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Good Friends & Chosen Family

In the LGBTQ communities, there is a lot of talk about chosen families. The original purpose of these families was, ostensibly, to serve as a replacement for families who had rejected their children due to their sexual or gender identities.

I did not start using this term until very recently, when I sat back and took stock of my life and realized how few of my blood relations I really wanted to call family anymore. And how very many of my close friends I considered to be members of a strange and beautiful tapestry of gorgeous and dependable souls.

This is not to say that I don’t appreciate and love my close blood relations. My parents, brother, and I all get along really well. And their support and love means a lot to me. But the lack of an extended family of aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents has been something that I have felt keenly in my adult life.

Last night, after my Thanksgiving meal with my parents and brother and his girlfriend, I headed over to the home of two dear friends just in time for post-eating hangouts.

In the warmth of their apartment, I felt a glow that was familiar to me and that I had not felt in many years. It was the same glowing warmth that I used to feel when I was surrounded by my aunts, grandparents, and cousins when I was a kid enjoying the holidays.

Surrounded by kindred souls brought together by choice rather than chance, I felt like I was a part of something greater. And it feels so much  more special, given the fact that it is built of a mutual love for each other that is chosen rather than dispensed by birth.

More than anything else, if I had to list a thing that I am thankful for this year, my chosen family would be that thing.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

As I said in my post yesterday, Thanksgiving brings up a lot of feelings for me. It’s not just the family members who have passed on that get me thinking, though.

Like Christmas, Thanksgiving is a secular holiday for me and for most of my family and friends. I don’t put on any pretense that this holiday has anything to do with something positive in our history. In fact, the history of Thanksgiving is pretty messed up.

This time of year always gets me thinking about historical revisionism and the way that we write history so that we come out looking like the best possible version of ourselves.

When I first started studying history in college, I was shocked to find that so much of what I learned at school was at best morally ambiguous, at worst morally repugnant.

That said, I have a hard time with the notion that Thanksgiving itself has anything to do with happy pilgrims and Native Americans holding hands and eating turkey.

What I don’t have a problem with in regards to Thanksgiving is the notion of coming together with the people I care about and preparing to usher in a time of cold and hardship with a celebration of warmth and love.

I also think it’s important that we remember to be thankful for the things in our lives that make the upcoming winter season easier for us.

This year I am thankful for my chosen family first and foremost. From my chosen partner and our furry babies to our friends and the people that we choose to have in our lives. When I think about it, I have a small army of people behind me at any one time. And that knowledge makes it possible for me to fight any battle, knowing that I will be backed up no matter what.

I’m thankful as always for my health and the health of those around me. And for my blood family that have grown so much with me over the past year, who support me in everything that I do, and who I love so much.

I’m very thankful for my job. And for the comfort that having employment at a place like that affords me.

I’m also thankful for turkey. And pie. And other delicious noms.

And for you, reading this. Because your support and readership means a lot to me as I’m growing this space. Thank you for being here.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


Featured image found here.

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Burnout. Holidays. Self Care.

Thanksgiving is finally upon us. Tonight we are heading up to my parents to decorate the tree ahead of the Thanksgiving gorging that will happen tomorrow.

It’s strange how families can change over the years. Or our attitudes to them can, at any rate. I’m really excited to see my parents and eat and relax and have everyone together.

Thanksgiving has turned into a holiday filled with mixed feelings for me. When I was growing up, the whole family would turn up to my grandparents place and we would all eat together. So many of the people that I used to celebrate this holiday with are dead now or have moved on. Nowadays my Thanksgiving is small. My parents, my brother and his girlfriend, Frankie and I.

But the good thing about the smallness of the holiday for me is that everyone is a known quantity. I have seen so many articles recently on how to survive the holidays and how to talk to racist relatives and so on. It seems like people really don’t know how to handle their families at the holidays. The only thing I really have to do is avoid talking politics. But outside of that, everything is pretty smooth.

And honestly, if my parents and my family gave me so much stress that I had to think about coping mechanisms like drinking games when they were racist or thinking “YOU’RE AN ASSHOLE” in order to avoid saying it out loud, I probably just wouldn’t go to family holidays any more.

One of the biggest things about self care is the ability to say “no” to things that we know are bad for us, after all. And toxic people aren’t good for anyone. Not for themselves and not for the people around them.

