My take on the selfie thing

April 30, 2014 at 7:32 pm (hollywood, Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

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There’s been a lot of press in the last couple of years dedicated to “selfie” scholarship. It’s partly the fault of the Oxford dictionary who declared it a real word in 2013 and therefore somehow more worthy of critical attention. There is the pro-camp, who says it’s empowering and should be encouraged.  There are the detractors,who say they reek of low self-esteem and encourage plastic surgery.

I am ambivalent personally. I am by no means immune to the practice. It’s too big a temptation with the camera right there in my hand at most times, the smartphone being practically an extension of the limb these days. But while I take them semi-regularly, I am generally loathe to post them on social media. For fear of being one of “those girls.”

We all have that friend, the one who feels the need, daily, to post a “selfie” to their social media page. The hashtag may read #nyc or #lacma but the background is secondary. The focus and the majority of the space is dedicated to the face, often wearing a strikingly familiar expression. What is the need the “selfie” fulfills?

I agree with James Franco when he said “Selfies are tools of communication more than marks of vanity (but yes, they can be a little vain).We all have different reasons for posting them, but, in the end, selfies are avatars: Mini-Me’s that we send out to give others a sense of who we are.” I think that one of the people we are communicating with though is ourselves.

The “selfie” is about seeing ourselves from the outside.It is a self-portrait, true, one we create with the intention to affect how we are seen but it is more than that. It is difficult to imagine how you are perceived. A logical mind will fixate on the diversity of possible perspectives and the changing nature of the self. It matters who’s looking at us and how we happen to be at any given occasion. We are not the same today as we were yesterday. The “selfie,” a visual check-in, serves to capture “objectively” the mutating reality of the self.

Now most people would admit that photography has from it’s birth been subject to manipulation and tampering with, but it is also the best tool we’ve got for capturing some of life’s most precious truths. Birth, Death, what your friends looked like out at the club last Friday…

Human vanity, sin or not, is natural, timeless and virtually inescapable. We love to gaze at our own reflections, in mirrors, in photos, and in “selfies.” It is the narcissitic hallmark of our times. Much has been written about whether the “selfie” version empowers or demeans, objectifies or elevates. I posit that it serves like a GPS- this is where you are now. It reassures.It confirms. It realizes. I am here. I exist.

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Why isn’t Purim popular like St. Patty’s Day ?

March 18, 2014 at 1:57 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , )

When I’m asked to describe my ethnic make-up/background, I often answer that I’m half-white trash and half-Jewish. My Mom’s side is composed of working class southerners whose attempts at genealogy are stymied by orphan grandparents, sub-par record keeping and the erasure of the impoverished by history. That being said, strangers often think that I look Irish. I’ve even worked promoting Bushmills Irish whiskey since I looked the part.So I feel at least as Irish (entitled or not) as the grand majority of those out celebrating today, most of whom are hardly Irish themselves. Perhaps it is this dichotomy, between my lineages, that led me to question why St. Patrick’s day is celebrated publicly in a way that Purim is not. 

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This is my “curious” face. Because I really am interested…Also, don’t pinch me- I am wearing green…

This year Purim and St. Patrick’s day fell around the same weekend, prompting copious excuses for drinking and carousing about.Both holidays prominently feature imbibing as part of their protocol. With Purim, one is instructed to drink until you can’t discern between Haman and Mordechai, the villain and hero of the backstory to the holiday respectively. Both involve dressing up (in costumes for Purim, in green for St. Patty’s), both have religious origins, both are holidays based in cultures with long histories of persecution and diaspora. So why is it that one is so mainstream and commercialized while the other isn’t even well-known? If you are looking for answers, I’m not sure I have them. But I am open to suggestions….

I am not saying that I want Purim to get all blown up by the Goyim, either. I just took note today when I saw Asians in green and Black people dressed as leprochauns, and thought, wait if it’s all just an excuse to get drunk, why don’t they latch on to Purim too. ( I don’t disclaim the possibility that any of those POC have Irish descent, because they very well might). It seems however that St. Patrick’s day, like Cinco de Mayo or Mardi Gras, has overflowed from it’s cultural container and been assimilated into American culture generally, while Purim has not. Here in LA, they are probably far more Jews than Irishmen ( let me know if you have contradictory data) so that doesn’t entirely make sense to me. Maybe in New York ( although I’d love to know the comparative data on that town as well), very likely in Boston, the Irish outnumber the Yids but here you would think the sheer number of Jews would propel enhanced Purim awareness. Is it because we are too insular? Do we need to re-brand Purim for the masses?  Is there anti-semitism at work? Because otherwise what is the explanation as to why folks are missing out on another excuse to get black-out wasted? 

