Category Archives: encouragement

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

 

Advertisements

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.

 

 

Bariatric Surgery Success!

Today it will have been exactly four months since my Roux en Y or gastric bypass surgery. Next week will make it a year since I started this amazing journey.

I’ve lost fifty-two pounds. My blood pressure is lower, my arthritis less painful, and my triglycerides are behaving themselves. I no longer use the C-PAP machine, or take medicine for gout. I haven’t had a bout of Plantar’s fasciitis or bone bruises for months.

Has it been easy? Hell, no. I spent a month (2 weeks before and 2 weeks after surgery) on a completely liquid diet. When you look forward to some sugar-free applesauce so you’ll at least have something to kinda chew, that’s hard. And, of course, my surgery was scheduled for mid-December, completely eclipsing the usual Christmas celebrations. And as much as I wanted the surgery, I hated how it tied my family and friends up in knots, making them tip-toe around me, not eating things they wanted, afraid to tempt me to do something to spoil my plans. As often as I reminded them that I’d CHOSEN to do this, and they should eat normally, they saw the liquids and mushed up food and felt bad for me. I kept telling them that next year I’d be eating with them, just much smaller portions and they should enjoy themselves.

Their support meant so much to me, however. They watched me go to endless doctors appointments and be tested for everything under the sun from breast cancer, to sleep apnea, to a colonoscopy. I was examined inside and out. I still laugh about how shocked I was when a doctor first lifted the folded over part of my belly to examine the skin underneath. It felt like such an invasion of privacy… LOL Little did I know what was in store.

I went through a plethora of emotions and was surprised by their vehemence. Hope warred with despair, anger fought with appreciation, and through it all, I held the deep conviction that I would fail yet again. My wife was terrified of the actual surgery but repeated several times that she supported whatever decision I made. She survived the four-hour wait during the surgery, and hers was the first face I saw when I woke.

I’ve handled the healing phase well. The wounds are all scarred and have lost their purplish hue. Although I’ve had to deal with excessive gas (and the resultant hours of walking) when experimenting with raw vegetables, I’ve managed to escape – knock on wood – the ‘dumping’ I’d been warned about. I needed to travel only a few short weeks following the surgery, but even that went well. The flight crew weren’t happy about my rising and walking the length of the plane every half-hour, but they preferred that to blood clots.

Because I was so busy for the first month and a half, it came as an almost sudden surprise when my entire wardrobe stopped fitting me. I sorted out those I could still get away with, and bagged up the rest. When it came to donating them to charity, though, I just couldn’t do it. Part of me still expects to gain back the weight, just like I have after every single diet in my life. They’re upstairs in the attic, but I may put them out for a spring yardsale… maybe.

I’ve learned a lot about myself, and I’m still learning. I’ve also learned an awful lot about other people and the way they treat people based on stereotypes. But more about that, next time…


Wicked Lover or Death Disguised?

SOMETHING AUTUMN THIS WAY COMES

It’s the end of September and the seasons are changing. The days of summer are over, and autumn has begun. It’s that time of year when I look for my favorite blanket to put on the bed, pull out long sleeve shirts and hoodies, and enjoy the warmth of my favorite socks.

I see bats and skeletons everywhere, and deal with pumpkin-flavored everything. I bake banana bread and chicken pot pie. The last of my wife’s garden become fried green tomatoes. Apple Pie and Cinnamon candles fill our living room with the scents of the season.

The biggest sign I’ve given over to autumn are my favorite pair of earrings, hand painted ceramic pumpkins I bought in Pismo Beach about 30 years ago. I love them. They are pretty, heavy, and large. People comment on them every year, and I love it. I wear them with the brown, wine, and gold colors I only wear during this time of year.

Winding into, through, and around the cities are the scents of dusty leaves, plowed under fields, ripe apple orchards, and chilling lakes. My wife rakes the yard, beds the roses, and cleans out her garage in preparation for the inevitable snow. My granddaughter begins to seriously consider Halloween costumes, which she will decide upon with the help of her best friends so they can coordinate. I pull out my well worn, tattered, and beloved Ray Bradbury classic, The October Country, and Poe’s Telltale Heart, and read them aloud in an empty room simply for the love of the words.

The prompts I bring to writing groups take on a decidedly spooky tone.

When people talk about the changing of the seasons they mean weather and over all temperature, but to me it means much more. For my wife, who thrives during spring and summer, it’s the inevitable end of good times in the garden and sun. She mourns in autumn. I, on the other hand, come vibrantly alive.

