Category Archives: Love and support

Feet Don’t Fail Me Now

Photo of Genta Sebastian
Genta Sebastian

Attitude is Ability’s strongest supporter.

I’ve always taken my health for granted. I’ve been blessed with sound bones, fairly well functioning internal organs, and muscles that do what I ask them to do, not that I ask very often. But I do enjoy a good walk, which is what I was doing when I found my foot flopping at the end of my leg.

My wife and I were visiting her family to enjoy the Carnival on Terceira Island. It was the middle of February and the weather was so much better than our usual Minnesota we walked a lot. We were strolling on the way into town to eat dinner when I tripped over my own feet a couple of times but didn’t think of it as we’d just spent two days traveling and I was still tired. On our way back after dinner, I noticed my gait was different. I usually glide along, my head barely rising and falling with each step, but that night my right foot slapped down jarringly.

I became careful, slowing my speed and experimenting with my foot. It wasn’t rising with each step and when I stood still and tried to flex it, nothing happened.

I searched my mind, wondering what I might have done to make my foot behave this way. Then I remembered a silly thing that happened during a visit to a friend’s store earlier in the day. We were chatting on a steep loading dock, facing uphill at an angle of 20-25 degrees. Since I speak limited Portuguese and family and friends were catching up with shotgun fire rapidity, I let my mind wander.

I’ve recently lost a lot of weight (nearing ninety pounds), which has made me more body conscious than I’ve ever been before. One part of me that is not nearly so rounded as it once was, is my tush. I used to have a round butt but after losing so much weight (not to mention the hours and hours of sitting required of authors) it has flattened considerably. I wondered if I could encourage a nice muscular flex of the booty by (get this) rising up on my toes on the incline. I know it makes no sense but I was still tired from traveling. So up on my toes, I went. My legs immediately cramped and I dropped back to my feet, massaged away a charlie horse, and continued on with my day until that walk down to dinner when I first noticed the foot drop.

The next day when things hadn’t improved, I phoned my sister the doctor. Nothing hurt, if anything my leg was numb from the knee down, but the toes and ball of the foot would not rise. She advised massage, ankle flexing exercises and to continue walking everywhere.

footdrop

Foot drop, that’s what it’s called because that’s what it is. I could flex my toes forward, but not raise them back up, so my foot hung loosely at the end of my leg whenever I took a step. To do the exercises prescribed by Dr. Sis I had to lift my right leg, position it over the ledge I was using to brace and let the foot drop from there.

It was a nightmare and I wasn’t pleased that there was no improvement. To make matters worse, the left leg also developed foot drop a day later. Both feet dragged now unless I marched like a marionette. My wife was solicitous and we both noticed I was also having difficulty with balance. Even standing still I could lose my equilibrium.

I didn’t get home to America for another three weeks, so I stretched every day, massaged numb legs like crazy and walked as much as I could, even though very tiring compared to how easy it was before this happened. To avoid stumbling over toes that dragged the ground I had to either step high (a kind of prancing move) or swing my leg in a half circle before setting down (think Festus from Gunsmoke). I walked slowly to minimize either movement.

Which was fine in a place that’s much slower paced than America. After landing at La Guardia and clearing Customs, I found myself jostled and hurried down long corridors to catch another flight. I have a suitcase with four wheels that always seems hard to push along and I stumbled over my feet and took a header on the carpet. Not fun. I learned to hug the wall, the apparent internationally agreed upon space for handicapped folks who dare to walk, and that people stared as I walked with my crazy, toe-pointed ballerina-type mincing step so I could hurry.

For reasons too personal to go into, I was away from my own medical care for another month. Dr. Sis suggested it might be neurological, sending me immediately to the internet. I found tale after tale of people who live with drop foot continuously, with no expectation of improvement or regaining full function of their feet. Most of these cases were neurological and several were pulmonary, symptoms following a stroke or heart-attack. I grew despondent. But then I found a single comment from someone who said yes, it was reversible. He did the same stretching exercises I did and commented about massage and orthopedic devices.

And there were signs of improvement. My right foot began to flex slightly again, sending me into a frenzy of renewed massage and stretching exercises. I used an adjustable boot I’d worn for a severe case of plantar fasciitis a few years back and tightened it so my toes flexed upward while I slept, alternating night and feet. I rigged my walking shoes with elastic around the farthest lace and an ankle strap to improve my gait. And I walked, slowly, it’s true, and not far. Nevertheless, I persevered.

That was almost three months ago. I haven’t mentioned it online because why would it matter? Either I’d continue to walk with a noticeable limp, or I would heal. Either way, I had nothing to say until now. But along the way, I learned something important I’m sharing today.

Don’t take the act of walking for granted.

If you walk without a limp, bless your lucky stars. The ability to ambulate easily is an underappreciated miracle, pure and simple.

