Toni Morrison, 1931-2019

Eighty-eight years is a good, long life, by any standard. Still, the loss of Toni Morrison is a gut punch and hard to take for many people. I think it is especially so because her life and writing meant so much to all of her readers. For all of her fans, this is a personal loss. It is especially hard to take right now because her voice is balm in troubling times.

I’m very sorry she is gone, but I am so grateful that she lived and shared an incredible body of work with the world. That is such a huge gift.

In the wake of the news of Morrison’s death, some lovely things have been written and shared, or re-shared.

Writers — journalists, essayists, bloggers, poets, playwrights — can disturb the social oppression that functions like a coma on the population, a coma despots call peace, and they stanch the blood flow of war that hawks and profiteers thrill to.

~ Toni Morrison, The Source of Self-Regard, 2019

These are words we need right now. Thank goodness, and Toni Morrison, we have them.

Pride Month 2019

Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, Photo courtesy of: Diana Davies

Gay Pride is celebrated around the world largely as a civil rights event for people whose sexuality is oriented towards people of the same gender. What is often forgotten, perhaps even intentionally erased, is that transgender individuals are largely responsible for starting the rebellion that inspired the Gay Pride movement.

In 1959 a group of transgender women and gay men fought off cops at Cooper’s Donuts in Los Angeles, an incident all but forgotten. Three years before Stonewall, transgender women in San Francisco stood up for themselves in a moment of resistance at Compton’s Cafeteria. Of course the best known story is Stonewall, where by many accounts trans women were the fiercest fighters.

And yet many leaders of the gay rights movement wanted to force trans people out. In a heartbreaking scene from the 1973 New York Gay Pride rally, Sylvia Rivera was repeatedly denied the right to speak, and when she finally took the stage to proclaim that Stonewall would not have happened without trans activists she was booed off the stage. When I saw this footage recently in The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, I felt a range of emotions, from sadness to rage to shame.

It does seem that we may finally be learning the lessons that Rivera and Johnson were trying to teach us. They are being honored together this year with a statue in New York City.

But we still have a long way to go. The struggle is not over, and as a community we still need to learn how so support each other: Did the ‘T’ Fall Off of ‘L.G.B.T.Q.’?

I can’t say it better than Scott James (although I would say more specifically trans people of color): Queer People of Color Led the L.G.B.T.Q. Charge, but Were Denied the Rewards

More Prideful things:

Tales of the City (part deux): The reboot of these stories is not great, but I do enjoy seeing lives that reflect some of my Bay Area life and queer experience. Seeing a couple, one lesbian and the other a trans man in the process of coming out, struggle with the process of his transition, some realistically tense inter-generational conversations about how to appropriately articulate trans identity, and there’s even a retelling of the Compton’s Cafeteria riot. All of this with San Francisco as a central character, presented as an imperfect utopia for misfits. There are nuggets of sweetness here that for me are worth time spent watching, if for nothing else to see stories of diverse queer folks experiencing joy in life.

Sense8: This show is not new, but it is SO GAY in the very best joyful and empowering ways. The story is layered and complex, and the main characters are geeky sexy super heroes who find light through darkness, and I am rooting for every single one of them! This is just the story that we need right now in these dark times.

Pride on Screen: From Crooked Media, a podcast that discusses queers in pop culture over the years. It’s pretty good, for for someone of my vintage (and to my mind 50 is not THAT old), the hosts don’t go back far enough! Have these whipper snappers never seen the Celluloid Closet? I was gratified that someone made a reference (albeit quickly) to Billy Crystal’s character, Jodie Dallas in the sitcom Soap from the 1970s. But there was so much more in popular culture that they missed in these conversations, it left me a little disappointed.

