Tag Archive | life

Offended offenders — the joke is on who, exactly?

“When art becomes merely shock value, our sense of humanity is slowly degraded.” — Roger Scruton

“When art becomes merely shock value, our sense of humanity is slowly degraded.” — Roger Scruton

We hear it all the time: “How dare you call me racist! I don’t hate anyone! I was just making an observation.” And there’s: “It is so rude of you to call me a homophobe! I’m just advocating for my beliefs {that queer people don’t deserve legal rights/to exist openly in public spaces if at all}. You’re the real haters!” Let’s not forget: “Can’t you take a joke? You’re trying to silence me!”

People behave like jerks, make threatening remarks, harass people, advocate for policies and propositions that will cause actual harm to others, and then get angry if other people take offense. They try to hide behind the idea of free speech—they’re just expressing themselves, and everyone has a right to do that, right? But the defense is built on one or more false equivalencies. The most basic is equating disagreement with censorship. If you say that all Freedonians are criminals, and I point out that isn’t true, and show the statistics to prove it, you haven’t been silenced. If other people decide the don’t want to listen to your rants about the evils of the Freedonians anymore, they stop inviting you to their social events and if you show up uninvited they ask you to leave, that also isn’t silencing you. The right to express an opinion doesn’t obligate other people to listen. Then there’s the false equivalence that accurately describing some of their statements as bigoted is just as bad as the bigotry we’re decrying. And so on.

But the defense that really annoys me is the, “But I’m only joking!”

I have several responses to that. The first is: every bully and abuser who ever lived has tried to claim that they were only joking, or they were just playing around. They didn’t meant to cause those bruises or broken bones or to break that laptop or whatever. It’s a lie. Maybe the bully and the bully’s audience were laughing, but real harm is being done.

The second response is: the fact that you think a particular topic is suitable for joking demonstrates the ignobility of your intentions. They only way that one can think the sexual assault is a joking matter is if they either don’t think the sexual assault is a bad thing, or if they think the victims of sexual assault are worth less than other people. There are topics that go beyond the pale, understanding that requires moral fiber and empathy. Not knowing that tells us you possess neither.

The third response is that doing something like “ironically” pretending to believe neo-Nazi ideology is indistinguishable from actually doing it. In other words, if you’re pretending to be an asshole, it doesn’t sound or feel any different to your targets than when a “real” asshole behaves that way. It also has a very scary normalizing effect. The more people feel it is acceptable to express racial bias, for instance, the more likely some of them are to act on the racial bias.

And my fourth response is that jokes are supposed to be funny. Calling entire classes of people inferior, saying they are a waste of space and so on isn’t funny. The objection that is usually raised around this point is that they are just trying to make people think, and they have to shock people out of their complacency to do that. I’ll agree that good political humor pokes at us to get us to think outside the box, but these guys aren’t quite getting it.

“Have you ever noticed that anyone driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac?” “Electricity is really just organized lightning.” “Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.” “At a formal dinner party, the person nearest death should always be seated closest to the bathroom.” “'I am' is reportedly the shortest sentence in English. Could it be that 'I Do' is the longest sentence?”

Several classic George Carlin one liners. (Click to embiggen)

Let’s look for a moment at the work of a comedian who was often characterized as offensive. The Late George Carlin said things that shocked some people’s sensibilities. Go listen (many recordings abound) to his notorious “Seven words you can’t say on TV or the radio” routine and tell me that wouldn’t give people in the Religious Right conniptions. And sure, you can pull out individual lines from his routines and make him sound almost like some of this current generation of jerks with their racist or homophobic or misogynist rants on their Youtube channel. But that’s taking him out of context. Look over the classic Carlin corpus (excluding the last few years where he seemed to turn into a prophet of doom and things got a little weird) and you’ll find the most prevalent underlying theme is summed up in one of his best one-liners:

“Have you ever noticed that anyone driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac?”

While the line works great on its own, it was actually the introduction to a longer bit, where he went on to make humorous observations about foolish and dangerous and weird things that people do while driving. It ranged around for a bit, and the audience laughed. You could certainly characterize the routine as making fun of bad drivers. And that doesn’t seem all that different from someone else having a comedy routine where they make fun of women, or immigrants, or queer people, right? But that’s not what the routine does. Every version of it I ever heard him perform varied a bit, but all stuck to one underlying theme. And it’s in that line I quote. That line isn’t just a joke, it’s a thesis statement.

Read it again: “Have you ever noticed that anyone driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac?” Explicitly it says that we classify and judge people in categories like stupid and maniac by extremely subjective criteria. But implicitly it is also saying that sometimes all of us are idiots, and sometimes all of us are maniacs. Because implicitly everyone that we observe is an idiot for driving too slow, knows they we are maniacs. And every person that we can see is a maniac for driving too fast, can observe that we’re driving slow and therefore we are idiots.

Yes, the point of his routines is that some people do very foolish things and isn’t it ridiculous that such people exist? But by the time he has covered the subject, there is a point where he says something that hits close to home. We, the listeners, see ourselves in some part of that routine. In that way, his routines adhere to the classic definition of political humor: to hold a mirror up to society.

That is humor with a purpose. That is how you jostle people out of their complacency. You hold up a mirror, so that we look into it and see our own foibles and flaws. But what these other guys are doing? They aren’t working with mirrors. No, they are putting targets on other people, aiming their fans at those targets, and encouraging the fans to pull their triggers.

