Category Archives: compassion

Reclaiming the Perverted

Can it be done?

Yesterday, two things happened on my Facebook feed at the same time: one friend put up an image of a Hindu swastika saying it meant welcome and shouldn’t be condemned as a Nazi symbol. Almost immediately afterward, someone else put up a Confederate flag, saying it was a symbol that stands for Southern history and pride, not racism. I felt sucker punched. Both of these people are good folks, working to change the world for the better. How did they not understand?

Both friends received immediate mixed reviews. Some posters agreed, using their intelligence or knowledge of world history to insist the affected race/generations get over their ‘knee-jerk’ reactions to these images. Others, realizing the innocence and good intentions of the image poster, urged their friend to take down the offensive image, for their own sake. The one who posted the Confederate flag image, after being told stories of what that flag had stood for during slavery, the civil war, through jim crow to murder by police, took down the image and replaced it with a sincere and truly heart-felt apology. That was easy to explain, however. The Confederate flag had never stood for anything else except hate.

The responses from people opposed to displaying the swastika, interestingly enough, were drowned out by a number of starry-eyed, mostly young, idealists who have only experienced the evil of that symbol through novels and mini-series, classroom textbooks, or movies, the exact same way they learned about the innocent origins of a Hindu symbol. Three generations or more removed from Hitler’s atrocities, they claim the right to redefine the meaning of the swastika in the name of those who suffered under it, presumably in the name of modernism. They seem to see great positivity in trying to reclaim it as one of warmth and welcome, to shake loose its negative connotations.

Today, my friend put up another post, this time without the symbol but naming it, asking if it had been wrong for him to post it yesterday. Again, the majority of people, supportive friends, gave him plenty of props for being brave enough to put it up. Since the young person in question is actively involved in making the world better for LGBTQI youth, I believe he would rather I offer him a sound argument than blow smoke up his euphemism, so I responded with this.


I really do understand the support offered for your stance on posting something innocent that was twisted into evil. And I do understand the understanding offered by those unaffected by the Nazis, or those who are more than two-generations removed.

But, as many of my Trans friends have pointed out to me lately, it’s not okay to tell people you didn’t hurt them, when you actually did. It wasn’t intentional. It certainly wasn’t what you meant when you posted the image. But to some in their seventies and eighties (those who lived through it) that symbol alone creates a trigger response unlike any you’ve heard about before. The sheer evil that’s come to be associated with that symbol (however perverted) is living, breathing history to some of those around us.

I have dozens of older Facebook friends. Many of them will now see your post, because I chose to answer you. I am grateful you didn’t put the same image back up again on this post, because I really don’t want to subject them to seeing it. That’s why I never answered you yesterday. The pain is as raw today, for some of them who will never get beyond it, as it was when they lived through it so long ago.

In seventy years, you’ll be the generation looking back on whatever horrors are unfolding under our current regime. Perhaps, if we’re not wise enough to learn from the history of the past, we may be doomed to repeat it. If you survive, remembering those who did not, what will seeing an image of the orange imposter do to you? You won’t know until you get there.

Sometimes you cannot reclaim what was perverted. The poor fellow who drew the original Pepe the Frog will never get his creation back under his control, it’s been perverted beyond all reason. The Hindu symbol that is not a Nazi swastika may be well received in the part of the world where it originated and is fully understood, but here (except for certain Native Americans who have used the symbol for centuries) and in Europe it stands for only one thing: White Supremacy

(Name Protected) was right. You’ll never know how many people were hurt by seeing that symbol yesterday, they’ve more than likely already blocked you. If you are open-minded enough to understand why All Lives Matter is insensitive and dismissive of the black civil rights movement by demanding people accept a white version of equality, then you can wrap your head around this. And telling those triggered by any form of the swastika they need to get over it, rise above it, or use their intelligence to accept the truth, is denying the way a wounded psyche works.

I think you should create a new symbol of peace and equality, Original Poster, something we can all rally around to lead us out of this nightmare we’re sharing. The crow’s foot in a circle had its day. Make a symbol easy to wear on a chain or print on a T-shirt that stands for all that is good in humankind. Give us that instead.


Now here’s where I may have gone off the tracks…



And for that person who skims my post instead of reading it and then decides my hour-long thoughtfully written response is an attack on Original Poster (instead of intelligent discourse) and get all offended on his behalf, let me remind you of something very important: you don’t know me. Don’t dump your assumptions all over me in your rush to defend your friend from an attack that never happened. Original Poster is a friend I’ve had conversations with and I respect him enough to answer his question honestly from my perspective. Sheesh. And the fact that I’m so sure I’ll get trash talk from someone in response to this post is sad and the reason I’m thinking of erasing the entire thing before I post it.

