The Dark Domain, or a queer ex-evangelical looks at an agent of intolerance and his scandalous heirs
One day in the summer of 1981, I was walking around the inside of a huge church sanctuary in Virginia, every now and then stopping to clap once, then listen to the echo. It was something I did just about every day that summer—each day in a different church. I was a member of an evangelical inter-denominational youth choir. I was one of the singers, but I was also the Lead Sound Technician. And while a bunch of the singers were carrying in the sound equipment, our risers, and other parts of our touring program, I would do this exercise to figure out where I wanted to place our speakers and where to aim them. I took this part of the job very seriously.
I was 20 years old. I was a deeply closeted gay guy who for several years had been struggling to reconcile my love of science and my sexual orientation with the religion I had been raised in (Southern Baptists) which is extremely anti-gay, anti-evolution, anti-birth control, anti-modernity, et cetera and ad nauseam. Only eleven years before that day had the Southern Baptist Convention adopted its resolution on race, which was intended to end segregation in Baptist Churches themselves. At the denomination’s founding in 1845, 12 of its 14 statements on faith had been explicitly in favor of slavery, the segregation of the races, and the supremacy of the white race.
That 1970 resolution didn’t make Baptists pro-equality. The very church that my parents had been members of when I was born, for instance, split after the resolution. A number of members forming a new “Bible Baptist” church the aligned itself with one of the other conventions that had split from the Southern Baptist in the previous couple of decades. And at the 1972 convention the convention adopted a resolution condemning public school segregation.
One of the pastors leading that charge to re-assert the church’s racist past in 1972, was Jerry Falwell, Sr. Falwell was the pastof of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. He was also the host of the syndicated radio program, the Old Time Gospel Hour, which my grandmother listened to faithfully, where he frequently preached against the civil rights movement, women’s rights, gay rights, and a boatload of other topics. In 1971 he founded Liberty University, which to this day still forbids students of differing races to date. And in 1979 he founded the so-called Moral Majority, a political organization bent on supporting conservative Republicans and rolling back what rights women, racial minorities, and queer people had won in the 70s.
In the mid-80s Falwell infamously lost a lawsuit to one of his former classmates from Baptist Bible College, Jerry Sloan. Sloan had come out of the closet after leaving Baptist Bible College, and had become active with Metropolitan Community Church, which was one of the few explicitly gay and lesbian inclusive denominations at the time. Sloan and Falwell participated in a television debate about, among other things, gay rights. After Falwell insisted that he wasn’t at all prejudiced against gay people, Sloan quoted Falwell as having publically called the MCC “brute beasts” and “a vile and Satanic system.” Further, he said Falwell had predicted “one day they will be utterly annihilated and there will be a celebration in heaven.”
Falwell said that it was a lie. And when Sloan said he had it on tape, Falwell bet him $5,000 (on television with millions of witnesses) he couldn’t produce it. When Sloan did produce the tape, Falwell refused to pay. So Sloan sued him, won the $5,000 plus court fees, and he donated it all to a queer community center: Falwell Pays $8,900 to Homosexual Activist.
Jerry Falwell, Sr, was a bigot and a liar (not to mention a chisseler for not paying his bet). And he became a multi-millionaire by preaching hate and promoting hate through his radio show, university, and his political organizations. And I, for one, did not shed a single tear when he died in 2007.
So, back to 1981. Earlier in that year, the Director of the touring choir mentioned that he was “this close” to getting us a tour date at Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church. And without thinking, I blurted out, “if you do, I quit.” The Director was flabbergasted and tried to explain how much exposure we would get there—and possibly be on the Old Time Gospel Hour. I said, “I refuse to have anything to do with that evil man. I refuse to do anything that implies I support his divisive, hateful theology.”
A member of the board of directors who was literally helping me untangle some microphone cables when this exchange happened, chimed in, “Me, too. Falwell preaches the opposite of Christ’s teaching, and if you’re going there, I’m resigning from the board and pulling my kids out of the choir.”
The director made some sort of joke to diffuse and change the subject. Later he made sure to inform both of us that he had decided on his own against pursuing the Thomas Road gig because the strict dress code would, among other things, force us to change our uniform and force a lot of the guys to get extremely short haircuts. I like to think that excuse was his way of saving face, and that my threat had been effective.
And so while later that summer in 1981 we did perform at a Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, it wasn’t Falwell’s—it was a beautiful historical building, which is still there, though it has since merged with another church and changed its name and denomination. And I’m glad I didn’t have to quit the chorus over it.
All of these memories came to mind this week as there is a new (and to me totally unsurprising) development in the story of Falwell’s heir, Jerry Falwell, Jr., and his pool boy scandals: ‘Someone’s Gotta Tell the Freakin’ Truth’: Jerry Falwell’s Aides Break Their Silence – More than two dozen current and former Liberty University officials describe a culture of fear and self-dealing at the largest Christian college in the world.
You may remember that the two pool boy scandals of which I’ve written before — besides having a lot of sexual innuendo — involved Falwell, Jr. finding ways to finance multi-million dollar real estate deals for the benefit of the handsome young men after spending a lot of time flying each young man to various luxurious places along with Falwell and his wife on their private jet.
The new article (interestingly enough written by a journalist who attended Liberty University) lists other financial deals, including loans of $300,000 and more to Falwell’s friends, funneling lucrative contracts related to the university to businesses owned by his son, and more. Plus, apparently Falwell is very fond of talking about his sex life with colleagues. With a lot of crude details of the things he and his wife do.
And most tellingly, in one incident involving the guy many of us have referred to as “the other pool boy” (though he was employed as a personal trainer when he met Falwell, Jr). Junior texted pictures of his wife in sexual fetish costumes—to a bunch of staff members, plus the trainer. He claimed afterward that he had meant to just send it to the trainer (I believe that), but he also tried to claim to the people accidentally included on the wayward message that the purpose of sharing the pictures was not actually sexual. No! Falwell, Jr sent the personal trainer pictures of Mrs. Falwell in fetish gear because the trainer had helped her lose a lot of weight.