That is why the rest of us don’t listen to their rants. We disinvite them from our events. We tell them that their behavior is not welcome at our conventions or on our forums and so forth. That isn’t censorship, that is making a choice of who we will associate with. It’s deciding that we don’t need jerks and abusers in our lives.


Self-loathing self deceivers—they are never just hurting themselves

“Conversion therapy is harmful to both the individuals who are subjected to it, and society more broadly, as it perpetuates the erroneous belief that homosexuality is a disorder which requires a cure.”

(Click to embiggen)

I know this story broke a couple of weeks ago. If I was still doing the really long weekly round up of links, it would have been included that week, and I might have typed a sentence or two of strongly worded commentary. But it didn’t make it into the top five stories for Friday Five. And besides, if I’m going to comment on the whole Josh Weed situation, I ought to make it a full-fledged post.

Let’s begin with the headline: This Gay Mormon Man Who Got Famous For Marrying A Straight Woman Is Getting Divorced. Quick sum-up, back in 2012 Josh Weed and his wife went public about the fact that he was gay, but that as devout Mormons they were choosing to be married. He claimed to be happy and fulfilled in this loving marriage with a woman, and by the way, he mentioned he was a therapist who was always happy to take on new patients.

He was quick to deny that he was pushing so-called ex-gay or conversion therapy. He was simply “helping those with sexual identity issues, unwanted sexual attractions and behaviors.” In interviews he insisted again and again that this wasn’t conversion therapy because he knew that no one could stop being homosexual. No, he was just helping people (“particularly young people”) struggling with this problem by “meeting them where they are and helping them find a solution that meets their needs.”

And specifically, he was holding himself up as an example of a gay man who could enter into a heterosexual marriage, never act on his same-sex attractions, while living a happy, fulfilled life that was congruent with his church’s belief that being gay was an abomination. Except, of course, he didn’t mention that abomination part.

To claim this wasn’t conversion therapy was to draw a distinction without a difference, at best. To do it while advertising one’s therapy services moves it squarely into the lying category.

“The couple is now apologizing to the LGBT community for how the “publicity of our supposedly successful marriage” has been “used to bully others.””

As part of the process of the downfall of the explicitly ex-gay conversion business (and it was always a business), there were a number of court cases (often parents of children sent off to this quack therapy now suing over the wrongful deaths of their children) where the practicioners were forced to admit under oath that at least 99.9 percent of the time no one was ever cured of being gay. Their previous claims about cure percentages was to count anyone who was able for a period of time to resist their feelings and put on a good front pretending to be happy while the refrained from acting on those feelings as a “cure.”

In other words, all the people doing it knew that it never worked.

Part of Josh’s and his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s apology now is to claim they are deeply saddened and ashamed that their story was used to bully other people. They write a supposedly heartfelt account of a person in his twenties coming home for Thanksgiving not long after the Weeds’ story first came about and being physically assaulted by his father because, “If Josh Weed can stop being gay, so can you!” And many many other horrible tales.

Here’s one of my problems taking this apology as sincere. This assault? Happened back in 2012. The young man who endured it wrote to them about in shortly after it happened. And he wasn’t the only queer person from a conservatively religious family who during the time the Weeds were in the headlines previously experienced something like this, went to Josh Weed’s website, and posted a comment years ago.

If Josh Weed was sincerely sorry about people supposedly misconstruing his allegedly not-homophobic story, he would have began issuing apologies and clarifications when the comments first turned up on the website. What he did instead, was to continue to insist in interview after interview in various publications throughout the years since that 1) he wasn’t providing conversion therapy himself, and 2) he didn’t think that him choosing to live in an opposite sex relationship implied that other people ought to do it.

That’s not my only problem with this. As part of their announcement and apology, they recount the epiphany that Josh had that his sexual orientation isn’t a “biological aberration” after all. Back in 2012 and in all those subsequent interviews, he constantly insisted that he didn’t think there was inherently anything wrong with being gay, he was just offering help to those who didn’t want to act on their desires. But now we clearly know that he and his wife (because while talking about the epiphany he also talks about all the conversations he had with his wife about it) believed all along that being queer was a biological aberration.

So in his apology he is tacitly admitting he was lying for all those years.

Listen, I used to be a self-loathing closet case. I spent most of my teens and twenties scared to death that people would find proof that I was the faggot that many of them called me all the time. I prayed and cried and pleaded with god during those teen years to make it go away. The Southern Baptist churches I was raised in are no more welcoming to queers than the Morman churches Weed grew up in. I understand how he got in that situation. I understand how the fear of being rejected by your family, your church, and everyone you know drives a closeted queer person to terrible rationalizations. I understand that when you’re in that situation, you are lying to yourself and trying to convince yourself to believe the lie even more than you are lying and selling the lie to everyone else.

And, yeah, I’m happy for him now that he’s finally realized that forcing himself to pretend to be happy and fulfilled in a marriage to someone with whom he wasn’t in love—a marriage in which his sexual and emotional needs weren’t being met—was actually harmful. And I’m happy that, unlike a lot of other ex-gays out there who came to their senses he’s actually gone public about it. And sure, it’s nice that he’s apologized for some of what he did.