Nah… I’ll have my say no matter how unpopular.


I dunno. Should I have kept my big mouth shut (or words unwritten, as it were)? What would you have done? Let me know with a comment if you think I over reacted or not.

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I’ve Waited a Lifetime for this Interview – Finale

Jumping The Gun... I Mean BroomAs you know if you’ve read my last few posts, I’ve been asked by a nephew who is a leader in his evangelical church to answer some questions about my life in general, and gay marriage in particular. He asks a series of questions, and I will answer them one at a time to give him time to digest my answers. Here are his final questions and my responses:

4) In what ways are you pleased and/or frustrated with progress in this area, socially and politically, in our country?

Obviously I’m pleased that my family is now legally recognized by our country. No one can keep me from Traf’s side if she’s ill by insisting our family is illegitimate (again, a deliberately chosen word). No doctors can refuse to give me pertinent information about her, and must accept my directives as her medical representative when she’s unable to do so.

When I die, she will inherit my belongings in the same manner that your wife will inherit yours, without having to pay the exorbitant taxes of a non-spouse and thereby lose half or more of what we shared together in life. She will be my widow instead of a mourning friend and will be accorded the respect and benefits due her.

We are raising our three-year-old great-grandson. I know you’re beginning to understand how great an undertaking that is, with all the worries and fears that any parent faces. Every minute of every day and night we guard him from harm, worrying over his health, safety, and happiness. I’m pleased that his playmates in school will (for the first time) understand that the family he is growing up in is as valid as their own. Although he will eventually run into the prejudicial bigotry against rainbow families in which such a large segment of our society indulges, perhaps it won’t hit him as young as it did our granddaughter only a few years back, or Traf’s daughters when they were children. Maybe now, we’ll attend school events together rather than one at a time to keep people confused about our relationship and thereby deflect potential abuse from our kids.

But, I’m frustrated that the LGBT community is facing such a serious backlash from those who are angered by our legalized marriages. Bullying bigots and self-righteous prigs are encouraging an ‘ew…ick’ response to us, again, based on assumptions concerning one aspect of our lives, our sexuality. That causes those with less self-control to act out, and ‘gay-bashing’ is occurring at a frightening pace. Any Google search about violence against LGBT will bring you face to face with horrifying statistics. In a two-minute search just now, I found an article by The National Geographic that says, in part:

The motivations behind attacks against LGBT people “have always been, and continue to be, [about] seemingly religious rhetoric,” says Kaila Story, a professor of women’s and gender studies at University of Louisville.

LGBT folks, especially those of color, have a disproportionately high victim rate of violent attacks, murder, and suicide. This number triples for transgendered men and women. One in four LGBT folks will deal with some form of violence in their lifetimes. Nephew, between me, Traf, your Aunt T-, Ba-, and Ja- (not to mention the other LGBT folks you know) which of us will be sacrificed on the altar of hate? Which ones of us will be brutalized, hospitalized, or buried due to “religious rhetoric” spread by your church and others like it, as the professor above calls it?

5) If you could change one thing about society in regards to perspectives or opinions on same-sex marriage, what would that be?

Same-sex marriage, just like any other marriage, is a social contract between two people and their government. It requires certain responsibilities, and gives certain rights that exist to protect one thing: family. When people wish to deny gay marriage, they are trying to leave certain families vulnerable.

The one thing I would change is the perspective that denying gay marriage will somehow sanctify heterosexual marriage. Your marriage is in no way threatened by my own.

Your sweet son and wife are in no danger because Traf and I are married. But our great-grandson would be DIRECTLY threatened by the reversal of our marriage, left vulnerable and unprotected by the laws of the land. He could be removed from us (the only safe place he’s ever known) and put in Foster Care. If religious conservatives have their way and vote in representatives who will strip our marital rights away, we will return to the days of living in the shadows as outlaws, existing at the forbearance of our ‘betters’, and with no legal recourse to right the wrongs and injustices done to LGBT folks and their families.

Is this over-dramatic rhetoric on my part? No Nephew, that’s the way it was only a few years back.

6) If you would have me relay one message or thought to my church on this topic, what would you have me say?

LGBT folks are just that, plain folks. We work, pay taxes, raise children, vote, and are productive citizens. What makes your spouse and children any more deserving of love and protection than mine?

7) Is there anything else you would like to add?

1 Corinthians 13:13

12Now we see but a dim reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is LOVE.

Love is love. Do not pervert it with religious bigotry, but respect Lord God in His wisdom. He made us, one and all, in His image, and He does not make mistakes.