Um, yeah, no I don’t believe that.Listen, hot-wifing, threeways, and cuckold fantasies are all perfectly healthy sexual things that a committed couple who are into ethical non-monogamy should be able to engage in without shame. But when you run a couple of massive non-profit organizations (and draw more than a million dollars in salary between those jobs) that explicitly condemn homosexuality, family planning, women’s rights, sexual liberty, drinking, and dancing (yes, dancing!)—well, then this kind of scandal becomes of interest to the public. Because remember, those non-profit organizations are tax exempt, and therefore all of these shenanigans are being subsidized by our tax dollars.
On top of that, Falwell, Jr effectively swung the evangelical base of the Republican party firmly behind Trump (and all of the evil, non-Christ-like policies that has unleashed on us). And apparently he did so because Trump’s fixer, Michael Cohen, made a blackmailer with more of those kinds of pictures of Mrs. Falwell go away.
You should go read the Politico story. It is full of fascinating details (and keeps the sexual stuff, as much as it could be, more tasteful than I would). The amount of information that people were willing to give the reporter is amazing, given that Liberty University and the associated businesses famously have very strict non-disclosure agreements that claim to stay in force even after a person leaves.
Speaking of those agreements: Jerry Falwell: I Called The FBI On Liberty U Traitors. That’s right! Junior has called the FBI on people for tattling on him.
Listen, some of those financial deals are clearly prosecutable crimes. Junior’s using tuition funds and donations to finance his jet-setting lifestyle and that of his friends—and probably sex partners.
“We’re not a school; we’re a real estate hedge fund,” said a senior university official with inside knowledge of Liberty’s finances. “We’re not educating; we’re buying real estate every year and taking students’ money to do it.”
Given that he’s been flying some of these people across state lines in his private jet to close some of these deals, Junior maybe should have thought twice before calling the Feds.
Maybe he thinks that his buddy, Trump, will bail him out. After all, Trump’s very fine lawyer, Michael Cohen, helped get rid of that pesky blackmailer right? Except now Cohen is cooling his heels in federal prison, convicted of financial crimes on Trump’s behalf. Trump hasn’t shown any sign of being willing to pardon Cohen. Or any of the four other people Mueller got to plead guilty to related crimes, nor the four people Mueller got convicted, nor the 19 other people still under indictment whose cases are on-going.
So, Junior may need to start prepping for some less luxurious accommodations than those he is currently accustomed to.
(Part of the title of this post comes from the hymn, “Up from the Grave He Arose (Low in the Grave He Lay),” by Robert Lowry. It was hymn number 113 in the 1956 Baptist Hymnal.)
Some possession resist the ruthlessness. For instance, I have five bone china teacups that I inherited from my late first husband. They aren’t five perfectly matching teacups. They have exactly the same pattern of flowers printed on the outside one one side, and on the inside on the other side, and they all have gold rims. But three of them have tiny round handles, and five have slightly less tiny triangular handles.
The thing is, shortly after we first moved in together, back in 1991, Ray told me that they had belonged to his grandmother and one other relative. I am pretty sure that he told me many more details than that—for instance, since they are nearly identical yet clearly come for two slightly different sets, did three of them come from one relative and two from the other?—but all I remember is that Ray called them “Grandma’s Teacups.” And so, since he died, I have hung onto them, keeping them packed away in an upper cabinet, because what kind of monster would throw away the only things his late husband had had to remember his grandmother by?
Ray only had the teacups. No matching saucers or any other items from the china set. Because he felt that teacups ought to have saucers, when he found a single bone china saucer with a similar rose pattern (and the gold paint on the rim) at a Goodwill or Value Village or similar, he bought it. Never mind that Grandma’s cups were no longer white but had turned that antique ivory color that really old bone china takes, while the saucer was new enough that it remained very white—he thought of the saucer as belong with the teacups, so I kept it, too.
Ray died more than 21 years ago, and for most of that time the five teacups and one saucer were carefully kept untouched in a cabinet. And even during the most ruthless stage of the move from Ballard to Shoreline, I refused to even consider giving them up. Never mind that so many other things I had owned for years were subjected to the criteria that if I couldn’t remember when I last used it, it goes—the teacups and the saucer stayed.
I like tea. I have a lot of specific blends of tea of which I am particularly fond. At the office, for instance, I drink the company-provided coffee in the morning, then switch to my own teabags in the afternoon. At home I have a rather more extensive collection to teabags. I also have some loose teas, but as I mentioned a couple of months ago, making single cups of tea with an infuser was more fuss than I was willing to take. Until I bought an infuser pot, which lets me make 4-5 cups of tea from loose leaves in a single action.
Since I bought the infuser, I have developed a new Sunday routine (that sometimes also happens on Saturday): rather than grinding coffee beans and making a pot of coffee, now I heat a couple of quarts of water to boiling, select one of my loose teas, make a pot of tea, and then get out one of the bone china teacups and use it to drink the tea over the course of the day. I usually wind up making a second pot because 4-5 cups of tea don’t contain quite enough caffeine to cover my current addiction.
For the first few weeks after I obtained the pot, I was choosing a different teacup out of the set while using the one saucer with it. About a month ago when I was preparing to take a carload of stuff to Value Village I had an epiphany. At that time, I had two quests, if you were, that I pursued at each visit to Value Village: after I dropped off stuff, I would park, grab one of the scores of coupons on our dash (there was a 7 month period while we were prepping to move and then moving and then unpacking were every weekend I took at least one—and usually multiple—carloads of stuff to Value Village, and I got a coupon each time), then go inside and first go through all the commerative plates hoping to find a tiger plate to replace the one tiger plate that broke during the move, then go through the glassware hoping to find a sixth cut crystal white wine glass to complete my set. Since I’m already doing that, I could also start going through the dinnerware looking for china tea saucers that had a rose motif and a gold rim. Because since my five cups didn’t exactly match, there is no reason the saucers have to, either.