But it isn’t enough. The current apology is just a variant on the old “if someone was offended” non-apology. He’s apologized that other people used his story to hurt queer family and friends, as if it’s just a completely unexpected side effect that he has only recently learned about. We know that he was contacted by a lot of the victims years ago. He knew. He knew and yet he used the impression people had that if he could pretend to be heterosexual than anyone can to advertise his own counseling services. And in those therapy sessions he told many patients all the things that he says now he’s realized weren’t true.

When people like Josh Weed tell their story of choosing not to act on their sexual orientation—when they actively seek out interviews and coverage in the religious press for their story—that lie he’s telling himself is weaponized by other people. It is used as an excuse by those people to bully their own queer children or any other queer people in their families and communities. It is used in far too many cases to bully those queer people to death. It is used as an excuse to throw queer and gender nonconforming children out on the street.

I’ve written before about my personal experience of having family members use the stories of people like Josh Weed as the justification to reject me, threaten me, and say I and my husband aren’t welcome. I don’t know a single queer person who hasn’t had someone browbeat them with stories like Josh Weed and other ex-gays.

I’m going to keep insisting that Josh was an ex-gay. It doesn’t matter that he rejected that label. The hair-splitting he was doing to justify the rejection was ludicrous. And I’m not going to accept this apology because it is incomplete. He wasn’t just deluding himself for those years, he was literally selling that lie to other people. And until he admits that he was doing that; until he admits that the weaponizing of his story wasn’t happening without his knowledge; until he admits that his denials about the nature of his counseling was wrong; until he admits his silence until very recently in the face of that weaponization was also wrong; he doesn’t have an ethical right to ask for forgiveness.

Words and Images: untreatable case of I don’t give a sh*t

I keep finding myself writing either cranky and dark stuff, or fluffy weird holiday stuff. And then not wanting to post it. Meanwhile, the interesting images I swipe from various parts of the internet pile up. So here are a few of the more thought-provoking ones:

Carrie Fischer on stage speaking: “I'm what psychology journals refer to as batshit crazy. It's a delicate mix of bipolar disorder, which I'm able to control through serious medication, and a completely untreatable case of I don't give a shit. Unfortunately, for a woman, the side effects of this condition include: reduced employment, phone calls from terrified PR flack, and tremendous difficulty getting myself down to a weight that's acceptable to some 35-year-old studio executive whose deepest fantasy and worst nightmare somehow both involve me in a gold bikini.”

“I’m what psychology journals refer to as batshit crazy. It’s a delicate mix of bipolar disorder, which I’m able to control through serious medication, and a completely untreatable case of I don’t give a shit. Unfortunately, for a woman, the side effects of this condition include: reduced employment, phone calls from terrified PR flack, and tremendous difficulty getting myself down to a weight that’s acceptable to some 35-year-old studio executive whose deepest fantasy and worst nightmare somehow both involve me in a gold bikini.”

This next one was being shared several places but without the attribution of whose book is shown. Fortunately, feeding an entire sentence into Google got me the name of the author and the book in question.

“The people we surround ourselves with either raise or lower our standards. They either help us to become the best version of ourselves or encourage us to become lesser versions of ourselves. We become like our friends. No man becomes great on his own. No woman becomes great on her own. The people around them help to make them great.  “We all need people in our lives who raise our standards, remind us of our essential purpose, and challenge us to become the best version of ourselves.”  ― Matthew Kelly, The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose

“The people we surround ourselves with either raise or lower our standards. They either help us to become the best version of ourselves or encourage us to become lesser versions of ourselves. We become like our friends. No man becomes great on his own. No woman becomes great on her own. The people around them help to make them great.
“We all need people in our lives who raise our standards, remind us of our essential purpose, and challenge us to become the best version of ourselves.”
― Matthew Kelly, The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose

Click to embiggen, but I'm going to re-write it below...

Click to embiggen, but I’m going to re-write it below…

This one should more accurately say: “A banker and two working class people—one white, and one not—are sitting at a table with 20 cookies. The banker takes 19 cookies and warns the white worker: ‘Watch out, that other guy (who I bet isn’t even a real american) is going to take your cookie away.’” Because there is a long history of the rich pitting people against each other along color lines. The recent use of variants on immigrants are dog-whistles for the racism.

“News: Rich people paying rich people to tell middleclass people to blame poor people.”

“News: Rich people paying rich people to tell middleclass people to blame poor people.”

“Christians be like 'God bless this pork you told us not to eat on this most holy pagan holiday that you told us not to celebrate.'”

“Christians be like ‘God bless this pork you told us not to eat on this most holy pagan holiday that you told us not to celebrate.’”

And finally:

“I find your lack of cheer disturbing.”

“I find your lack of cheer disturbing.”


What’s on your list?

“My Xmas list is short this year: 1. $1,000,000 in cash 2. The souls of all who have displeased me 3. A kitten”

“My Xmas list is short this year:
1. $1,000,000 in cash
2. The souls of all who have displeased me
3. A kitten”

While I agree with the sentiment behind the meme here, this actually isn’t my list. I wouldn’t turn down a million bucks, obviously. And well, certain souls do deserve some sort of torment. I love kittens and puppies and other baby animals, but the sad truth I learned many years ago is that my allergies are much less horrible if I’m not sharing living space with cats. I loved the various cats who owned me (Fiona and Woody), and those I grew up with, but I love breathing, too. Similarly cut Christmas trees aren’t good for the old bronchial tubes and sinus passages.