ALSO – As to why we use LGBT as opposed to the original letter arrangement of GLBT:

Men have historically, and still do, take the reins of any group because of their superior physical strength, wealth, and power. So of course, when the original movement began gay men listed themselves first, lesbians second, and bi-sexuals third. Transgendered people weren’t even considered at the time, much less those who self-identify as queer, intersexed, asexual, and/or questioning (this explains the newer version of LGBT: LGBTQIA+).

In the 1980s, AIDS was known by the under-educated as The Gay Disease. Religious bigots declared it God’s punishment for being gay (which doesn’t take into consideration the fact that lesbians have the lowest rate of contagion, far fewer than heterosexuals).

Gay men infected with this plague were abandoned by their friends, lovers, families, and even hospitals turned them away leaving them to die miserable and alone. People were afraid to touch them, so no one held them or dried their tears as they struggled with their inevitable, and painful, deaths. No one bathed them when they were too weak, or brought food to nourish and comfort them. They were the lepers of modern times.

So their lesbian sisters stepped up. We took care of them as they died, replacing the people they’d loved and trusted to be there for them. We held them as they sobbed in despair, we combed their hair and bathed the sweat from their bodies. We brought food, comfort, and care. And when they died, we cried as we buried them.

I, personally, helped ease the way for three men who suffered needlessly due to bigotry and prejudice. Many people think we lesbians have nothing in common with our gay brothers, but they are wrong. We share our humanity.

In recognition of our loving support, the gay men who ran the rainbow coalition changed the order of the letters, surprising the hell out of us. The GLBT movement became the LGBT movement.

Nephew, I hope these answers will give you some idea of what it is like for LGBT folks living in America concerning same-sex marriage. Remember, we are as diverse as any other group, and these are my thoughts based on my reality. Others may have differing views based on their lives.

I wish you the best of luck with your sermon. Open your heart, eyes, and soul; God will do the rest.

Looking to Pirate my Books?

Pirate  This was originally blogged two years ago, but I find it extremely timely, as I’m afraid too many of us do. Thank you, Bridget Essex, for explaining it perfectly.

Bridget Essex, Author

I’ve been a little quiet lately because I’ve been a little depressed about something. I’ve been working every day, so my sadness hasn’t affected my output thankfully (and, hopefully, A Knight to Remember will be out tomorrow, depending on how the final edits go today!). But I’m an honest person, and I’m also pretty open about stuff, so I thought I would share with you what’s made me sad.

A lot of people pirate my books. A lot. At Rose and Star Press, we purposefully make certain that every file we put on sites like Amazon, Smashwords or Barnes and Noble is not DRM encrypted. What does that mean? That basically means that if you pay for our books on one device, we want you to be able to put that book on any other device you want, so the book itself is shareable. Now, of course, this is…

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WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES

rainbowphoenix Well, in another example of how the world shifts and tilts upon occasion, I was thrown for such a loop I landed keister up, arms and legs akimbo. (If you can picture this without thinking it out, you’re my type of person.)

My last two posts have been dismal, but the best I could do in a world full of disaster, hatred, and animosity.  I’m sure you know the feeling, and if you don’t, please read my last two posts. The Pulse massacre exploded into my consciousness and took over, quickly becoming the reference point in my life; the thing around which every word and action were measured for safety, concern, and ability to cope. If my life were a movie, it would have been the opposite of The Wizard of Oz. I stepped from a wondrous world full of the brilliant colors of the rainbow to the sepia tones of severe depression.

And part of that depression was knowing that there’s a faction of my family that passionately believes because I am a lesbian I am doomed to an eternity in hell unless I repent of my sin and embrace their version of God. I’ve tried to let their judgmental bigotry slide off my back, but it’s leaked through more often than not. They are unfailingly polite in person, however, for which I am incredibly grateful. Family gatherings are never strained unless the conversation strays to the topics of religion (their favorite) or gay rights (mine). But I know they vote to repress me and refuse my family any legal recognition. I’ve been to visit their pentecostal church and know they are shored up by their fervent friends and reactionary preacher.

And then this showed up in my Facebook feed:

My niece posted this on 6/17/16.

posted by my niece (YES, the same one I referenced yesterday), a particularly zealous young lady.  Although I love her and have tried to be a good aunt, we’ve spent a great deal of time estranged from each other. Once I told her that I had always loved her and that not a month since she’d been born had passed without my asking after, or wondering about her. She reacted by telling me that she had ‘never been so insulted’ and blocked me for months.

