Two More Days of '08

So, I'm preparing myself for another new slate. Tomorrow, and Wednesday, I'll be tying up loose ends and getting ready for a new beginning.

There will be resolutions, no doubt (which I generally suck at).

So, question for you: Are you considering any resolutions for 2009?

Just curious. (And wondering if there are some out there that I might want to consider, too.)

Posted byPortlyDyke at 9:04 PM 6 comments Links to this post  

Of Synchronicities and Intentions

A couple of weeks ago, my Beloved and I had a talk about my blogging. I had written a piece that brought up questions for her about how my choice of words and focus served my world view, and whether I thought that my approach really contributed to creating the world that I want to live in.

We've had a number of conversations of this type, and they are always helpful to me, because, to be perfectly honest, I've never been 100%, absolutely, and completely clear about what my underlying intention is in terms of blogging, and as a result, I believe that I haven't always been a true contributor to the world I want to create.

I know that blogging feeds me somehow -- it's something that I usually feel called to, and I find it satisfying (nearly always, anyway) -- but I am a firm believer in the notion that clear intention tends to lead to clearer results, so this lack of clarity has been bothersome to me.

Which leads me to the synchronicities -- a couple of days ago, I was cleaning my office and listening to an episode of "This American Life" -- the episode included research from a man who had studied the concept of the "bad apple". He wanted to know just how much "negative" behavior by one person in a group could impact the group.

Turns out (according to his research at least) that the energy of a single person in the group can have a lot of impact -- groups that he studied, into which he inserted an actor who demonstrated one of three behaviors that team-building experts have identified as having detrimental impact on the efficacy of groups (being a "jerk", being a "slacker", or being "depressive/pessimistic") performed with 30-45% less efficiency than groups that didn't include that actor.

Which doesn't come as a huge surprise to me -- I've worked with groups for a long time, in many settings, and I've seen, first hand, what a single person can do to sow discord in a group.

When I was working as a queer rights activist, there was this one woman in the queer community who was well known for her ability to join a functioning group and have it dysfunctioning within a few meetings. There were even rumors that she was a plant (maybe government, maybe right-wing -- they were rumors, after all), because the connection between her arrival in any given group and its imminent implosion had a certain clock-like precision to it.

So, as I listened the TAL episode, I simply thought: "Hmmm. Interesting story," and finished cleaning my office.

Then, yesterday, I got an email from someone that linked to this video (it's long, so I'm not going to embed it).

This video was also about the power of attitudinal contagion (this time, both in terms of additive as well as detractive interactions -- note: I prefer additive/detractive to "positive/negative", because the p/n words are so attached to judgmental other stuff in my head).

Now, when something like that comes across my path in this kind of synchronous rhythm, I tend to pay attention.

I decided long ago that, given the choice of living in a strictly random Universe to which we bring meaning, or living in a divinely ordered Universe in which no event is accidental, my choice was clear -- I want to live in the divinely ordered thingamabob.

This, for me, is a pretty pragmatic decision: If, in the end, it turns out that the cosmos I live in is completely and utterly random, and I'm absolutely wrong about Life, the Universe and Everything, then -- well, when I die, my component cells will rejoin the Earth, the self-aware persona that I think of as "I" will cease to exist in any form beyond whatever might travel along as those component cells wander off to become something else, and "I" will be none the wiser -- I won't be disappointed about having been wrong.

If, on the other hand, it turns out that the Universe I live in is, as I suspect, an organic, transforming being of which I am but a tiny part, and that the "coincidences" that I experience are, in fact, rich opportunities for growth being presented to me through the mechanism of that larger transforming being -- well, then, I may as well act on the notion that thought creates reality, and construct a life that fits with the notion that either everything is a miracle, or nothing is.

It basically boils down to the fact that I find the second format more . . . fun.

But back to my synchroncities . . . . .

I haven't clearly gotten the third-of-three part of the synchronicity (which is a well known confirmation tool for receiving guidance or totemic symbolism, stimulating the "notice this!" node of our brains, and, of all things, building jokes -- the "rule of three"), but I'm pretty that this third synchronistic experience will be along any minute now, so I'm going to take the hint early and start applying my consciousness to the "message".

I think it has to do with me setting a clear intention for blogging.

I've been puzzled by my sporadic blogging style. I stand in amazement at people who can pump out a five-to-ten blog-posts each day, and I have wondered about the times when I have had a blog-stall (and there have been many of those, as my regular readers can attest). I'm beginning to think that it has something to do with this absence of clear intention.

I think that when I'm not clear about why I'm doing this, I'm much more easily distracted by this current event, that personal story, those shiny toys, and these niggling second guesses -- so sometimes, I don't blog at all, because I can't decide what kind of a post would serve the intention of the blog (because I don't have an intention for the blog).

I'm going to experiment, though, with some intentions.

I actually have two personal blogs, and I've been acutely aware of the difference in their tone from the beginning -- Teh Portly Dyke was my outlet to the larger world -- a place where my readers might have little (or no) context for me -- at least that was the intention at the beginning, when I blogged completely psuedononymously. This Is The Thing was a blog where I spoke to people who knew me in my professional and personal context -- I was known by my real name there from the beginning.

Since my coming out at Portly Dyke, I have noticed that there continues to be a slight difference in tone between the two blogs, even though I'm no longer completely anonymous at TPD -- and that leads me to believe that I actually still have different intentions (albeit unconscious ones) when I'm blogging at each blog.

At TITT (wow, I never realized that that is the acronym for my original blog -- interesting . . . . . ), I rarely provide much explanation of my world-view or lexicon -- I generally assume that the reader there has bothered to check out who I am and what I do, or they have come there specifically in reference to who I am and what I do (although this, too, has changed since I came out, and new readers have shown up at TITT -- ooo -- now I'm all excited about that acronym!).

At TPD, I explained my lexicon a lot, although often in the more generic terms required when reaching out to an audience which has little personal knowledge of me, and where readers sometimes drop in from the blue. To find TITT, you kind of have to know where it is, whereas TPD is now linked hither and yon.

I do think that I have arrived at a unified intention for both blogs, though -- an intention which I'm going to try on for a bit and see about: I want to blog an an infectious agent -- an infectious agent of light.

Not light as in "sweetness and -", and not light as in "light vs. dark" -- light as in "best disinfectant", and as in "bouyant and headed skyward", and as in "likely to be able to read more easily if it's on".

I am going to try a two-branched approach, though, since TPD and TITT seem to have developed their own personalities, and I don't think that's an "accident", either -- here at Teh Portly Dyke, I'm going to try out being an outgoing infectious agent of light -- being a reading lamp of sorts for others -- and at This is The Thing, I'm going to try out being an incoming infectious agent of light -- shining that light into myself and my own internal quandaries and ponderings.

It's a start anyway. If I have that intention, I suspect that the choice of subject matter and the approach I take may be far less overwhelming.

We'll see.

Posted byPortlyDyke at 11:30 PM 1 comments Links to this post  

Dear Mr. President Elect,

You don't know me, but I voted for you.

I'm 52 years old, and I've been waiting for your inauguration day since I was old enough to understand what institutionalized oppression was -- perhaps longer, without really being conscious of it.

As I grew older, and gained more life experience, I think that I grew increasingly impatient in my waiting, as I began to understand more about what might actually help dismantle the systems of privilege that keep institutionalized oppressions alive.

I believe with my whole being that your election as President of the United States has, and will continue to, help take apart some of those systems -- not just because you are a person of color and your election breaks a tradition of exclusion that has existed throughout our nation's history, but also because I honestly believe that you want to make change and move this country forward.