More queerness:

So many different queer flags! Who knew!?: The Complete Guide to Queer Pride Flags

New York Times coverage of Pride 2019

Making Gay History 

GLBT Historical Society

The LGBT Community Center National History Archive

 

 

 

 

 

Catching Up

Okay, okay….so time has gotten away from me. It has, indeed, been busy, and I make all kinds of excuses to myself about why I haven’t made more time to write. And the odd thing is I am busier than ever and I’m somehow inspired to write.

The truth is, I do have plenty of down time, more so than most people I know. It is sacred time to me, when I can give my brain a chance to rest and recharge. Luckily, there are some strong arguments that I’ve run across lately that supports me doing nothing:

I appreciate that the title of the article just assumes that the reader, any reader, procrastinates, because we all do. Okay, so this article is less of a justification and more of an explanation for procrastination, but it argues for self-compassion as a necessary part of dealing with it constructively.

When I started out this calendar year, one of my resolutions was to have more discipline to accomplish two specific things: 1) Establish a meditation practice, 2) Write more, specifically blogging. I started out strong, but kinda fell off the wagon in March.

Why do I want to blog anyway? I don’t get much traffic her, and gaining and audience isn’t my interest here. Community, perhaps yes. I do see the value of writing here for myself. I started this blog years ago, and it has been interesting to look back at what I cared about and thought about at different times. It’s a little like reading and old journal, I guess, but perhaps a little more self-conscious since this  blog is outward-facing, and anyone who wanted to could find it. The collection of resource and links are a helpful time capsule, though, and who knows? Perhaps this could all be useful or interesting to someone else some day.

I ramble. On to the purpose of my blogging, which is to capture some of what I have been reading, and how that has influenced what I think and care about:

I care about a lot of things, which makes the times we are currently living through particularly brutal. I occupy a privileged position in the world, which affords me the ability to temporarily ignore the various crises happening around us (and believe me, I am constantly aware of growing nationalism, the crisis of climate change, the growing divisiveness between left and right which perpetuates racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, etc.), so I practice self-love and self-care by trying to see and focus on pleasanter things, like:

  • Thee Met Gala – Though I’ve never been a superfan, this year the red carpet event caught my eye and I could not look away. The creativity, the cultural subversion, the delicious catty criticism of the fashion, the love and hate, ultimately the intelligence behind this event. I found myself just eating it all up with a spoon! There were numerous podcasts about it that I appreciated, that explained the history and the current celebrities who attended. The Keep It podcast is wonderful in general, but their coverage of the Met Gala was entertaining and informative. A happy new discovery for me, the Dressed podcast about fashion history, dedicated an episode to the history of the Met Gala. In addition to the history, the hosts provided their own critique of this year’s costumes.

Janelle Monae

  • The (hopefully) imminent downfall of the NRA – This is truly like watching a car wreck as it happens, only this time I really want to jump up and down and cheer and clap my hands in celebration and encouragement. Of course the story is still evolving and it remains to be seen how things will turn out. But it is really hard not to be gleeful about what one reporter described as “the circular firing squad.” Honestly, you can’t make this up. I look forward to the TV mini series. Slate’s What Next podcast summarized the story in a way that, while I was out walking with my dog, Jack, was making me laugh out loud and gasp and guffaw as we made our way around the neighborhood. If any of my neighbors saw or heard me they might wonder about me. Fresh Air also broadcast a helpful interview with reporter Danny Hakim. But it really looks like Mike Spies of The Trace (which is a great name for a news outlet that covers the gun industry) is the guy to follow. He’s doing yeoman’s work on in investigative reporting on the NRA.
  • Let’s get back to fashion: Before the Met Gala, there was Billy Porter’s tuxedo gown on the Oscar red carpet, which he wore in homage to Hector Xtravaganza, who died on December 30, 2018. Billy Porter is, of course, one of the many amazing stars of Pose, a show about the New York ballroom community in the 1980s. Hector Xtravaganza was a consultant on the show.