At any rate, my small Thanksgiving isn’t so bad. It’s a little sad, but the people who are there are such a good and big part of my life that I don’t mind being a little sad when I think about the people who are gone.

Another reason I’m happy to have some time off and relax with family is that I won’t be on social media as much. The things going on in the news lately have been making me so sad that I can barely stand it. Hopefully I’ll be better able to cope with what I’m seeing after I’ve had a little time off from the constant grief streaming.

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Some thoughts on the day after Veteran’s Day

I spent yesterday watching people’s Veteran’s Day messages fly past me in a flurry on social media. Veteran friends changed their profile pictures to display themselves in uniform. Some of them goofy, some of them serious. People posted photos of relatives that have been lost in the line of duty and photos of generations past who have served in the military.

I’m from a military family. We have served in every war since we landed in this country in the early 1900s. My family photo albums are full of men in uniform. Mostly army, although my father is a formerly active Marine.

Growing up, I had a lot of good feelings about the military. And I still do. I think that there is something to be said for the type of bonding that happens when you are a part of a group like the military. And I think that America in particular is a country in which families like mine are not the exception, but the rule in terms of military service.

The problem with growing up, though, is that it tends to complicate any bucolic feelings you may have had about the things that surrounded you growing up.

I have known a lot of veterans in my time. The first one was, obviously, my father. He enlisted in the Marines when he was young. He wanted to serve his country over in Vietnam. The second veteran that I knew was my uncle Paul. He was the youngest boy in my mother’s family. Unlike my father, he actually was sent overseas to Vietnam to fight. He came back to a country who hated him and a VA that did not treat him for the PTSD that he suffered from due to his time spent overseas. He came home to no job, no prospects, and nursing a crippling heroin addiction that would follow him for the rest of his life, leading to the loss of his leg and his eventual death due to overdose in 2005 when I was 21.

Since my uncle died, I have known many other veterans. I have seen them begging for money here in Philadelphia. I have become friends with them. I have listened to them talk about their time spent overseas fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan or Korea or even Vietnam. And I have heard them when they have talked about the way they have been treated when they have come home. The way they have been reviled by the general public. Disregarded by Congress. And underserved by the VA.

The United States of America has been at war in one country or another since 1779. That’s 236 years of conflict. 236 years of soldiers fighting and dying in service to their country. I hold those soldiers in my heart and have the utmost respect for their service and sacrifice. I salute every single one of them. And I am grateful to their families who have to give up so much when they give up their soldiers to fight.

But I have a serious problem with a country where we have nearly spent two and a half centuries at war. I have a serious problem with the leaders of a country that vote consistently against legislation that is designed to help our veterans when they return home. I find it shocking that the rate of veteran suicide is so high that we have organizations dedicated to stopping it. That rate is so high because the people that we send away to fight our endless wars for us do not have the support necessary when they return to deal with issues effecting their mental health.

So while I support wholeheartedly the people fighting for our country, I cannot support the warmongering of the country that they represent. And I cannot sanction or abide the pattern of neglect that I have seen enacted throughout my entire life when it comes to veterans health.

Happy Veteran’s Day. Let’s do better for the people we call on to make the highest sacrifice imaginable when called to serve.


Featured image is by Martha Rosler and is entitled Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful – First Lady Pat Nixon (1972).

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Schrodinger’s Homophobes

I bar tended a fabulous Hallowedding this weekend. I do not know the couple well, but the love that mutual friends have for them endeared me to them immediately. Listening to their vows was so touching. And seeing the massive outpouring of love that their friends and family have for them was deeply moving.

Sitting in that room, handing out drinks and celebrating along with a room full of people gathered to celebrate the love of two people, I started to think about what my own wedding would look like. Who would be there. And who wouldn’t.

When I came out to my family a few years ago, it was really strange. Mostly my sexuality has been such an open thing to everyone I was not related to for so long. The idea of copping to a thing that so many people already knew was super strange.

Now that I’m OUT, I look around at the people I have known for years and wonder if they give a shit. I mostly don’t care. But one thing that I do care about is who I will invite to the day when I commit myself to someone for the rest of my life.

I have always wanted to do the whole wedding thing. I wanna have a big ass sleepover and wear a gorgeous dress and have all my friends around me and say nice stuff to my partner and hug and kiss everyone I love and also eat all the cupcakes.

These are my goals. They are simple goals, but they are mine.