So last month, I cast my vote for you with a hopeful heart, and wept during your victory speech. I said to my beloved, as we watched the closing of the speech (where you gathered with family, colleagues, and supporters in a glad mingling, awash in the cheers of thousands): "Look at that stage -- old, young, women, men, faces of many hues-- we're seeing something we've never seen before in our lifetimes."

And I took the opening lines of that speech to heart:

"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible -- who still wonders if the dream of our Founders is alive in our time -- who still questions the power of our democracy -- tonight is your answer."
I took a cautious, hopeful in-breath when you actually said the word"gay" in the section where you detailed the diverse groups that played a part in this victory. I didn't notice it before I heard the word, but I think I had been waiting for that word for a long time, too -- yet I had been hopeful, not expectant (a habit I've developed over the years -- perhaps a defense-mechanism against disappointment).

You see, I'm old enough and savvy enough to understand that there will be times when mention of a person like me will be omitted -- because there are elections to win, and assumptions about what works and what doesn't work in political tactics, and polls that indicate the "safe" course that must, perhaps, be steered in the present, in order to make gains in the future. I understand this. I really do.

That's why, when I watched your infomercial the week before the election, I wasn't surprised to see that there was no one like me featured as one of the "average Americans". Yes, I'm a small business owner who can't currently afford health insurance, a person who has raised kids, and who is coupled in a stable, loving relationship, a person who currently faces big challenges in earning enough to simply cover rent, utilities, and groceries for my family -- but I would never be featured in your examples of working folks in this country -- because I'm a lesbian -- and that wouldn't poll well.

And again -- I understand this. I really do. You were attempting to reach out to a segment of the population that you needed to win over, so that you could win the presidency.

But understanding this intellectually doesn't necessarily make it easier to experience -- all the political savvy and realistic assessment in the world didn't make it easier to sit watching your ad (which takes the time to really go into detail about the problems that Americans face today, and how you will work to fix them) -- knowing that I (and others like me) would not be represented, or even referred to.

Last April, during the Democratic primary, I said that I had started to feel like the orphan at the family picnic.

It's not as if that feeling is completely foreign to me. I've sat around bargaining tables as part of my union and argued strenuously for family leave acts and benefits packages that would never cover my family. I've extended understanding to politicians for whom I've campaigned when they had to do the "politically smart" thing, even if it excluded me and mine. I've had compassion for some of my family members, who have acknowledged my orientation and have not outright disowned me, but who also do not ask about my life in any detail, lest an uncomfortable or challenging moment arise.

In fact, I sometimes worry that I've become so used to my position as an outsider that it has dulled my motivation toward change -- that it has made it too easy for me to say things like: "Well, that's the best I can expect -- and it's better than nothing."

So, when I cast my vote for you in November, I had hoped to put that feeling aside, and "........ choose hope over fear, and unity over division -- the promise of change over the power of the status quo".

Which is why I'm writing to you.

I understand that you may have selected (or allowed the selection of) Rick Warren to speak the invocation at your inaugural as part of a plan to demonstrate that you are not closed to the concerns of those who embrace a conservative Christian lifestyle. I understand that, regardless of what your real personal feelings about gay marriage may be, you were probably advised to say that you didn't support it, in order to get elected. I understand that you may have made choices in the past two years which were politically expedient in the short term, with the intention of serving an eventual greater good. I understand all this. I really do.

And when I read about the honor that Pastor Warren is being done in being allowed to perform the spiritual opening for your inaugural ceremony, I was surprised that I didn't feel angry -- instead, I simply felt . . . . profoundly sad.

I believe that sadness is to the heart and soul as hunger is to the body -- and I believe that my hunger is this: I want to be included in your diverse, but United, States of America.

When I hear you talk about the problems of working families, I want to be able to believe that you are talking about my family, too, and when you swear your oath of allegiance, I want to believe that you will be upholding the Constitution of our nation with the clear understanding that my rights are equal to the rights of every other citizen of this country.

I believe in the maxim that one should begin as one means to go on, and as a minister, I understand well the meaning of an opening invocation. It quite intentionally sets the tone of all that is to follow.

Pastor Warren has publicly expressed statements which compare my desire to marry my beloved to pedophilia, incest, and polygamy -- all of which are illegal in this country -- and so, for me, your presidency will begin with an invocation delivered by someone who considers the most precious human relationship I have -- a core and anchor of my daily existence -- as similar to a list of criminal acts.

He will be recorded as the pastor who was given the great honor of speaking first at this most historic presidential inauguration, and I will, once again, be a less-than -- an "other". I am concerned that, for many, the power of your office, and your perceived blessing on his blessing, will give strength to his voice -- and weaken mine further.

As an out lesbian, there are few laws that protect me from discrimination based on my sexual orientation, and many laws (and more prejudices) that curtail my unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I have dealt with these realities since I was 12 years old (when I first realized that I was a lesbian), and often, it has only been the small, symbolic victories and gestures that have kept my hope of eventual equality kindled -- the confrontation of a homophobic remark by a straight co-worker who knew that I couldn't speak up without risking the loss of my job -- the decision of a straight couple to postpone their marriage until their gay and lesbian friends have the same right to wed -- the willingness of my mother and father to speak out in their church when their synod was determining whether or not to sanctify gay and lesbian unions.

These symbolic gestures, while not carrying the weight of law, have given me hope, and helped me to carry on.

Those gestures are sometimes small -- but since I can be pretty sure that I won't show up as an "average American" in the next nationally-broadcast infomercial, and reasonably certain that any candidate who states that they support full marriage rights for gays and lesbians will be declared, soon thereafter, to be "unelectable", symbolic acts of support from allies have become incredibly important to me.

I realize that my letter may not change your mind about having Pastor Warren provide the inaugural invocation. I realize that, at this point, it may be politically nightmarish to even consider such a change, or it may have become such a political hot potato that you are sick to death of hearing about it, or that you may simply dismiss my letter as yet another from some disgruntled LGBTQ person.

My hope, though, is that you will not simply dismiss this letter.

My hope is that you will consider the symbolism that is implicit in the way that your administration begins. If this administration is to be about inclusivity, then I believe that it is best begun with an invocation by someone who truly personifies that concept, who can be relied upon to invoke both the spirit and the language of inclusivity.

My choice to vote for you was like one drop in an ocean, but your choices as President will profoundly influence the currents and tides of that ocean, in which I will swim for many years to come.

I know that you are just one human, with a complex and enormous task before you, but I ask you to . . . . remember me.

When you hear the invocation that Pastor Warren is allowed to give, please listen with my ears.

I realize that this will be "your day" in many ways, and that you are straight, and Christian. I personally have no problem with you wanting to have a spiritual invocation that reflects your belief system - but if you hear prayers which invoke only "traditional" families, or only Christians, or which lean too heavily on any structure which contributes to institutionalized oppression of any sort -- I implore you to remember that you will be President of every citizen of this country, and to listen with the ears of those whose voices are rarely heard from the bully pulpit.

You have power and a great deal of choice around what this ceremony will symbolize -- I hope on that day, you will remember me, and remember that some days, a symbol is all I have.

Congratulations on your election, and thank you for taking the time to read this.

Carol Steinel

Posted byPortlyDyke at 9:30 AM 7 comments Links to this post  

I Always Wanted A Brass Brassiere

It's cold outside -- and this has brought to mind phrases about Witch's Tits and whatnot -- and this has set me off on another of my ponderings about such phrases.