So you can imagine my surprise to see her bravely flying in the face of everything she holds dear in support of me and mine. I immediately replied with wisdom and grace, and that witty way I’ve perfected as a professional author:

Wow. And thanks!! 😀

Okay, I probably could have done better, but I was up in the air and flailing. Remember, at the moment I saw the meme I was wading hip deep in depression, so to be pulled from the sucking mire and tossed ecstatically into the air in the blink of an eye clobbered the words right out of me. And then she responded with this:

Of course.  I’ve actually been meaning to write this out for a while. I owe you a huge apology. I have no excuse for the kind of behavior and horrible homophobic things I used to say about the LGBT+ community. They were out of ignorance and misdirection and fear of the unknown. And while that doesn’t excuse anything I ever said or did, realizing that I was so ignorant and so fearful forced me to reckon with the pain and persecution that I was unintentionally inflicting on you. When I parroted the ideas that homosexuality was a sin at you instead of loving you for who you are, I thought I was showing you what love was, because that was how I had been taught to love. But instead, I was showing you what fear was and projecting the fears of other people, who I listened to in the naïvety of my youth, directly onto you instead of thinking for myself what was right and what was wrong. Over the past year I’ve learned more about love than I’ve ever known in my whole life. I’ve learned things about others and about myself that have changed my life completely. And one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that I’m the biggest hypocrite I’ve ever met and truly don’t deserve your forgiveness for being so hateful in the past. I take full responsibility for the things I said, and accept the consequences of speaking the words I now know were horribly horribly wrong. You deserve to be able to be who you are without judgement from others, you’ve always deserved that, because all people are screwed up and it’s not anybody’s place to say anything to anyone about anything that’s none of their business. You deserve to be able to go to a church with your wife and be loved and welcomed with open arms because that’s what churches are for, loving and welcoming people. And you deserve to be able to go out in public and not be afraid for your life because some crazy person disagrees with who you are. Because all people have the right to be happy and live their lives in peace. I am disgusted by the person I was, and by how I made you feel about yourself. I understand if you can’t forgive me, because of the nature of the pain and persecution I inflicted on you. But please know that I love you, and support you in anything you to do. And I have decided that I will fight for you to be able to openly be who you are, because you are precious and you are loved and you deserve to live a life full of love instead of judgment.

Out of tragedy arises triumph. As I resume my life, I will feel the loss of the 49 and the fear of the surviving 53. I will commiserate with their loved ones, and my loved ones, and all my LGBTQ+ friends as we find the strength to carry on.

Thank Goodness, in an almost suspiciously timed way, I’ve been reminded that:

LOVE is LOVE is LOVE

 

THE UGLY SHIRT NO ONE WANTS TO WEAR

 Or:  BACK IN THE CLOSET YOU GO

UglyShirtMany gay folks have reported their straight co-workers, friends, and family coming to them with words of support, understanding that the trauma of #OrlandoPulse spreads farther and wider than the immediate neighborhood. Some describe the concern and warnings their loved ones can’t help offering, others tell of important conversations that help them cope with their sense of loss, fear, being lost, and to counter the feeling that once more we’re being shoved back in the closet like the ugly shirt no one wants to wear.

I wouldn’t know. I’ve had exactly three supportive messages, one from my mother, and the other two came from (1) a young, white, cis-gendered man in my creative writing group who sent the same message to every LGBT friend he has on Facebook, and (2) my somewhat estranged born-again niece who honestly feels who I am deliberately flaunts God’s will.

My mother got very upset over the phone, telling me she doesn’t want to hear the phrase “Never again” ever again because in her words, “There’s always an again, and again, and  again. It never ends!” I comforted her as best I could.

I was pleasantly surprised by my co- writer’s supportive message. It was unexpected and came out of the blue on Monday morning. And it was very much appreciated.

But it was the response of my niece that stunned me, there’s no doubt about it. I distinctly remember, not so long ago, her vehemently scolding a mutual family member of ours, insisting that she needed to repent being gay and turn back to God. I assumed that particular diatribe was also aimed at me, so I’ve largely avoided interacting with her since then. I mean, she’s still my sister’s child so I ask about her, follow her posts online, and have commiserated with her trials and rejoiced in her successes since then, albeit not directly with her.

So when she read my last blog post and responded with sincere understanding and the loving command to ‘be safe’, my heart melted like a crayon on a hot sidewalk. I believe she still thinks being gay is a sin and I’m damned to hell, but at least she recognized the trauma that I, and every other gay person on the face of the planet, felt on Sunday as we woke to the news of the massacre. More than that, she commiserated.