One my first trip looking for saucers I realized I needed to add another must-have. In addition to having roses and a gold rim, the saucers also had to have that little depression in the middle into which the cup would sit. I found a pair the met the criteria on the second trip, so now I have three saucers to go with my five teacups.
And I also have instituted a rotation system, so after I use a cup and a saucer, each goes to the bottom of the pile. The upshot of all of this is that all of the teacups and all of the saucers I own are getting used on a regular basis, so I should not feel guilty for hanging onto them.
Now, if any of my friends who like tea would like to come over sometime for a tea party where we get to use them all at once, not only will I not object, I may also get a bit teary-eyed. But that’s okay.
Because a little bit of sentimentality is always allowed.
Long before the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968 made Memorial Day an official federal holiday, and even before the first federal observation of a day to decorate Union Soldier’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery back in 1868, and even before the Ladies’ Memorial Association of Columbus, Georgia suggested a day to honor those who died in the Civil War there was another holiday called Decoration Day observed in many parts of the country. It was a day to have family reunions and celebrate the lives of all of our deceased family members.
As one historical society defined it: “Decoration Day is an annual observance at many privately owned graveyards during which families gather to clean up the graveyard, reconnect with family, and honor the memories of their ancestors… Traditionally, Decoration Day is in part a ritual, with families arriving on the day before Decoration Sunday with hoes and shovels for a graveyard workday. They scrape the ground, trim the grass, make new plantings, and prune old ones… The cleanup is followed by a Sunday picnic dinner, singing in church, placing flowers on graves, and visiting with friends and family. Sunday participants come dressed for church and participate in what amounts to a family and community reunion. Family members that have moved away often return on this day, giving them an important opportunity to teach children about their ancestors and the communities in which they once lived. Outdoor tables of concrete or wood, marked to identify participating churches, hold the food for the meal.”
It was usually observed on a Sunday in the spring, and frequently involved picnics in the cemeteries or potlucks at church. my Grandmother was someone who observed that version faithfully her whole life, long before the official creation of the modern Memorial Day.
Twelve years ago this week my nice Grandma died literally while in the middle of putting silk flowers on the grave of one of my great aunts—which has contributed to my determination that the original holiday not be forgotten. In memory of Grandma, I’m reposting this (originally posted on Memorial Day 2014):
Memorial, part 2—for GrandmaGrandma always called it by the older name, Decoration Day. As I’ve written before, the original holiday was celebrated in many states as a day to gather at the grave sites of your parents, grandparents, et cetera, to honor the memory of their lives. It was often a time of picnics and family reunions. At least as much a celebration of their lives as a time of mourning. The connection to military deaths didn’t happen until 1868, and particularly in the south, was often seen as a pro-Union, pro-war, anti-southern celebration.
I didn’t understand most of those nuances when I was a kid. The modern version of the holiday, celebrated on the last Monday in May, didn’t even exist until I was a fifth-grader, when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act went into effect.
Grandma observed it faithfully. Every year, as May rolled around, she would begin calling distant relatives and old family friends. Grandma knew where just about every person descended from her own grandparents was buried, and she made certain that someone who lived nearby was putting flowers on the graves of those relatives by Memorial Day. She took care of all the family members buried within a couple hours drive of her home in southwest Washington.
She was putting flowers on the grave of my Great-aunt Maud (Grandma’s sister-in-law) on the Friday before Memorial Day when she died. My step-grandfather said he was getting in position to take a picture of her beside the grave and the flowers (there are hundreds and hundreds of photos of Grandma beside graves with flowers on them in her photo albums) when she suddenly looked up, said, “I don’t feel good!” and pitched over.
One weekend she had blown out the candles on the cake celebrating her 84th birthday. The following Friday, while putting flowers on Great-aunt Maud’s grave, she died. And one week after that a bunch of us were standing at her graveside. It was just down to a few family members, and we were at that stage where you’re commenting on how pretty the flowers that so-and-so that no one had heard from in years were, when someone asked, “Isn’t Grandpa’s grave nearby?”
Grandpa had died 23 years earlier, and was buried in one of a pair of plots he and Grandma had bought many years before. And after Grandma re-married, she and our step-grandfather had bought two more plots close by.
Anyway, as soon as someone asked that, my step-grandfather’s eyes bugged out, he went white as a sheet, and said, “Oh, no!” He was obviously very distressed as he hurried toward his car. Several of us followed, worried that he was having some sort of medical issue.
Nope. He and Grandma had been driving to various cemeteries all week long before her death, putting silk-bouquets that Grandma had made on each relative’s grave. Aunt Maud’s was meant to be the next-to-the-last stop on their journey. Grandpa’s silk flower bouquet was still in the trunk of the car. My step-grandfather was beside himself. He’d cried so much that week, you wouldn’t have thought he could cry any more, but there he was, apologizing to Grandma’s spirit for forgetting about the last batch of flowers, and not finishing her chore—for not getting flowers on Grandpa George’s grave by Memorial Day.
The next year, several of us had the realization that without Grandma around, none of us knew who to call to get flowers put on Great-grandma and Great-grandpa’s graves back in Colorado. None of us were sure in which Missouri town Great-great-aunt Pearl was buried, let alone who Grandma called every year to arrange for the flowers. Just as we weren’t certain whether Great-great-aunt Lou was buried in Kansas or was it Missouri? And so on, and so on. One of my cousins had to track down the incident report filed by the paramedics who responded to our step-grandfather’s 9-1-1 call just to find out which cemetery Great-aunt Maud was in.Mom and her sister have been putting flowers on Grandma’s and Grandpa’s graves since. Our step-grandfather passed away three years after Grandma, and he was buried beside her.
Some years before her death, Grandma had transferred the ownership of the plot next to Grandpa to Mom. So Mom’s going to be buried beside her dad. Mom mentions it whenever we visit the graves, and I don’t know if she realizes how much it chokes me up to think about it.
