June 24, 2004

the requisite essay on pride

I just returned from a reading at Bluestockings on Manhattan's Lower East Side. David Boyer, the author/editor of Kings and Queens: Queers at the Prom, read several selections and introduced us to one of the subjects of his book. It's a really interesting book because it doesn't just chronicle same-sex couples who rocked the prom and made the local news by showing up together. It's quite the opposite, actually.

Many of the profiles are of people who either were closeted or like myself, completely unaware of their orientation in high school. They knew they had different feelings towards people of the same gender but couldn't make sense of it. They went to the prom because that's what high school kids are supposed to do. As adults, they retell their stories as acknowledged homosexuals and the accounts range from funny to heartbreaking to empowering.

My favorite part of the evening was when a graduate of the Harvey Milk School, one of the subjects of the book, spoke candidly about his prom experience and his education at this revolutionary institution. I was SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO clueless and SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO far in the closet at that age that I cannot even fathom how he and his classmates can deal with this so honestly and articulately at such a young age.

At 30, I'm still not completely comfortable discussing it. I admire this graduate's strength and sense of self. I'm also a bit envious of it. I'm a reluctant lesbian in a lot of ways. I squirm and recoil when sexuality is politicized. I don't devour essays on gender politics nor do I take to the streets to protest or demand much of anything, really. What I respond to though are events like this where universal feelings and emotions are on the agenda. Who can't relate? Regardless of gender and sexual preference, it's discussions of loneliness, confusion and isolation that cause me to form bonds. I came away from this event with such a sense of attachment to the homosexual community and a real sense of pride. I'll definitely attend various Pride events this weekend but mostly for the social aspects. I connect to the community in other, more intimate ways and often when I least expect it.

It was loneliness, confusion and isolation that ultimately made me come out to my friends. And I couldn't have asked for a more accepting, beautiful bunch of people to share this with. Not one of them disappointed me. Whatever preconceived ideas they had about lesbians quickly melted away. Distaste for butches with bad hair and flannel shirts and a general discomfort with the notion of strap-ons and dental dams gave way to something well beyond stereotypes. They were confronted with something they hadn't experienced in the history of our friendship -- a shattered, broken version of me. I held it together for years without ever letting them get to know the questioning, confused, fractured me. They thought I was impenetrable. I was the strong one who offered the shoulder to cry on. It was never the other way around. I fostered that and worked at it for years. I dealt with my fears alone... until I met my first girlfriend. She, in a sense, rescued me from that scary, desolate place. And then it felt like she abandoned me there.

When that relationship ended, it just leveled me. It was in the midst of summer yet I never felt so cold in all of my life. I dropped about 20 pounds in less than two weeks. I was physically and emotionally frail. I was incapable of keeping up an appearance of strength. Too tired to juggle pronouns and tell lies anymore. Too wrecked to hide behind that feeble wall I had assembled over the years. It was probably the hardest thing I ever had to do but I finally gave in and told my inner circle.

For years, one of my best and oldest friends said horrible, disgusting things about gays in my presence. Naturally, I was scared to tell her but she was part of the select few and I had to. She was on vacation when the break up actually occurred. When she called me to tell me she was home, she knew something was wrong. I tried changing the topic but she gently pressed and persisted. When I spoke, my voice was so tight and small. It shook and quivered. Most of what I said was completely inaudible despite my best attempts to project volume. It finally cracked and made way for the deluge of tears and admissions. I think that phone conversation went on for about five hours. We would have talked longer but both of our cordless phones started beeping as the batteries begged for a charge.

Even though she wasn't in front of me and I couldn't see her, I could see and feel her face soften and her eyes moisten when I finally said the words. She couldn't hug me but her reply of "I know" was the embrace that I needed. She quickly followed up with a blanket apology for all the dumb ass things she'd said throughout the years. It's a truly amazing thing to be acutely aware of a moment when you're experiencing a breakthrough with someone and reaching a new level.