Billy Porter

  • Which leads me to Pose, which finally made its way onto Netflix, thus enabling me to see it. I binged the first season with my reluctant spouse (who ended up thoroughly enjoying it), and I cannot wait until the second season. No spoilers here, but suffice it to say that this show is beautiful story-telling about love and survival in seemingly oppressive and hopeless circumstances. It’s empowering and inspiring to see gorgeous trans and non-binary actors in these roles.

Pose Angel

  • Finally (though there is more I could say), June is Pride Month, when we will be observing the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. So the story of Pose has particular resonance at this moment. I am pleased to observe in the LGBTQIA+ community that there is an effort finally getting traction to pay homage to the transgender people who started it all, like Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and Stormé DeLarverie. (The Nod podcast did a lovely episode about her in 2017).
  • Oh! One more thing. Speaking of The Nod (a really great podcast – you should listen!) and fashion, they also did a podcast episode on the Battle of Versailles, which I knew nothing about. It’s like one of those things that has always been there, you just didn’t notice it. Now everyone is talking about it. There is a book by Robin Givhan, and a documentary (I haven’t seen yet), by Ava Duvernay, Back to the Dressed podcast, they also did a nice interview with Givhan about the 1973 historic fashion show..

As May concludes and I look forward to June and Pride Month festivities, I will be writing more reflections on Stonewall and transgender history.

Black History Month 2019

My readings and musings on Black History Month:

Gone but not forgotten: New York Times Overlooked: “These remarkable black men and women never received obituaries in The New York Times — until now. We’re adding their stories to our project about prominent people whose deaths were not reported by the newspaper.”

Black history is gay history, too: Out Magazine pledge to run stories throughout Black History Month about notable Black and Queer historical figures. This is great! However it doesn’t seem that the website has a collection of these articles anywhere, which would be nice. But the magazine in general is doing a good job of reporting stories on diverse populations.

The Huffington Post posted a slide show of images of Black and queer “icons,” which was really cool. I learned about some people I didn’t know about before, but I might have included some others here: Bessie Smith, Lorraine Hansberry, Lena Waithe, Janelle Monae, and I was recently reminded of the story of Ruth Ellis (1899-2000), one of the oldest living lesbians in America. I’m sure there are more I’m not thinking of now (please feel free to leave names in the comments).

In addition to these stories, I came across some lesser-known Black histories including:

Paul Delaney, the first Black reporter for the New York Times, didn’t want to be the only one, so he advocated for and paved the way for others to follow in his footsteps.

Here are 23 Black Women Scientists who we should know about.

The story of Madam C.J. Walker, the first self-made Black woman millionaire, will soon be amplified in an upcoming Netflix series starring Octavia Butler. I am eagerly awaiting that!

This article from the New Yorker in 2017 about Pauli Murray (1910-1985) makes you wonder why her life and legacy are not more widely known. As the article states, “Murray’s lifelong fate [was] to be both ahead of her time and behind the scenes.” She may not be a household name, but she has been sainted by the Episcopal church, and there is a residential college named after her at Harvard.

Finally, during these first couple of weeks of Black History Month, I have come across some articles about racism, with some advice about how not to be racist, or how to think about racism and white supremacy in ways that don’t excuse anyone from their own responsibility and complicitness. Apparently we have to learn these lessons continuously, or rather, we need these lessons incessantly because we are apparently not learning. It is 2019 and white people are STILL doing blackface and think it’s okay (until they are called on it), or think it was somehow okay when they did it in college in the 1980s (and they’ll defend themselves with the “it was a different time” excuse, even though it really wasn’t okay even then). So here are a few more articles about how to do it better:

“There is no such thing as a Nonracist,” an interview with Ibram Kendi. “It’s very difficult to grow up in a country or even a world that’s constantly raining racist ideas on your head and to never get wet.” Even well-meaning and nice people who recognize that racism is bad are viewing the world through a racist lens. The only way we  can build a more just and equitable world is if every person takes responsibility for their internalized racism, recognizes it and consciously, mindfully, intentionally works to change it within themselves.

