Orlando, religion, the South, and me

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Many of my gay friends bear the scars of religious upbringings. Some more than others.

I know, I know. The stories of the Young Gay trying to pray away his alleged sins, trying to hide his clandestine hook-ups with curious friends and knowing strangers, trying to avoid handsy priests and youth ministers after choir practice or during lock-ins: these are the stereotypical stories that draw the media’s attention, sell books, spawn movies and plays.

But just because they’re stereotypes doesn’t mean that they’re not true.

* * * * *

I was raised in the Southern Baptist church in the middle-of-nowhere Mississippi. Difference and diversity were as foreign as subways and discotheques.

I was a poor match. As soon as I figured out what “gay” meant, I knew that “gay” meant me. And I knew that that was bad. Our preacher said so, my teachers said so, my family said so.

I spent a decade running from myself — hiding from myself, really — denying my urges, wishing I could be “normal”, and fooling around with plenty of guys on the side. Living that kind of double-life required loads of secrecy and Olympics-level mental gymnastics.

Even now, long after I’ve given away my last fuck about what people think, I’m still wary of religion. Christianity is the scariest monster under the bed, but honestly, all faiths make me skittish.

Which is why I was surprised to get this message from my sister-in-law on Sunday: Continue reading

Orlando

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At this point, I feel like the things we’re saying about Orlando have been said a thousand times before: homophobia, Islamophobia, hatred, love, acceptance, America, sorrow.

But of course, we can’t stop saying those things just because they’ve already been said. We can’t stop acknowledging these tragic events when they happen — and of course, they’ll continue to happen, perhaps even more so now, as the LGBT movement makes greater gains around the globe. We’ll see pushback, backlash, and some of it will be bloody.

I may say those things myself at some point. But today, I’m not feeling especially articulate. So here’s someone else saying them, someone smarter than I, with better hair, and with an adorable British accent:

Reflection

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I’ve known some dark people, but no one perfectly black.

Even my goth-iest friends, the ones who swore that their insides were the color of tar didn’t come close. Not because they were posers, but because: hold a flashlight to the back of your hand and watch your palm glow red from the light. Skin is translucent. Even the darkest, most shriveled heart of the crustiest, most shriveled curmudgeon pulses with color.

Metaphysicists have said it for years, and physicists agree: everyone reflects light. We absorb very little of it. The sun, the hanging lamp in the kitchen, the candle at that restaurant, radiate light, and we give it back, re-formed in our own image. We’re all mirrors. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be able to see a damned thing.

Does nature really abhor a straight line?

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When you see a hill, a tree, a shimmering blue lake, what’s the first thing to cross your mind? Do you think:

“Damn, that’s pretty.”

Or is it more like:

“That would look better with a Starbucks.”

Who was the first person to look at a grove of trees swaying in the breeze, cock her head to one side, and see them in her mind’s eye, stripped of leaves and stacked six feet high to create a wall, a hut, a house?

Who was the first person to look at a crossroad and envision a stop sign, giving birth to order and disorder and lawyers in one fell swoop?

Who was the first person to imagine a strip mall, and did it look as bland and cheap to him as it does to us now?

What I’m really asking is: are humans naturally disposed toward order? And if so, is that a unique trait, or are bird nests and dolphin pods just variations on a theme? Is it just opposable digits that helped us dominate landscapes, or is it something deeper, an innate need to categorize people into neighborhoods, cities, countries, to shoehorn knowledge into words, papers, books?

Or, put another way: does nature really abhor a straight line, and if it does, does that make us unnatural?

(Inspired by a quote I read somewhere–possibly in Charlie Jane Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky, but don’t hold me to it–that could be paraphrased as, “An ordered life is one that wasn’t lived”. Or maybe, “An ordered life suggests that you were preparing for death all along”. Either way, it was striking.)

HIV named 30 years ago

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Sunday was an important day, and I missed it. It was the 30th birthday of the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV.

Not the virus itself, obviously, which had been around for decades. Just the name.

That chronology of thing-first/name-second reminds me of the history of homosexuality, which seems apropos. Same-sex attraction had been common since the dawn of time but was only given a name in the late 19th century. Then it became something that could be dissected, discussed, treated. It became a legitimate, identifiable threat to mainstream straight folks, not like the vague sin of “sodomy” that anyone was guilty of committing.

I digress.

On May 1, 1986, the journal Nature published a letter from a team of researchers struggling to come up with a name for the virus that causes AIDS (which went through its own nomenclature crisis and was once known by the charming acronym GRID, or Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Disease). The virus had been identified by researchers three years earlier, but it took them until 1986 to prove that it was the cause of AIDS. And thus, they needed a name.

The letter was entitled “What to call the AIDS virus?”, and it listed seven issues related to their decision to go with “HIV”. Among the more interesting was issue #2:

(2) Though the name should clearly link the viruses to the disease with which they are associated, it should not incorporate the term “AIDS”, which many clinicians urged us to avoid.

The scientists didn’t bother to explain why they were urged to avoid referencing AIDS in the virus’ name. Was there uncertainty in the scientific community about the link between HIV and AIDS? There still is today, though not among reputable scientists. Or were the clinicians trying to distinguish between AIDS-related opportunistic infections that already had perfectly good names like encephalopathy and Kaposi’s sarcoma and the virus that opened the door to those infections?

Maybe I’m being nice, maybe I’m being too naive about the heterosexism and homophobia that ran rampant in the medical community of the day, but I choose to believe the latter.

Anyway, happy birthday, HIV. Here’s hoping that you live to see very, very few more, you little, microscopic asshole.

Transphobic ‘bathroom bills’ reveal what’s on men’s minds (and it’s not good)

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Most of the opinion pieces I’ve read about America’s current spate of transphobic “bathroom bills” employ the same handful of criticisms. To wit:

  • The laws discriminate against an already-marginalized group.
  • The laws are especially harmful to young people coming to grips with their own trans identities.
  • Forcing trans men and trans women to visit restrooms that align with the sex they were assigned on their birth certificates invites more confusion than legislators have bargained for.
  • There are no documented cases of anyone ever misusing trans-friendly bathroom policies to harass women.

And less frequently:

  • These hateful pieces of legislation do nothing to strengthen sexual assault laws. Sexual assault was, is, and will remain illegal, no matter where it takes place. If right-wing legislators really want to protect people against predators, there are far more effective ways to go about it than targeting trans people.

All important points, to be sure.

But what I find weird and, frankly, downright offensive in these discussions is the appalling, retro stereotypes they perpetuate. The proponents of these bills/laws are usually men, who talk about women as if (a) they weren’t in the room, and (b) they were completely incapable of identifying and defending themselves against sexual predators.

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Jonno and me, 15+ years into our relationship, on our second 'official' anniversary, at the top of Provincetown's Pilgrim MonumentThe first anniversary is always the most important. After that, we think in multiples of five. Five, ten, 25, 50, 75: those are the anniversaries that get noticed. Those are the ones we celebrate or mourn.

I can’t be certain why that is, but I’d guess that after a while, the process of remembering becomes too taxing. It requires too much effort to get worked up by something that happened so long ago: a marriage, a death, the founding of a nation, a natural disaster. It’s all in the past, right? There’s no need to pull out the confetti or the photo that makes you cry every single year.

But of course, if you don’t mark every anniversary, if you let them slip by, they become less important. The events they commemorate become vague in our memories. They people those events have touched become forgotten, overlooked.

As of today, Jonno and I have been together 19 years. I admit, we’re not planning a blow-out celebration (not that we ever do, honestly). I don’t think we’ve even bought each other gifts. But I’ll do my best to spend the day thinking about him and not taking him for granted.

Happy Valentine’s Day, From Neil deGrasse Tyson

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You know the tradition of ending fortune cookie maxims with “in bed”? Try doing the same with this one.

The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation.