But not one of my siblings has offered a single word of support or understanding. Not one straight friend has reached out to me (except the white cis-boy). None of our neighbors have stopped to talk about it with us even though we’re out, open, and they attended our wedding reception.

Should they have to? No, of course not. Would it have been nice, something that might have helped me cope with the flood of feelings I’ve had over the last few days? Yes, absolutely.

I remember the degrading reports of the Stonewall riots, which happened during my pre-teen years as I was wondering why I wasn’t like everyone else I knew. I wept bitter tears at the killing of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in America. I remember all too clearly the horrifying murder of Matthew Shepard, crucified and left as an example of what could happen if you’re gay. I have seen the movies Boys Don’t Cry and Brokeback Mountain, both of which end with violent murder and send a clear message to never come out, don’t let your true self be discovered, stay hidden to stay safe. I lost friends during the height of the AIDS scourge and buried them when their families wouldn’t. And I have watched with mounting horror the bullying that leads to murder and suicide among not only gay youth but specifically transgendered individuals.

What happened on Sunday in Orlando is not the same as denying couples marriage licenses, or wedding cakes, or housing. Mass murder is not the same as introducing and passing legislation to restrict and deny people equal rights. To some, the uproar caused by the deaths of 49 people among a total American LGBT population of over ten million may seem disproportionally large and that, overall, things are better for gay folks. And sure as hell telling a gay joke, or laughing at one, has nothing to do with buying a weapon of mass destruction and letting it loose on innocent people.

But… it does. Every single time a gay joke is laughed at, a blow lands. When hatred is taught in the name of religion, parents and other authorities threaten banishment, and the reviled group itself begins to beckon just the right self-suppressed gay guy, he will decide to hurt himself and the group he is unwillingly a part of. He’ll do it through restrictive legislation, or humiliation, or even murder. And everything he’s ever heard, seen, intuited, learned and practiced will be a part of that.

I have lived with the wariness of knowing some people want to hurt me ever since I came out. Think about that. Every stranger is a potential…? (Hint: not friend). Whenever someone looks at me funny, I tense. If I hear whispered muttering as my wife and I pass, I wonder. And whenever I attend our public places, Pride, bars, picnics, I watch…carefully. That’s the way I’ve lived forever. I was forcibly reminded to sharpen that vigilance last Sunday.

And – it triggered a PTSD behavior in not only myself but almost every other LGBTQIA+ person I know. We’ve been here before. Not in such a huge, horrific, way but repeatedly, over and over again across the years. It’s a mental torture all its own, a tearing down to a bone weariness, a sudden clutching of anxiety in your gut as you realize that it very well could have been you, your loved ones, and your friends, lying dead on a familiar floor.

So what can you, a well-meaning ally and true friend, do to help?

Stop me and say, “I’m so sorry. What a horrible thing has happened.” Meet my eyes with sincere concern and interest. If I look like I want to talk about it, sit me down and ask, “How do you feel?” and then let me talk. As my terror, self-doubt, worry, and despair spill out, add your supportive asides and let me know you understand, and maybe share, my emotions.

Or send a text, old-fashioned greeting card, handwritten letter, or dial the phone and make contact. Don’t pretend everything is fine. It most definitely is not fine.

 

 

RAINBOW AT HALF-MAST

It’s been a hard couple of days, I won’t lie.

There are the inevitable questions: Why there and then? Who was really behind it all? What made him do it? And while there are answers, they won’t satisfy, because there are no answers good enough to make up for the sickening horror, pain, and devastation.

Time does strange things when you’re grieving. Two days can seem like a week, and hours can disappear in the blink of an eye. The heaviness I carry around makes me tired without having done anything. Fighting despair is apparently exhausting.

Friends have put up heart-warming posts on Facebook telling me that it’s okay to grieve and feel bad, passing along celebrity reactions to the horror, wise and witty memes to distract, and doing what we ALWAYS do when attacked as a group; bucking each other up. Even one of my white, straight, cis-gendered male friend (35 years my junior to boot) reached out to tell me he valued me as a person and a friend. My mother sent me a text telling me she thought the massacre was horrific.

And although all of that helps, none of it makes the fear go away. It’s easy to say that we must answer hate with love, that our Pride counters his cowardice, and that just keeping on keeping on is enough. But it’s a lot harder to ignore the gut-gnawing fear that swam into my belly as I realized that I’m suffering a kind of PTSD, born of the many times I’ve reacted to the number of attacks in our history. There have been so many, too many, over the years and like an overstretched rubber band I’m finding it hard to bounce back.

Still, Barack Obama, George Takei, and dozens of others have soothed my ragged nerves some with their balm of rational concern. It will take time (which may pass quickly, or not, depending), but eventually I will carry on again, if not calmly, at least with hope for a better future.