Hey, White people! Robin DiAngelo has some suggestions for how you can understand yourselves and your penchant for defensiveness when it comes to talking about race and racism. As it turns out, White liberals are the worst about this! Often, we lack the skills or self-knowledge that might enable us to act in ways that are less terrible, less racist. Her book, White Fragility, will help to enlighten more of us about exactly how white privilege manifests itself in our lives. “Combatting one’s inner voices of racial prejudice, sneaky and, at times, irresistibly persuasive, is a life’s work. ”

When you are tempted to say defensively “I’m not racist,” try instead to say, more positively “I’m an antiracist.”

And finally finally, “Dear White People, stop making racism all about you.”

 

Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today we honor the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy. I’m not sure how to do that now in this divided nation that doesn’t seem to have any clear or agreed-upon understanding of its own history. I have been listening and learning for all my life about the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, the legacy of slavery, the Civil War, white supremacy, and racism. I am learning more details of American history, and trying to comprehend how our path to this moment influences how we think and act, and make decisions, as individuals and as a nation. Whether I’m examining my country or myself, it isn’t pretty.

In the last several years I have observed some simultaneous enlightenment and denial, facts in conflict with fantastic fiction of which the toxic seeds were planted so long ago that it has taken root like a tenacious, noxious weed that hasn’t left room for anything else to grow. But in the movement towards enlightenment I am seeing seed of hope are being sown.

In my own small way of amplification of some of this truth-telling, I will share here things that I have been absorbing in the last couple of years that are giving me hope. These are things that are helping me to understand America, my identity and responsibility as a white person in working towards the anti-racist society that is the world I wish to live in.

At the top of my list are two podcasts that I recommend to anyone whenever I have the opportunity:

Uncivil tells stories of the Civil War that are often left out of its official telling. These are stories of the agency of black people, the exposure of the lies of the Southern “Lost Cause”, and a deep look at how racism is embedded in our culture. There is hope here, at least for me, in that exposing these truths of American history perhaps we can understand and unravel the paradigm of white supremacy.

Seeing White from Scene on Radio is another American history podcast that dives deeply into white identity in a way that we are not used to doing. This podcast challenges the position of privilege that white people occupy, a paradigm so dominant that white people haven’t had to think about what it means to be white. It’s a fascinating look at how the social construct of race came into being and how it was used to justify white supremacy.

Another podcast, Reveal (fantastic investigative journalism), had an episode in December of 2018, Monumental Lies. This story exposes the making of the distorted history that many Southerners cling to that frames Confederate generals as heroes and claims that slaves in the South were happy and treated well. It is galling to hear how children in the south are still being taught these lies, and Confederate monuments have been and still are preserved with taxpayer money. The story traces the history of how the seeds of these lies were planted and leaves the listener hopeful that the revealed truth will unravel these false teachings.

Notable readings:

 

Paradoxologies: Starting Over

…or perhaps just picking up where I left off…

So, I’m here again to dust off this old blog. It has been quite a while since I have mustered the discipline to write regularly, just not making it a priority for a couple of years. After some encouragement from loved ones near and far, I’ve decided to pick it up again. Not that I expect wide readership, but I think that if nothing else I will appreciate the time capsule of part of my life recorded here, where I will mostly likely talk about what I’m reading, listening to, watching, observing, thinking, feeling.

Today I began the discipline by updating my Inspiring Lives page, looking at obituaries from 2016 to now. Wow. 2016 was really a terrible year for loss of public figures who meant a lot to me and my generation. I remember well going through that time, on social media people were declaring 2016 the worst year ever, as more and more of our role models and icons died. Not to mention the presidential election inexplicably going to Donald Trump, which was the real tragedy that year. At the time I was super sad, but I also thought to myself “this isn’t the worst year…..that is yet to come.” Indeed, the years that followed have been pretty terrible. But at the same time, for me personally, I have much to be thankful for, and I remember every day all that I am grateful for.