What’s actually on my list are lots of things that aren’t going to happen, such as Congressional Republicans finding moral spines and impeaching the traitors in the Oval Office, real peace coming to several parts of the world that haven’t known it in many years, homophobic relatives seeing the light, and so forth.

“When you stop believing in Santa you get underwear.”

“When you stop believing in Santa you get underwear.”

Otherwise, when I try to come up with lists, it’s fairly mundane things such as books I want to read, movies I would like to own, nice warm fuzzy socks, or some nice new Andrew Christian underwear. Things that it would be nice to have, but not that I necessarily need. I mean, yeah, socks wear out—particularly for someone like me who has to wear warm socks for medical reasons during cold parts of the year, and thus runs around the house in socks all the time. So, when I put fuzzy socks on my wish lists every year, I really appreciate the folks who get them for me.

I find myself, instead, thinking about things that I’m thankful for and things that I wish I could give to others. Yes, I gave people presents, and the gifts seem to be appreciated. But while I can go to a store and buy someone some chocolate, or that electronic thing they put on their list, or a nice sketchbook, and so on, I can’t give people the job with benefits that they really need, or a non-dysfunctional family, or just health. So I can offer my love and support.

So, this is my list, things I wish for everyone who reads this:

  1. Warmth
  2. People in your life who love you
  3. Beauty
  4. Someone who appreciates you
  5. Peace

Bless us, every one.


Little packages of joy, love, and light

“I still believe in Santa Claus. he may not be the one that puts presents under the tree, but his spirit works through us each time we give freely without expectation and each time we spread joy, love, and light.”—Meadow Linn

“I still believe in Santa Claus. he may not be the one that puts presents under the tree, but his spirit works through us each time we give freely without expectation and each time we spread joy, love, and light.”—Meadow Linn

I’m once again in that weird state of feeling as if the holiday is over, but Christmas is still days away. That’s because my writers’ group and associated friends have been doing a holiday party together on the third Saturday of December for well more than 20 years. I’ve been writing an original Christmas Ghost Story to read at said party for at least 22 of those years. We get together, laugh and talk and catch up. Several of us have stories to read or songs to perform or the like. We exchange presents. We laugh and talk some more. There is always a bit too much food. But it is all fun and wonderful.

In short, it feels like my real Christmas.

When we were still all publishing a sci fi zine together, we would publicize the date and location of the party to the subscribers and contributors. And that meant we often got a lot of people who weren’t part of the regular monthly writers’ meeting crowd showing up. Which was great, but I also used to go to pains to de-emphasize the gift exchange part of the evening. I didn’t want people not to show up because they thought they were obligated to bring presents for strangers. That also means that I got in the habit of picking up and wrapping a bunch of extra presents–just in case. Because I didn’t want anyone who showed up not to get a brightly colored package to open.

I got the last of the present wrapped only a couple of hours before we were expecting people to arrive.

I got the last of the present wrapped only a couple of hours before we were expecting people to arrive.

To pull that off, one of the things I’ve been doing for years is keeping an eye out for things to give people for Christmas all year long. So at any time after say mid-January, there is a box hiding back in the bedroom with various things in it as I slowly accumulate presents. So, for instance, if I read a book that I really, really loved earlier in the year, I’ll buy a second copy (or several) to put in the box to give to people at Christmas. I don’t always have a specific person in mind when I do, but I know that enough of my friends enjoy some of the same kinds of books as I do that there will probably be someone I can give it to.

Because of moving the year, and what a big hole it blew in our schedule for months (not to mention eating my brain), I didn’t have as many things as usual already sitting in the box by the time November rolled around. So I spent a bit more time scrambling for presents this year than I have usually done. Still, I had something for everyone, and a collection of extras. And we all had a lot of fun unwrapping things and discussing what we got or where we found that thing, et cetera.

This I got something that made me tear up a bit. It takes a bit if explaining. My friend, Keith, comes from a whole family of artists. His parents ran a commercial art company for many years, and one of their product lines were the Alaska Snowbabies Christmas ornaments, designed by his mother. I own a bunch of their ornaments, mostly from the Snowbabies line, though there are a few others. Keith, as you might expect, has a much larger collection of such ornaments, since he worked for years in the company as both a business manager and a mold designer (among other things). Keith’s parents retired and closed down the business a number of years ago, and Keith’s father has since passed away, so there haven’t been any new products for some years.

Anyway, Keith and his wife do two trees in their house most years, and he posted pictures of this year’s trees earlier in the month, and I noticed that several of the Snowbabies visible in his pictures had red Santa hats, rather than the usual white parkas, and I commented on how cute they were and that I was a little jealous.

So shortly after arriving, Keith handed me a small package and said, “And that’s from my mom.” It was very pretty paper, and it said “To Gene and Michael from Suzanne” and I thought it was odd for her to send us a present, but I wasn’t quite smart enough to put together the dots until later, when we were opening gifts and I got to hers, felt the package, and suddenly realized what it was. She’d seen my comment on line and decided I needed to have one of the later ornaments.

Isn’t it adorable?

So it’s now hanging on my tree. As she said afterward, it’s where he belongs.

Not often you get a gift straight from the artist, right?


A mobile slice of life

Partially opened sardine tin.

Sometimes being on a crowded bus feels like being one of these fish.