I mean, who do you think first coined that particular phrase -- "Colder than a witch's tit in a brass brassiere?"

For that matter, who uttered the initial version of "Slicker than snot on a doorknob"?

Or "Colder than a well-digger's ass"?

Or "Dumb as a box of rocks"?

Who were these people? Will we ever know? Do they mind that we use their witticisms without credit?

Since it is unlikely that you will be able to answer these questions in any definitive manner, please include your own favorites in comments.

Here are some more that I like:

One coupon shy of a toaster.
Sharp as a marble.
Couldn't organize a piss-up in a brewery.
Ugly as a sack of spanners.
Ugly as a bulldog licking piss off a nettle.
Couldn't pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were on the heel.

Posted byPortlyDyke at 12:17 AM 28 comments Links to this post  

Update: On Cameras, Crying Jags, and Haircuts

For those who may be wondering about how I've fared since my crying jag last week, I offer this update -- I'm still being very mindful about where I go, who I interact with, and what I put my focus on -- but I'm also feeling rather triumphant about the fact that I managed to get the camera working.

So, of course, here's a picture from said working camera:

You can't really tell from that photo, but one of the other big triumphs of the day was that I FINALLY had a haircut.

I haven't cut my hair since last Spring, just before I started shooting my video project.

I have a funny relationship with my hair -- it's something that I've blogged about rather extensively at my other blog (oh, and you will want to read those archived posts from the bottom one to the top to make much sense out of them -- oh, and if you don't read them, what follows might not make a whole lot of sense -- oh -- or you can skip the other blog and read the rest of this post as a sort of zen-koanish thing).

So I cut my hair today, with help from my Beloved.

I always feel liberated after a haircut, and I've been working my way toward the optimal 'do for myself (referenced in the "Why I have not shaved my head . . . recently" in the above-mentioned archive) for the past two or more years. I still haven't mastered it perfectly, but each time I grab the scissors, I inch a little closer.

I always loved what Lori Anderson said about her "hairdo". I recall an interview in the 80s when she replied, in response to a question about who cuts her hair: "I go into a dark closet with a scissors, and I don't come out until it's done."

I started cutting my own hair in 2002, during a trip to Mexico. I cut it by "feel", and it felt great. I've never gone back.

That approach is very similar to the one I took to get the camera working.

I HATE not having stuff work. I can be incredibly dogged in my pursuit of getting something that doesn't currently work to eventually work. I will research and figure out and tweak and restart my computer a million and a half times to try to resolve a problem with software, or hardware.

So, the camera sat here, staring at me, and I stared back. And I googled, and researched, and prodded, and poked, and figured out that the way to get the incredible Isight camera that is meant to work on a Mac to work on a PC is all about the power --- and isn't that just a perfect synchronicity?

Because hair, too, is a symbol of power.

The problem with the camera was that there wasn't enough power -- so, a $13 part and a few days later and a molex plug and a crawling under my desk because I'm too lazy to pull it out and lay it down where it would be easier -- later and -- voila! The camera works.

I think it was the collapse of this nearly omnipresent perseverance that I mourned on the night of the crying jag.

That perseverance (although occasionally fruitless) was one of the qualities that I possess that I believe saved my life (as a child, and later, as an adult struggling under difficult circumstances).

It's unusual for me to come to the "end of my rope", and when I do, I think that I find it incredibly scary -- because my doggedness has been an important tool in my kit in terms of sheer survival -- and because, if that tool is nowhere to be found then . . . . . what?

Will I die? Probably not -- and I didn't, even when I collapsed into a puddle of goo over a camera that, ultimately, ended up doing what I wanted it to do.

But I think that sometimes, there is an inner voice that whispers: "You will not survive", when my usual stubbornness disappears. So I keep my cantankerousness close at hand -- I treasure it.

It can be really useful -- when there are cameras to be fixed, and blog-rolls to be sorted, and hair to be cut.

Posted byPortlyDyke at 12:12 AM 3 comments Links to this post  

Tired-Ass Blogging

Ho-ho-ho -- A little (kinda) seasonal humor from Jim Gaffigan.

Posted byPortlyDyke at 9:52 PM 3 comments Links to this post  

Snow and Reality

I've really been struggling with blogging in recent days. Longing for some great flash of insight, or brilliant inspiration, I have waited -- but I think I've waited long enough.

It snowed last night, and today, the town was quiet under its cold white comforter.

Now, the moon is dazzling and the town has gone from quiet to hushed.

And I'm wandering from my office to the porch, restless and still at the same time.

I think that, since the election, I've been feeling the rising sense of personal revolution. "This is not enough," rings the mantra in my head.

I want to change the world. Really change it.

That's been in me since I was a child, and in some ways, I have impacted the world -- but that's not the kind of change I want to make -- I want radical change -- astounding transformation.

And I don't believe that this is in any way "unrealistic", or "dreamy-eyed", or "naive". I believe that it is possible. I've seen it. I know that it is possible.

I used to go to a weekend retreat ever year at a place called Breitenbush Hot Springs, in Oregon. During that retreat, a group of people, many of whom did not know each other well at all, would come together to celebrate, play, and change. There were no "organized agendas" -- scheduling was intentionally handled like this: If you wanted to offer a workshop or organize an activity, you wrote down on a big sheet of paper in the main hall what you wanted to do, and the approximate time and location where you would do it, and people showed up then and there if they wanted to.

It sounds ridiculously simple, and I wouldn't have expected it to work at all -- but it did -- year after year. And there weren't any great conflicts about it, and it didn't take a ton of planning, and it created an atmosphere where you could be certain that the people involving themselves wanted to be there, which seemed to change everything about the way things went.

We would do this for three days. The relaxation in the faces of those participating was visible, and the organic flow of this huge group of people was amazing.

And then we would all go back to the city, and it would change. We would hunker down into our individual or couple dynamics, into our own isolated lives, and we would forget.

I know that we were capable of living and interacting very differently, because I experienced it -- year after year -- and the greatest question that I had was: "Why would we give that up? Why would we go back to something that we don't like?"

Daniel Quinn addresses this kind of thing rather eloquently in his book "Beyond Civilization" (which I recommend highly, btw), and I've studied on it long and hard -- and written, and thought, and puzzled, and opined -- but now, I'm tired of that. I want something more.

So, I'm going to be posting, in the coming days, about creating a new reality. Because that's what I want to do -- and because I'm out of patience with sitting on my ass and hoping and praying and dreaming that this new reality will somehow just "arrive".

One of the first things I'm going to be thinking and writing about is this: What wakes me up? What brings me back to life?

I noticed that, after the election, my usual impatience with things "political" (which I've written about before) has increased daily -- and I've noticed that the things that feel truly "real" to me have to do with direct human contact, not the shit in the media, and not the arguments about theory -- I was brought abruptly into myself upon hearing that an internet friend was facing a tough diagnosis (someone who I have never met, but who I have the sense of knowing). I was dragged into consciousness by the strangeness of the snow, as interpretted by the cat (who is not my cat), when I opened the side door to let him outside last night, and watched his befuddlement as he gazed out on the first snow of his lifetime. I was drawn into the raw reality of my emotional body when I was moved by the message of a man who shares my desire to change the world, and whose actions harnessed to that intent inspire me to think bigger again.

That's where I've been at.

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of waiting. I believe in the vast potential of humankind. I know that we can create the world I want to live in. I know this. I'm planning to take my focus off all the people who say we can't do it, and put my focus on those who are doing it -- and that will, from this moment on, include me.