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Eulogy for Lee Glaze

December 17, 2013 at 5:23 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

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We lost an American pioneer and revolutionary when Lee Glaze died recently. I had the privilege to attend his memorial at Triangle Square, LA’s gay senior housing center. Among the assembled crowd I was definitely the youngest there, which made me a little sadder than I already was.  There should have been thousands of people there. The altar, made from a draped folding table, should have collapsed under the weight of flowers twisted into wreathes. We should have filled his apartment with roses, from floor to ceiling. Better yet, since he is no longer here to witness such tributes, we should have done more while he was still alive to let him know how appreciative the world really is of what he accomplished. The world should have been more appreciative.

We know so little about our history. We’ve selected a few bright stars and moments to put in our pantheon, Stonewall, Harvey Milk etc., and left the rest unilluminated.  There is so much more to gay history, so many more hands at work behind the scenes. Lee Glaze, the owner of The Patch, a gay bar in Long Beach, stood up the police a year before Stonewall.  When patrons of his establishment were arrested in a raid, he marched down to the station with followers holding flowers and demanded their release. “We’re here to get our Sisters out,” Lee told them.

There is so much that the youth of the community takes for granted. Every visit to West Hollywood reminds me that the joy of drinking vodka cocktails to a soundtrack of house music with tons of boys relies on the hard work of our elders. Maybe only gay history themed cocktails would bridge the divide.

I’m not counting myself out of the blame game. I don’t have the means to buy out the floral district but I could have visited him more, treated myself to more of his company. I even came a little late to the service, having come straight from work. All that despite my awareness of what a mensch he was.  So I can’t hold it against those who don’t know better, who are ignorant of his legacy, for not providing more for him.

I met Lee Glaze, thanks to my involvement with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. A social service organization with a structure resembling a nunnery, we have a tradition of sainting important and helpful individuals. A couple of years ago we bestowed the honor of Sainthood on Lee Glaze.  At the ceremony, people spoke to the immense impact his choices had, we blessed him and bound him to his wheel chair with ropes representing his ties to the community.

After one of his hospital stays I helped clean his apartment with the help of a few of my fellow nuns. He had a lot of stuff and a beautiful painted bathroom that he had done himself.  As we worked he regaled us with stories from his life. I remember him telling us about being the first manager of the first branch of Taco Bell for instance. He had strong opinions about life, his living situation, his city and the world. He cussed out a home health aide that wanted to change his bandages because it had hurt so much the last time. The word “shy” and Lee Glaze share no relation.

At his memorial, he was summed up as someone who was difficult at times, a little crazy, very talkative and kind. Despite his outsized personality and outspoken spirit, he was able to be gentle when necessary. This is a man after all who brought the police hundreds of flowers in protest.  He was described as a personal embodiment of Gay Pride.  Thank you Lee for all that you did. Rest in Peace and Power.

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In defense of American Parenting

September 25, 2013 at 5:20 am (babies) (, , , , , )

Me appreciating some Indian parenting

Me appreciating some Indian parenting

I’ve been reading a lot lately about what Americans do wrong parenting wise, especially in comparison to the rest of the world.  I’m not complaining about the proliferation of information on other cultures parenting techniques. I’m an amateur ethno-pediatrician myself and it’s fascinating to learn that the Finnish let their children nap in sub-freezing temperatures and that their governments advocate newborns sleeping in cardboard boxes.

I do though perhaps question the genre of “They do it better” books. Jared Diamond suggests we should emulate hunter-gatherers in their techniques. Not the Incest and knife-play parts, but the rest we should consider. He advocates co-sleeping, wearing children close to the body in things like slings, letting them stray a little farther and take more risks (no helicopter parenting here), and sharing parenting duties with many others. I’m for all of that and I believe a great deal of it is practiced by subsectors of American society already and has been for forty years (see the 1970’s).

 In another example, Paula Druckerman, the author of “Bringing up Bebe” says we should borrow from the French, teaching patience, only feeding at mealtime, and speaking with authority so as to not let our children run our lives. Looking around further we can find advice on following African examples or the Japanese.