And one thing that I 100% want for my wedding is no drama of any kind. I really don’t have dramatic friends, so I’m not all that worried on that front. And on the whole, my family is not a dramatic one. But the addition of gayness makes people behave in unexpected ways.

That said, since I have come out I have been looking at my family in a new light, trying to decide which of them might go all hetero-mad and say something or do something shitty at a gay wedding.

The shitty part is that I have virtually nothing to report at this point. Other than the two people who disowned their daughter for being married to a woman, there aren’t any glaring “I’M A HOMOPHOBE” signs on any of my family members’ heads.

And that frightens me. It frightens me because I don’t want to exclude people because they are from a generation that seems to have more trouble with LGBTQ people. But I also don’t want a flashbang of homophobia to go off in the middle of my wedding because I don’t want to deal with that shit.

I mean, it’s not like I can make my RSVPs look like this:

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That would just be too much. I’ll just have to keep my ears peeled and hope that anyone with shitty feelings about me marrying another woman decides to do the right thing and just check “Regretfully Decline” on my inevitable RSVP.

Honestly, I would worry about their safety if they didn’t make that choice and made any kind of scene. I have very protective friends. Keep that in mind if you read this, undercover familial homophobes. Assholery at my future nuptials will be severely policed.


Featured image found here: http://phys.org/news/2014-02-peeking-physicists-quantum-particles.html

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National Coming Out Day: I’m late as usual

In middle school, I fell in love with my straight best friend. As so many lesbians are wont to do, it seems. Identifying it as love or sexual attraction was something I didn’t do until later, but the way that I hung on her every word, the way that I pined after her for years, how I mourned when she passed from my life, all of that was the beginning of me coming into myself. A process that would take far longer than I expected.

Like so many people, coming out for me was more gradual than the stereotypical and somewhat fictive egress from the social closet. I spent years questioning my sexuality. Years in and out of shitty relationships. Settling for less than I deserved. Struggling with the “bi” label and trying to figure out why my relationships with women always felt like fantasies, too easy to possibly be true. While my relationships with men were always a struggle. A struggle that I associated with realness and authenticity in a way that was incredibly damaging. So, you know, thanks for that, romantic comedies.

Oddly, coming out to myself was the hardest part. I remember sitting in bed with Frankie, early on in our relationship. I had this sick feeling in my stomach as I turned to her and said:

“I’ve been having this really ugly thought.”

“What thought is that?” she asked, not giving away at all the fact that she already knew the thing I was going to tell her.

“What if I’m just… gay?”

The impact of that question was like a physical blow. Frankie let me eat a lot of ice cream to console myself. And she did not let on that she already knew for a whole hour after my initial statement. Because she’s sweet like that. The implications it had for every relationship I had entered into before her were staggering. I felt like I should apologize to every man I had dated from age fifteen to twenty-nine for being totally gay and not really present at all during those relationships. For playing house with them.

The coming out process isn’t as simple as acknowledging it to yourself, of course. The coming out process is ongoing and public as well as privately played out. It’s not as if we all get slapped with a rainbow sign when we admit who we are to ourselves. It’s not that simple. I still come out once or twice a week because, as a queer femme person, people never expect me to have a female partner. The ongoing and repetitive outing of myself can be frustrating. But it can also be surprising and comforting, to see how positively people react. How excited they are for us to be together. Support and love can be found in the strangest places.

Coming out to my friends has always been as simple as showing up in a place with a girl. Or talking about girlfriends. Coming out to strangers is similarly easy. Coming out to family was harder. Way harder.

I think it can be hardest for family because they set ideas and expectations up about you from a very early age. They imagine a life for you, build an image of you in their heads that it can be hard to deviate from. Although, to my brother’s credit, he knew about my dawning queerness from the moment I fell in love with Liz in middle school. And he never once gave me grief about it.

I told my mom pretty early on that I was queer. When I experimented with polyamory, she knew about that too. But I don’t think my sexuality became real for her until I moved in with Frankie and brought her around at holidays. And even then, it didn’t really hit until we got the right to marry in Pennsylvania and she and my dad had to grapple with the reality of that legal shift.

The initial fallout was hard. We’ve gotten past it, though. And even that has happened in small steps. Little gestures and statements that move us past the hurt and betrayal of that first explosive fight that ended in me cutting off contact with them for several months.

