, finches, and Stellar Jays that visit my veranda a birdfeeder
  • let’s not forget the crows!
  • great ideas suggested by friends, such as the person who told me the secret that a separate squirrel-feeder stocked with pumpkin seeds will keep the squirrels from wasting most of the birdseed while going after the parts they like
  • flowers that decide to bloom again during the coldest week of weather we’ve had this fall
  • friends who will watch football with me and don’t blink an eye at my screaming at the TV during the game
  • modern medical science
  • books
  • science
  • people who fill the world with joy
  • sci fi books and the authors who imagine those many futures
  • misty grey mornings
  • people who know you so well that when they find weird things amazing things (like combination bendy-straws/cocktail umbrellas, for instance) that they realize you would love them
  • cocktails
  • eggnog
  • people who vote
  • stuffing
  • people who make art or stories or music
  • pie
  • NaNoWriMo writing buddies
  • the magical piece of glass I can carry around in my pocket that contains all my friends (you call it an iPhone, I call it magic!)
  • people who love
  • the squirrels that visit our veranda—even that troublemaker that I call Crazy Ivan
  • kittens and puppies and tigers and otters and mousies
  • tea
  • gravy
  • people who fix things
  • my bananas, sometimes infuriating relatives (who I’m sure find me even more bewildering than I ever do them)
  • not having to spend the holiday with (especially) the most infuriating relatives again this year
  • my sweet, clever, ultra-capable, cheerful, long-suffering husband (who definitely deserves to be on this list twice!)
  • fantasy books and the authors who spin such beautiful marvels
  • people who love things so much that they feel compelled create fan works
  • playlists
  • hugs
  • books
  • readers
  • lavender
  • fuzzy socks and warm slippers
  • all my incredible friends—who are talented, giving, kind, funny, accomplished, and clearly the most patient people in the world, because they put up with me!

Where do they come from? (or, some things remain ineffable)

I woke up Tuesday morning in an extremely dark room with the feeling that something was wrong. I rolled over to squint at the red large print display of the alarm clock to see that it was after 10. I exclaimed a swear word or three and scrambled to get out of bed, since I have a 9:30am meeting every day at work which I was now quite late for.

I wondered why my alarm hadn’t gone off and glanced down at my wrist. I was still wearing my Apple Watch, so I hadn’t remembered to put it on the charger. I could see the hands on the face stopped at about 3am and realized that the battery must have run down. I turned on the light so I could find the charger, and was a little confused because the furniture in the room appeared to have been moved around. And I had no idea where my phone was.

I left the room, having to pass through the small master bathroom with the large whirlpool bath, through the big storage room with all the creepy furniture under dusty sheets, through the cramped kitchen with the weird stove and the red and white cabinets until I reached the living room, where the large dark brown shelves were stuffed with old photos and knick knacks, the coffee table with the book shelves built in sat in front of the turquoise couch, where I finally found my phone, which I needed to use to call my boss.

That was about the point when a corner of my brain that had been pointing out all the incongruities managed to be heard over the total panic I was having to point out that none of the things I just described actually exist in my house…

And I opened my eyes again, finding myself curled up in my recliner (I sleep the first part of most nights in the recliner because of the chronic reflux and the subsequent bleeding ulcer that very nearly killed my 18 years ago). I could read the glowing display of the cable box (right next to the charger with my actual Apple Watch—you know, a device that if the battery was dead you wouldn’t be able to see the hands since they are just pixels on its screen—was charging). It was 6 am, not 10-something.

Since I don’t normally remember more than a few snippets of dreams, I got up and checked around the house, figuring that I had been in the middle of a deep sleep and an unexpected noise had interrupted. But I couldn’t find any obvious problem. My husband had already left for work (as is usual for that time). It was just a weird dream, I guess.

I double-checked that the watch was charging and that the alarms were still set to go off at the usual time, then crawled into bed hoping to get another hour sleep.

And I got thinking about some of those details in the dream, because many of them have appeared in many of my dreams over the years. The crowded master suite bathroom with the whirlpool, for example. The kitchen with the weird stove. The enormous dark creepy store room. And so on.

Some of the details of those rooms I understand. The red large print alarm clock belonged to my first husband, Ray, when we first started dating. I kept it for many years after he died in 1997, even though most of its functions (the actual alarm, the radio, and the battery backup) had stopped working long before. The dark book shelves crammed with knick-knacks and photos used to actually exist in my great-grandmother’s den. The coffee table with bookshelves (holding an encyclopedia set) and the turquoise couch were both in my evil grandmother’s living room. One of the places my nice grandmother lived for a few years when I was in grade school had those red and white cabinets (but not the weird stove). But I have no idea where many of the other details come from. I’ve never lived in nor do I remember visiting a home that had that big whirlpool bath, for instance. Yet it appears in my dreams again and again and has been for decades.