I not so recently returned from a two month trip to India.  While I was there I set my sights on what I could glean from their parental strategies. Parenting there was definitely different in some key ways. It’s hard to say in a county that big that there is a unity of practice or belief but I saw stuff there that would just not occur in the States. Families of five rode along on one scooter. I saw kids walking alone in big cities narrowly dodging cars. I watched a mother hosing down a baby’s butt with freezing cold water next to a bus station while the baby yowled. Parents handed over their infants to me without any concern for my being a stranger. Taking a train from Agra to Varanasi, we shared a cabin with a couple who had a toddler. Less than ten feet away, the train’s door was open. In thirty seconds he could have taken off and ended up on the tracks. I was nervous enough myself, a couple of times, to get up and try to shoo him back in. The parents were much more laissez faire about it. 

 I was not however sure what meaning to make of the difference. Take the scooter example. The thing is people have to get places and they have to take their kids with them. Since affording a car is out of the reach of a majority of the population doing things like putting their kids on a motorbike is acceptable. Parenting, worldwide, is often about necessity.

 I’m not sure the majority of global parenting is entirely as intentional as some of the literature might imply. Most of the world is consumed by the most basic foundation tasks involved, getting food on the table, keeping their children safe as possible, providing shelter.

Watching people parent internationally makes one question what is actually necessary though. We here take for granted that babies must be put in car seats but our parents were raised without them. People used to hold their children in hand while riding in the car and that was that. Since no better option existed there was an acceptance of what we’d now consider unsafe.

In fact much of what we are scared of is a decision. I’m not advocating making the world less safe for kids nor I am suggesting that people in the third world wouldn’t like to make their children safer.  It did however remind me of the lyrics of the Mumia Abu-Jamal piece, Hip Hop and Homeland, which says “For here (in America) more than any place on earth wealth is more wide spread and so bountiful. What passes for the middle class in America could pass for the upper class in most of the rest of the world. They’re very opulent and relative wealth makes them insecure.”

We kowtow to fear as a luxury, a choice not afforded to most of the world, and it changes the way we parent. Different cultures have different freedoms, along with different philosophies and moral codes. The dangers may well be the same (there exists rape of children in India, as well as rapes here) but our reactions are different (we, in the US, shelter our kids more).

There are also structural differences that count for something. If I put my whole family on a scooter without helmets I’d be arrested. There would be legal issues if you tried to import all those enticing international practices here. You might end up getting your kids taken away. There have been multiple instances in which immigrants have come into conflict with the government because they were treating their kids in a way that would fly at home but not here. A great example comes in the form of the book “The spirit catches you and you fall down,” which pits the spiritually focused Hmong community in California against the strictures of Western medicine, in a case of a child with epilepsy. We may admire the way far off people parent but we can’t always successfully apply it back home.

Furthermore, no one is parenting in a vacuum. You can’t opt out of the society you exist in. One might layer in a variety of approaches but there is still the underpinnings of what sits outside the front door. You can attempt to withdraw but culture is pervasive. We internalize it into our perspectives to a point that it is inescapable. Even if we fight against it, we are from it and working in reaction to it. Is one Culture and its parenting better than another? Does it matter? Most of us don’t have the ability to uproot ourselves and try again elsewhere. Even if we did, we’d bring our culture with us.

My perspective is that I am a product of this culture but can appreciate others. What irks me is the suggestion that one form or another of parenting is RIGHT. As though somehow their ways of doing things are producing superior (smarter, braver, more well- behaved) children than our own. Now I don’t mean to be a crazy nationalist. I’m not saying Americans produce the “best” kids but judging parenting, culturally speaking, is a faulty and useless endeavor.

I am not such a cultural relativist to say that anything goes. I think corporal punishment, which occurs cross-culturally, is always wrong. I feel that way regardless of where it’s happening. “Good” and “Bad” parenting happens in every society, in every culture.  My main point is that choosing how to parent or which trends to follow or even reading half the baby books on the market is a great priviledge and perhaps a fool hardy one. Because, in the end, a lot of the things people say are contradictory and although lots of the folks out there preaching the new ideas about global parenting say to give kids lots of space, engagement is my favorite thing about American parenting culture.

 

 

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The Atlantic thinks women are deluding themselves

July 14, 2013 at 2:02 am (Uncategorized)

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I recently moved my new boyfriend in with me. I was interested then to read the Atlantic’s article about the different expectations men and women have regarding cohabitation. It added to the “living together will keep you single” trope by saying that a number of women, who think the man they are living with will marry them someday, are wrong. They framed it by asking whether respondents, 18-26 in age, are “completely committed” and “almost certain” their relationships are permanent. Commitment and permanence are strongly associated with marriage. They may as well have asked- so are ya’ll going to get married someday or not? More of the women studied think it’s headed in that direction.