So that’s it! That’s my coming out story. Such as it is. It’s strange and involved and a little convoluted. It was hard to write about because the narrative is so much bigger than one of stepping out from the shadows. I’m still working through all the baggage I’m carrying around from having not known myself for so many years. I suspect that process will go on for quite some time. But I’m happier now than I have ever been, all things considered. Reconciling with who I really am has been such a worthwhile process. And it will continue to be. That much I am sure of. Because hidden in the depths that I’m revealing is a sensation of caring for myself that is new and gentle and worth all of the strife and upset that it took to get me to this place.

Happy National Coming Out Day, everyone!

 

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Living with Dementia

Yesterday my mother and father went to my grandmother’s house to take her car away from her.

She already had her license suspended because of her dementia. But she refused to give up the car. Mostly because, although she promised she wouldn’t, she was still driving it.

On Tuesday my parents got a call from the Bensalem Police Department. Mommom had been parked outside of a barber shop. She said her car had broken down. She couldn’t remember where she was going. And she had to be pressed to give the police my mother’s number.

I suspect she was ashamed.

When they towed her car away, they found that there was nothing wrong with it, mechanically. I think she was just lost and scared. And she knew that, if they towed her car, they would take her home.

Dementia must be terrifying. And a lot of the things that go along with it – mood swings, irritability, argumentativeness – are symptoms of that terror.

Looking back on it, my grandmother has been showing signs of dementia for many years now. This diagnosis comes at a time when she has already been struggling with this for more than a decade.

When I was growing up I lived directly around the corner from my grandmother. She would walk around and watch us when my parents needed her to. She was always there. Always available.

She used to drive us places. On one memorable occasion, she drove away from her apartment with my brother and I in the car and made a left hand turn onto Levick street. The problem with that is that Levick is a one-way street and this put us in opposition to the flow of traffic. I shouted at her that she was going the wrong way and she turned into a driveway as the light turned green at the nearest intersection and cars started streaming at us.

She assured me that she was just doing that to get to the alleyway as a sort of short cut. But I think she genuinely forgot that the road was only one way, despite having lived there for 10 years at that point.

Things have gotten far worse since then. As I said, her license was suspended not that long ago. She has had minor accidents and forgotten about them. She has gotten lost for hours driving to places that are less than 5 minutes away. When you talk to her, she tries to follow the conversation but gets confused easily. She calls me by my aunt’s and mother’s names frequently.

Watching my grandmother go through this process and watching my mother attempt to ensure her continued safety and health has been really difficult in a lot of ways. First, it has been really hard to see my grandmother degenerate like this. Her pain, fear, and confusion are almost palpable when you are in the room with her. I try to keep all of our conversations light and make her laugh, but there is only so much you can do sometimes. There is also an element of fear in watching her illness progress. In wondering what that process will be like if I ever go through it. The idea gives me chills.

But the hardest part of all of this has been watching my mother struggle with the systems – or lack thereof – put in place to deal with an aging relative who has been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association has been helpful in understanding what my grandmother has been going through. But the actual process of dealing with this has been a nightmare. From getting her license revoked to finding housing and resources and working on guardianship status for my mom, it’s all been really hard. And the entire time we have all been worried that, while this is all going on, Mommom will hurt herself or someone else in the process and it will all be for naught.

With this latest bump, the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging has gotten involved, which is great. They have programs that will have someone come to the house and clean and cook for her or even run her to doctor’s appointments and such.

What really needs to happen is that she needs to go into a home. I know that she will be happier there. She spends so much time worrying about getting things accomplished in her little apartment. I know the anxiety gets to her.

When they went to take the car from her yesterday, my dad told her that they had to take it or the cops would impound it, which was a white lie in a lot of ways. But it worked. And afterward they installed her air conditioner and fixed her phone and her cable. She called mom later to thank her and mom said that she already sounds more relaxed, even relieved.

I genuinely believe that she could live a long and comfortable life in a home of some kind. If she keeps living on her own, she is going to worry herself into an early grave.

So cross your fingers for an opening in one of the homes where we have applications. I just want to see her happy and safe.

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Sestina: Fire, Grief, Drunk

I remember my grandmother’s life
in a way that I have never seen, her might
revealed in the face of countless griefs
Before the weight of them drove her, drunk,
over the edge into this weakened state.
I remember her before the fire.