While not as historically significant as the Stonewall riot, what she and I achieved in that moment did so much to promote understanding and tolerance. I've had similar experiences with a few other people since. These completely organic, spontaneous moments have become my form of activism. Some people are like, "No, duh!" and others are surprised. Regardless of the reaction, it's intimate and personal and never forced. Those quiet conversations are as electrifying and invigorating to me as a protest march. Maybe next year I'll take to the streets sporting a t-shirt with a cheeky slogan but for now, I'll continue with the "think globally, act locally" approach.

June 17, 2004

foul language

As you may already know, The Lovely Jess and I tend to IM like the wind on a daily basis. Today's discussion turned somehow to words and phrases that make our skin crawl.

Much fun was had as we giggled and grossed ourselves out by listing our most-hated phrases. For example, the term "slacks" makes me irate. Similarly, Jess cannot abide the use of the word "dungarees." In writing this, I also realized that I detest the the term "canoodling." Must every gossip page use this?! Stop it. Stop it now.

I'm also put off when people say "bucks" instead of "dollars." It's just so... so crass sounding (hmmm... this coming from a person who had to train Blogger's Spell Checker to recognize the words piss, shit, fuck, crappy and asshole to streamline the publishing process.)

Go check out the list and feel free to add to it. You'll find that unleashing your inner neurotic weirdo is both fun and cathartic.

June 16, 2004

dad's turn

Since my mother got a few paragraphs the other day, I feel compelled to devote a few to my Dad. Not necessarily because Father's Day is approaching, but rather because he's unwittingly entertaining and I don't know what the hell else to write about.

Some background:
My father is a tall, muscular man. He had a shock of black hair before four daughters and a bad thyroid turned it gray. For a Scottish man, he's got the complexion of an Italian. I envy his ability to tan while I merely turn a shade of pink and then freckle.

He's got the stiff upper lip and emotional reserve of a true Brit but he easily softens up when his daughters or his beloved granddaughter enter the picture. He won't ask me directly about my feelings or troubles. Instead, he'll check in by following up on one of the mechanical tasks he performed in my apartment. "How's that dead bolt working out for you?" "Is the A/C keeping the place cool?" Apparently, he'll gush and brag to other people about his girls but to us directly, he maintains more of a super/tenant relationship. But we just eat it up and treat him in kind. When I asked for a drill for Christmas, it was just as meaningful to him as an "I love you." When I told him how I assembled my IKEA loft bed with the aforementioned drill, it was the equivalent of sharing with him my innermost thoughts and dreams. He was touched.

Unlike my ma, my father is an easy crack up. He has a real wheezy, chesty laugh (which I inherited) and it's quite infectious. He derives endless enjoyment from his four girls and laughs mightily at our antics. It frustrated my mother that he egged us on while she was trying to get us to behave and/or act "lady like." Which is not to say that he was the good cop to her bad cop/Emily Post. My father has a booming growl when he gets pissed and knits his thick black eyebrows and just glowers in a truly frightening fashion. He didn't have to spank us because his yell was powerful and painful enough. He may have paddled my bum with his enormous hand once or twice because I was a real punk but a stare or slight raise in volume usually whipped me back into shape. Usually.

His humor is corny and predictable at times. He's often his own best audience... until friends or relatives visit. They just think he's the funniest thing ever. This makes the father happy. What makes me happy are the times that he's funny without meaning to be. He's provided endless hours of enjoyment to his family -- and by extension, our friends -- without him realizing it. My brother-in-law's favorite tale is my father trying to spell our last name over the phone to a salesperson. Smack dab in the middle of my last name is the letter R. As you may or may not know, this consonant often rolls violently often the tongues of Scottish folk. Pity the poor telemarketer with little or no exposure to this "language" trying to make out what my Glasgow-reared Dad said. The brother-in-law could only hear one side of the conversation but that's all he needed to surmise that my father was clearly misunderstood:
Dad: "R(rrrrrrrr)!"

Assumed Operator's Response: "I'm sorry sir, can you repeat that?"

Dad: "R(rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr)!"

AOR: "A?"

Dad: "Nooooooo! R(rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr)!"

AOR: "L?"

Dad: "Nooooooo! R(rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr)!"

AOR: "Sir, do you speak English?"

Dad: "R(rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr)!!! What don't you understand?"

