Category Archives: #Orlando #Pulse

I’ve Waited A Lifetime for this Interview – Part One

ec867-0900631b811f3468mcd0ca-crossblueI love my family, even when it sometimes seems as though they do not love me. One faction of my family are fundamental Christians, and their disapproval of me and my family has, at times, been palpable. They’ve always been polite to my Traf, and I’ve been grateful for that courtesy and still am.

But, just as the terrorist attack on Pulse Nightclub in Orlando earlier this year caused a niece from that part of the family to reach out and mend fences, I’ve been asked by a nephew who is a leader in his 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 the first question and my response:

1) As regards yours and Traf’s journey towards marriage, what were some of your greatest triumphs and setbacks?

You have to understand that until June of 2002 the concept of gay marriage didn’t exist in my mind. I’d never heard of such a thing until someone at Twin Cities Pride asked me to sign a petition. It was a paradigm shift so great it took me several weeks to wrap my head around it.

Until then, our relationships were so clandestine we never talked about them outside of our own homes and close circle of lesbian friends. Our neighbors probably knew we were gay, but they didn’t mention it and neither did we. In May, 2002 Morgan was born, and I became a grandmother. Traf’s daughters had accepted me as their mother’s lover, but when my darling granddaughter entered our lives, we became a true family. A month later, as I registered voters at Pride, I first heard the words ‘gay marriage’ and our world turned upside down.

When we lived outside the law and went unrecognized by our own country, we were second-class citizens. Looking the way I do, I often passed as straight unless I was in Traf’s company. She is such a butch that people immediately recognize we’re a lesbian couple whenever we’re together. We’ve heard conversations about how horrible we are spoken just loud enough to carry to our ears, we’ve been insulted to our faces, called foul names, and denied service in public restaurants.

During the most horrible night of my life, when Traf ended up being transported by ambulance to a hospital with a suspected heart attack (thankfully only angina), the witch behind the glass at the Emergency Room registration desk openly smirked while gleefully telling me I didn’t count as family and wouldn’t be allowed to see her, even after I provided her with a legal document giving me her Power of Attorney. Thank goodness there was glass in place to protect her because I would have gladly killed her in that moment. Her delight in being able to give me even more pain than I was already in was unforgivable. She may be the only person in my life I’ve ever truly hated.

A year later, in 2004, we were visiting your grandmother after she’d been diagnosed with lung cancer and was recovering from the operation that took a portion of one of her lungs. It was my birthday, February 12th, and I was turning forty-seven. Traf was fifty-six. While watching the television we saw a story about the first legal gay marriage taking place in San Francisco. Mayor Gavin Newsom was allowing marriages to take place at City Hall during the long weekend. I thought, How quixotic. They’ll be stopped immediately. But because it was Presidents Day weekend, the government was not in session until Tuesday. Valentine’s Day was Saturday, and Traf and I looked at each other and jumped in the car to drive to San Francisco.

I wrote a piece that answers most of this question here:  https://gentasebastian-author.com/2013/03/26/history-is-being-made/  Please read it.

During the bittersweet years following the invalidation of our marriage, we faced the backlash of discrimination as our people fought our own government to be recognized as equal citizens. I’ll answer the next question on your list tomorrow. I think I’ve given you enough to mull over for the time being.

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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