The bastard may have scared me, but not witless. As long as I have a brain, and I can express myself through words, I win.

#Pride #NoHoldingMeDown #AmWriting #PTSD

A Sneak Peek at A Man’s Man

 I needed to expand my YA novel, A Man’s Man,  to 50,000 words. So today I wrote a dream sequence for the protagonist, RJ, who is determined to turn his gay father straight by driving away his boyfriend. In honor of the novel’s near release, I’m sharing the chapter with you.

CHAPTER 9

To Sleep, To Dream

Sometimes I think of Mom. I talk to her picture, but it’s not the same. When I talk she never answers but once in a while I hear her speaking in my head, mostly when I’m just drifting off or beginning to wake up.

Of course, her voice is only a memory now and I’m not even sure it really is hers. Maybe I’m just pretending I remember what she sounded like. I’m glad I have that one old tape though, because without those bedtime stories I’d forget the sound of her.

The tape has just clicked off and I’m lying in bed watching the moon move across the sky through my window when I see her clear as day.

“RJ,” she says, and I recognize her voice right away. I’m flooded with happiness that she’s back, that it was all some terrible mix up, a horrible joke.

“Mom,” I shout, jumping through the window and landing on a cloud beside her. I grab her and hug her so tight she’ll never get loose. She doesn’t try to, just stands still and hugs me back. Finally, I let go of her. Then I look down and shriek. Our farm is far beneath me, a swatch of white outlined by the roads that surround it.

“No worries, Little Man. You won’t fall.” She takes my hand and we stroll through the clouds which feel oddly like the sand dunes on the beach in San Diego. We climb up to the top where the moon is shining brightly. His old face beams, just as glad to see me with my mom as I am to be with her.

“Why did you leave?” I ask her the one question I really want answered. “Why didn’t you live?”

“Well, it wasn’t my choice, baby. There are some things you cannot control,” she says conversationally, pulling me down to sit beside her on the cloud. A shooting star falls in the distance. She wraps an arm around me, hugging me close. “That’s something you will have to understand sometime, soon I hope.”

“If it hadbeen your choice you’d have stayed, right Mom?”

She kisses my forehead, leaving a warm spot like the imprint of lipstick. “I wouldn’t part with you for anything in heaven or hell,” she reassures me. “Nothing could have split us apart short of death. I’m so sorry, RJ, so very sorry I’m not there with you now. But I left you in very good hands. Your father loves you every bit as much as I do. I’m so very glad you love him back and want him to be happy.”

I suddenly feel disloyal. “Yeah, I do Mom, but not in the same way I loved you.” I’m trying not to cry but first one tear escapes, and then another. They float off into space to become twinkling stars.

“That’s the wonder of love, Little Man. You can love more than one person with all you’ve got because your heart will always make room. You can never love too many, or too deeply. Of course,” she says using her mommy voice, “you marry only one at a time and you bring respect and trust to that union as well as love. That’s what makes a family. Like you, your dad, and Stephen.”

“You know about him?”

“Oh sure, honey. Your dad and I talked and texted back and forth every week. I always consulted him when making big decisions about you and often took his advice. If it’d been up to me, you’d have been studying music rather than playing sports to earn a scholarship.”

“That was Dad?”

“Yes it was. He needed to be part of your life even if he didn’t want to shock you with his lifestyle.  I sent him pictures of you as you grew, and he sent me photos of life here on the farm.

“When he found Stephen something changed. He’d always loved you, and me, but a part of his heart he’d always kept closed opened up. We had decided you were old enough to deal with his having a boyfriend and were going to start sending you back to the farm more often so you could meet Stephen and see how happy they are together, but then fate took a hand. I understand they’re going to get married. They must be very happy.”

I focus on the face of the moon rather than look at Mom directly. “They were,” I answer, “but I fixed that. I helped Dad see the light.” The moon in front of me dims. “He’s straight again now.”

“Oh no, I thought you wanted him to be happy?” Her voice and body fade away and I’m left sitting on a cloud all alone.

“What do you mean, Mom?” She doesn’t answer. The moon goes dark like a total eclipse, and the cloud beneath me starts to shift like drifting sand. “Mom!” I call for her as loud as I can but she’s gone. Again.

What did Mom mean when she said she thought I wanted Dad to be happy? I do want him to be happy. Happy and straight. No one who is gay can be happy. She must not understand, I think, and then laugh at myself because she’s nothing but dust to dust, ashes to ashes. She can’t understand, or misunderstand, anything now.