AOR: "I'm sorry, did you say Q?"

Dad: "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! R(RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR)! As in R(rrrrrrrr)obbie Bur(rrrrrrrrrrrr)ns!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

AOR: "Who?"

Dad: "Will someone pick up the bleedin' phone and tell this twit how to spell our(rrrrrrrr) name?"
Now, that's comedy. Happy Father(rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr)'s Day!!

June 13, 2004

my mum

I'm about to head out to NJ to attend a family dinner celebrating my mother's retirement. After 17 years, she's finally saying goodbye to her secretarial job at the Salvation Army (or the Sally Anns as she and her fellow Scots like to say). Whenever I told someone that my mother worked for the SA, they automatically assumed that she was one of those people in uniform standing next to a kettle ringing a bell at Christmas. Nope.

Anyhoo, after stints at Cunard Lines, Hahne's department store, King Tours and the SA, my mother is finally calling it quits. She's off to Scotland for about three weeks and then returning home where she can spend her time with my also-retired father. He worked at NYU from the day he landed in this country. Similar to the confusion surrounding my mother's employer, most assumed my Dad was either a professor or a doctor. Nope. He's a skilled carpenter who won the respect and admiration of those doctors and professors with his fine craftsmanship.

But back to my mother. She's quite an interesting character. Soft-spoken and sweet and sometimes stingy with a laugh. She holds tight to her religious convictions and vocally objects to profanity and "crude" talk, as she says. But that doesn't mean she's all stodgy and doesn't have a sense of humor. When my mother cracks up, it's because something is REALLY funny. Saying the word "fart" won't send her into fits of laughter. Instead, it will send her into a lecture. We were totally not allowed to use that word. She'd prefer that we not discuss gas at all but as children, if it came up, we either "banged", smelled a "bang", protested that we were not responsible for said "bang," etc. She hates scatological humor and won't tolerate it. I, on the other hand, giggle uncontrollably when it comes up. I guess it's still a novelty with me since it was forbidden in my house. Kind of like soda.

My mother is quite good at impressions too. I've been told that I'm a good mimic and this is where I get it from. Stories from her childhood, encounters at work or retelling of conversations with her Scottish and Irish friends are always accompanied by a dead-on delivery of the appropriate accent. She's got quite a gift for it. One of my favorite stories involves a parent-teacher conference when my oldest sister was in kindergarten. She had an awful teacher who should not have been allowed anywhere near kids. Only a few weeks into the school year, the teacher pissed off many parents with her ridiculous assessments of 5-year-olds. A fellow Scot named Betty (who despite having lived here for over 30 years has not lost a speck of her accent) is rather rough and tumble. She smokes like a chimney and is quite salty. She's also barely over 4 feet tall but when she speaks, she strikes an intimidating pose. The "daft" teacher said to Betty, "Your daughter doesn't know how to use scissors." Betty bellowed in her thick Glasgow accent, "That's because I don't let her play with scissors!" Written that way, it may not seem all that funny. With my mom's delivery it's a hoot: "That's cuz ah don' let her play we scessors!"

So Mum, even though you'll never read this blog and because we're British and don't say much of this crap out loud, I'm so proud of you. You've worked hard and deserve to spend your time doing what you love -- worrying about your daughters, telling stories, hanging out at church, baking Irish soda bread and Empire Biscuits... and then working them off at Curves.

Ta gra agam ort.

June 04, 2004

analyze me

Okay, so I had a rather odd dream the other night. I'm not good at analyzing dreams anyway but this one really has me baffled. I was driving the Mystery Machine (you know, from Scooby Doo) and I opened the door and got out while it was still moving. I wasn't like Super Dave Osborne or anything... I think it had slowed to a roll so it's not like I made a death-defying leap. I got out and someone else stopped the van. About 10 minutes later, it tipped over onto its side. Shaggy, Scoob, Fred and the rest were not in the van. Please do not think that I offed a bunch of beloved cartoon characters. I also didn't dream in cartoon if that makes sense. It was live action -- bizarre live action at that.

Anyone want to take a crack at figuring out my scary subconscience?