Posted byPortlyDyke at 10:44 PM 1 comments Links to this post  

Crazy Person vs. Madwoman

(This is a reprint of a post that I made at my other blog in May of 2006 --posted here especially for NameChanged, who asked for something like this in response to my stimulus request. Thanks to all who suggested topics -- I'll be getting around to them in coming days.)


I just want to state for the record, right off the top, that I am definitely a madwoman.

There can be no doubt about this whatsoever, as far as I’m concerned -- plus, it is a thing in which I take great pride.

I will also say that I am not crazy.

I have been crazy, in this lifetime — this incarnation — as this current persona.

It would do no good to deny this or attempt to cover it up — there are records. So, instead, I tell people quite readily that I have been institutionalized, not once, but three times, as a bona-fide crazy person.

Not for long periods of time, admittedly, but these days I actually think you have to kill other human beings to be institutionalized as a crazy person for long periods of time.

But while I was a crazy person, I did see the inside of a loony bin several times.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still mad as a hatter, and I intend to stay that way.

I’m just not crazy anymore.

I’m taunting you, of course — prompting you to ask me the question “So what’s the difference?” — a question that you can’t ask me right now, because you’re reading this and I’ve already written it, and the best you could do is leave a comment to this post, and by then, you’ll have already read my answer to the question I’ve just taunted you with.

(Sorry — just having a moment of cat-and-mouse fun with the dynamics of blogging there.)

I think that madness is essentially just another name for a state of peculiar genius — a willingness to think in ways that are, dare we say — “outside the box”/”slightly wacky”/”beyond the beyond”?

I don’t think this has anything whatsoever to do with ability to think in this way.

I believe, instead, that it has everything to do with the willingness to think this way.

On the other hand, being “crazy”, in my opinion, is the choice to abrogate one’s own power and say “I am too different/sensitive/damaged/insert-your-own-excuse-here to be responsible for or to myself.”

To whit: When I was “crazy”, I chose (never for a moment think that this wasn’t a choice, no matter how much I denied it at the time) to give my life over the social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, friends, fellow inmates, and various hospital personnel, in exchange for having them care for me — feed me, house me, attend to me, prescribe medication for me, pay attention to me, etc..

It didn’t take me a real long time to figure out that this might not be the most ideal exchange in the world for me.

True, I didn’t have to be responsible for myself — I could lip off, act out, and generally whine and moan to my heart’s content — after all, I was crazy, dontcha know.

The trade-off was that I didn’t get to decide the following: when and what I ate/drank, when or for how long I slept, what chemicals were introduced to my system, or how my time was spent.

Not so fun, in the long run. Kind of, like, “friendly” prison. (Okay, not always so friendly — just depended on who was on shift.)

So, why am I going on about this?

It bears on that item I brought up in my last post — namely, the issue of
capability vs. choice.

When I look back on my loony-bin days, I am acutely aware that my choice to acquiesce to institutionalization was just that — a choice — however unconscious I was of it at the time, and no matter how much I didn’t see it as a choice.

The proof of this is that, when I became fed up with the untenable trade-off of all my power for all my responsibility, I figured out a way to get my trip together and get myself out of the institution — and I watched other “inmates” do this as well.

It seems to me to have had little or nothing to do with my state of “capability”.

I have had many interesting conversations with other “crazy” people, both while in and out of the bin — no doubt about it, every single one of them was completely mad — but I also think that all of them had made a choice to step into being “crazy”.

I can almost grasp and remember when that moment of choice came for me — I recall it as a sort of psychic “letting go” — an “oh fuck it” whispered softly to the Universe. I then slipped into the role of victim of my own experience and mental process.

That role felt somewhat comforting at first, I think — it reduced the complexity of my life to just think of myself completely as someone that this was “happening to” — and professionals of all variety were happy to support me in this idea that I “couldn’t help it” — that I was “mentally ill”.

I realize that my saying this will probably send some people into fits. They might call it “blaming the victim”, or claim that I am minimizing the seriousness of mental illness. I’m not. I recognize that there are actual conditions such as schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder and MPD and post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism, and I recognize that they are real because I have experienced some of them.

I also know many people who “have” these dis-eases, and live with them without becoming “crazy” — without giving up their responsibility to and for themselves — or who become crazy and then un-crazy themselves.

Fifteen hundred (who knows, maybe even a hundred) years ago, my fellow inmates and I might have lived at the edge of the village and been sought for our “wacky ideas” as shamans, seers, and healers. We would have had a job, not in spite of our madness, but because of it.

In fact, cultivating our madness would probably have been part of the responsibility of that job.

In some sense, that is what I am doing today — my “job” is to be this madwoman — to bring forth what many in our society would (and probably do) scoff at as woo-woo nonsense at best, and utter insanity at worst.

So, when someone asked me this week whether I thought that it was possible that someone could be drug-addicted “beyond the point of no return” — to a point where they literally could not be responsible for themselves and their self-care ever again, I said that I didn’t think that this was possible.

It’s true for me that when I went “crazy” there was still some niche in me that knew exactly what I was doing — that I was asking — maybe even screaming — to be taken into the arms of the system, to give up my power and my responsibility and become a child again — to be a helpless crazy person.

I don’t regret that journey to crazyville — it taught me a lot, and changed me irrevocably. Once I had allowed myself to “go crazy”, there really is no way that I could ever pretend that I was “normal” again.

So, much of the work of psychiatrists and drugs and social workers is essentially wasted, in my opinion, because that is what they endeavor to do — to return you to “normal”, which, in my experience, is impossible.

For, once I had loosed my grip on my own consciousness and responsibility, I now knew that this is an option — and in all the years since, I haven’t been able to un-know that.

It’s difficult for me to explain how pivotal this tiny piece of knowledge is for me. Prior to my time as a crazy person, I had spent about ten years as a social worker, and I worked with many people who were mad, mentally ill, and/or crazy. I remember sitting across the desk from them, helping them “manage” their lives.

In my first trip to the hospital, I sat across the desk from a woman who was in the role that I had played for so many years, and saw her looking at me in a way that I found utterly familiar — the way I had looked at those with whom I had worked — as if she were gazing into some far distant universe to which she had neither the technology nor the desire to travel — a universe that was a virtual impossibility for her to inhabit, or even to fully imagine.

I wanted to scream at her “No, wait — you don’t understand! — I’m you!”

I think, though, in that moment, I already knew that I was no longer her — and that I could never be her again — that I could not, and would never, fully return to the other side of the desk.

Looking at a postcard of a place that you haven’t visited and think you will never travel to is very different than looking at a postcard of the place where you were born and raised, knowing that you will never return.

That metaphor doesn’t fit exactly for me, I suppose, because I do visit that "birthplace" — I walk free in the world of “normal” people (which I now consider are simply people who don’t know — yet — that they have the option of going crazy) — but I walk in that place as a covert visitor now, an undercover alien who has adopted the costume and affect of the natives but whose observations of the culture are informed by that other universe and the long trek to and from it.

I recognize, though, that I was not the victim of a kidnapping — but rather the intrepid launch team, pilot, and captain of the voyage. I do not believe that this assignment was thrust upon me — I am absolutely convinced that I volunteered for this dangerous and exciting mission.

This was, admittedly, hard to see from inside the crazyness — or maybe, having gotten myself into such a fine pickle, each day it became more challenging to re-take my responsibility, because there was such a continually-mounting pile of it to shoulder.