But I digress.

Mary Oliver died last week. My social media feed was overwhelmed with grief at her passing. It’s odd how comforting it is to share in the collective grief online, reading the quotes from her poetry that people chose to share in their remembering what she and her work have meant to them. Honestly, though I majored in literature and I have a real love for beautiful writing, poetry is not something that I have read regularly in my adult life since college. I have certainly read many Mary Oliver poems that friends and family have shared with me over the years, but I can’t claim the attachment to her that many others I know do. I am certainly saddened by her death, and inspired by her life, and like, I suspect, many others, my appreciation of her work will grow, especially now that she has passed. A notable death is a moment in time to appreciate and learn from a life well-lived. One of the many reasons I love a good obit.

Since Oliver’s passing on January 17, there have been many excellent articles about her life and the impact of her work. They are all worth reading. And then afterwords, get to reading her original words!

I taught a yoga class this week, and was inspired to conclude it with a Mary Oliver poem that I found. I thought it was fitting as it was about how the spirit occupies the body, something that I think about a lot in my yoga practice.

Poem

by Mary Oliver

The spirit
likes to dress up like this:
ten fingers,
ten toes,shoulders, and all the rest
at night
in the black branches
in the morning

in the blue branches
of the world.
It could float, of course,
but would rather

plumb rough matter.
Airy and shapeless thing,
it needs
the metaphor of the body,

lime and appetite,
the oceanic fluids;
it needs the body’s world,
instinct
and imagination
and the dark hug of time
sweetness
and tangibility to be understood,
to be more than pure light
that burns
where no one is —

so it enters us —
in the morning
shines from brute comfort
like a stitch of lightning;

and at night
lights up the deep and wondrous
drownings of the body
like a star.

Flying the Flags

   

I’ve never been one to fly a rainbow flag. For all of the years that I have been out and proud, my feelings about the rainbow have remained ambivalent. Perhaps it is because I have lived in places where rainbow flags were everywhere and I may have taken it for granted. But it may also be that I have never felt a strong identification with the rainbow flag, as I often associate it with the gay male community, which is not always welcoming to women.

Now I am in a part of the country which has plenty of gay-friendly folks, but they are are fewer and father between, especially out in the suburbs where I live. And for all those who do support gay rights, many more neighbors are neutral on the issue at best, and there are some who are less than friendly towards the LGBT community, even if they won’t say so out loud.

For all of the neighbors who, like us, have yard signs saying “Hate Has No Home Here,” there are at least as many who have signs saying “We Support Police,” which are often surrounded by American flags, as a specific display of and claim to patriotism. These yard displays translate to me and my African-American spouse as “your lives do not matter.” It may seem like an unfair assumption for me to make, but I do so out of experience and self preservation. I am wary of those neighbors.

Living in a place where being out and visible actually makes a difference, and in the current political climate, it feels important to my spouse and I to hang a flag. I got over my ambivalence, deciding that I wasn’t going to let gay men have sole claim to the rainbow flag. It’s ours, too. We want to let our neighbors know we’re queer, and we are part of this community.

At the beginning of July, my spouse and I agreed that we would switch up and hang an American flag in honor of Independence Day. Like flying the rainbow flag, I have often felt ambivalent about patriotism. As a woman, as a lesbian, and as someone with decidedly liberal political views, I have often felt that my own country does not value me as a citizen. There have been times in my life where I disagreed so vehemently with the direction of the American government and policy that I actually felt ashamed of my country.

There is a lot about what is happening in this country now that makes me feel shame, not the least of which is the breakdown of civil discourse. But the source of this shame does not define my American identity, nor is it what I believe this country is at its heart. In the same spirit as we flew our rainbow flag, we are flying our American flag. We are out and proud Americans. I love my country, and I refuse to let my racist and homophobic neighbors lay sole claim to the American flag and dictate what it means to be patriotic.

In-Our-America-sign