We had put the flowers in place. We had both taken pictures. Mom always worries that she won’t remember where Grandpa’s grave is (it’s seared in my head: two rows down from Grandma, four stones to the south). Michael helped Mom take a wide shot picture that has both Grandma’s and Grandpa’s spots in it.
I thought we were going to get away with both of us only getting a little teary-eyeed a few times, but as we were getting back into the car, Mom started crying. Which meant that I lost it.
Grandma’s been gone for seven years, now. But every time we drive down to visit Mom, there is a moment on the drive when my mind is wandering, and I’ll wonder what Grandma will be doing when we get there. And then I remember I won’t be seeing her. It took me about a dozen years to stop having those lapses about Grandpa. I suspect it will be longer for Grandma. After all, she’s the one who taught me the importance of Those Who Matter
It is still the case that when I drive to that part of the state to visit Mom or other relatives, I still find myself wondering what Grandma will be doing when I get there, and a moment later have a sudden resurgence of the old grief, remembering that she’s gone.
If you are one of those people offended if I don’t mention people who served our country in the armed forces on this day, please note that my Grandpa mentioned above served in WWII in Italy. Grandpa drove the vehicle that towed tanks that couldn’t be repaired in the field, and one of the two medals he was awarded in the war was for doing a repair of a tank while under fire. After the war, he came back to the U.S., met Grandma (who was at that point working as a nurse and trying to support her two daughters), and eventually married Grandma and adopted my mom and my aunt. Many years later, he was the person who taught me how to rebuild a carburetor (among other things). He was a hero many times over. My paternal Grandfather served in both World War II and the Korean War. Several of my great-aunts and uncles and many cousins who are no longer alive served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.
This post is dedicated to all of their memories. They are all on my mind today, as well as other loved ones who have passed. I grieve for them, yes, but I don’t believe today should only be about grief. We should celebrate the lives of those who came before us. Remember their joys and their triumphs, as well as their sacrifices. That’s what Grandma taught me to do, and I will keep doing it on this day, as long as I draw breath.
Because I follow some blogs that focus on surviving abusive parents, I happened to see the graphic I’ve included above the same day this conversation happened. One of those example insensitive comments made me laugh—perhaps more than a bit sardonically. Because as soon as I read “You’re going to regret this when they are gone,” my immediate thought was how many people I would enjoy saying, “Every time you said that you were wrong. I absolutely do not regret cutting him out of my life at all.”
Before I go on, I should make a content warning. I’m going to be talking a bit about my abusive father, and some things he did… Read More…
If you’re here following a publishing link, I apologize. I was trying to save a draft of the unfinished post and clicked the wrong button.
Confessions of a bad son, part 3: the myth of regret is now published and available.
My childhood Christmas memories are divided into several sections. There were about six years where Christmas consisted of Dad, Mom, my sister, and I cramming into either the four-wheel-drive pickup (because the roads would be icy at some point of the journey) either early morning Christmas Eve or sometimes at the end of Dad’s work-shift, and drive hundreds of miles from wherever we were living at the time to my paternal Grandparents’ house. My maternal grandmother (aka Nice Grandma) and one set of great-grandparents on that side happened to live in the same small town as my paternal grandparents (aka Grandpa and Evil Grandma), so we would get to see them at least briefly during the trip, but it was always clear that we were there to spend Christmas with Evil Grandma, and everyone else was secondary.
I was aware, during this time, that Mom’s side of the family liked to get together on Christmas Eve, and again for Christmas dinner the next afternoon, but Christmas morning was generally for each family unit at home. Because we often were arriving at Evil Grandma’s house late in the evening, I very seldom got to attend the other family Christmas Eve.
Then there was a period of three Christmases in a row where we lived just an hour’s drive from Evil Grandma, which meant getting to see everyone for a bit longer at the holiday. That is, until Nice Grandma re-married my Mom’s adoptive father, and she moved out to Washington state to live with him.
Then there were three Christmases we lived in the same small town as my paternal grandparents and my maternal great-grandparents (and only a couple hours drive from a bunch of other relatives). The tradition then became that we would spent a chunk of Christmas Eve with my Great-grandparents, then Christmas morning and Christmas dinner at Evil Grandma’s.
Then after my parents divorced, Mom, my full sister, and I moved up to the same town in Washington state where Grandpa and Nice Grandma lived, and that first Christmas Eve was a revelation. When Grandma lived in Colorado, Christmas Eve involved my Great-grandparents and a few of Grandma’s friends, because there weren’t many of her non-in-law relatives there. In Washington, there were Grandpa’s siblings and their children and grandchildren, my Mom’s six half-brothers (and for some of them wives and children), plus a bewildering number of cousins, demi-cousins, shirt-tail relatives of many other sorts, plus the people that Nice Grandma always seemed to adopt.
Not every single one of that vast constellation of Grandma’s “folks” made it every year, but a lot of them managed to drop in for at least a little bit. As my Aunt Theresa (who was the ex-wife of one of my Mom’s brothers) was fond of saying, “You never knew who you would see at Gert’s Christmas Eve!”
Aunt Theresa was a great example. She had only been married to my Uncle Randy for three years. They divorced when I was about 14 years old. Theresa and Grandma had got along really well from the first time they met, so she was the one who came to Grandma the tell her the she was divorcing Randy. Theresa told the story later that, “Gert looked at me and said, ‘You can divorce my son, if that’s what you have to do, but you are not divorcing me! You’re part of my family forever, you understand?’”
And for the next 30-some years of Grandma’s life, Aunt Theresa came by frequently to visit, check on Grandma, and keep her up-to-date on the well-being of Theresa’s relatives—because Grandma still considered them all in-laws.