Energetically, I am sending the person whose friend asked me whether he might be drug-addicted beyond the point of no return -- whose whole community might be considering him incapable -- my full vote of confidence in his complete ability to “un-crazy” himself. I believe that in granting him his responsibility, I am granting him his power.

When I was hospitalized, the friends who were most helpful to me were those who had been to that universe and back. They didn’t look at me with mournful and pitying eyes, and they gave me good advice, based in direct experience.

One of them said to me: “Get your money’s worth. Do crafts.”

When I discovered that my bill would be more than $15,000 for the first 4 days (including a $32 tube of chapstick), I took her counsel and threw myself into the various needlepoint, sculpting, and leatherwork projects available to me, under the watchful eyes of the occupational therapist.

I tooled a black leather belt that I still have, and stamped a phrase on it that demonstrates to me that, even though I was in the depths of self-pity and victimhood at the time, some part of me understood all of this as a conscious and choiceful act. The belt simply said:

“Going there. And coming back.”

Posted byPortlyDyke at 10:57 PM 6 comments Links to this post  

Things That Make Me Cry

I'm actually a soft-touch when it comes to weeping. Sappy movies, empathy for others -- but in my day-to-day life, I don't get teary that often.

Tonight was an exception. There's nothing huge and tragic going on for me, just a lot, lot, lot of little things, but I'm feeling discouraged and down tonight, which is very unusual for me.

I think part of it is a series of gear-ups and let-downs that I've experienced recently. I really needed a webcam for a project that I'm working on, and I worked out this perfect trade with someone who had a great cam to trade me for something they wanted as badly as I wanted that camera. It arrived in the mail today, and I was all excited like a little kid -- but it doesn't work on my 'puter -- not without significant fussing, and expense. I just felt like someone had pulled the wind out of my sails.

Now this event, by itself, wouldn't have done that. But honest to fuck, the last couple of months have been challenging -- not in a death and dying, or broken bones/spilled blood way -- a printer that died (got another one from a friend, and it, too, doesn't want to work -- techno-HELL!), a huge slow-down in my work, concerns about my mom's health (that thankfully, turned out to be a false alarm), bills piling up, my Beloved and I talking about whether we can afford to keep living here, the beloved elder cat who is struggling with her health right now, and my own internal wonderings about what constitutes "right action" for me in all of it.

I've kept my chin up, really, through this and more -- every day, there is far more good than bad, and I've honestly felt that -- savored it -- felt rich in a time when money is thin because I am truly blessed in so many other ways. I'm a genuinely optimistic and upbeat person, and I've seen far, far worse times than this. Generally, I consider these inconveniences and challenges with equanimity -- but tonight -- I don't know -- tonight I am just feeling like my stuffings got knocked out.

It's such an unusual state at this point in my life that I'm not even particularly resistant to it -- it's new and unfamiliar in some way, and I'm just observing it and the inertia it seems to be breeding in me right at this moment.

Maybe it's because it was my "day off", and I was looking forward to R&R, and playing with the new camera that was supposed to (and did) arrive today. Instead, I ended up fussing, and googling, and trying to find workarounds, and freezing up my computer, and going to two stores to see if they had a part, and thinking that even if they did, I really shouldn't spend money on it, but the camera could be a source of income-production, so maybe I should spend money on it, and I was feeling so hopeful and upbeat and excited about it before all this happened -- and -- as I was driving away from the second store (that didn't have the part I probably shouldn't be spending money on anyway) on the way home, I just started bawling.

That's really unusual. It was that kind of sad, disappointed kid crying -- but I knew it wasn't just about the camera -- that was just the excuse for the release. It was a tired sort of weepy crying that says to me that I'm tuckered out.

It's not just the stuff in my personal realm, either, I don't think. I tend to believe in that stuff about "If you do what you came to do, the Universe will support you" -- so I think I'm having deep questions about what seem like frequent obstacles and tepid support recently -- questions about whether it's all a message that I need to be doing something -- or many things -- different/differently.

There's also the fact that I personally know people who are dealing with far, far more difficult things than I, so I feel a little weird and give myself a hard time that this shit is getting to me. Then I think, "Well, maybe I'm releasing for others who don't feel as comfortable releasing".

I honestly don't know. I just know that when I sat down to blog tonight, with all these ideas about what I might write, I found myself sitting there, staring at the computer, and needing to express this -- just to get it out there and out of my way, I suppose -- to clear the thing that's clogging the pipes.

So this is a post with little cohesion or direction -- just an expression -- like my tears in the car.

OK. I wrote that part so that you could see the kind of process that I go through every fucking year around this time.

You see -- around 49 years ago, I had a very bad thing happen to me at this time of year. I won't go into the details, because I'm not at all sure that they're important anymore -- suffice it to say that when people hear the full story, they always seem to look a little haunted afterward -- as I once was.

I spent years in therapy healing the wounds that resulted from that time of my life, and am now remarkably whole, considering my history. This time of year used to be a crushing weight for me -- a time of fear and depression and despair. For years, before I had any clear memory of what had happened to me, this crushing weight came down anyway, in the weeks before Christmas, and I spun like a top in a maelstrom of emotion.

After I remembered and began dealing with my past, the storm continued to descend annually, but at least I had some idea of what was going on for me. My understanding didn't mitigate the difficulty of this season, but it did at least give me some way to deal with it.

I stopped thinking of myself as just a neurotic mess and began thinking of myself as someone who was having a response. That didn't take away the fear, or erase the depression, or dissolve the despair, but at least I could grab onto my newfound intellectual understanding as some kind of anchor as I tossed and turned and whipped around and wailed.

For six-seven years of my life, healing was pretty much all that I did -- and slowly, slowly, I did heal.

Now, mid-December approaches me and I do not shrivel up and crawl into a corner.

In fact, it's gotten to the place now that, like tonight, I forget that I might be responding to something much deeper than the surface, physical events that are happening in my life -- that I may be experiencing an echo of something that, while mostly healed, still presents patches of scar-tissue in my psyche.

I forget, and an unexpected crying jag overtakes me in the car, and for a minute or two (or a half hour, or sometimes even an hour or two), I am very mean to myself about what a big baby I'm being -- and then -- I remember.

I remember that I am not a wimpy whiner who can't handle disappointment, but rather, a miraculous testament to the perseverance of the human spirit.

I remember that it's a miracle that I survived my childhood, let alone those years and years and years of confused anguish.

I remember that it's a miracle that I made it through the six years of constant examination of incredibly difficult material, and the inching advance toward wholeness.

I remember that it's a miracle that I am a basically optimistic, and that 99.9% of the time, I believe in the potential, goodness, and worth of human beings -- because the things that I survived might have just as easily turned me into a very justified cynic.

I remember that I am a miracle.

There is this particular sensation I get at very specific times -- not whenever I cry, but whenever I cry in this particular way. It comes when I watch movies that are very sad in a certain way -- usually about human beings being unjust to one another, or yearning in vain for real connection with one another. It's that heart-breaking stuff that gives rise to this sensation.

Anyway, when I cry in that particular way, from that particular stimulus, I often get this very distinct sensation in the side of the tip of my left index finger. It's always in exactly the same spot, and it's like a sharp pinchy ache. I can feel it as I start to tear up, and the more I try to suppress tearing up, the more it aches until I cry.

It was so consistent and so peculiar that I looked it up on an acupuncture chart -- the spot that hurts is precisely on the Large Instestine Meridian (LI1) -- and in some disciplines, the "negative" aspect of that meridian is associated with the concept of guilt. The affirmative emotion suggested for its healing is "I am inherently pure and good. I am worthy to be loved."