The cloud sand beneath me opens up and I start falling back to Earth. I try to scream, but suddenly my mouth seals shut. It won’t open, so I try flapping my arms like I’m a bird. I know it’s foolish but I’m desperate. And it works.

My pajama sleeves turn in to wings and I find I can soar. It’s a joyous feeling, better than Christmas or sinking the winning ball in a game, even better than getting straight A’s. I fly high, high, as high as I can go to see if I can find Mom among the clouds again.

This time the clouds feel like spider webs, sticky, light, and creepy. They clutch at my wing sleeves, slowing me down, but I shake them off and continue upward.

It’s not the moon that greets me because the sun has risen. Golden rays spread out from its surface to warm my face. When I look straight at it I’m blinded for a moment and lose control. I’m falling and my sleeve wings burn away, but a huge hand catches me in its palm. I try to follow the hand to the arm and up to the face of my rescuer, but the light is too bright. I’m blinded by its brilliance, so I focus on the hand.

Standing beside me is a boy about my age. His clothes are strange to me, a swirling cloak of many colors. He’s playing a stringed instrument I’ve never seen before and starts to sing:
“There was a boy, a very strange enchanted boy,
And while we spoke of many things, fools and kings, This he said to me:
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love, and be loved in return.”
Listening to him fills me with a feeling of safety. When he finishes, I say, “My mom used to play that song on the piano. Do you know where she is? Who are you?”

“Yes, I know where she is and she’s safe. As for who I am, I have a million names. The one I want you to use is Friend.” His eyes, dark with understanding, gaze into mine.

“How did I get here? How will I get home?” I ask him.

 

“You came here searching for something. You’ll go home when you find it.”

I think that over and say, “Sounds like a lot of books and movies, Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, A Wrinkle in Time. Can’t you give me a bigger hint than that?”

His face lights up with mischief. “Ultimately we all search for the truth.”

“But that’s as vague as the first hint.” He shrugs. “Listen, Friend,” I try, “how about if I ask questions? Will you answer them?”

Suddenly he’s standing in front of a large and colorful game board. On it are ten spaces leading from the first one, marked Confusion, to the last one, labeled Understanding. Above it hangs a flashing sign that reads: WHAT AM I SEARCHING FOR? A marker with my face on it stands smack in the middle of Confusion, ready to go.

I’m standing behind a contestant’s pulpit with bright lights in my eyes, and somewhere behind them is an unseen audience applauding. They quiet down and Friend says to them, “Welcome, welcome, welcome to the game of…”

 He pauses and the audience shouts back, “…What Am I Searching For?”

His teeth gleam white in the spotlights. “That’s right. Our contestant today is RJ, age thirteen. He loves sports and academics, any competition really, but as we all know his only opponent today is himself.”

Friend turns to me. “Good luck, RJ. You may ask me any question you’d like but I’ll only answer with one word, ‘Yes’, ‘No’, or ‘Partially’ so consider your questions carefully.” Among fresh applause he calls out, “So if you’re ready we’ll let the game begin.”

My first question is easy. “Am I searching for something I can touch?”

“No.” Friend moves my image one step along the path of the game board.

“Am I searching for myself?” I realize it’s a throwaway question as soon as I say it.

“Yes.” He turns around and raises his arms as if conducting an orchestra. As his hands fall the invisible audience choruses with one voice, “We all are.” My icon moves another step.

Twenty percent of the way across already. I’ve got to think of better questions. I take a moment before asking the third. “Okay, it’s not something I can touch, but it is, in some way, a search for myself. Am I searching for love?” It seems to me that’s a crazy question, but so many people online post about looking for love I think it’s worth a shot.

“Partially.” That mischievous look is back on Friend’s face. That makes me think of Jessica.
Uh, why? Where did that come from? But it does make me think of another question. “Am I searching for ability?” Like in sports, or medicine…

“Partially,” but this time as my piece moves Friend’s face darkens, and the unseen audience shifts nervously in their seats.

Question number five will take me half way across the board and I am no closer to finding out what I was searching for than I was before the game. I plan my words before I speak. “Will I be a better person when I’ve found it?”

The audience breaks into spontaneous applause, my piece jumps happily to the next spot on the board, and Friend looks relieved as he answers, “Yes.”

As the applause fades the lights dim and a team of people come flocking out of the dark. They swarm Friend blanketing him from sight and I hear him protest good-naturedly. One woman pulls herself away from the pile and looks at me standing behind my podium.  She walks over to me with a smile jumping from her lips to her eyes.