Two: I only got to see another one of my Mom’s half-brothers at a couple of those Christmas Eves, once I was living nearby and able to attend. Uncle Brad never quite got his life together. He spent a lot of time in jail. He was never convicted of anything serious—I think the longest sentence he ever got was six months—but, between being addicted to a couple of illegal substances, and having to sell said substances to support himself at times, he just couldn’t stay out of trouble. So sometimes Uncle Brad missed Christmas Eve because he was in jail, and sometimes because he was in some other trouble.
And then he got sick. Everytime Grandma called him, he said he hadn’t been coming to visit because he was sick again, and figured he was contagious with whichever illness he thought he had.
Christmas Eve 1982 was the first time we had seen him in months, and he looked awful. Of Mom’s brothers, Brad had been the shortest, and he had never been what anyone would call fat, but that night, he looked like he hadn’t eaten in weeks. Grandma thought that he was using more serious drugs, and confronted him a few times. He insisted that he wasn’t, that he’d just kept catching things that he couldn’t seem to shake.
Then one day a few months later, Aunt Theresa showed up at Grandma’s and said, “I have some very bad news. Have you heard of this new disease they call AIDS? Well, Brad has it. He thinks he got in it one of the times he was in jail…”
My Uncle Brad wasn’t a really early case, but when he was diagnosed in early 1983 it was only months after the Center for Disease Control gave the illness that name, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
Uncle Brad didn’t live to see Christmas Eve of 1983.
My Uncle Brad was hardly the only person that I knew that would be taken by AIDS. I’ve written before of the winter when so many friends and acquaintances of Ray and I died in the same six-week period that we couldn’t attend some of the memorial services because they were happening at the same time.
The disease didn’t get its name until September of 1982, but it had been recognized as an epidemic that ought to be taken seriously since 1981. Unfortunately, no one in either party on the national level was willing to even talk about it, let alone allocate funds to the CDC and other agencies to address it properly. The very first politician at a national level to call for the government to address the crisis was a woman from California who was elected to Congress in a special election in June of 1987 to fill a seat that was vacated with the previous Congresswoman died due to cancer.
That new Congresswoman, after being sworn in, was allowed to make a short introductory address to Congress as was traditional. Usually these comments are a brief thank you to family and supporters. And the new Congresswoman did that, but she ended her remarks with this statement that surprised her colleagues, “Now we must take leadership, of course, in the crisis of AIDS. And I look forward to working with you on that.”
The Congresswoman was Nancy Pelosi. And Pelosi became a tireless campaigner on the issue, bucking both her own party’s leadership, as well as taking on the Reagan administration’s (and subsequent Bush admin’s) bigoted opposition. During those early years, reporters and others kept asking how could she, as a Catholic, support what was perceived as a gay cause. Her answer was simple and consistent: “We are all God’s children, and that includes gay people.”
While people think of her as part of the establishment and middle-of-the-road, that is a gross mischaracterization. Not just then, but now. So in case it isn’t clear: I frequently describe myself as being far more liberal and progressive (radically so on many topics) than the Democratic Party, but this is one queer man who considers Minority Leader Pelosi’s current trajectory to become Speaker of the House as a big Christmas present to the forces of justice, mercy, and compassion.
Third: My Nice Grandma didn’t always live up to my idealized vision of her. Because of how negatively she (and other relatives) reacted to my coming out of the closet in 1991, I had to boycott all family events for six years. Not just Christmas Eve: everything. If my husband wasn’t welcome as my husband, then I wasn’t. It was years later that I would first read Dan Savage’s version of the epiphany that led to the boycott: “The only leverage adult queer people have over parents and other family members is our presence in their lives. We shouldn’t fear losing them, they should fear losing us.” Because of the many times over a couple of months I had been told by multiple relatives that I was going to hell and deserved it, that sure I could live my life as I chose but any time I was in there home… I had had to tell them I would not visit them, ever, but if they liked they could come visit me. Though, any time they were in my home…
(Those ellipses can imply so much, no?)
After six years, it was Grandma who reached out shortly before my birthday in 1997 and asked if she and my step-grandpa could drive Mom (who doesn’t do freeways) to see me on my birthday. I said of course. It was awkward for about an hour, but the ice finally melted, and the next thing we know they were inviting us to come down to a picnic and the meet my sister’s new daughter (my sister and her now-fifth-ex-husband were coming for a visit), and suddenly they started treating Ray like a person, instead of a symbol of whatever their feelings about my queerness were.
The change in attitude (including apologies) was topped off by a request that we come visit for Christmas, where, yes, Ray was welcome, and none of the weird conditions previously alluded to were expected.
I really wish I could end this by talking about Ray’s first Christmas Eve at Grandma’s. The problem was, Ray was very sick (he did not, by the way, have AIDS; that picnic had been a bit difficult for us to juggle because Ray’s second round of chemotherapy was underway, but we managed). In November he had a seizure, went into a coma for several days, and then died.
Michael’s first Christmas Eve with Grandma happened in 1999. It wasn’t the first time he and Grandma met. That had been at a different trip, where I decided it would be better not to have the first meeting tied to a major holiday. We had been on our way to Mom’s (she lived an hour south of Grandma back then), and we stopped in for what was supposed to be a short visit (just in case). Michael had hardly spoken a couple of sentences when Grandma gave him a look and asked, “Is that a Missouri accent I hear?”
Soon the two of them were talking about all these places in Missouri and Oklahoma where Michael had grown up, and where coincidentally Grandma had lived for a number of years. You want to talk about coincidences? The hospital listed on Michael’s birth certificate, is the same hospital listed on Mom’s birth certificate.
Anyway, they just kept talking. At one point, my step-grandpa leaned over and said quietly to me, “If you wanna get a burger or something, I think the two of us could slip out and they wouldn’t even notice.”
I was very happy. Grandma liked Michael. That meant if anyone else in the family didn’t, well, they have to keep it to themselves.