I have been using the King County Metro bus system as my primary way of getting to work for about 29 years, so I have lots of bus stories. Most are not as exciting as the one I repeated when discussion a Nazi-punching incident in downtown recently, which is probably a good thing. Most bus rides are uneventful, or the events are minor things like the bus being more crowded than usual, or overhearing weird conversations, or observing interesting fashion choices.

The frequency of certain incidents have changed significantly since we moved to Shoreline and I’m taking a different route and riding longer. For instance, Fare Enforcement encounters. For a little context, some Metro routes are Rapid Ride lines. My old commute was on Rapid Ride D, while my new one is Rapid Ride E. What makes a route of Rapid Ride is that first the buses are designed more like commuter train cars: multiple doors and low floors so you don’t have to climb up stairs to get into the bus (this also makes boarding people in wheelchairs a lot faster since there isn’t a lift). Many bus stops have a pay station at the curb, so you can tap your card there before the bus arrives, and board using any door–instead of everyone having to enter through one door and either pay as they enter or show the driving a transfer.

This means the Rapid Ride buses operate on something of an honor system. But it isn’t entirely an honor system. Teams of Fare Enforcement officers randomly board buses, announce themselves, and then while the bus proceeds to the next stop, they walk up and down checking everyone’s proof of payment. Those of us with a pass, for instance, hold up our card and they touch a reader to it, which pulls information from the RF chip in the card. If someone doesn’t have a pass or transfer, they will be asked for their ID, information is recorded. They may receive a warning, or a ticket. Usually the officers only pull people off the bus if the person argues or otherwise doesn’t cooperate, or if they need to write up the multiple tickets. Whether they find anyone in violation or not, the get off at the next stop after they’re checked everyone, and wait for another bus on the line to board.

During the years I rode the D-line, I tended to see Fare Enforcement only once a month or so. And only about a third of the time did they have to write anyone up or take them off the bus. My second day riding the E-line, Fare Enforcement boarded the bus and wound up taking three people off. I thought that was unsual. I soon learned it was not. I see Fare Enforcement at least once a week. And I have never seen them not find at least one person who hasn’t paid or doesn’t have proof of payment.

By chance, most of the neighborhoods the D-Line goes through are median-rent or higher-than-average rent districts. While much of it’s route is on a major arterial, a big part of that arterial is through residential areas. The E-Line runs down State Highway 99, also known as Aurora Avenue. It’s a major thoroughfare that usually has commercial and retail. The neighborhoods range from well-to-do, to average, to what some people like to call affordable housing. This also means the crowd on the E-Line is both more colorful and diverse than the D-Line was.

Last week, between taking Friday off and working from home another day, I rode the bus only six times. I saw Fare Enforcement on four of those trips. On three of the trips they pulled two or more people off the bus besides issuing warnings to a couple.

The fourth time was the trip home Thursday. They were already on the bus when I got on. Typically the bus is pretty full by then, but that one was very empty. And all three officers were gathered around one guy, writing him up. He was complaining about how many of these tickets he’s gotten, and one of the officers was trying to get him to confirm that the address on his ID was where he received mail, because more legal papers would be coming. That means that he’s gotten so many tickets for not paying his fare, that they’re going to send a summons to appear in court.

The enforcement guys got off the bus at the next stop. And as soon as they left, the guy pulled a bottle of vodka out of the giant backpack he had in the seat next to him and started swigging. At that some stop, about three dozen people got on our bus, so it was suddenly as crowded as usual. At the next stop the guy with the vodka bottle was still grumbling, and waited until the bus driver had closed the doors and started to pull out to start shouting, “Wait! Wait! This is my stop!” So the driver stopped, and a bunch of people packed into the aisle had to squeeze and move in order to let the angry drinking man and his giant pack off the bus.

There are a lot of reasons someone can’t afford $2.50 bus fare—especially twice a day, five or more days a week, and so on. There are reduced fare passes available, but applying for them takes time, effort, the wherewithal to get documents together to prove you qualify, and so on. And I know lots of people who on paper make too much money to qualify for such programs, but they and their family are living hand-to-mouth. My point is that there are lots of circumstances where skipping paying the fare seems like a reasonable risk. But I still find my mind boggled a little bit.

On the other hand, many times I’ve seen people who keep an eye out the window, and when they see Fare Enforcement standing at the stop we’re pulling up to, they jump out of their seats to exit as the officers get on. I’ve never seen an officer pay any attention to people leaving. I’ve even seen guys not notice until the officers actually step on, and they jump up and say rather loudly, “Oh! It’s my stop!” and rush off. So clearly some habitual non-payers have figured out this is a way to avoid getting a ticket.

When my husband was explaining this a couple months ago online, someone expressed shock that the officers didn’t stop people that were exiting. That misses the entire point of the Rapid Ride. If they prevented people from leaving until they checked them for payment, that would hold the bus up. The way the officers do it, the bus’s route isn’t interrupted.

I’ve rambled on this a bit longer than I meant to, but to circle back to my point about reasons people have not to pay: I have assumed all along that the reason the E-Line is a more fertile ground for catching violators are economic ones. But I have also noticed that people who are dressed in a manner that would lead you to conclude they are well-off are just as likely to turn out to be the person who hasn’t paid. So, it’s another example that you can’t judge a book by its cover.


My husband, I say, Mah huuuzzzband!

Sealed with a kiss.

Sealed with a kiss.