The article has a tone of warning about it. Look around, it says, are you in one of those relationships right now? If not, beware lest you fall into this trap. There’s even advice given- talk about commitment before moving in- get on the same page- don’t slide into marriage. Being on the same page is great but unless you have bi-monthly check-ins it might be difficult.

Ultimately you can’t control other people. They may say one thing and mean another. How many of the men studied would fess up similarly to the ladies with whom they are involved? They may mean what they say at one point and not another. Relationships are journeys. People change throughout the time they spend together. Commitment is a sort of defense against that inevitability but it too can waver over time. Even marriage is hardly a guarantee of permanence these days. The most troublesome part of the study for me was the near 20% of married respondents who were also on the fence.

While making the leap under these circumstances may seem inadvisable and naïve, I did it with knowledge of the possible consequences; I’d heard before that people who live together before getting married are less likely to tie the knot and more likely to divorce if they do. In fact, I knew first hand. I lived with my Ex for three out of five years of our relationship, during which I assumed I was headed towards marriage (because he said as much). Before making a similar leap again into “living in sin,” I asked myself -was it the living together that had done us in? A preview is not always a good thing. That being said, men aren’t the only ones who’d like to taste the milk first, so to speak. I, personally, would rather know what I’m getting into- it’s why I don’t buy clothes online.

What of the women who are in these relationships with men who don’t feel the same way? The 15% who feel “completely committed” while their men can’t say the same and the 13% who are “almost certain” when their fellows aren’t, how should we feel about them? Pity? Consternation?

You might call them hopeful. Wanting to move in sounds positive. Who wouldn’t want to take it to the next step? That next step that everyone’s mom keeps telling you is the Promised Land.

You could say there’s more pressure on women to get married and settle down and so we delude ourselves into seeing possibility when it’s absent. Perhaps men are more hesitant to be vulnerable since they are taught it is a weakness. It puts you out on a limb to say these things, “completely committed” or “almost certain.” They are verbal leaps of faith. They offer up the opportunity for heartbreak and disappointment.

Marriage is totally scary and without significant social pressure folks are less likely to want to do it, especially when they see the current success rate. Maybe they are even less likely if they can get all the same perks by cohabitating. The generation in the study is one raised in the era of divorce, an upbringing that has made some people more serious about marriage and others more avoidant.

The example in the article is a friend of the authors who breaks up with a non-committal boyfriend of five years. She sets an ultimatum and when he falters, moves on. It sounded like agency on her part actually. She probably got to the “marrying age” when most of her peers were coupled, with kids, and decided she wanted that for herself; which is within her rights, as much as it is within his to be honest with his feelings when the ultimatum arrives. You can’t pressure someone into loving you and pressuring someone to commit is relatively the same.

You can formalize the process. The two life paths of cohabitation vs. commitment were like the organic vs. the formal. Marriage is in its essence a formality- a set of rules, a contract, official papers, ceremony. It is perhaps in the fullest form of that definition when someone is in fact uncommitted despite the terms implied- say when in someone else’s bed.

So is the answer then to try and hold out on them? The same basic theory as withholding sex that ends with me not getting laid (lose-lose in my opinion) but with housing? For my own good, (which assumes marriage is still the ideal outcome), I should delay personal gratification in order to tease out commitment from my mate?

Maybe I’m not the marrying type. I don’t see the value in avoiding cohabitation for the sake of some future probability. The man I marry will have to live with me for a long time so he’d better get used to it early. On the other hand maybe that is the sort of thinking that together with other decisions will combine to make my life different than the normative one. I’m more okay with that than most. Maybe ladies need to ask themselves how important marriage is and how many of our decisions we are willing to make on the basis of increasing the likelihood of it happening.

I am trying to go into it with my eyes open this time. While I would claim to be “committed,” I wouldn’t say I’m “almost certain.” Very little is certain in life, other than change being constant and death being at the end. My strategy is to try and avoid things that are some sort of investment towards future dividends because that led to resentment in the past. I could live in fear or even break-up with someone I love to try and prevent heartache in the future or forestall some outcome I find unideal. Life is a set of managed risks and we are better off being aware of which ones we are taking and how risky they in fact are. Maybe it’s my non-traditional upbringing but I say “follow your bliss.” Maybe you won’t end up married but then again maybe you won’t end up divorced either.