Despite the warm fuzzies of that encounter, all of the things I said yesterday about why we avoid the big family gathering apply. This Christmas Eve, it will just be Michael and I. We usually cook a sort of romantic dinner. I’ll watch some Christmas movies. We’ll probably stay up until midnight to say “Merry Christmas” and have a kiss under the mistletoe. But we have to get to bed soon after, because first thing in the morning, we always check our stockings to see what Santa brought.
Misplacing things while moving around the house doing things is one category of lost possessions, but it isn’t the only one. No, far worse are those times when one I have to say the phrase, “I remember thqt last time I was using it I said to myself, ‘I need to put this somewhere that I won’t forget…’” Because I only utter that phrase after I have looked in the places where I thought I had put it way and now I can’t find it.
Part of it is about how my brain categorizes things. Let’s say I’m looking for the spray bottle with the stain remover in it. I’m putting my shirt in the hamper, and notice that I’ve spilled food on it earlier in the day, so I want to spray the stain with the soapy stuff before tossing it in the hamper in hopes of preventing a stain. And I go to the hall closet where the laundry detergent is, expecting to find the bottle there, but it isn’t there. And it isn’t in the bedroom by the hamper where I probably used it last time. This means that at some point while I was doing something completely unrelated to laundry, I noticed the spray bottle out where it shouldn’t be, and instead of putting it in the hall closet, I put is somewhere else. It might be in the cabinet under the bathroom sink, for instance, because a lot of soap-like things are kept there. Or I might have put it in the cabinet under the kitchen sink, because a lot of cleaning supplies are there.
Why not back to the closet? Because I probably found the bottle where it didn’t belong while I was in the middle of another task. And I didn’t want to lose track of the other task, but I also wanted to put the bottle away, and my silly brain instead up popping up with the location of the closet where the laundry detergent is, suggested some other place where other cleaning things are.
Or maybe the task I was in the middle of was getting ready for work and get out the door, and the next thing I had meant to do was assemble my lunch, so I carried the bottle with me as I go to assemble my lunch. Assembling the lunch involves getting some things out of the pantry. When I got into the pantry I reached for soup=in-a-cup, which involves opening a box and selecting one of the cups and realized I was still holding the bottle of stain remover so I set it on the lower pantry shelf to free up my hand and get the soup, then walk back out into the kitchen to get on with lunch. And because that lower shelf has a lot of bottles of varying sizes and a variety of colors of labels, and the pantry is only dimly lit, it just blended in and neither of us noticed it for two weeks.
But yes, one other time I found it under the bathroom sink. Another time under the kitchen sink. Both of those were found the same day I noticed it missing. The time it was left in the pantry it took longer.
Then there is the topic of important papers. Maybe I have a folder of instructions from the doctor for a procedure scheduled a couple of months out. I read through it all once, but I’ll need to consult it again a few days before, because I had dietary restrictions the day before. So it needs to be put away somewhere where it is out of the way, but I will find it when I need to.
So I take it into the computer room and I put it in a standing sorter near my desk where a bunch of other important papers are. Or at least, that’s what I thought I did, but of course when I go looking again it isn’t there. So if I didn’t put it there, where else did I put it? The drawers under the stand-up thing where a lot of other papers are? Maybe. Or maybe the bin where the bills to pay are kept. That’s a pile of papers I go through frequently and I always know where it is, so maybe that’s where I put it. Or maybe it’s in the filebox where a bunch of other important papers are kept… or…
So I spend a couple hours searching everywhere I can think of, and it’s getting late and I just resign myself to having to call the doctor’s office the next morning before I go to work. I begin the going to bed routine and I grab my nighttime meds… and that’s when I notice a familiar-looking folder stuck behind all the prescription bottles and vitamin bottles and the blood pressure thing and so forth. There wedged in besides the receipts from the pharmacy that I save so that every few months I can scan them in and fill out the only form and get re-imbursed for the co-pays.
I put it with other papers that I save, all right. And they’re even medical papers! But somehow making that decision got mangled in my memory as the location in the computer room.
It made sense at the time, but darned if I’ll remember a week afterward…
This article gives a nice overview: Why Sweet Tea Is the South’s Quintessential Drink.
In the movie version of Steel Magnolias Dolly Parton’s character observes that “sweet tea is the house wine of the south.” Which is true, though there can be weird nuances. For one thing, there are people who disagree about which parts of the country constitute the south. Seriously! I once had a temporary co-worker from Georgia sniff very disdainfully at I and another co-worker after we mentioned that our families came mostly from Oklahoma and Texas, that “those aren’t part of the south, those are in the West.” I have also heard people from North or South Carolina insist the Florida is not part of the south. I’ve been told by one acquaintance who grew up in New Orleans that “N’Orleans doesn’t really do sweet tea!” Whereas a friend whose family comes from other parts of Louisianna once commented after sampling my sweet tea, that I didn’t have nearly enough sugar in it. Some people insist that Sweet Tea states should get their own designation, with arguments about whether the “tea line” encompasses all of Texas, or only East Texas, for instance.
I grew up on sweet tea, and I learned how to make it from my mom and various grandmothers and one grandfather, and each of them had a slightly different recipe. They were all good in their own ways, but they were also very different. Many families guard their sweet tea recipes, sometimes referring to them by names like, “Great Aunt Pearl’s Sweet Tea.” So, before we get any further, I’m going to warn you right now that no, I absolutely will not tell you my Great-grandma S.J.’s Sweet Tea recipe, nor Great-grandma I’s, nor my Nice Grandma’s Sweet Tea recipe nor her Sun Tea recipe (which is a different beast altogether).
What I will do is tell you my Evil Grandmother’s Sweet Tea recipe. One reason why is because she frequently told it to other people outside the family. Another reason is because I don’t think hers was the best, but it will give you an idea of how these go.