Taking a towel from a pocket she begins dabbing at my face. I realize I’ve been sweating heavily, but she pats me dry quickly and applies a little clear powder too my face. “You’re doing just fine, honey,” she says as she works. “Most of ‘em give up by this point, but you scored a big one just now.” She looks around and leans in conspiratorially. “Figure out the difference between that question and the ones before. It’ll make things clearer.”

I refresh my memory. “My last question started with ‘will I’ rather than an ‘am I’. Does that make a difference?”

She dips into another pocket and produces a glass of cold water, which she hands me. The lights come back up and she along with the other flock of people begin streaming out. But she pauses long enough to look over her shoulder and nod before disappearing with the others back into the dark.

Friend is standing in front of the game board just where I’d seen him last. He’s spruced up and looking good, his robe is cleaned and adjusted, his face patted and powdered. Even his smile seems brighter. He turns to face the unseen audience.

“Welcome back to the second half of our game. As you will remember, RJ has made it halfway across the board and has five more questions to ask to discover…” He raises one eyebrow expectantly.

“What He’s Searching For,” answers the audience on cue.

Turning back to me Friend asks, “Are you ready, Friend?”

I know he’s speaking to me, but I can’t help asking the obvious. “You told me to call you Friend and now you’re calling me Friend?”

“I call lots of people Friend, with a capital letter and without,” he says. “I’ve always found it a nice way to keep relationships peaceful. It’s hard to get mad at someone you call friend.” The audience applauds. “Now,” he says to me again, “are you ready?

When I nod my head he asks, “What is your sixth question?”

“As it’s something that will make me a better person when I find it,” I muse aloud, “involving love and ability, I think I’ll ask this: “Is it difficult to find?”

The mischievous light is back in Friend’s eyes as he says succinctly, “Yes.”

Watching my game piece move another step forward I say, “Mom always used to tell me that the hardest things to achieve are the most rewarding.”

Friend’s compassionate gaze doesn’t irritate me as so many others have. He says, “She said many wise things during her short life on Earth.”

“Is there any way I can bring her back?” I cross my fingers hoping he’ll say ‘Yes’. If there is, I’ll do anything and everything it takes.

I hear the audience’s collective sigh of disappointment. “No,” says Friend with a touch of sadness, “which you knew already but couldn’t stop yourself from asking, huh?” He knows me pretty well for meeting so short a time ago. My icon moves forward and there are only three spaces left. I have to make them count.

Which is why I’m shocked to hear myself blurt out, “Is it something I have to learn the hard way?”
“Yes,” nods Friend firmly. The game piece with my face on it moves forward on the board.

Well, now I have some clues with which to work. A difficult to find lesson I have to learn the hard way which will make me a better person, involving ability, and love. Lots of wriggle room there. I’ve got to narrow the field.

“Only two questions left,” announces Friend to the audience as he holds up two fingers. “Will RJ finally get his answer to the question…,” He waits.

“What Am I Searching For?” This time my voice alone can be heard. The audience is silent.

“Okay, RJ. What is your ninth question?” I see hope on his face and realize he’s been rooting for me all along.

“Does this have anything to do with my plan, Courageous Change?” I ask.

“YES,” Friend shouts, and again my game marker skips happily to the next space. “You’ve got one more question. Can you figure it out, RJ?” He’s nearly jumping up and down he’s so excited for me. I hear a chattering among the unseen audience. They’re pulling for me too, I can feel it.

A lesson learned the hard way involving Courageous Change. It will be difficult to find but will make me a better person. Ability and love will play a role. And suddenly I know.

“I am searching for something that will make my dad happy and straight!” I announce. “That’s it, isn’t it?”

Just as Friend opens his mouth to answer a loud bell interrupts him. The huge golden hand in which this has all taken place tilts. While I slide down Friend floats up. He shouts the answer to me but the bright light of the sun shining through my bedroom window distracts me and the ringing alarm clock blocks my hearing. It’s time to get up. I have to feed the dogs, chickens, and Nanny before the school bus gets here.

As I stumble to the bathroom I hear Dad going out through the mud porch. Morning starts pretty early for a farmer working a piece of land the size of ours, and his workload has doubled. When I finish my chores and get to the kitchen for my own breakfast I find only a cold cup of coffee at his place.

I’m not stupid, I watch TV. I can see Dad is suffering from a broken heart but the afternoon talk show hosts say those eventually mend. A lost soul is a lot harder to fix. I have to stick to the plan.

Courageous Change is for the greater good and soon Dad and I will be happy, living as a straight family like everyone else.

Still, I watch Dad moping around here when he thinks I’m not looking and wonder when the happy part is going to kick in. Maybe he needs to date a woman.

I set about figuring out who that should be.