The first out gay person I knew was a guy from high school named Kevin. Halfway through his senior year, which was my sophomore year, he came out, and it caused an enormous stir. Someone GAY? In OUR high school? (Actually, he came out as bisexual, but our collective shock was so great that we did not make such fine distinctions.)
To my knowledge, no one else in my high school had ever come out. We were a community of farmers and commuters in a conservative, mixed-race exurbia. It was the mid-1990s. True, we knew that gay people existed, and in theory, some of us (myself included) even supported gay marriage. We had Red Ribbon Week, sure. But all of this was a far cry from meeting an actual GAY person. While we suspected that our principal was a lesbian (she was), she had the good sense never to drop a word about her sexual orientation. A Gay/Straight Alliance didn't materialize for another decade and a half. I had never met someone with two mommies or two daddies. Heck, Ellen wasn't even out yet.
I didn't think much about Kevin. He was a drama guy, and I was more of a nerd/artist/debate kid. But I knew OF him--we all did. I don't know what the personal repercussions were like for him. I can't imagine they were mild. I imagine he lost friends over it, was socially excluded, was bullied. Maybe once or twice, he was quietly thanked or congratulated. I hope it wasn't all terrible for him, and I wish I had known myself better back then and had the courage to talk to him about it.
By the time I came out as a lesbian many years later, the world--or at least, MY world--was a different place. True, it was not particularly easy. I had some struggles. I lost some friends. And I continue to face mercifully sporadic unpleasantness in my everyday life (due, I daresay, more to gender nonconformity than sexual orientation, but I digress.) Kevin crossed my mind several times when I was coming out. I couldn't help feel that whatever I was going through, it had been ten times worse for him, a 17-year-old kid, all those years earlier. A few years ago, I friended Kevin on Facebook. I didn't even know if he would remember who I was. We hadn't really known each other, or even had many friends in common. But he was the first out person in my everyday life, and somehow, that meant something to me, and I wanted to see how he was doing. He accepted my request, but he's the kind of guy who has a zillion friends, so I assumed he still didn't know who I was.
Last week, mostly on a whim, I wrote Kevin a Facebook message along these lines: Hey Kevin. This is going to seem like a weird email from someone you probably don't even remember from high school. I was two years behind you and remember when you came out your senior year. You were the first person I knew personally who was out and proud. I've thought of you several times throughout the years in my own coming out journey. I know this is out of the blue, but I just felt compelled to tell you that your act of courage all those years ago made a difference.
He wrote back immediately: Yes, I do remember you. Thank you, that really means so much. I had no idea that I would touch and inspire by doing that. All I was trying to do was be who I was. And although hard, I am proud that I did it then. Glad I could help in your journey!! If you are ever in the area come by for a drink!!
Isn't that cool? It made my day brighter, and I bet my expression of gratitude after all these years made his day a little brighter, too. I only wondered why I hadn't done it earlier.
If you have a Kevin in your life--and I bet most of us do--why not track him or her down and say thanks?
I stumbled onto an article on the Huffington Post earlier today about a photography exhibit called "Imaginary Couples," wherein straight people pose with other same-sex people as couples. The point is supposed to be that love is universal and that gay love is not inferior to straight love.
While I think the idea behind this series is great, it feels kind of weird, as if it is saying that homosexuality is somehow validated by the fact that even straight people can demonstrate loving queerness. Or something.
I know that this isn't what the exhibit is trying to say--not at all. But something about it still feels "off" to me. Like... we can represent ourselves, thanks. I mean, what about an exhibit that showed able-bodied people in wheelchairs? Wouldn't that be kind of offensive?
To me, this would have been more conceptually interesting if it had also included gay people pretending to be straight, or simply people who weren't in relationships pretending to be in relationships. Or all of the above, plus some gay and straight couples who actually were in relationships. That might have said something kind of interesting about how we think about love and coupling and relationships.
But instead, I'm just left kind of scratching my head. What do you all think about this?
For those of us who celebrate Christmas (or give gifts to people who do), the time for timely gift purchases is quickly disappearing. You don't want to buy the first shiny thing you see at Target, but at the same time, you don't have days and days to ponder the perfect gift. Never fear--I've got you covered. Here are some excellent last-minute gift ideas for the butches on your list. (I bet some of the non-butches on your list might find these ideas pretty cool, too.)
Also, if you're a straight, cisgendered individual who's having trouble figuring out a gift for someone less gender-conforming than yourself, please review my straight people's guide to choosing gifts for butches, will ya?
That's all I've got for now, friends. Feel free to hit me up on Facebook if you want any last-minute gift advice, and I'll do my best to help you out. Good luck with your last-minute holiday shopping, and safe travels wherever you're off to. Whether you're hanging with a big flock of family, a small group of friends, your significant other, or flying solo, I hope you're getting some rest and rejuvenation. Here's to love and health for all of us as we get ready for 2016!
Most years since I've started this blog, I've written something about the holidays (e.g., a primer on Holiday Depression, a discussion about feeling alienated during holidays, some thoughts about "letting go" for the holidays, and my favorite, a guide to having your lesbian daughter home for the holidays). You might think that all my reflection about the topic would mean that I have the holidays totally figured out. Nailed. Dialed. Nope.