Appreciate your feet today. Walk around the block, varying your speed every time you turn a corner. Run a few steps, stop, twirl on your toes, and run back. Watch other people’s feet as they walk, flexing their feet with every step. Hop up on a curb and descend stairs quickly. Tiptoe somewhere, and dance. Dance like there’s no tomorrow because you never know when you’ll suddenly face a different reality. Enjoy the blessing of healthy feet and legs every minute that you have them.

And if your lower extremities are struggling to regain function or health, hang in there. Do the work, trust in change, and believe in yourself. Pat yourself on the back for every incremental improvement. Know that whatever you’re struggling with will get better, either because you change it or because you learn effective methods of adjustment. You can reach your goals, one stretch/massage/step/walk/run at a time.

I’m happy to report that my right foot is now almost back to normal, and my left foot is improving steadily. Although I’m not there yet, I expect to be able to forget my feet as I walk around the GCLS 2017 conference in Chicago come July 6th. If you see me, stop and say “Hi!”

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I’ve Waited a Lifetime for this Interview – Part Two

cbb21-wedding_cake_toppersAs you know if you read yesterday’s post, 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 is his second question and my response:

2) Do you feel on the whole accepted or persecuted by your friends/family?  Examples?

This is a huge question. I will take it in two parts: Family first, then friends.

FAMILY:  On the whole, yes, I feel both accepted and persecuted by family. If I count my mother, siblings, their kids, and their spouses, I end up with nine who are entirely supportive and eight who are marginally supportive. When I say marginally, I mean they are polite and kind to our faces, then turn around and support anti-LGBT legislation to deny us the same civil rights they themselves enjoy.

Does that count as persecution? Hell, yes. Every vote to deny or strip LGBT people of civil rights encourages bigotry. Even if my evangelical Christian family members don’t act on their prejudice around us, their votes and voices in church encourage others to do so. And believe me, there are plenty of self-righteous bigots hiding behind their Bibles who are delighted to beat us with their beliefs.

Bear in mind, when I say ‘beat’ it’s only partially metaphoric. The stories of gay men being attacked, lesbians being raped, bi-sexuals excluded, transgendered people being killed, and far too many of us dying by bullycide* may not hit the mainstream media with great regularity, but they spread like wildfire among us. The Orlando Pulse Bar massacre caught the world’s attention only because of the sheer magnitude of death and destruction. It terrified everyone in the LGBT community (myself included) but not because it was new to us. Every single day that goes by, someone in our rainbow family dies because of bigotry translated into action. Hate crimes, by definition, are terrorist acts perpetrated to spread fear through an identified group.

It works. We spend too much time on guard, or even afraid. Some of us more so than others, and I’m one of them. I go to Pride festivals because it’s important: they exist to empower my rainbow family. But I’m hyper aware, ready to grab our kids and flee at the slightest sign of violence. We no longer go to gay bars, our long-standing safe places, maybe because we’re getting older and don’t drink, or maybe because of the increase in violence being experienced as backlash for the legalization of gay marriage and other civil rights legislation. Traf displays no fear, but when confronted she doesn’t hesitate to get up close and personal, fists closed in expectation of a fight. Unfortunately, I’ve seen it several times with my own eyes, once as she passed our grandbaby to my arms for safe keeping.

When our country and state, nearly simultaneously, decided to include Traf and me as full citizens with equal rights we wasted no time in getting married. Your sister was also getting married and I didn’t want to steal her thunder, so I designed invitations that recognized the distance involved and explained I understood people would probably not attend. Still, like every other human being on Earth, I wanted my family to celebrate with me now that I was finally getting a chance to marry the one person in my life with whom I’d ever truly settle down. With a light heart and expectations of their best wishes, I mailed the invitations to all my family members.

Mom waxed enthused over the phone; she truly loves Traf. One sister suggested briefly that she might come and then never mentioned it again. Otherwise, not one of my family members recognized our big day was coming.

On September 12, 2013 Traf and I were married in our home. Our granddaughter was the flower girl. Both of Traf’s daughters, their spouses, and all but one of our grandchildren attended; the other one was working out of state. Immediately following the service, we had a reception in the backyard (chased inside by rain) with our neighbors and friends. The only members from my side of the family who mailed cards of congratulations were my brother’s ex-wife (your mother) and current wife (he marries good people). Shortly after, your sister’s thank you card for the wedding present we’d sent arrived along with a photo of all my siblings, my mother, and you and your cousins attending her wedding. It stayed on the mantle over our fireplace through Thanksgiving.

I understand that my family’s seeming boycott of my wedding wasn’t deliberate persecution. It was neglect and indifference, which hurt just as much if not worse. It’s a lot like the knowledge that almost no one (Mom and one sister excepted) in my family has read a single one of my books, much less bragged about me being an award winning author. But enough about that; back to your question.