— Neil deGrasse Tyson

Once again, courtesy of Brick’s not-so-work-friendly blog.

Last Meal

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Tomorrow, or the day after, or 50 years from now, you will have your last meal. I will, too.

I just hope I don’t see it coming.

I hope the last meal sneaks up on me like a stranger in a bar: an unexpected thing, perhaps good, perhaps bad, perhaps completely forgettable. Most of all, I hope my last meal doesn’t seem like a last meal.

It’s not the “last” part that bothers me. I don’t mind the thought of death, the muscles of my jaw going taut, drawing my mouth permanently closed, preventing me from taking another bite. I don’t mind the thought of my tongue rotting away, tastebuds unused and withering. I don’t mind staring at the end: as long as I can say a few goodbyes, I’ll be able to eat, no problem. Then again, as my waistline will tell you, that’s never been a problem.

No, it’s not the “last” part of the last meal that’s tricky. It’s the meal itself.

For a vegan — even a casual one — I’m notoriously nonchalant about my eating habits. I’m not picky, and I don’t require variety. I could eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner all year long. Maybe longer.

For a meal to be a last meal would make it seem significant, and I’m terrible when it comes to legitimately significant things: birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, funerals. To imbue a meal with significance — a simple plate of food? I’d be paralyzed.

How would I choose? What would I choose? Would I go light, so I could face my end comfortably? Would I go heavy and gluttonous with a big blowout? Would I throw ethics to the wind and wrap it all up with a steak and a cigarette? The most likely options include:

  • Tomato sandwiches
  • Mac and cheese
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Gumbo (vegan, prepared by my husband)
  • Ziti (baked, also prepared by my husband)
  • A giant bowl of Vietnamese bún with lemongrass tofu from Tan Dinh
  • My grandmother’s blueberry cobbler (which would require some work with a spiritual advisor, since she’s been gone for nearly 30 years, and no one bothered to write down her recipes)

But who the hell knows? Faced with so many choices, I’d probably just forego the meal and meet death on an empty stomach.

I Wrote A Book For Casual Vegans Like Me

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casually vegan FINAL3A couple of years ago, I wrote a series of posts about my own, casual approach to veganism. Recently, I went back to those posts, trimmed a bit here, expanded a little there, and voila: it’s now a book called Casually Vegan: A Beginner’s Guide to Imperfection.

I did it for a couple of reasons. First, I’d never published an e-book, and I wanted to see how difficult the process was. (As it turns out, walking and chewing gum is harder.)

But more importantly, in my own small way, I wanted to help change the dialogue around veganism. As with any system of beliefs or practices, there are lots of self-righteous vegans out there, and plenty of revering and shaming going on: “Oh, she’s not vegan, her luggage has leather tags.” Or, “I’m a really good vegan: I’d never touch yeast.”

That drives me nuts because we’re all humans, and we have a limitless capacity for screwing up. Also, even if we could agree on what a “perfect” vegan might be, it’s impossible for anyone living in the 21st century to be one. You’re going to take a cab or fly on a plane with leather seats, you’re going to find yourself at a dinner party and mid-way through realize that the host used chicken broth in the lentils.

Rather than playing the more-vegan-than-thou game, I think we’d do better to acknowledge our missteps — maybe even laugh at them — and use them to figure out where the edge of the path lies. It sounds hippy-dippy, I know, but I firmly believe you learn far more from failure than from success.

And last but not least, I think that some vegans go so far in their quest to minimize harm to animals that they forget humans are animals, too. Caring for animals and caring for humans aren’t mutually exclusive. They’re not even different sides of the same coin. They’re the same side of the same coin.

Bottom line: maybe it’s better to eat a slice of that cake that your grandmother made with butter and eggs than to turn your nose up and accuse her of being Hitler 2.0. You’ll make her happy, and you’ll still be doing more than many people to make the world a kinder, gentler place.

Anyway, if you want a copy of the book for yourself or you need a quick holiday gift, it’s a whopping $2.99 on Amazon.