I thrill to the changing colors, encourage the struggle of each leaf to last as long as possible, await the rising of large harvest moons, and watch the night sky for shooting stars. I look forward to preparing for Halloween, NANO, and Thanksgiving. Most of all, I look forward to being cool for the brief time in Minnesota between blistering heat, and freezing snow.

So here’s to autumn, and all those who love her.

Robin Williams and I

2014 was a year of mourning great talents. 

Lauren Bacall. Pete Seeger. Dr. Maya Angelou. James Garner. Ruby Dee. Philip Seymour Hoffman. Sid Caesar. Shirley Temple. Mike Nichols. Mickey Rooney. Richard Attenborough. Eli Wallach, Tom Magliozzi, Harold Ramis, Ann B. Davis, Menshach Taylor, Elaine Stritch, and more have all died during the last 363 days.

But on August 11, 2014 the world lost Robin Williams, a man who was a legend in his own time, a tormented creative  talent, and a great humanitarian. His death was deeply personal to me. At the time I had no words to express my grief, my memories, my love for this special man.

I, like so many other people in the world, found Robin Williams to be a genius at humor and heartfelt pathos. His movies made me laugh, and cry. The first time I saw him perform, his TV character Mork literally had me falling off the couch in hysterical laughter. In that moment I began a lifetime of looking forward to his next project, whatever it might be.

I remember the first Comic Relief show in 1986, when Robin (by then I loved him so thoroughly I’d promoted our relationship to a first name basis), Billy Crystal, and Whoopie Goldberg hosted 47 comics telling jokes and being funny to raise money for the homeless. I was working then, and donated what I could, that year and for years after. The laughter was good medicine for what ailed me, and touched the heart in a way completely new to charity. Laughter was the great equalizer – no matter how much or how little you have, when a joke is funny you laugh.

I began to notice little things about Robin’s behavior when he was being interviewed and supposedly ‘off’. I recognized a pattern of behavior that came too close to some of my own, uncomfortably close. A particular interview soon following his father’s death still stands out to me. In him I found a mirror of some of my own torments, a kindred spirit, an understanding soul.

I followed his career closely, enjoying as many performances as I could. I loved some more than others. Popeye, first, where I was not surprised one bit at his sense of comedic timing and delivery, and then The World According to Garp, which stunned me with his ability to play a straight role. The Fisher King, Aladdin, What Dreams May Come, Hook, Jumanji, Happy Feet, and The Birdcage, I’ve watched each of them a dozen times. He made me laugh, he made me cry, he creeped me out (remember One Hour Photo and Insomnia?), and he always made me relate to his character. His career made me happy. I hope it made him happy, too.

When the internet was new and celebrities as inexperienced on it as anyone else, I found a relatively private address for Robin in San Francisco. Thereafter, I sent him a Christmas card every once in a while. I loved picturing him reading my card, so I’d fill it with bits and pieces of things going on in my life, things I couldn’t/wouldn’t tell other people. Looking at it written down, I can see how that might seem a little odd to people, but it was a dearly held (tenuous though it might be) contact with someone I thought of as a friend.

I didn’t hear back from him but that didn’t stop me from shooting my arrows into the darkness, hoping they would strike their target and ultimately be read by him. Since none of my cards were ever returned, I was fairly sure they were being delivered somewhere. That was enough to keep me going.

When I’d been writing for a couple of years, I produced my first YA novel, The Boxer Rebellion. A coming-of-age story about bullying gay kids, it is brutally honest which makes it a challenging read. I sent Robin a copy and asked if he thought it was too harsh, too painful for readers to enjoy. For the first time, I got a response, an acknowledgement that I’d been making contact all along, just one direction.

He sent me a photo of himself dressed as Mrs. Doubtfire and signed it:  To Genta, Write On.

Robin Williams told me to keep writing. That private message between us was enough to keep me pushing that book until it finally found a home and began gathering reviews. I imagine him holding my book in his hands while he read. I like to think of him laughing at the funny parts, fuming at the injustice, and ultimately joining The Boxer Rebellion to fight bullying in schools and on the internet. The photo is framed and hangs over my computer to remind me that Robin Williams believed in me enough to encourage me when I was down.

As we start a new year, in his memory I say to you, “Write on, my friend.” Please remember that the emotional struggles of the truly talented can often be masked behind achievement and praise, written away as fiction. Be gentle with yourself, today and every day of the rest of your life.