I don’t remember any house with a huge store room full o furniture under dust cloths, though such rooms appear so often in movies—particularly horror movies of a certain era—that we can probably assume it’s just lifted from those movies.

And this is not by any means the first time I have tried to figure out where the weird stove comes from. It sort of looks like it was designed by Escher? It’s so hard to describe. There are burners where you couldn’t possible expect a pan to sit on them, for instance. And it has a bewildering array of levers and control knobs.

The truth is that our subconscious has more than a few ineffable processes. So while we can try to figure out where some of those images and notions come from and what they mean, there is no objective way of verifying the validity of those conjectures.

Which is something I find myself saying in a different way again and again to some friends and acquaintances who bemoan their inability to come up with “good ideas” for writing. There is almost no such thing as a bad idea for a story. I mean, you can build stories on bigoted or hateful premises, and that isn’t exactly a good thing, but generally speaking, any idea, no matter how mundane or surreal, could be turned into an interesting story with enough work.

And rewrite.

The truth is that almost any story that you can name that you think of as great, was almost certainly a mess and barely readable in the first draft.

It’s okay if the idea doesn’t feel great when you start. Get the first draft done, no matter what those voices of doubt say. Set the story aside for a while. Then pick it up and start editing.

Join us in the light! #NationalComingOutDay

Today is National Coming Out Day. If Ray were still alive, it would also be the day we’d be celebrating the twenty-sixth anniversary of our commitment ceremony (he promised to stay with me for the rest of his life, and he did). My (very-much alive) husband Michael and I don’t have any anniversaries that are close to this date, but this is the twentieth National Coming Out Day we’ve lived together.

I’ve written about why I think it is important that every queer person (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, pansexual, nonbinary, genderfluid, asexual, aromantic, two-spirit, questioning, et cetera) who can safely be out of the closet to do so. Study after study has shown that the more queer friends and acquaintances a straight person has, the more likely they are to support equality for LGBT people. Studies also show that queer and questioning teens and children who have positive queer role models in their community are significantly less likely to attempt suicide than those who don’t.

But it is also important for your own mental and physical health. Being in the closet means living in a constant state of fear. You second guess everything. You’re constantly worried about being rejected by friends or family members if they find out. All that anxiety and stress takes a toll on your mental and physical well-being.

Make no mistake: the fear is real. About 40% of the homeless teens are in that situation because they were kicked out of their homes by their parents when the parents found out they were gay or trans (which is why I advise young people to be very careful about coming out while still financial dependent on their parents). Even if you wait until you are a self-supporting adult (I was 31 years old when I came out), you may still face rejection from people you have loved and counted on your whole life. One of my grandmothers forbade any other family member of mentioning me in her presence. A friend I had thought of as closer than a brother since we were teen-agers was quite angry when I came out and to this day (he happens to be married to a distance relative of mine, so I still hear about him from time to time) insists that I’m going to burn in hell because I’m gay.

But, not everyone reacts that way. And some people will surprise you. One of my aunts who is otherwise quite politically conservative declared that anyone who had a problem with me being gay would have a bigger problem with her. Some people who had been acquaintances that I thought would just shrug and move on became genuinely close friends because coming out to them is an act of making yourself vulnerable—and when they react to that vulnerability with acceptance, that changes the way you perceive each other.

Once I was no longer spending all of that time and energy trying to hide part of myself from anyone, I found that I had more energy and enthusiasm to do the things I love. And when you’re doing that, you meet other people who love some of the things you do. Coming out meant losing (and in some cases evicting) more than a few people from my life. It wasn’t a loss, though, because those people had never loved me for who I was—they liked the mask that I wore when I was closeted. And that’s true even of the relatives who had suspected I was gay for decades and had spent many years praying that god would change me. Those were people who were not adding to my life—their love was conditional, and one of the conditions was that I live a life of fear and without love and intimacy. Separating myself from those people, made room for a much more wonderful and supportive found family.

I was lucky enough to fall in love with a sweet man who loved me back. And after he died, I was lucky again to meet and fall in love with another (though very different) man who loved me back. Being able to love and be loved and not keep that love a secret is something that straight people take for granted that many literally can’t comprehend why being out matters. Once you experienced it, you’ll be amazed at how long you put up with concealing your real self.

So, if it is safe for you to come out, you should. You’ll find that standing out in the light, being true to yourself, is so much better than hiding in the dark!

Oh, and some of you may find this article useful: Trevor Project Releases Coming-Out Handbook for LGBTQ Youth.

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