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The radio made me cry

May 29, 2013 at 11:07 pm (Uncategorized)

Image I was stuck in the usual crush of LA traffic, impatiently pushing the buttons that change the radio station (my car’s old-school) when Power 106, the major hip hop station switched songs. It had a good beat, a catchy chorus and as I tuned into the lyrics I realized a watershed moment had come. The song “Same Love” by Macklemore was about homophobia, particularly in hip-hop, and more generally about the need for equality and gay rights. The lyrics include the gem, “I might not be the same, but that’s not important. No freedom till we’re equal, damn right I support it.” I couldn’t help that upon its reaching my ears, tears sprung into my eyes. My favorite verse begins looking forward to “the day that my uncles can be united by law.”

Macklemore, famous from his single which raves about thrift store bargains, on this track laments, “When kids are walking ’round the hallway plagued by pain in their heart. A world so hateful some would rather die than be who they are.” He concedes, “And a certificate on paper isn’t gonna solve it all. But it’s a damn good place to start. He sums it up as, “Whatever God you believe in. We come from the same one. Strip away the fear. Underneath it’s all the same love.” That’s what I’m talking about.

A decade ago as an assignment for a required English class in college I wrote my own version of this song. It wasn’t nearly as eloquent, and was backed by very rudimentary beat boxing on my part, delivered in between verses. “Boom patcha, boom, boom patcha!”  It contained gems like “Your homophobia is bothering me; it makes you a wack MC.”  I got an A on it, which in retrospect seems very generous.

I therefore can’t credit Macklemore fully for the novelty of the concept. He isn’t the first rapper to challenge the homophobic status quo in hip hop but he is symbolic of a larger change. It wasn’t just that it’d been written, other rappers like Brother Ali had beaten him to the punch (Tight rope from 2009) but that it was getting airplay, in a major market.

Equal Rights has hit the mainstream. And for some reason it’s just slowly hitting me that it’s the case. As more and more states pass marriage equality into law, I’ve celebrated and waited for California, my home state, to come around, while I watched the lawsuits wind their way through the courts. My own mother got married in the first round of gay marriage in San Francisco that went on to be annulled. Maybe this feeling, like it could get taken away, like we’re one Republican president away from being back at zero, has distracted me from what going on a the culture at large. When I googled anti–homophobia rap song, I found a PSA from A$AP Rocky advocating equal rights in the classroom and on the sports field. There were quotes from Jay-z and Kanye West lending their support. These signs strike me as more permanent. They can’t be shrugged off as political pandering. They aren’t based in the push pull of the electoral cycles. They are cultural shifts.

Turning on the television, I see an Ad for a new show, produced by JLo, featuring two moms. This adds to the bumper crop of gay characters on TV shows like Modern Family and Glee etc. JC Penney’s ads for both Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day have same sex parents. The New Yorker cover follows suit. This is the definition of a zeitgeist.

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On Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2013 at 8:28 am (memoir, Uncategorized) ()

When I got dumped, and I mean, majorly, after-five-plus-years-everyone-thought-you’d-get-married, dumped, a million people told me it would be a good thing if I were single for a while. At the time I held it against them. My take was that they were saying I was needy and dependent and should get my sh-t together without further inflicting it on the public at large. First off, how the heck did they know what was best for me in my time of need? I thought the ideal solution would include a bevy of suitors and looking good in revenge. Secondly, why would the answer to my newfound loneliness be solitude? A delectable but casual rebound seemed far more appropriate.

 I was however one of those people who had hardly been single since puberty. Someone whose relationships unfortunately often overlapped. And somehow despite my best intentions I internalized their admonishment. Officially speaking,(meaning Facebook) I haven’t called a fellow my boyfriend in the last half decade. While my best friend might find some of that time debateable-a whole separate conversation would need to be had over what counts as being in a relationship with someone- I can say that I have been commitment free. Able to make my own decisions, “follow my own drummer” and screw whoever I like. That’s what being single means to me. What a 180 I’ve made in terms of preference and perspective from when I couldn’t imagine life alone.

 While I am loathe to give into a dialectic that defines being single as either a defect vs. a strength, I can’t help now perceiving coupling as a fear based decision. Something tied to our fear of mortality and of helplessness without a help-mate. A while back there was an article on the teenage brain in National Geographic.  One of the things it talked about was a study on decision making that looked at how teenagers perceived risk differently from adults. It used a scenario in which the participants decided on whether or not to run a yellow light. The results showed that teenagers had the same level of judgment but that their actions were dependent on there being peers in the room. When their friends were around they took more risks to show off.

