June is Pride Month, I think?
I never got into the whole Pride Month thing.
Even before COVID I really wasn’t keen on crowds and parades,
though I did once have a wonderful Pride Parade experience
in Chicago with my dear friend David that ended with David settling me into the backseat of a cab (this was pre Uber, you see), kissing my cheek and saying, “This is just like the end of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
Yes. Exactly like that: gay man places drunk lesbian friend into the back seat of a cab after spending all day drinking and smoking cigarettes and leaning on tables in gay strip clubs.
My 20s and 30s were hardly PG.
I am sorry. Actually, I’m not really sorry.
Maybe just a little sorry.
(If it’s any consolation, most of my days are now firmly PG, and at worst R-rated for “language.” Seriously, I curse like a sailor, but I’m trying to reign it in. I come by it honestly, though. Generations of cursing Grubers have come before me.)
So Pride Month never really moved me.
I mean, of course, I was and am moved by the story of Stonewall,
and the many heartbreakingly inspiring stories and wonderful art
that has emerged from LGBT/“queer” culture & suffering
(as a Gen-X lesbian, I’m still trying to figure out how i personally cope with “queer,” which is a word that I — and other gay folks of yore,
knew in the context of homophobic slurs
that sometimes preceded actual physical violence.
Like a bat upside the head.
Or a fist to the gut.
Or a knee to the groin. All
stories I’ve heard from LGBT friends.
And when “queer” was still just a slur, there were no hate crime laws,
meaning if someone beat you up for being “queer” or “a dyke”
— I’ve been called a “dyke” by strangers and students , and I frequently call myself a “dyke,” but in a friendly way — it wasn’t a “hate crime”
it was just “well, why do you go around
looking like that?” so that’s why I struggle, still,
with Modern America’s use of “queer.”)
I remember being frightened of presenting as myself in all respects and particularly as a lesbian. In America. In the 80s & 90s. In white Catholic suburbs of Chicago. Me. And what I remember about those terrifying school years (all before college) is this: my peers knew I was “queer”
before I knew I was queer and before I knew a single damn thing about
what I was or who I was which, contrary to bullies throughout my youth, was not simply “a queer” or “a gay” girl.
Kids were NOT kind to me until I found my band of misfit friends during my sophomore year of high school. I am still friends
with some of those people. Folks from middle and grade school,
far less so. I was weird and I was so clearly gay.
I mean, outside of my interest in metal & grunge music
— which caused me to put images of long haired, androgynous men up in my bedroom — all signs in my life always pointed to “lesbian.”
I did enjoy a pair of patent leather shoes and a taffeta skirt as a young girl, but outside of that, if it were up to me, I would have been in flannel shirts, band t-shirts, and blue jeans since infancy.
I would have worn a necktie to my brother’s wedding had the option even been considerable.
But many parts of who I am today, thanks to
the gains of the LGBTQ rights community
(I’m sure I’m leaving out a letter, but I’m still not on summer break,
and I’m too tired to be particular), were simply not fathomable to me
in the 80s and 90s. When I graduated from 8th grade,
having been in Catholic school since kindergarten, all I knew was this
“Gay people get AIDS; gay people make AIDS & I do not want to be gay because I do not want to have or make AIDS.”
Surprisingly, at my Catholic School,
not much emphasis was put on gays going to hell (at least not to my recollection),
but there was a lot of disparaging talk among my peers about “fags”
and “gays” and “homos” and among my educators about gay men
as little more than immoral harbingers of lethal disease.
I don’t like Organized Religions.
I don’t like flags.
I don’t like imperialism of any sort,
and as far as I can tell, Pride has become a capitalist empire.
Just another “festival” during festival season. Scarcely different from
The Fourth of July.
This is not a judgment. Festivals are great for those who enjoy them.
And if Pride makes someone
— particularly someone newly out —
feel good about themselves, I say good for that!
In my home office/studio/temple on The Spaceship,
I have exactly ONE Gay Pride Flag and it’s on a postcard
my friend David (of the aforementioned Pride Parade Story fame)
sent me from Spain or Brazil.
I have zero American flags.
Does this mean I don’t support Pride?
Or that I don’t support America?
Of course not. I’m just of this mind:
if I care about something, I care about it all year long
— not just for a month.
If I live a truth, I live that truth all year long
— not just for a month.
The deeper I grow into this year,
the more I realize how truly blessed I am.
One of the many ways in which I am blessed
is that I have a family, legions of friends, and an employer
who are totally and completely fine with accepting me on my terms.
Meaning, they are not weirded out about the fact that I’m a woman who dresses in more traditionally male clothing. No one is upset that I keep my hair short. No one is freaked out when I shop in the men’s section.
I mean no friends and family are fussed.
Plenty of strangers give me weird looks when I shop in the men’s section.
I am small build, and while I’m not curvy, I can seldom (if ever)
really pass as “male.” Nor do I wish to pass as male.
I just wish to live as I want to live without
people projecting all their weird, complicated, bullshit/hangups onto me.
I’m just shopping for some pants, you know?
And sometimes, in America, my wife
— I’m a gay who took full advantage of those sweet federally legal marriage benefits all you straight white folks have had access to since forever —
and I still experience harassment. We still get called dykes.
My wife sometimes, still, in America doesn’t feel “comfortable” with me getting out of the car. And why? Because I am an androgynous woman, at best. A scary dyke, at worst.
Depends on who is perceiving my existence.
And she’s not scared that someone will say something rude to me (we’re both, as lesbians, quite accustomed to that), but scared that someone will do something violent to me.
So much depends, even still, on who is perceiving my existence as a woman, and as a “queer” woman. And there have been times in my life where my queerness, my presentation (not necessarily my “gayness”
— this has always, in my experience, been more about woman-hating than about gay-hating) has been dangerous to me.
Men, particularly, get angry when they call me “sir” and then realize I’m a “ma’am.” (Frankly, I don’t care if a person calls me “sir” or “ma’am”
— it’s just a thing people do, and at first blush, I do sometimes look like a “sir.” With a lifetime of misgendering behind me,
what I have found works best is if you misgender someone,
realize your error, don’t flip out and over apologize,
just correct yourself and move along
— your embarrassment makes me feel infinitely worse
than your ‘slip up’ which I, personally, take no offense
to whatsoever — and for those who do take offense, I still think
responding first with politeness, to an accident, is the best policy.
If someone is trying to be a jerk, that’s a different story . . . )
Now that I’m married and content in my relationship with my spouse,
I present in the world as I feel is most authentic.
I have the privilege of age, whiteness, chosen familial/friend community,
and workplace support, to present as my most authentic self.
Some days that looks like a button down and khakis.
Some days that looks like blue jeans and a Bob Seger t-shirt.
Some days a flannel, cuffed pants, Docs — just like the 90s.
I’m pierced and tattooed and I wear my hair short and it looks particularly insane right now because I cut it myself (even if the best you can afford is SuperCuts —just pony up the money. Take it from me: don’t let frustration get the best of you, don’t do it yourself, let a professional handle that shit — especially if you have bad eyesight; seriously, if it’s safe, see a hairstylist
— they went to school for these matters.)
But even when my hair doesn’t look insane,
I am partial to undercuts and mohawks and feauxhawks.
That’s where I’m comfortable.
And I guess that’s what Pride Month is about: haircuts.
I’m kidding. It’s not really about haircuts. Or piercings. Or t-shirts. It’s about how hard we fought, as Gay Americans, to gain some of the same rights afforded our fellow Heterosexual Americans, and the story of Gay Rights is truly a story of every American pitching in. Gay or not. Gay Rights have often been collective efforts, like every good that has ever come from America: a compassionate, collective, common good effort.
That’s what Pride Month is about: the value of community.
I’m done with homophobes.
Et fucking cetera.
The whole lot.
Done with them.
I don’t mean “done” as in “indifferent,” but I mean “done”
as in I do not abide homophobes, et al.
Nor do I offer space for such people in my personal life.
If you’re out there upset and trying to stop people from being happy in living as their most authentic selves then you, not the rest of us, are seriously demented. Stay home until you die. Get Instacart. I’ll start your racist, sexist, homophobic ass a GoFundMe on the condition you never post on the internet or leave your property — you’ll get cozy with Instacart and lean on the many dear, trustworthy, and loving friends you surely have.
My advice to any young person who identifies as part of the LGBTQ rainbow is this: know your history.
Know the history of events, of language, of politics
that allowed you to arrive at this place which, from my limited view,
is fairly solid in many parts of the country,
but certainly not all.
The healthcare and education systems
are still stacked wildly against the needs of “The Gays”
(I’m tired of acronyms in these final days of the semester,
the LGBTQ community, in this context, is “The Gays.”)
Lesbians like me even more specifically.
What I mean is gender nonconforming, or “masculine” of center
(can we, for the love of humanity, please stop gendering clothes and toys
and colors?) woman who has two chronic, progressive diseases that could
kill me if not treated properly, I have been subjected to some icky treatment
as a patient. I was also subjected to lots of “icky” treatment as a child
in the American Education System, but I don’t wish to make a list of grievances.
My advice to any young person out there who identifies as part of The Gay community is also this: be honest about yourself. You are allowed to change. You are allowed to grow and evolve. As a human being, that’s what you’re supposed to do. You get to define who you are — not other people.
And I suppose, at the core, that’s what Pride Month is about for me: celebrating who we, as The American Gays, are and how far we’ve come in a, historically speaking, relattively short time. Shit, up until the 80s I don’t think I was even allowed to work with kids under federal law or some shit. A scholar wrote much more smartly about how badly American Gay Teachers were treated here, for the curious: https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/159769
For me, the fact that I’m a lesbian is the least interesting part of my life. Seriously. I’m far more interested in what even are those UFOs? and what is God? What ever shall we do about all this American suffering? to concern myself with who someone is fucking or not fucking or in love with or not in love with.
Relationships between people, sexually & romantically, are common.
People fall into erotic/romantic love all the time with other people.
So for me, the celebration of Pride is not about my ability to live my Truth with my wife. I’m already doing that, regardless of what anyone thinks about it, but about seeing to it (as many did before me) that The Young Gays do not have to fight so hard to get to a place where they might, safely, also not have to care about what anyone who dislikes them thinks.
Presently, in America, you still do have to care about being A Gay.
Presently, in America, you could still be fired for being A Gay.
Presently, in America, you could easily get beat up for being A Gay.
Presently, in America, you could be kicked out of your home for being A Gay.
And presently, in America, people who strongly dislike The Gays are running schools, hospitals, and government, so sometimes we do have to pander (at the very least) to them so we can get anywhere in this fucked up American Economy. I’m not talking about buying yachts. I’m talking about being able to afford my cancer care and a decent roof over my head. The American Economy is designed to frighten us. So even Sarah and I, who are clinging by a mere thread to what remains of a middle class in this country, are perpetually frightened our economic situation could change and collapse our access to things like good hospitals, homes, and reliable transportation.
Students who have worked with me know I despise the phrase “you do you” for the absurd selfishness it inherently applies, but there is an exception
and where it comes to matters of sex, abortion, reproduction: you do you.
Just try not to kill yourself
— physically, intellectually, spiritually or otherwise —
in the process.
That said, I am interested in contributing to a better America
where all humans, even the gay, young ones, can be themselves
and love themselves and maybe each other and not have to spend
their entire Gay American Life dodging bigotry and shame and self-loathing.
Being a lesbian in America, and a lesbian who is a little masculine of center/androgynous, means that I have had to learn to laugh at myself
and I have had to learn how to laugh darkly at the cruelty and indifference
of other Americans. I have learned how to manage the occasional homophobic (or racist or misogynist) comment in the classroom
with finesse instead of outrage. No bigoted view has never been changed
by law or righteous indignation alone.
Minds are changed through love. That idea is not my intellectual property.
Dr. King said that one first, and much more eloquently.
What I mean is that yes, we should be proud, as The Gay Americans,
of how far we’ve come, but we still have work to do on the matter of love — both within and outside of the gay community.
I would ask my fellow White Gay Brothers & Sisters to ask themselves,
how am I racist? How am I misogynist? Because it is the view of this
anti-racist lesbian feminist, that the healthy survival of BIPOC and girls/women is of the greatest, most pressing, import in America
This might require us to scrutinize capitalism, and what capitalism has done to us and our souls and our humanity.
We might have to reconsider that Coke logo on the main stage at Pride
or the sponsorships with Big Box Stores — I don’t know.
We will have to be self-reflective and self-critical, and
if we’re lucky, rigorously honest about what the needs are of our,
very large and cumbersome, gay/queer community, particularly
the needs of gay youth and of children who do not feel at home
in our ridiculously rigid gender scaffolding.
I’ve posted, to the chagrin of some, about my alcoholism here.
I will continue to write about it, as I see ethical/appropriate,
until the subject thoroughly bores me, until I’ve exhausted
all possible understanding of why some people are fucking alcoholics
while others are just not alcoholics.
Why? I don’t get it.
If you know why,
let me fucking know
so I can stop thinking about this.
So I’m a recovering alcoholic.
And when I think about how I got started on the drink,
I think about years and years where I was trying so very hard to push away
a great many realities: like my homosexuality, like my ADD (self diagnosed until I see my new shrink here in Tucson, but seriously? Anyone who knows me knows what I’m talking about. Hell, my students have diagnosed me with ADD. No joke), like things that happened to me in childhood.
And I dealt with my homosexuality in the only way I knew how to deal
with a thing that scared the fuck out of me: I just decided to try
this whole “gay lifestyle thing” and see if it was, in fact, for me
*My choice of the word “decided” may be disturbing to some readers, but I tell you what. I was born in 1976. I ‘decided’ to try being straight for a long time before I gave in and ‘decided’ to try being gay. It just so happens gay felt natural and right to me, while being straight never felt right and natural to me. Dig?
So I dealt with my homosexuality by just becoming the gayest version of myself I could be.
A lesbian friend once told me I sometimes “act like an old gay man.”
Fine by me. I love old gay men.
A man, who I think meant to call me a “dyke,”
once called me a “fag” and that was less fine
only because that man was a stranger to me
and when strange men yell homophobic slurs at my female self at night
I get nervous for my, you know, physical safety.
By the time I was 16, I was so damn certain I was gay, but had so few people to look to for advice on “lesbian living” that I felt utterly adrift. Alone.
There was no internet (but there were libraries, and they saved my queer girl self).
I was well into college before Ellen came out on television
and then promptly lost her show.
I remember that specific event because it was the only time in my college life when I was really excited about seeing a show. I was really, really excited
to see Ellen, whose 90s show I enjoyed, come out as a lesbian on national television. And I remember how even some of my most supportive friends
and family complained about the “romance storyline” — because they were okay with her being gay just as long as she wasn’t, you know, actually gay
and as I understand the world “being gay” is sometimes about being in love with someone of the same sex or gender or not.
I’m so out of touch.
I don’t even know where my Lesbian Card is.
Lost in the move, probably.
Monuments, Awareness Months, Federal Holidays,
while well intentioned (please, we really, really love the Federal Holidays — the best!) don’t really mean any goddamn thing in this country
but an opportunity for rich people to get richer
by selling their ubiquitous products to Americans
under the auspices of “being nice to The Gays.”
And you should be nice to The Gays because we are Actual Americans
just like Black people and Chinese Americans and Muslim Americans and Female Americans. You should just be fucking charitable to everyone
who needs your charity as often as you can without running yourself into financial or physical ruin.
And here, I suppose, is the true usefulness of Pride Month:
it got me (and others) talking about Gay Stuff/Gay Matters.
There are certainly systems in this country that could be quickly & easily improved a lot for LGBTQ Americans.
But for me, as a Queer American Woman in June of 2021?
As an educator and a breast cancer patient?
As a recovering alcoholic?
I’m way more concerned about what we’re going to do to finally, actually foster reparations to Black Americans, much less a coherent, meaningful, honest conversation about race at all.
Maybe instead of Pride Month or Black History Month
we have a month dedicated to Truth.
Like Truth About: Women in America or
Truth About: Black People in America or
Truth About: Lesbians in America.
How about Truth Months where people who are members of said groups
just get to spend the entire month going from school to school, church to temple, football game to baseball game, east to west coast to tell their American story, their Truth as it relates to the things they cannot, if living authentically, identify their way out of?
Because as a gay, a woman, a breast cancer patient, an alcoholic, there aren’t a lot of spaces where people can handle my Truth. They could handle candied versions of my truth as a lesbian in America, but probably not The Truth as a lesbian in America, and that’s okay. That’s why God let us have the internets and cameras.
Happy fuckin’ Pride Month, folks!