Tonight, as I started this post, still crying, and listening to little assholey arguers in my head like: "Well why in the world would you post that? What earthly good will that do? Why do you think these people would even care about you?" -- I kept crying, and I could feel that spot in my finger aching. I can feel it now.

Much of the healing that I've done has been about learning to stop thinking that what happened to me was my fault. It's weird to me, at an intellectual level, that I could think that -- I was three years old when it happened -- but there were once large parts of myself that thought that.

Those voices are dimmer now, and I don't give them much weight anymore, but I think that they are my last bit of healing to do -- the voices in my own head that discount my experience, and denigrate my own strength -- the voices that tell me I'm a cry-baby, or weak, or whining. I think the stingy ache in my finger is stimulated by that inhumanity that I harbor in my own head toward myself.

I will go gently with myself in these coming weeks. I'll let myself cry when I want and need to. I'll give myself permission to let myself off the hook when the little stuff seems overwhelming. I'll open my heart and embrace the miracle that I can open my heart.

I'm sharing this with you in case you're struggling with this season -- or in case you struggle with any season -- so that you can remember that you are a miracle, too.

Posted byPortlyDyke at 10:00 PM 8 comments Links to this post  

Time For External Stimulus

As is periodically necessary, I require external stimulus from my readers to get my sloggish brain and over-worked ass to post.

Please suggest subject-matter you would like to see posts on in comments. I don't know what it is, but I'm feeling dry as a bone for inspiration the past few days. It's not like nothing is going on -- there's a LOT going on (in fact, my Beloved tonight quoted someone as saying "It's like trying to comb your hair during a hurricane", and that sounded just exactly right).

But see, blogging actually helps me with that, if I can get past my slog and blog.

Please -- I beg you -- tell me what to write about!!!!!!!

Posted byPortlyDyke at 11:48 PM 5 comments Links to this post  

My Apologies for Missing a Day

I was waging the "great printer battle", which I'm still waging. And work and stuff. I will be back. I'm Arnold-like, that way.

Posted byPortlyDyke at 11:32 PM 0 comments Links to this post  

Lazy Girl Blogging

I'm tired tonight and I've got a big day tomorrow, so here's a re-run of Mr. Deity from last year (I miss Mr. Deity -- *sniff*)

From Crackle: Mr. Deity and the Good - Season 2, Ep 8

Posted byPortlyDyke at 11:44 PM 0 comments Links to this post  

Emulating 'Liss -- I Write Letters

(For those who haven't seen it yet -- this is the Advocate cover that I'm talking about. What follows is an actual letter that I'm sending to the Advocate -- I can't leave it in their letters section because they only allow 1000 characters and you know how I am with the excessive words thing. I'm sending it in complete from via snail-mail.)
================Begin Transmission=========================

Dear Advocate:

Your December cover was appalling to me.

In one fell swoop, you managed to:

  • Appropriate the black civil rights movement,
  • Act as if the struggle for equal rights for people of color is completed,
  • Potentially piss off and alienate a whole bunch of queer and straight allies -- and -- Big finish now! --
  • Infer that the gay rights movement is the only civil rights struggle still in existence.
Quadruple-privilege-whammy. Way. To. Go.

But as if that weren't enough, you also wrangled an opportunity to fail utterly at both edginess and cleverness.

"_________ is the New Black" is a phrase meant to infer that something is new or cutting edge. News for you: Oppression is neither new nor cutting edge -- in fact, lateral oppression among and between disenfranchised groups is so old and status-quo that perhaps your cover would be better served with the following slogan: "Same Shit, Different Gays".

In your rush to construct a "clever" cover, perhaps it did not occur to you to completely think through the inferences in your choice of trendy phrase -- which is most commonly defined to mean this: "Blank is the New Black" is used "to indicate the sudden popularity or versatility of an idea at the expense of the popularity of a second idea". Get that?

And if you did consider all the implications of your catchy, hip cover blast, and decided to use it anyway -- if there were discussions such as "You know, queers of color, and straight allies who are people of color, and all kinds of people for whom racism is an important issue might be offended by this, but . . . . . hey, f*ck 'em!", then I would posit that you are consciously doing harm to the very movement that you dub (with all the arrogance borne of privilege): "The Last Great Civil Rights Struggle"!!!eleventy-one!!

Oh, and about that little conclusion you seem to have drawn, there -- can I just say: WHAT?!?!?

Last I looked, there were plenty of perfectly great civil rights struggles to be had -- immigrant rights, disabled rights, transgender rights, transsexual rights, intersex rights -- just to name a very, very few. Oh, and those two eensy-weensy matters of equal rights for women and people of color. (I thought I'd mention some of those just in case you were wondering what you might do with your free time after you complete the Last Great Civil Rights Struggle.)

Because I'm sure, what with completely alienating a bunch of people of color (gay and straight alike) and people like me, who actually care about stuff like inclusiveness and outreach, you're just going to whip that Last Great Civil Rights Struggle into shape in no time. (Good luck with that, by the way.)

OK -- enough with the snark. You see -- that type of flippant, psuedo-hip, so-what-if-it-oversimplifies-the-entire-situation- and-alienates-someone-with-whom-I-might-otherwise-be-a-natural-ally-but-hey!-don't-I-look-cool!? communication (which is exactly what I perceive your cover to be) -- just isn't helpful, in my opinion.

I'm a white lesbian. I've been active in the struggle for queer rights since the mid-70s. Although I understand the convenience of the short-hand term "gay rights", I don't feel included by it, and I've been deeply saddened and disheartened to see some in the "gay community" continue the ongoing attempt to distance themselves from the rights of transsexual, transgender, and intersexed queers.

Although I understand that it can (sometimes) be useful to connect with narratives of various other struggles for equal rights, I have been attempting to listen and learn what it means for people who have faced oppression because of racism, ableism, classism, and xenophobia to hear me do so. I think that there are ways to discuss certain parallels or similarities respectfully, and in ways that foster connection and understanding, rather than alienation -- but I don't believe that your choice of a cover is one of them.

The deepest inroads that queer-rights activists have effected in my 33+ years in the movement have been made through connection and visibility, not appropriation and alienation. The biggest problems that I've seen in that movement over those 33+ years have arisen from marginalization of certain queers within the movement, complacency bred of "I've got mine", "It's the best we can get", or "It's not my problem" thinking, and the alienation of natural allies.

The article that Mr. Gross wrote at least put a question mark behind the words: "Gay is the New Black?" (and for what it's worth, I thought that the vast majority of his article was respectful, thoughtful, and thought-provoking -- I did have some nits to pick, but I won't pick them here).

I find it hard to believe that the cover-space, dominated as it was by a simple white title, couldn't have accommodated that question mark (and maybe one after the bold christening of gay rights as the Last-Great-Blah-Blah-Blah-Frankly-I'm-Sick-Of-Typing-It, as well?).

Sweeping declarations are, to me, only rightfully owned by those who have actual authority in a matter, and in the matter of civil rights, "gays" definitely do not own exclusive rights to the territory.

Mr. Gross posed his article as a question, and, in my opinion, brought himself to the examination of that question forthrightly, with a good degree of nuance and complexity. I think that you did his article a great injustice, in fact, by replacing his question with that extremely unstable declarative -- because only the Advocate's primary audience is likely to look beyond that cover.