What struck me most was the part that talked about how teens perceive social acceptance as a life or death proposition. It made me think about all the recent bullying deaths and how being ostracized was so traumatic to those who ultimately killed themselves. It makes sense when you think about it on an evolutionary level. There is safety in numbers. We generally speaking feel safer when not alone. There are shared resources, skill sets and deterrent force. The sense that one has utterly failed at the task of assimilation and will be alone in life must be terrifying and overwhelming. And the adolescent phase is when it counts. When I think about who I consider my closest friends/allies I realize that I collected the majority during those same formative years. I was trying to build a community that would sustain me in my adult life. Indeed, especially during the time in which I’ve been single, those relationships have been crucial.

The phenomenon in which people, when coupled, isolate themselves from their friends and community is an unhealthy one. I know a bunch of girls who regret having let their platonic relationships dissolve when they fell in love. Later when their significant other is less dreamy, they wish they had outside support. It is also unfair to demand that one person fulfill the totality of one’s emotional needs. Anyone would seem needy under that guise.

So much of what we do is still animal thinking. I am not a proponent of some of what has been extrapolated. I don’t for instance believe that men are hardwired to seek multiple partners, while women benefit from a single mate scenario. I doubt if anything that people are hardwired for monogamy at all- (see the book Sex at Dawn) but I do believe that most unconscious decisions are based in fear. We are programmed for survival above all.

I think it is brave to be single. It takes courage. Even if it’s not by choice. I learned a lot about keeping myself company in the last few years. I found a few pitfalls along the way,(who knew I was so annoying?) but those too taught me more about who I am. At this point being single feels safer oddly enough. Less chance for surprises and disappointment.

So… I think it is also brave though to give love a try. Whether for the first time or the fifth. I don’t mean to make it seem more noble to stand alone like the great American ideal intones. Being with others means vulnerability. Being vulnerable takes strength. Trust is inherently a leap of faith. It isn’t predicated on evidence or logic alone. It has some relationship to reciprocity but the two are not mutually intertwined. Ideally we want to take the sense of self developed independently and preserve it while accepting and appreciating another human being. We want to see and be seen. This is really hard work.  When that alchemy happens it is worth the heartbreak that might be to come later. My mom said, when I was feeling rather desolate, that I shouldn’t worry about being able to love again. Time will pass. You know how to love and be loved, that is what’s important. That’s what we all have to keep practicing. Single or not.

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A Queerspawn Farewell to this years Republican nominees

November 8, 2012 at 4:59 am (queerspawn, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

 

I woke up this morning feeling as though some existential threat had been lifted from me. The way Israel might feel if Iran disappeared.  As both a woman and the daughter of lesbians, I had a lot riding on this election.  With the gains made in terms of same sex marriage in Washington and Maryland, the retention of Justice Wiggins in Iowa and the record number of women candidates prevailing, progress saved the day.

But before I  move on and selectively forget the names and faces of those Republicans who caused me so much anxiety over the last few months, I’d like to say farewell and goodbye to those relics of repression and hate. Goodbye Todd Akin, Richard Murdoch –  otherwise known as the “Rape Team”. Thank you for inspiring women to turn out to the polls. Goodbye Republican Presidential nominees one and all, I hope the next set builds their careers on something other than our families backs….. See, every few years often concurrent with the electoral cycle, gay families are brought to the foreground of political debate. No other group, other than perhaps welfare mothers, is used so regularly as political fodder.

I’d like to point out that contrary to the way it was portrayed in this election,my family is not a point to win in a debate, not something to be used as political leverage. It’s a Civil Rights issue, plain and simple.  Imagine if it were another demographic being spoken about in this manner, a racial group for instance that it was being suggested was unfit to parent, imagine the outrage that would cause.  What if someone asked what the consequences of their parenting would be? There are an estimated 2.3 million children of LGBT parents. When politicians degrade our families it feels like a punch in the gut to every one of them. And although I was hardly harassed growing up in the most liberal corner of the country, I consider the statements made by the Republican candidates to be a call to arms for anyone who might be interested in perpetrating violence against our community.

Here’s a few of the highlights from this round.

Caught on tape back in 2005, the Boston Globe’s story highlighting Mitt Romney’s actions and statements around children with same –sex parents did not surprise me. He joins his former Republican rivals Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum in the club of politicians who say ignorant things regarding gay families. It seems to be some sort of GOP initiation rite at this point. The pattern seems to be a denial of our very existence, followed by denial of the numerous studies that say our families are healthy and finally, denial of our rights.

Never once in that process are we as potential political constituents sought out or listened to. According to the GOP, direct testimony as to our experience is considered untrustworthy and so we have to depend on outside opinions and studies that corroborate for us what we already know, our families are legitimate places to raise happy children. Unfortunately for some, like Mr. Santorum, even the opinion of a well respected group like the American Psychiatric Association on the subject of gay marriage is held suspect. In a video that circled the web, Mr. Santorum gets in an argument with a college student. She says the APA has come out in support of gay families and he goes on to say that they are just a group of people who agree with each other. Sure, a group of people we put a lot of faith behind, because after all we depend on them to decide what’s crazy and what’s sane.