My Evil Grandma insisted that Sweet Tea was best made in an aluminum pitcher. She had a 2-quart aluminum pitcher for just that purpose. To make her tea, you fill a whistling tea pot with water and set it to boil. While it is going, you measure out four and a half cups of sugar into the bottom of the aluminum pitcher, then you add a half teaspoon of baking soda. You let the kettle get to a loud whistling, then pour the still boiling water into the aluminum pitcher. Stir furiously until the sugar dissolved, then count out fourteen Lipton flow-through tea bags, put them in the pitcher, stick a lid on it, and put it into the fridge for one hour. Then, take the pitcher out, pull out the tea bags, but make sure you squeeze them so all the dark tea gets into the pitcher. Top off the pitcher with however much tap water is needed to fill, and stir some more (because some of the sugar probably precipitated out). Put it back in the fridge for at least another hour. Now, you can serve it over ice.
Now that you’ve read the one recipe that I am willing to disclose, we can analyze it a bit. Most of the sweet tea recipes I have acquired over the years use tea bags, not loose tea. And very often people have strong feelings about which ones to use. I have seen, for instance, recipes that call for specific brands and varieties of tea bags–specifying X bags of specific brand of black tea plus Y bags of a specific brand of mint tea plus Z bags of a specific brand of orange pekoe, for instance.
I will neither confirm nor deny having witnessed two relatives almost come to blows over an argument about whether an Earl Grey tea is ever suitable for sweet tea (with a third relative opining that Earl Grey is all right in a sun tea as long as you have a few other kinds with it, but really should only go in to sweet tea if you have nothing else).
Why do some recipes include baking soda, you may ask? Tea leaves contain tannic acid which is very bitter. When you steep most teas for more than, say, 2 minutes, you can get a lot of tannic acid in the tea. Some people swear that a small amount of baking soda (which is an alkaline compound and will neutralize an equal amount of acid) mellows out the tannic acid flavor. I’ve also heard people claim that the baking soda helps with dissolving more sugar into the water.
Many recipes specify how to boil the water. There are people who insist the sugar must be in the pitcher that the hot water or hot tea is poured into. Others say that most of the sugar should be mixed with the water as it is brought to a boil.
My Evil Grandma’s sweet tea was very dark, nearly the color of coffee. A lot of people say that is two strong, the tea should have more of a rich reddish color than a deep brown.
Because most of my life has been lived outside of the sweet tea states, I got used to drinking the rather weak and completely unsweetened tea served here. Also, in my late twenties when I realized just how rampantly adult-onset diabetes stampedes through my dad’s family, I made the decision to mostly stop sweetening my tea or coffee. And now that I am diabetic, I don’t make sweet tea ever.
And while we’re on the subject of diabetes, I want to point out that all of the sweet tea recipes from my mother’s side of the family called for way more sugar than any that I learned from Dad’s side, yet Dad’s family is where almost all the diabetes is. So don’t come at me on that.
While I don’t make sweet tea, I still make and drink a lot of tea and have many fond memories of sitting down with friends and family, everyone with a frosty glass of tea, on hot summer days. So the last few weeks, after my husband brought home a one gallon glass jug, I’ve been experimenting with sun tea recipes, based only loosely on my Nice Grandma’s. Put the collection of specific tea bags in the water, set it out in the sun for an hour, then remove the bags and let the jug chill in the fridge. The one thing to remember about sun tea is that since the water is never brought to a boil, it is more susceptible to bacterial contamination, so you want to finish off the whole batch in no more than two days.
It’s not quite the same, but drinking the cold, unsweetened tea that I’ve made this way, brings all those fond memories back. As Fred Thompson observed in his book, Cornbread Nation,
“Sweet tea—your mother’s sweet tea—means you are home.”
So it wasn’t just anxiety. It wasn’t all in my head. The danger was real.And because I’d been raised Southern Baptist, and I was the kind of nerdy kid who read the Bible all the way through on my own at least twice, I spent many, many hours begging god to take these feelings away from me. I spent a lot of time studying the guys that never got called out like I did, trying to figure out how to act more like them.
And while for many queer kids the world is a more tolerant place than it was for me in the 60s and 70s, thousands of teens in the U.S. are still thrown out on the streets every year by parents whose religion teaches it is better to drive the kid out than to “encourage their lifestyle.” Hundreds of children and teens still commit suicide every year because of bullying by people who suspect they are queer.
All the bullying, anxiety about being rejected, and so forth affects us. Studies show that most adult queers bear at least some of the neurological markers of PTSD—just like domestic abuse survivors. Coming out and finding communities that accept us doesn’t make that go away. We are always on the lookout for the next potential threat.There were always moments when I would get angry because of the way I was treated. But particularly when I was a young kid, anger was never useful. I was physically unable to stand up to the bullies (for instance, the middle school bully who was enough bigger than me that he held me upside down for many minutes while his buddies kicked and spit on me).
Over the course of several years anger began replacing fear. There are many moments I can point to, but one that sticks out came in my early 20s. I was sitting in a church pew in a church where the musical ensemble I was directed had performed several songs for to support a revival meeting. The visiting preacher had delivered an unusual message for a revival: he had talked about unity and finding common ground among fellow Christians who didn’t always agree with us on every detail. It was conciliatory, rather than a fiery call to fight evil, which was a much more typical revival tone.And then one of the pastors from the local church gave the closing prayer. That how I found myself with head bowed and eyes closed and suddenly shaking in fear as the pastor thank god for sending the scourge of AIDS to wipe out the evil homosexuals from the face of the earth. Oh, he went on and on about it. And because as far as I knew I was the only homo (very closeted) in that room, I half expected people to pull me aside for an intervention afterward. Or maybe that I would be jumped and beaten to within an inch of my life somewhere.
I realized some time later that the pastor wasn’t targeting he was arguing with the visiting pastor, using the passive-aggressive platform of a public prayer. But over the following days and weeks, as I realized that no one was targetting me, I began to get angry. And the more I thought about how that pastor had used a prayer to spew such hate, the more angry I became at the entire system.
That may have been the final nail in the coffin of my membership in the Baptist denomination—if not all of Christianity together.There are many people who will tell you not to become an angry, militant advocate for anything. They will urge you to try to find middle ground, to compromise, to make peace with those you disagree with you. The problem is that there isn’t an acceptable middle ground between the propositions: “I want to live” and “you deserve death.” And the people who thank god for AIDS, who tell parents to kick their queer children out on the street, who argue that transitioning treatments are not medically necessary, and who argue we shouldn’t have marriage rights (which legally include the right to make medical decisions for one another and so forth)—they are all implying, if not outright saying, that queers deserve death.
Seriously, the only middle ground is that some queers deserve death. How is that a morally acceptable position for anyone?So, yes, I am frequently an angry, militant queer. But all of the people on the other side are arguing in favor of murdering at least some queer people (or, I suppose you could argue that they are simply willing to allow some or most of us to die). That means that what I feel is righteous indignation. And if you don’t feel it at least a little bit on behalf of those kids bullied to death, the murdered trans people, and so on, well, I’m sorry to say, that means you’re on the side of the hateful murderers. I’m sure you have some rationalizations for why your position isn’t that, but you’re wrong. If you don’t believe our outrage is justified, then you’re not one of the good guys.
If that realization makes you unhappy, well, you have the power to fix it. Come over to the Light Side. Join the fight for justice, love, and life.
It’s impossible at this time of year to avoid all the spam, emotionally manipulative articles, targeting advertising, saccharine memes, and heartfelt testimonials about fathers. This is fine (maybe even great) for people who have admirable dads and are happy to be reminded about how marvelous a good father can be. It is not so good for people whose fathers have died (especially recently), making all this hype a reminder of their grief for the father they loved. It’s not a delight for those of us who had terrible fathers.
I was lucky enough to have two incredible, wonderful, and loving grandfathers as well as an incorrigible (but still loving) great-grandfather who were all three very involved in my life throughout my formative years. I’ve written about my two grandpas on this blog: Rinse, don’t wash and What do you mean, real father?. I’ve mentioned my great-grandpa many times, but haven’t written about him. I need to do something about that.But not today. This blog post is for all the people who, like me, had a terrible father. Please note my use of the past tense. One of the few bright spots to this holiday is that since he has died, I don’t have relatives (sometimes those who almost never contact me otherwise) trying to guilt me into calling him, or sigh disapprovingly when I tell them I haven’t talked to him in a long while. Two Father’s Days ago I did get a lot of cringeworthy messages from well-meaning relatives trying to offer me comfort in the grief that they assumed I must be experiencing. I was spared that last year, and so far I have been spared it this year.
It’s one thing when people who don’t know me very well express condolences when they learn he is dead. I can accept those sorts of things fine—especially after one friend made me practice saying “We weren’t that close; we’d hardly spoken in forty years.” But it is another thing altogether when it comes from the people who knew he was a physically and emotionally abusive man, who terrorized his wives and children, who regularly spouted racist and misogynist beliefs often phrased with the foulest slurs, who sneered at religious or liberal expressions of compassion for the downtrodden, and who never apologized to any of those he hurt.
I mentioned in an earlier post the mind-boggling series of messages I got from some relatives that all followed the same pattern right after his death:
- Recitation of two or more anecdotes of what a sweet, loving young man he was when he first started dating my mom,
- Reference to how excited he had been to learn he was going to be a father when mom became pregnant,
- Skip to urging me to try to remember the good times “before the troubles began” because of reasons.
Not a single one of the extended family members who sent me messages and cards like that included any memories or examples of him being that wonderful person that occurred after I was born. And that’s the thing, I don’t remember a time in my childhood when I wasn’t deeply afraid of being alone with him. The first time he beat me severely enough that I had to be taken to an emergency room I was only four years old. I and all my younger siblings experienced at least one beating that required emergency medical care. So I have trouble believing the claims that before he became a father he was a paragon of kindness and love.
Even if they are right, most of the people on that side of the family have previously expressed a narrative of how he became the angry, manipulative, bitter man I knew. Most of them say it stemmed from a single betrayal that happened to him which involved the pastor of the church he had grown up attending. This betrayal happened when my mom was about seven months pregnant with me. The fact that she was pregnant and that this betrayal cost my father a job that he had been looking forward to as a way to properly provide for his wife and soon-to-be-born child is one of the central details in the story as they always retold it.
They claim this one single event transformed him from an angel to a monster, they know it happened before I was born, and yet, they expect me to have memories of the alleged angel.
I get it. Denial isn’t a rational process. If they consciously admit that they knew he was violently abusive for my entire childhood, they have to also admit that they stood by in silence as I, my sister, my mom, and later his second wife and my three half-siblings, were subjected to his abuse. And that is a very scary thing to face.
If the only way they can look themselves in the mirror each day is to be in denial, I guess that’s their business. But trying to erase my past in order to assuage their conscience isn’t something I am willing to enable.
I only have some inklings of what made my father tick. Maybe he was a sweet kid. But all the evidence and research out there about abusers is that they don’t just one day go from being a kind empathetic puppy to an angry beast. It’s something that happens over a long time. My maternal grandmother was an emotionally abusive and manipulative person, which I assume was a major contributing factor to Dad’s abusive personality. I also know that as an adult, Dad could be charming and friendly toward people whose approval he sought. So I suspect the sweet, kind young man my various older relatives remember was simply him being on his best behavior toward people who he had no other power over.
I try not to dwell too much on all this. As I said shortly after his death, I thought I was mostly over it. Until the moment I was told he had died, and I felt not just an incredible sense of relief and peace, but also a bit of gratitude.
I am truly happy for all the people out there who have good, loving fathers and wish them joy in celebrating their love for those fathers today. And Just as I wish comfort for those others who have lost their wonderful fathers and find today a reminder of their loss.
But don’t ask me to pretend my father was a good man. Don’t ask me to pretend to be grieving. Don’t expect me to smile and agree with any sentiments of admiration for him you may feel compelled to express. The only thing I have ever mourned with regard to my father, is that I didn’t have the good father that they want to imagine he was.