When I was a kid, I loved the holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. As an adult, notsomuch. I don't like cold weather, for one (and the older I get, the less I like it, which leads me to think I'm getting wimpier with age). But more importantly, I sometimes feel like I haven't gotten any better at dealing with the stuff that bothers me. I feel anxious about not meeting people's expectations of what my life should look like (or more accurately, not meeting the "expectations" I assume others have, and which they may or may not actually hold).
Specifically, this year I feel anxious about my decision to spend Christmas with my Dear Partner (DP) on an actual vacation for the two of us (our first in years). My parents are spending Christmas in a new tradition they started 6-7 years ago, with my brother and sister-in-law and their kids and my sister-in-law's family (her parents, grandma, sister, sister's husband, sometimes sister's husband's father, and occasionally a friend or two of theirs). It's a great tradition for my niece and nephew, who get to spend every Christmas with both sets of grandparents (something I would have loved as a kid). But it's not always ideal for my DP and I. We've joined about half the time. I feel guilty when I don't go, but a bit out of place when I do. This year it would mean a 10-hour drive, plus my DP lost her father less than two months ago and very much needs some "thinking space." So it seems a good decision for us to hang back this year. But I still feel guilty.
I think one of the reasons it can be so hard to let go of guilt is that it preys on our worst fears. Our fears that we're not a good enough daughter or son. That we won't be accepted for who we are. That people might hold grudges against us. That people might not really love us, or--worse--that they might think we don't really love them. That people think that we're selfish. That we are selfish. That people think we're weird or inferior. That we really are weird or inferior. What if this is all true?? Oh no! [Panic ensues.]
The past few days, I've been pondering a few different ideas, and they've helped me think about all this. From reader messages I receive, I know many of you have holiday angst, so maybe they'll help you, too.
First, I've been thinking about the importance of confidence and self-knowledge in battling guilt. I know myself, just as you know yourself. I know I'm a loving daughter who is incredibly devoted to my parents. I know that I am an understanding, loving, and devoted partner, too. I know that I make mistakes, but that I try my best to be good to the people I love. If I am confident in this knowledge, guilt begins to dissipate. I can't do everything that everyone would like me to do. No one can. There aren't right or wrong answers about things like this. There's just trying or not trying. If you're honestly trying, be confident in who you are and about what's in your heart.
Second, I've been thinking about the importance of making time for the people I love, whether or not it occurs over the holidays. Heck, maybe especially if it doesn't occur over the holidays. True, I'm not going to see my brother and his family over Christmas, but I am buying tickets to fly there for a weekend in January, even if my DP and I have to take off work, because my relationship with him, my sister-in-law, and my niece and nephew are very important to me. And I'm going to spend three or four days over New Year's with my parents, because they are super important to me as well. While I am visiting, I resolve to be present, which is not always something I've been great at in the past. I'm not going to do work, nor even bring work with me. (This may not sound radical, but for a historic workaholic like yours truly, it kind of is!)
Third, I've been thinking about taking the long view: resisting the temptation to endow one day or one conversation with huge amounts of meaning. Think about your relationships with other people as lifelong journeys. This will make it easier to avoid getting wrapped up in that argument you had with your aunt over who's bringing the turkey, or about whether you're bringing the kids over for her annual Hanukkah party this year. It's easier to be zen about your loved ones when you remember the history you have with them, and when you consciously put this or that one holiday into that larger context of your journey with them.
Sending you mucho love, dear readers. What's on your mind as December unwinds? Do you ever experience holiday angst? What does it look like, and what do you do about it? What are you still trying to work through?
I just read that the Washington Post is officially accepting the singular "they" as a gender-neutral pronoun, in addition to several other updates they are making to their style guide. The singular "they" will be used to refer to people who identify as gender-neutral (or, presumably, to anyone else who requests it).
The writer in me has resisted a singular "they" for a long time. But I've met SO many people who find "ze" awkward, including people who adopt it themselves. And it seems clear that we desperately need a gender-neutral pronoun, since (as I also touched on in my last post), not everyone wants to use "he or she."
As far as I'm concerned, "they" is a fine alternative. Yeah, I was taught in elementary school that "they" could never be singular. But there were numerous things I was taught in elementary school that I no longer believe. And more importantly, what's the point of language if it can't adjust to fit our needs?
I predict that it's only a matter of time before "they" pervades other gender-inspecific situations, too. What I mean is, if you're referring to a person in the abstract, and the gender of the person is unknown, you're supposed to write "he or she." As in: "When you go to a doctor, he or she takes your blood pressure." The word "they" has long been considered incorrect as a substitute for "he or she" in that instance. But saying "he or she" is a little awkward. "They" is what a lot of us would use in informal conversation anyway. (And personally, I like "they" because not everyone identifies as a "he" or a "she," so "they" is all-encompassing.)
One question, though: if we're using "they" as singular, it seems like we should keep the rest of the sentence singular, as in, "they takes your blood pressure." To my ear, that sounds strange; it makes more sense if the rest of the sentence is plural ("they take your blood pressure"). So we're not really using "they" as singular, then, are we? Instead, we are just making the rest of the sentence plural to go along with what we're used to hearing after the pronoun "they?"
Anyhow, I'm no linguist. Others have thought more deeply about this problem than I have. But if anyone in your life is still refusing to convert, just give him, her, or them a chance; I'm willing to wager that they'll come around eventually. ;)