Merely five years ago today we were legally pronounced husband and husband, and I got to kiss Michael in front of friends and loved ones and all those people got to see me crying my eyes out.

We’d only been together for 14 years and 10 months. We weren’t one of the couples of silver-haired people who finally got to legally tie the knot after 50 or more years together. But it still deserved a non-ironic finally. And even though we had been together those years, and I had never doubted his love for me, and couldn’t fathom my life without him, there was something magical and wonderful and powerful about being able to finally call him husband legally.

I had been introducing him as my husband for years. It was a linguistic and political decision I had made before meeting him. Years before Ray died, we had had a commitment ceremony, signed some legal papers (medical power of attorney, wills, that sort of thing). And after that, I called him “my husband.” And now more than 20 years after his death, I still call him “my late husband.”

He is my knight in shining armor... even when the armor includes a t-shirt that says “Social Justice Fighter.”

He is my knight in shining armor… even when the armor includes a t-shirt that says “Social Justice Fighter.”

I had tried some of the other words, such as boyfriend or partner. But boyfriend sounded far less serious and fleeting than what our relationship had become. And partner—well, let’s just say that one of the times I used it, an acquaintance literally asked about the business that they thought we were joint owners. So, I started saying husband. And while that sometimes evoked nervous stuttering replies, double-takes, and even the occasional angry comment, it was the word that most accurately described our relationship. And, as I had decided a couple years earlier with the word “queer,” there is power it seizing a word and wielding it like a weapon back in the face of both the actively homophobic and the more thoughtless forms of heterosexism.

I wasn’t surprised that I cried at the wedding (and cried while we were on our way downtown three days earlier, and when strangers handed us rosebuds as we exited the license office, and when a random stranger ran up to us as we were walking away from the courthouse still carrying our roses and gushed “Congratulations!” with tears in her eyes, and when two friends surprised us with a string duet at the ceremony, and… and… and…). There’s an old idiom “he cries at card tricks” to describe those of us who are easily overcome with emotion which most definitely applies to me. But what did surprise me was how, after the ceremony, I would have a little hitch in my voice and feel the surge of my eyes getting watery—not quite tears, but definitely tearing up—whenever I said “husband” for the next several months.

I’d been calling him that (and thinking of him as that) for years, but now it was different. Because for most of my life I had thought I would never be able to legally marry the man I loved. The thought was completely unimaginable! I still have vivid memories of a film they showed us in health class, back in the mid-seventies, during the week we studied “sexual deviancy,” and the film included a scene of two men in pastel tuxedoes walking hand-in-hand down an aisle in what seemed to be a church with the narrator talking about how sexual deviation was so normalized in places like California that people pretended to get married. And it was edited to make it look like they were skipping (you could see the jumps in the flow of the image) with some ridiculous music playing. Meanwhile an entire classroom of my peers were laughing and making gagging sounds all around me.

I had lived through a small number of the most liberal cities in the country setting up domestic partnership registries that carried no actual legal rights, but gave some way to register the relationship so that an employer that decided they wanted to be magnanimous and hand out some benefits to their gay employees, there was a legal-looking paper to point to. And I’d lived through the grudging middle stages, fighting every step as the way, as we got some civil partnership or other half-assed quarter-measure acknowledgement in some states and so forth. I’d watched the bigots spend millions of dollars campaigning against civil unions, angrily insisting that it would destroy the fabric of society and so forth. I had watched, as we slowly won the hearts and minds of a growing percentage of the population, those same bigots suddenly switch to insisted the domestic/civil unions/partnerships were more than adequate and why can’t we live with that so that marriage can be reserved for something special?

One of my husband's current art projects is setting up some of our many hats in displays around the new house. These are the hats we wore the day we were married. And yeah, I get that lump in my throat and tear up every time I look up at them. Tears of joy.

One of my husband’s current art projects is setting up some of our many hats in displays around the new house. These are the hats we wore the day we were married. And yeah, I get that lump in my throat and tear up every time I look up at them. Tears of joy.

So intellectually I understand why those same two syllables felt so very different after marriage equality became the law of our home state. As I said after the election, a solid majority of my fellow citizens — a whole bunch of straight people — voted to include us. They staffed phone lines to urge people to vote in favor of equality. They donated money. They showed up and voted. And then hundreds (or more) of those straight people turned up at the courthouses and county offices and so forth on those first days we could get licenses to cheer for people they didn’t know. On the first day the ceremonies could happen, a huge crowd gathered outside city hall to cheer and clap and being the receiving line for a bunch of queer couples — strangers! — who had just been joined legally in matrimony. Knowing that made me cry then. And it makes me tear up long long after any time I’m reminded of it.

Which happens to be every time I refer to my husband…

So! Today is the five-year anniversary of the day we stood in front of many of our loved ones and exchanged vows. We were pronounced husband and husband and I cried. He’s the most wonderful man I know. I really, seriously can’t quite understand why he puts up with me, let alone loves me. But I’m eternally grateful that he does.

Happy Anniversary, Michael!

He's the best!

He’s the best!