They say there is no smoke without a fire
and that is true in my grandmother’s case, her life
defined by flame, this charred and dusty state.
She never knew the force of it. That fiery might,
much stronger than her own, would leave her, drunk
mingling cold beers with her tearless grief.

But back before she reached this outcast state
the world I’m sure was not so full of grief.
Her eyes sometimes reflect forgotten might
within them burning a long-banked, potent fire
The world has forgotten her pre-frail life,
but I remember it with my imagination and I’m drunk

on the idea. I envision her before the drunken
stupor that has followed her from grief to grief. The state
of her before the fire took her children. Took her life.
Deep within her eyes I see the her before the fire.
I remember, with my imagination, might.

In my mind’s eye she sometimes might
sit around a table and deal poker, drunk
a smile on her face and that familiar fire
born before her, cigarette hanging in state
and all the men bow their heads in grief
as she takes their money. Poker is her life.

She moves within that carded sphere. Life
simply drawn in cards of black and red, her might
felt in hands of five. She gives men their grief.
Her hair like a beehive and she’s drunk
on joy, her hair disheveled, concentrating, stately.
Her cherry’d cigarette the only fire.

I dream her life before she was a drunk
imagining her might before this state
her body bent by grief, heart weak with fire.

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Humanism ≠ Feminism

On Monday I went up to visit my parents. On the drive back to the train station, my mom told me that she’d had a super awkward conversation over dinner with old friends. The people she was eating dinner with brought up a guy they knew who had passed away in a car accident some years back. In the conversation, they remembered him being “a great guy” with a “great laugh.”

Mom brought the conversation to a screeching halt with two small sentences:

“Yea, such a great guy. You know he used to beat the hell out of his wife?”

After that, things got weird and awkward. Other people in the conversation called the woman in question “mouthy” and said that it wasn’t a coincidence that every man she’d been in a relationship with had beaten her. Mom cited repetition compulsion and that being “mouthy” (whatever that fucking means) is never an acceptable justification for abuse.

Mom felt super awkward about the conversation, but I was so proud of her! Feminist killjoy moments like that make me so happy I just have to Tweet about them.

When I told my mom that the conversation was an awesome feminist moment and how thrilled I was that she had opened up like that and corrected the other people in the conversation, her response was to say that she doesn’t “identify as feminist,” but rather as a “humanist.”

At which point I just wanted to put my head in my hands and rub my face with frustration.

I totally get where she’s coming from because I used to be her. I thought that feminism was too aggressive a movement for me to identify with. I didn’t want to lose friends over my association with some extremist viewpoint. I also thought that feminism was exclusive to women and didn’t want to exclude the men in my life from my primary operating belief system.

I had some serious learning and growing to do.

The first thing that I had to learn is that humanism is already it’s own thing. Humanism is chiefly the belief that humans have no need of supernatural powers to solve their problems. The American Humanist Association defines humanism as having numerous meanings depending on what exactly you are speaking about. Literary humanism differs from religious humanism, for example. They define Modern Humanism as:

“…a naturalistic philosophy that rejects all supernaturalism and relies primarily upon reason and science, democracy and human compassion.”

It should be noted that modern humanism grapples with whether or not it should be defined religiously or secularly. I, personally am a secular Humanist. I’m basically an atheist and I truly do believe that humans have the potential to rationally sort out their own problems. With that said, my humanism and my feminism are distinctly separate beliefs that inform one another.

My understanding of feminism was fundamentally changed when I re-framed it as a resistance to – and revolution against – the patriarchal ideals which inform our society. I realized that men were very much included in feminism when I learned about things like toxic masculinity and started to think about how the roles and responsibilities that we apply to the fantasy that is the gender binary hurt people all along the sex and gender spectrum.

My world was further opened when I found myself interacting with intersectional feminists and discovered that my feminism could include not only all genders and sexual identities, but also people of other races and other issues of social justice. Of course, this portion of my feminism meant I got called out a lot on my white feminism and my ignorance when it came to issues of trans inclusivity, which was incredibly awkward for me at the time.

The point of all of this is to say that feminism and humanism are not the same. But even more than that, feminism includes men and women and trans folk. It includes people of all colors, sizes and sexual identities. And if you meet someone who calls themselves a feminist and doesn’t actually include all of those things? Then they are not really feminists. Feminism is either intersectional or bullshit. One of those two things. But that is an issue for another blog.