Yes, I feel persecuted by my evangelical Christian family members because they deny the reality of our lives and ignore our needs, perpetuating a system of abuse that threatens me and mine. It wounds me deeply, and because of that I’ve learned to expect hurt and disappointment. I still love them and keep the lines of communication open, but how can I trust them?

FRIENDS:

Friends are the family you choose for yourself. I don’t feel persecuted by them, because I do not choose to be around people who make me feel threatened.

However, I do have one friend that wasn’t always supportive. She’s in my writing group, and we had to find our way to an understanding.

I am completely out-of-the-closet, and refuse to hide my relationship with Traf. Now that we’re married, I proudly refer to her as my wife, but when I met R- we were caught in the limbo (a deliberately chosen word) of second-class citizenry. Still, I often spoke of Traf and watched everyone in our newly founded group for any signs of bigotry. One night, it happened.

We’d been writing together for hours, everyone encouraging one another with a set goal in mind. It was midnight and I was gathering my things together to go home. Out of the blue, R- asked me, “Why are all gays pedophiles?”

I stared at her, uncomprehending for a moment. When her words did penetrate, I answered, “R-, I am going to knock you down.” I made no move toward her, but neither did I back away.

“No, seriously,” she responded. “Why are all gays pedophiles?”

“I am going to knock you down,” I repeated, putting down my things and preparing to do battle. “Gays are not automatically pedophiles. I do not, I repeat, do not hurt children.”

“Oh,” she answered, seemingly surprised. “I didn’t mean you.* That’s what I was taught.”

I looked at her closely, and saw only confusion in her face, not anger or hatred, so I unclenched my fists and sat down. The other two women in the group looked vastly relieved, and we all settled into a long conversation about what it means to be LGBT. It turned out that R- had spent decades as a member of a proselytizing evangelical church and truly believed that every gay person is a pedophile. Luckily for our group, she really listened as I explained my reality. She asked questions that sometimes shocked me, but only because she’d seemed so rational up until then.

It occurred to me, not for the first time, that almost everyone who knows that I’m gay cannot help labeling me. It’s the first thing they think when I come to their minds: Genta, the lesbian…the homosexual…the ‘other’. The movie, On Golden Pond, first brought that home to me when Henry Fonda’s character refers to ‘the lesbians who live across the pond’ several times, and never uses their names. That’s all they were to him, ‘the lesbians’.

How would you like to identified…every…single…time as a sexual act? Whenever the word ‘homosexual’ is used to define us, it’s the ‘sexual’ part that titillates and remains in peoples’ psyches. I think that is why we, as individuals and a group, have adopted the terms ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’, to establish our identities as whole persons, rather than just a biological behavior.

Nephew, I challenge you: When you address your congregation use only the terms gay and lesbian to discuss us, but refer to straights continuously as ‘heterosexuals’. You’ll see people squirm, I guarantee it.

*  To be clear, all LGBT members are subject to any of the horrors: attack/rape/exclusion/murder/and suicide.

*  Too often, people categorize all LGBT folks as ‘other’. Since almost everyone knows someone who is LGBT, heterosexuals often excuse their friends/family members with the phrase, “I don’t mean you.” That gives them permission to continue their bigotry without having to deal with what it means/does to their friend/family member. Totally uncool.

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.

 

 

Authors Abroad


Vacation time, a chance to write, or is that wrong?

The long winter is finally over (or ending, depending on where you are), and many people are planning or already going on vacation. Sun seekers from all around the world congregate in favorite locations to socialize, relax, reconnect with their families, and build memories to last through the next fifty weeks, if not a lifetime.

The question for writers becomes: Should I write while on vacation? Exotic locales can help the author stimulate creativity, suggest plots, unveil fantastic settings, observe great characters for sketches, and get to a shared place with the likes of Hemingway and Anais Nin. In other words, a writer’s dream, nay, euphoric fantasy.

However, most authors are on vacation with their families. Those same long suffering loved ones who put up with burned dinners, one-sided conversations, and long rambling discussions about your characters or plot with ridiculous questions that can’t be answered (what would you do if you were on the moon and an alien was…). Your spouse, children, parents, grand-children and/or grand-parents are the ones who’ve waited a long lonely year to regain your attention and be loved and appreciated. They know you’re a wonderful person, they just haven’t seen much of you lately.

So do you write, or is that wrong?

I don’t know. I’m asking you. Really, what would you do?

As for me, I spend time with my family and leave the writing until I get home. I may not have the immediacy, the immersion into the fantasy of world travel, but I write down what I remember when I get home. If I have a brilliant idea while traveling, I’ll take no more than fifteen minutes to jot the idea down in a notebook, otherwise every minute of vacation time belongs to the people I love.

I’m not saying that’s the way to become a successful writer, but I know it’s the way to build and strengthen a happy family. Although I will admit to a small part of me wishing I could be two people, the one unattached and able to revel in the writing possibilities that arise when away from home, I’m much happier being part of a supportive, understanding family who deserve the best of me while on vacation.