In my opinion, that greatly reduces the likelihood that an important discussion that might have taken place in response to Mr. Gross' article will take place. Even I, as someone more likely to be sympathetic to the article, opened it ready to be offended and alienated -- based on the message of your cover.

You have a big voice in the queer community.

I ask you, please, to use that big voice with more care. What you choose will affect the lives of queers like me, whether I agree with you or not. People will point to your cover and say: "See? The gay rights movement is racist and insensitive!", and I will counter: "I think the cover editors at the Advocate were racist and insensitive." -- but my voice won't sit on every news-rack or echo through the mainstream media.

PortlyDyke/Carol Steinel

=====================End Transmission =======================

Posted byPortlyDyke at 9:30 PM 4 comments Links to this post  

A Really Easy Post To Write

I'm going to my first-ever blog round-up.

Go read my Beloved's blog.

That is all.

Posted byPortlyDyke at 11:27 PM 0 comments Links to this post  

A Closet of One's Own

This week, I had a discussion in which someone pointed out that it was racist and appropriating to compare the Black Civil Rights movement to the Gay Rights movement.

I completely agree that one cannot equate the two (although I do believe that it is possible, and often very useful, to identify certain commonalities that seem to run through all forms of oppression), and I have taken to heart the things that I learned. I will be more aware and more respectful of this in the future.

As I am wont to do, I went on an internet quest to learn more about this concept of appropriation of the black civil rights movement, and did, in fact, learn more.

I also noted that a lot of people made comments to the effect that one of the major differences between the oppressions faced by people of color and people who are queer (and yes, I include in that -- not in any particular order of priority -- lesbians, gay men, bisexual people, transgender, transsexual, intersexed, and questioning people -- plus anyone who considers themselves "queer", whether I've used their label choice or not -- I prefer and choose the word "queer" because the acronyms keep changing, and dammit, I like being a queer) -- anyway -- I kept seeing this comment when people were citing the differences -- that queers can "hide it" -- that they have the option of remaining closeted.

I noticed that I had a deep and visceral response to these types of statements, and didn't initially understand why, so I did some soul-searching and thinking and delving deep, and this is what I found:

First of all, I'm not sure whether it's even true that all (or even most) of us can "hide it".

I attempted to "hide it" for years -- just for starters, from age 12 to age 19, before I had even kissed a girl, but after I knew that I was queer -- and this didn't stop me from being harassed on the playground and in the halls of my high school with taunts of "lesbo" and "homo". So, maybe -- lol my hiding skills?

Second of all, even if it is true that it's possible to hide it -- hiding your queerness doesn't mean that you're not queer -- it just means that you're queer and completely suppressing a huge part of your persona.

To someone who is straight, the complexity of being closeted is probably not really apparent or easy to imagine. Being in the closet, once you have acknowledged your queerdom, is neither casual, nor does it impact one small, tidy area of your life (the bedroom) -- as evidenced by the difficulty that my straight coupled friends had in meeting my challenge to emulate a closeted life for even one week.

Attempting to remain completely closeted usually means either joining a cloister, remaining solitary, or marrying someone of the opposite sex (the latter almost always resulting in emotional wreckage for everyone involved).

Attempting to remain partially closeted as an adult (say, being involved in a same-sex relationship, but presenting a false front of being "straight" to one's family or employer/co-workers), influences nearly everything -- for example:

  • the jobs you will, or can, consider,
  • the clothing and hairstyles that you choose,
  • the living situation you will have (this changes with age, too, because you may get away with having a "roommate" at 21, but by the time you're in your mid-30s, people are going to start wondering, no matter how careful you are with your "straightening up" when the landlord or mom and dad come by),
  • the care that you take with the love-letters that you write (or choose not to write at all, depending on the depth of your closet) in terms of their traceability to you or the chances of them falling into "the wrong hands",
  • the proximity you will dare in terms of living near or interacting with your family of origin,
  • the amount of social familiarity you will allow yourselves with your co-workers (or your lover),
  • how often, and where, you will be seen with the person who you are most intimately involved with,
  • where (or whether) you keep keepsakes, momentos, or reminders of your most intimate relationship,
  • the art you put on the walls of your house, the magazines you leave on your coffee-table, and the books you keep on your shelves,
  • the topics of conversation that you will engage with at work, or with your family,
  • major decisions about where, and with whom, you will be at every holiday, birthday, etc.,
  • Etc., etc., etc.
  • This list does not even touch on the complexities of the closet for TG, TS, and IS people (the examples I used above are distinctly personal to me as a lesbian -- I can barely imagine how the closet is complicated for those who are dealing with trans-phobia and a raft of other oppressions).
  • This list also does not touch on the complexities of queers who live in countries where being queer is a crime punishable by death.
It's been a long time since I maintained an active closet, so I'm sure I'm leaving shit off the list -- but suffice it to say: "Hiding it", if that's what you attempt -- is a full time fucking job -- and rarely successful, anyway --

When I was closeted (to my family and at my work) and I did finally come out -- guess what -- no one was surprised. There was not one person at my work or in my family who didn't know -- which means that, if they had been a raging homophobe with an axe to grind, and had wanted to kill a queer -- they would have killed me anyway, regardless of my attempts to stay in the closet.

Even as an out queer, I still attempt to hide stuff when I think my safety is at risk, and that level of vigilance is constant (although nearly unconscious, at this point, as I have elucidated in the Take My Arm post cited above).

So yeah, that's one difference between racist oppression and homophobic oppression -- a queer can attempt to mitigate how badly homophobia affects them by suppressing big parts of themselves on a daily basis.

Isn't it nice to have options? -- I know I'm feeling all "whee!" about it.

Seriously -- the concept of choosing the closet is pretty contemporary, anyway.

Until 1973, homosexuality was still listed as a mental disorder (I have a friend who was forcibly committed to a mental institution -- straight jacket and all -- by her mother when she was discovered kissing her high-school lover in the early 1970s).

The last sodomy laws in this country were repealed only 5 years ago, and that ruling finally nullified the Idaho law which mandated a minimum 5 years up to life-imprisonment for "Every person who is guilty of the infamous crime against nature, committed with mankind or with any animal". When I was in high school, the only state where sodomy wasn't a crime was Illinois, and they had only repealed their sodomy laws in the 60s.

So, I'd say that at the time that I was coming out, it wasn't so much about whether we had the choice to "hide it", but that we had the choice to hide it, or risk jail or mental institution time. The closet didn't seem optional when I first realized I was queer -- and there were very, very few examples of thriving, out queers in those days.

Another peculiarity about experiencing the direct effects of homophobia as compared to other forms of discrimination is this -- at the beginning, at the very least, you pretty much get to experience this all alone.

For most queers, the first "coming out" is to yourself. For me, it was at age 12. I'd never met a homosexual. I'd never even heard the word.

There I stood, at the Health Department brochure rack, after my First Aid class (which would hopefully earn me another merit badge as a Girl Scout), and I opened a brochure for older kids which had a glossary in the back that included the word: "Homosexual". The description wasn't favorable, but I knew when I read these words -- “Homosexuality is a perversion in which the person prefers sex relations with a person of their same sex.” -- that they described me.

From that moment forward, I was dealing with my queerness -- alone-- until I found others queers, over 7 years later. The vast majority of queers that I know (especially of my generation) had this experience. There might even have been another queer in the family (in may case, there was), but we would probably not know that, because the option (ha!) of "hiding it" was exercised.