A note about the title of this post: I’ve been reading the Savage Love advice column for decades, through the years before Dan Savage met his husband, Terry, when they started dating, when they adopting a kid together, when they finally legally married (in Canada), and so forth. After the Canadian wedding, Dan started referring to Terry as his husband in a very exaggerated pronunciation: “mah huzzzzben!” And I always took it as his way of being proud and a bit shocked that marriage equality had arrived in at least some places within his life time. I always thought it was cute. In a recent blog post he answered a question from a reader who felt that the weird pronunciation was an insult to Terry, or something, and Dan explained:

I started calling Terry mah huzzzzben when we got married—more than a dozen years ago—because in all honesty it felt so weird to call him that. To be able to call him that. I never expected that marriage, legal marriage, would happen in our lifetimes. And while I didn’t have a problem calling him my boyfriend, calling him my husband took some getting used to. So I played up my… well, not quite my discomfort with the word. I played up my unfamiliarity with it. It felt strange to say it—the word “husband,” unlike my husband, felt awkward in my mouth—so I said the word in an awkward way. I did what I advise my readers/listeners to do: you gotta embrace awkwardness to get past it. And I am past it now. It no longer feels strange to call Terry my husband, and I’m capable of saying the word these days without hesitation. But you know what? I like calling him mah huzzzzben. It’s less “this is weird and new and feels awkward to say!” and more “this is my own affectionate pet name for him!” And I’m gonna keep saying it.

I still think it’s cute.


Some people are difficult to shop for, then there’s my mom

“Mom, Thanks for putting up with a spoiled, ungrateful, messy, bratty child like my sibling. Love, your favorite.”

“Mom, Thanks for putting up with a spoiled, ungrateful, messy, bratty child like my sibling. Love, your favorite.” https://shirtoopia.com/products/dear-mom-thanks-for-putting-up-with-a-spoiled-ungrateful-messy-bratty-child-like-my-sibling-love-your-favorite

The is a story in several parts.

First, twenty-two years ago at a holiday potluck at work, the subject had somehow turned to shopping for parents, and I mentioned that I didn’t always know what big present to get my Mom, but there was a particular kind of candy that she loved and I had been buying her a box of it every year since I was a teen-ager, so there was always a point during the opening of the presents when my Mom would pick up the box and realize what it was and grin. A new co-worker expressed shock and disbelief, insisting that any mother she knew would be irritated to get the same thing every year. She further insisted that my Mom must be faking the enthusiasm for the candy.

Second, twenty years ago, I visited Mom for Christmas and drove her to Grandma’s for the big Christmas Eve shindig Grandma used to throw. At said shindig, Mom received a present from one of the other relatives that was an enormous (and ugly) knick-knack. It was taller than any table lamp that Mom owned. And Mom had just recently moved into a smaller place specifically because she was trying to get rid of stuff. Mom had said thank-you to the present, but the look in her eyes had clearly communicated to me, “What am I going to do with this?”

During the almost hour long drive back to her house, there was a point when Mom went really quiet for a moment, then asked, “Where am I going to put that thing? I mean, it’s so big!”

I made sympathetic noises, but otherwise didn’t have an answer.

She suddenly grabbed my arm and said, “Promise me you won’t get me things like that! Give me candy, or cookies, or candles—things I will use up! If you don’t know I need it or will use it, please don’t spend the money!”

Third, seventeen or eighteen years ago, Mom had mentioned needing a specific thing for the kitchen, and I had found it, but it was in a weird, truncated pyramid-ish shaped box. And while I was trying to decide how to wrap it, I noticed that the broad base of the box was almost exactly the size of the box of those candies I have been buying her for Christmas since I was a kid. So with some wadded up newspaper and a lot of tape, I turned the two things into a large, retangular package, then wrapped them together.

Christmas Eve was at my Aunt’s that year, and Michael and I drove Mom to it. During the gift opening, one of the kids of one of my cousins had distributed everyone’s presents as piles beside each of us, and it had turned into a bit of a torn paper frenzy. I had watched Mom getting quieter and more sad looking as the evening progressed. She hadn’t been feeling well that morning and had almost decided to stay home for Christmas Eve, so I thought that she was feeling worse. I quietly asked a few times if she needed something.

There was only one present left beside her chair—my two-in-one box. Everyone else was finished, and one of the kids asked Mom if she was going to open her last one. She sighed and said something that sounded quite a bit less than enthusiastic. She picked it up into her lap. She turned it around looking for an edge to the wrapping. And when she did, the candy jiggled inside its box—making a distinctive sound she recognized.

Mom’s eyes lit up like search lights. She turned the box again and looked at the tag to see it was from me. She grinned at me. “I know what this is! I know what this is!” And then she tore the paper off like a tornado of ninjas attacking a castle. She liberated the box of candy from the rest of the present and exclaimed, “You didn’t forget my candy! My son didn’t forget my candy!”

Michael had to point out that there was another part of the gift she might want to look at. She was glad that I’d gotten her the kitchen thing, but she was clearly more happy about the candy. And she was enthusiastic the rest of the night.

So, my Mom really does like it when I give her that candy every year1.

Fourth, as long as I can remember, Mom has loved hot tea. She loves nothing more than to curl up with a new book and a cup of hot tea and spend the day reading. For various health reasons, she can’t do caffeine any more. So the tea needs to be herbal. Unfortunately, when most of the rest of the people in Mom’s life think “herbal tea” the go for camomile3. Mom doesn’t dislike camomile, but she gets tired of it after awhile.

So every years I look for interesting herbal teas for Mom other than camomile. Last week I found two boxes that looked interesting while I was out shopping. I went to a rather large number of stores that day. When I got home, there was a lot of stuff to put away. And when I was finished, I couldn’t find the two boxes of tea.