Finally Michelle Bachmann in a confrontation with an eight year old boy.  Although Dan Savage disagrees with me, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for a child to defend their family’s right to exist to a politician. What I find offensive is that we as a society have put children in the political cross-hairs. Growing up with gay parents puts one constantly on the defensive and until there is equality that will continue to be true.

I wish I could stand behind a statement like the one made today by Zach Wahls, that the anti-Gay Culture War ends now. I can at least have a momentary faith though that the war will ultimately be settled in our favor. I’d like someday to have a chance, for instance, to vote for candidates without taking their views on my families right to existence into consideration. I am forced to be an issues voter instead. Regardless of how I might feel about the economy, I will be voting democrat for the forseeable future.

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Arts Funding and Internet Commenters

October 2, 2012 at 5:49 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

I read an article online titled, I’m thirty two and my family bankrolls my lifestyle. It featured a lady whose family financially supports her so she can pursue a freelance writing career. According to the comment section she might as well have been Hitler. Among the 500 or so comments the majority were focused on how selfish and lazy she was. A sample : “ i personally do not know how you can be ok taking advantage of everyone around you. my parents will often forgo paying their own rent in order to support my brother in his not wanting to work a full time job because he’s an artist. bullshit.” Or “Yeah my entire thought while reading this was get your shit together and stop mooching off your friends/family. At 32 being broke while sponging off people isn’t cute.”

Now maybe I’m inclined to identify with her since I’m 31 and also often accept offers of cash from my folks with glee, while I work less than full time so as to make space for artistic pursuits, but I think there is more than that at play here. I think Culture is involved.

See in other times and places, Artists were supported in a variety of ways, from patronage in Medieval times to the modern day European government funding of the Arts for example. Here in Capitalist America, we have chosen against Public arts funding for the most part, leaving artists to find private channels of support.

Some artists are paid enough money for the art they make to live but by no means all of them and talent is not always a deciding factor in who succeeds in that sense. We can all think of commercially successful artists who pale in comparison talent wise with those who are broke. And because we as a society have devalued Art, fewer people are willing to personally invest in Art in the way that is needed to support Artists. We need enough people buying art, from artists, to make private arts funding really work and it ain’t happening. This also makes Art an entirely commercial venture which defeats the purpose, frankly. With neither public nor private funding largely accessible this leaves us in a situation where only the independently wealthy can afford artistic careers- and I can tell you a lot of Artists these days do have trust funds. That being said I think it’s a shame and a cultural loss for the rest of us. Which brings me back to the subject of the piece, the middle class girl whose normal family is trying to let her play on that field and the Haters who be hating….

To them I say: We need not resent people who are supported by their community. We can be jealous but we needn’t tear them down. Collectivism is natural. Call me a commie but the whole doing it by ourselves thing moves against nature. Look at ants.

They (the internet) are upset that she takes money from people who aren’t rich but only middle class. Somehow it’s better that rich people should be helped by their parents, while the poor (or middle class) aren’t allowed to be subsidized. Well, frankly, that gives even greater advantage to the wealthy, who are allowed to accept their parent’s money, while we the working class cannot?!

Still, in the working class pooling funds is common practice. Rich people run to the banks for money. The poor call on each other. People chip in as a sign of belief in what their friends are doing, and as a form of social investment. Among the commenters there was much talk of “enabling,” but what if that is reframed as investing, or enabling in the more positive sense of the word, as in “allowing to make possible,” It could be seen instead as a beautiful gift, a vote of confidence. If people have some cash to kick down they do it, it’s hardly highway robbery.

I’d like to note that the people who are funding her lifestyle are adults making independent choices about their own finances. Nowhere in the article does she describe anyone as deprived. She isn’t conning the elderly or stealing candy from babies. The people who buy her lunch and pay her bills have the right to do so as they wish. They can pay for her main/pedis and choose to support her in pursuing her dream, for whatever motives they might have. I don’t sense that she is begging them for favors. If people appreciate her enough to throw some cash toward it, well I see that as a more intimate version of Kickstarter.

So she works one day a week. I get feeling saintlier than thou, or more hard-working and tougher, but why does your superiority have to result in her inferiority? It was as though they took personally her situation. The writer is lucky to be that privileged. But it’s not like she wrote the article to complain. She seemed to be confessing, she came to divulge something that she feels ashamed of and embarrassed by. Everyone is so sold on the idea that working three jobs and making art on the side is ideal.

Why should the ability to hold down multiple jobs be the standard bearer for true artists? What if making that a requisite means losing out on the potential creativity of those who are tapped out after a fifty hour work week? If we demand that every artist who isn’t trust funded work full-time before they make art, I think we may miss out on someone’s masterpiece. I know that sometimes I actually get more done when I’m busy and I definitely gain creative inspiration from the stuff I encounter on the job but I would still rather have more time to get art done. What with all that work, less art gets made that’s all there is to it. And maybe I am a weaker person for not being able to juggle it all but that’s just the way it is and it doesn’t make my art any less valuable for that being the case. There are some artists, fragile flowers that we are, who might benefit from some leisure. Art is about process ultimately and you can’t always force that out in the one spare hour before you fall into bed. So if we take all that into consideration, is it the worst thing in the world that this Lady’s family is helping to make that happen for her?

Another shitstorm was started over the Lady’s fantasy that some well- off man would come and save/support her someday, transferring responsibility from her family onto his bank account. Folks lambasted her as anti-feminist and again Lazy. But the thing is- It’s a fantasy. She never says she is living her life in a way to make that happen. She isn’t getting dressed up and hitting hotel bars or whatever it is gold-diggers do anyway. Who doesn’t want to be rescued from their own mundane existence?

This is the “crime” they are accusing her of: She is trying to eke out a living as an artist, is lucky to be financially supported and doesn’t work as much as many. I question this adherence to capitalist philosophy. Community support: its how a lot of artists/people get by.

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I got all my Sisters with me…

September 14, 2012 at 8:11 pm (Lesbian, queerspawn) (, , )

I make a pretty nun I think

So clearly I took a European style vacation from blogging (read: eight weeks long), during which time I managed to accomplish a life-long goal of mine and became a fully professed member of The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. For those not in the know, the Sisters are an international non-profit organization whose mission is to expiate stigmatic guilt and shame, while promulgating universal joy through habitual perpetration. A mouthful, huh?  We do a lot of fundraising for charity and social activism work, along with providing spiritual ministry to the community.

For more info you can check out Wikipedia or our local chapter’s website.
I have wanted to be a Sister since I was about four years old. My family used to attend the Lily Street Easter celebration, the pre-cursor to the event the Sisters now hold every Easter in Dolores Park. I remember seeing the larger than life Glamazons, in their glitter and jewels, wielding towering headpieces and thinking, if only one day I could be one of them….And the time has finally come!

The process of becoming a Sister is very involved. It takes at least a year and a half. Because I am special, I took over two years. I started loitering around them in April 2010. The Sisters don’t recruit members, in the same way the Jews don’t prosletize, by which I mean they make terribly hard to get in and come off as insular and possibly hostile. I kept waiting for someone to invite me into the group or otherwise instruct me me in joining. They don’t ask you to join, you just have to state your intention of doing so publicly at one of their meetings. It took me seven months to figure this out. Seven months of attending meeting and events with them and no one mentioned this to me. That’s Drag Queens for you.
But I kept at it, and they became friendlier with time, and now I can say that at least a few have tempted towards heterosexuality on my account. Okay, probably that is an overstatement, but I do like to joke that I am a conservative plant sent on a mission to convert them. No luck so far, but I’ll keep trying…wink wink, nudge, nudge.

The journey I’ve taken with them over the last two years has given my life here in LA additional meaning and has made up for some of what I’ve otherwise lacked (adoring fans, flashing bulbs, chances to wave to crowds). My mom always says to find things that are both selfish and altruistic. I like saying that I do a lot of volunteer work, when really most of takes place in bars. It allows me, as Queerspawn to maintain a relationship with my community. That’s one of the tricky things about being a grown up child of gay parents, especially if you are straight yourself. How do include yourself in the Queer world? The Sisters have been my answer and I am very grateful they welcomed me in.

On the slight chance you are wondering how it is that I’ve gone this long without previously mentioning them herein, I can blame their rigorous and dense policies and procedures that state that as a novice or prior I could speak publicly about the Sisters but not as their representative. This precarious protocol scared me enough to wait. When you’ve wanted something like this for as long as I had, you don’t take chances. But now that I am a member…HAHHAHAHAHAHHAHA! I thought that the moment I was a Black Veil (what fully professed members are called) I would want to race out and misrepresent us, but so far the idea of putting on all that make-up in the heat has stalled me. I like white face better in Winter.

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