So, while people who are oppressed on the basis of their race, or their religion, or their nationality, tend to come to the age where they can begin to intellectually process the oppression they experience within an environment of others who also understand this oppression (family-of-origin/culture), many, if not most, young queers do this first "coming out" to themselves while completely surrounded by members of the privileged class (heteronormative/straight) most likely to oppress them.

Compound this by the fact that this first realization usually comes at a time when they are in the already-fragile state called adolescence, and while they are still completely dependent upon that group of potential oppressors.

Compound this further by the fact that young queers face not only the potential of being rejected by their families, but by their friends as well, especially if they grow up in a geographic area, specific ethnic or religious culture, or an era in which homophobia is not only not confronted, but fostered. (I first came out to myself in rural Kansas, in a family of Missouri-synod Lutherans, in 1968.)

Compound this further by the fact that the virulence of institutionalized homophobia may be so strong in a particular culture or religious group that the thought of coming out as queer would almost certainly mean becoming a complete exile from the roots that have nourished you, while entering the world of queer culture might mean facing a whole new set of oppressions because of the very roots you've had to leave. (Like my friend Catherine, who left her neighborhood and family behind because an out butch dyke wasn't welcome in the culture she grew up in, yet who faced constant racism within the queer movement as a black dyke, and Suzie, raised mormon, who was rejected by a religion and a social network that was very important to her, but who faced constant anti-mormon sentiment in the queer movement.) In this case, coming out may very well mean having the sense of having no "place" in the world at all.

Consider those facts, and tell me again whether "hiding it" is really a choice -- because honestly, is it a true "choice" when the alternative may be (during my era, anyway) institutionalization, incarceration, or complete isolation -- and more contemporarily -- homelessness, beatings, or death?

I mean, sure, it's technically a choice -- everything is -- but kind of a "shit-cake or death" choice -- the reduction of an oppressed person's choices to "obey or survive" is a time-honored tradition amongst oppressors.

Getting back to "coming out all alone" bit -- one of the most significant issues, for me, in queer culture and in the movement for equal civil rights for LGBTQ people has been this peculiarly isolated state in which most of us begin the discovery of our authentic identities.

With rare exceptions, we aren't born into queer families. No one tells us stories of our heritage -- in fact, books that might give us a glimpse of someone like ourselves are often the ones most likely to be kept out of schools and libraries.

The stories of people who were queer and brilliant -- the people we might look to as "ancestors" (Bernstein, Michaelangelo, DaVinci, Alexander the Great) are sanitized and "straightened up" (or their queerness is hotly contested, even when -- as in the case of DaVinci -- historical documentation would strongly indicate that they were queer).

This has resulted in a lot of problems in the queer movement, I think -- there has been a distinct lack of continuity -- a sense of the queer community remaking itself again and again with each new generation of queers. That's changing now, to some extent, as outreach programs to queer youth and greater exposure in the mainstream media documents the history of the queer rights movement, and queer history in general.

That takes me right back to my original point, though -- the reason I had no queer role models when I first realized that I was queer was because they hid. They hid, I believe, not because they wanted to -- in fact, the truly remarkable thing is that some of them came out of hiding, which made it easier --perhaps possible at all -- for me to come out of hiding.

Which lands me square on why this whole "you can hide it" argument bugs me so much, I think. Keeping queers in the closet is a major tool of homophobic oppression. It's not some perc. It's not some great advantage -- it's part and parcel of the eliminationist rhetoric of institutionalized homophobia. It's the thing that leads queer kids to suicide, and ruins lives, and destroys relationships.

The oppression of queers has relied upon queers' willingness to hide, to closet -- to erase themselves from the record of human life, or risk erasure by others -- sometimes in the most drastic of forms (complete expulsion from family and family records, edited out of history books, burned at the stake or hanged) -- so I consider hiding my queerness to be actively oppressing myself -- for me, it's a form of capitulation with my oppressors.

Ah! Wait! Eureka! I found it! After all that thrashing around -- here is why it doesn't seem like a choice to me:

Because the choice for queers, so often, is not really "Hide or Be Out" -- it is -- "Erase Yourself or Be Erased By Us".

Which isn't really much of a choice at all, except in the matter of who does the erasing.

Glad I got to the bottom of that. Maybe I can sleep now.

Posted byPortlyDyke at 11:20 PM 8 comments Links to this post  


I'm ruminating tonight, and I'm sleepy, and my neck is out of whack, and I do have a big post cooking in my brain, and tomorrow is my day off -- so I'll probably be posting early tomorrow.

I had the experience, today, of feeling worn out by process (which is unusual for me), and slightly discouraged about being queer (in terms of "Gah! Will this shit ever change?!?!?!?!").

I will wait for morning to reveal a new attitude to me, as it nearly always does. In the meanwhile, my faithful readers, rest well, and dream of large women.

(Skip to 6:11 for referential enjoyment)

Posted byPortlyDyke at 10:28 PM 3 comments Links to this post  

A Recession is Just An Agreement

Yes. I said it. It's just an agreement -- and agreement based, for most people, on simple fear (for others, perhaps, an agreement based on simple greed).

If you don't already know about my thoughts on the subject of "money", you may want to read here -- if you don't read that, and you want to go all spluttery on me in comments as if I haven't already made my views about money perfectly clear, I'll probably just refer you back to that post anyway, so you may as well read it now.

OK. Back?

On with my subject matter.

Recession is an agreement -- if this is not abundantly clear to you already (given that the "Recession" is "declared" by "the powers that be", even though many people have been feeling the pinch of said Recession for months) -- then I invite you to consider the following:

No actual money which existed on this planet prior to the great financial crisis of Autumn 2008 has suddenly disappeared -- no money magically slipped out of Earth's atmosphere into deep space -- no money was dumped in a hole, doused with gasoline, and destroyed -- no money was accidentally, or purposefully, atomized in a freak nuclear reaction.

All the money that existed before the subprime mortgage crisis was triggered in 2007, and all the money that existed before the Bear Stearns takeover in March '08, and all the money that existed before the Feds took over Fannie and Freddie, and all the money that existed before the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, and Wamu, and the Bailout (aka Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 -- doesn't that sound nice?) -- all of that money still actually exists.

(That is, as much as it ever did actually exist -- because it has only existed because we agree that it exists -- please see that post that I referred to above).

On a more tangible scale, the physical resources, objects, and raw materials that all of that money represents or stands-in-for actually do still exist, for certain and for sure, regardless of any human agreements about money -- the Recession has not blown great wads of the planet into nothingness. All the stuff that we have used money to represent or purchase is still here.

That means that the only thing that has really changed on planet Earth since the Recession was declared today (or since it supposedly began months ago) is this: Our agreements about money have changed -- what it is, what it's worth, and how much we will circulate it.

That's it. That's the only difference, in "financial" terms, between yesterday and today, or 2006 and 2008.

All that money that used to be flying around so freely is still somewhere. It may not be at my house, or your house, right now -- but it's somewhere.

Regardless of where you may fall on the financial spectrum -- if you use money in any way, you participate, whether consciously or unconsciously, in this vast agreement -- that's why I can't exempt myself from the Recession concept, or pretend like it "just happened" -- I was playing with the monopoly money with the same earnestness as the fat-cats on Wall Street -- equally convinced that the game was real -- the only difference is the scale and the numbers.

So, I'm going to change my agreement tonight -- I hereby formally lodge my opinion that the Recession does not exist -- either that, or it always existed -- since all the money, resources, energy, and raw materials situated on Planet Earth still exist today.

That is all.

Posted byPortlyDyke at 10:33 PM 4 comments Links to this post