I searched all the shopping bags. I looked around the house. I looked in the pantry with my teas. I looked everywhere. I confirmed on the printed receipt that I had paid for the tea. I decided that when I and the person at the store were bagging my groceries, one of us had accidentally pushed the boxes aside.

The next day I headed out shopping again with a list of people I needed to get gifts for. At the first store I went to the back of the car to get a shopping bag. And there was a shopping bag from the day before with four things in it. Two of which were Mom’s tea. Fortunately, nothing in the bag was perishable, so I didn’t waste anything by forgetting some groceries in the car overnight.

So there will be several presents under Mom’s tree from me this year. And now you know what three of them are. And I’m pretty sure as soon as Mom picks them up, she’ll know what they are, two. Ever since that one Christmas, I have made sure that the box of candy was wrapped by itself, so it would be no surprise to Mom what was inside.

But that isn’t the point of this particular present.


1. One time when I told this story, a friend who is also a mother and grandmother told me that there was a type of salt-water taffy she liked, and anyone who bought her some of that for Christmas was a winner in her book.2

2. Another person (who also happens to be a mom and grandmother) pointed out that while it is undoubtedly true that Mom likes this favorite candy of hers, by the time I was an adult and I still gave her a box of the candy every Christmas, the candy had become a symbol. “I have absolutely no doubt that every Christmas when she opens that box, she looks up at you and she doesn’t see you as the grown man you are. She sees her little boy—how you looked as a small child. That isn’t a box of candy, to her, it’s a box of memories of her baby.” I suspect she’s right.

3. One time my Aunt found a big boxed set of “herbal teas” in the gift box aisle at Walmart. Except they weren’t herbal. When you read the small print on the box, the teas were all regular black tea2 with artificial flavoring. So the “camomile” was regular black tea with some kind of camomile flavoring. And the “hibiscus” was black tea with hibiscus flavoring. And the “elderberry” was black tea with flavoring and so on.3

4. Loaded with caffeine.

5. The set included I think it was 8 little tins, each of which had the name of the herb in question, and then behind each tin in the box was a little foil packet with three of the skankiest looking oily tea bags. And they all smelled absolutely awful.4

6. Mom begged me to take it home. Michael and I had a lot of fun throwing it away.


Trying to remember to be thankful

“This is Chef. Chef's been cooking since four this morning. You better be hungry. Happy Thanksgiving.” © Don Chooi  http://dchooidoodles.tumblr.com

“This is Chef. Chef’s been cooking since four this morning. You better be hungry. Happy Thanksgiving.”
© Don Chooi

The point of the holiday is supposed to be to remember the things in our lives we have to be thankful for. And normally I’m all over that. But I would be lying if I said that everything is wonderful and I have great hopes for the future. And I know that I am hardly the only person struggling to remember that the world is full of good things as well as all the crazy, awful, and so forth that we’re all enduring right now.

So, here are things I’m thankful for:

  • my smart, sweet, sexy, super capable, long-suffering husband
  • coffee
  • the many cute birds that visit my bird feeder every day
  • purple
  • sci fi books that tell of wonderful futures
  • people who help other people
  • flowers
  • people who make art
  • science
  • my crazy, sometimes infuriating relatives who probably find me even more bewildering than I ever do them
  • not having to spend the holiday with (especially) the most infuriating relatives this year
  • cocktails
  • people who love
  • radio and wireless technologies
  • kittens and puppies and tigers and otters
  • books
  • stuffing
  • music
  • the many almost magical computing devices that I can now wear on my wrist, carry in my pocket, and otherwise bring a wealth of information and possibilities that was only barely imaginable when I was a kid
  • all my wonderful friends—who are talented, kind, giving, and clearly the most patient people in the world, because they put up with me

Thank you, each and every one. And whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving or not, I hope you have a wonderful day full of blessings, because you deserve it


It’s been twenty years, but it still hurts

This was taken at our final combined birthday party, just before the last round of chemo.

Twenty years ago today I had to sign some papers.

Then a couple of nurses turned off the monitors, removed the respirator tubes, and turned off the rest of the machines.

I held Ray’s hand. I said, “Good-bye.”

I’d been crying off and on for hours—days, technically (though I’d only slept a couple hours out of the previous 59-ish, so it seemed like one really long, horrible day).

My last chronologically-in-order memory is taking hold of his hand that one last time. My memories for the next few months are like the shards of a thoroughly shattered stained glass window.

When we had our commitment ceremony several years earlier, he promised me he would stay with me for the rest of his life.

He did.

I consider myself indescribably lucky to have had that kind of love in my life. The fact that after Ray’s death I later met and fell in love with another man does nothing to reduce the sense of loss I feel when I think about Ray.

Ray unpacking after we moved into our second apartment.

My friend Kristin recently sent me this picture saying, “How I like to remember Ray.” This was a trip we all took to the beach. He's prepping his kite for launch.

My friend Kristin sent me this picture saying, “How I like to remember Ray.” This was a trip we all took to the beach. He’s prepping his kite for launch.

Signing papers after our commitment ceremony.

Signing papers after our commitment ceremony.

Ray and I at the Pride Parade sometime in the early 90s.

Ray and I at the Pride Parade sometime in the early 90s.

%d bloggers like this: