She’s Proud to be an American

Traf paying off the mortgage on the house.

America is a nation of immigrants, something people seem to be forgetting these days. I want to tell you about a woman who grew up on an enchanting island in the middles of the Atlantic Ocean and the Twentieth Century. In the interest of full disclosure, Traf is my wife. We will celebrate seventeen years together on April 2nd. This year we’ll have to spend our anniversary apart, but separated only by distance. Our future is secure, in more ways than one.

Although I’ve fictionalized her stories of growing up lesbian on Terceira and am now writing a sequel full of love stories and laughter from her roarin’ twenties, I thought today I’d take a moment to celebrate the true and authentic Trafulha, meu esposa.

One of the most fascinating things about Traf is her ability to dream big and make impossibilities happen. Born a girl on a Catholic island run by men, she dreamed of breaking the mold she was expected to fill and did so. She knew in her heart that she would one day live in America, and made that happen. In her thirties, she studied for, passed, and was sworn in as a naturalized American citizen. She’s been American more of her life than Portuguese and proudly claims that title.

Being a lesbian in the 20th Century was anything but easy, yet my Traf stands proudly today, having achieved the American Dream. She has earned the right to be a citizen of this country and to participate in all its privileges and responsibilities. She votes, she pays taxes, she worked long hours to provide for her two daughters as a single mom, and she did it all without compromising who she is for anyone.

And then late last year she did the impossible, again. My incredible, foreign-born wife paid the mortgage on our house in full. That is something most Americans never achieve or even fully imagine for themselves, we’ve become so conditioned to living in debt. But my woman dreamed it, took a chance, and made it happen!

I love you, my Trafulha. Happy anniversary, honey, and may we have many more.



Truth is Crueler than Fiction

 boat-55173_960_720I’m on a small Portuguese island right now visiting family and doing research for the sequel to When Butches Cry. My wife and I have an extraordinary friend here. Poverty stricken and born deaf, a woman in her 40s I will call Joba for this post, is a hell of a fisherwoman, making her living by selling bait she gathers endlessly day after day while feeding her mother, daughter, and grand-daughter with fish she catches herself. She has only four or five teeth left and her face is weather-beaten from salt water and sun. She is tall for a Portuguese woman and whipcord thin from walking many miles to find good fishing.
Although nearly everyone on the small island of Terceira knows her, very few use her real name. Everyone refers to her as the Mute. I have watched people cheat her of the few euros she charges for the crabs and biting sea worms she gathers at night to sell for bait, and too often she has to dodge rocks thrown at her by vicious young men. Joba learned to fight dirty, striking low and hard without let up, after being raped as a teen (which resulted in her daughter’s birth). She’s earned a formidable reputation as a fighter, instilling fear if not respect in her enemies.
The cruelty of her situation is beyond my ken. She is deaf, but most certainly not mute. Somehow or other, with absolutely no education (she went to public school for a few days as a child but the other kids laughed and tormented her so badly she refused to go back), Joba has watched lips enough to simulate words and with broad gestures and facial expressions is quite good at making herself understood by those who take the time to watch and listen. But besides her immediate family, almost no one does.
Traf and I always bring her a present of new jeans, shirts, or jackets when we visit because she spends what little extra money she makes on batteries for the flashlight she uses to work at night, fishing gear, and little pleasantries for her family. While Joba appreciates the gifts, they are a pale second to seeing and recognizing Traf, apparently her only friend in the world who enjoys sitting and hearing her stories. Although I speak almost no Portuguese, she always includes me in her conversations, never leaving me out and pausing as Traf translates the parts I don’t understand. To my utter amazement she seems to understand my English (meaning if not words), supplying extra information to make herself understood. She tries to hide her tears when we leave but through mine, I’ve witnessed hers.

Her loneliness is deeper, wider, and more intense than any human being’s should ever be. She lives with her guard always up, expecting to be treated as sub-human, or worse, no better than an abandoned animal. Although clearly gifted with an amazing intellect, no one understands just how smart this young woman is to have self-taught herself to speak, fish, swim, and even rescue foolish fishermen who fall into deep water.

About ten years back, she earned enough money to buy herself a small rowboat. That expanded her ability to catch bigger fish for sale to local restaurants and gave her some mobility. She proudly hand-lettered her own name on the small vessel, but within the year someone(s) destroyed the boat, hacking it to pieces unable to be repaired.

I could never have written this type of cruelty into a book if I hadn’t seen it for myself in Joba’s life. Yes, part of her story will be in my sequel to When Butches Cry, but most readers will assume I’ve invented the very real torment of this woman’s everyday existence.

I only wish I had.

The Question Is:

logoWhy do you think the many, many lesbian writers out there aren’t recognized? Is it simply because they haven’t made it to the ‘mainstream’? Is it because they aren’t generally with the big corporate presses? Or is it a genre vs literary thing? Or is it something else altogether?

Ah, c’mon. It’s sexism. Men will read books written by men and almost never read a book by a woman (unless it’s about male domination as in 50 Shades). How do I know? I travel a lot and always look at the cover of books people are reading around me. Women will read women’s books and men’s books, but they look for women to provide soft, comforting romance stories and men to provide action/sci-fi/horror/paranormal/ ad nauseum. Oh sure, I’m generalizing and there are a lot of exceptions on both sides, but that’s it in a nutshell.
I’m a lesbian who writes YA literature about kids in rainbow families (with one or more members of the family LGBT). Right away, my audience is narrow, and then narrowed again. I want my books read by EVERYONE, because they touch on shared human themes. However, realistically speaking, only a handful of lesbian women raising kids buy them. Marginalized, much?
THEN, let’s talk about the all important number of reviews needed to be seen by potential buyers as worthy of their hard-earned money. I need reviews, but the people who buy my books (parents) don’t often read them but instead are purchasing for their kids. Kids don’t have Amazon and Goodreads accounts.
And as for sex, what’s up with straight women and their passion for reading/writing gay male erotica, but NOT crossing over to read lesbian erotica? They read cozy straight romances, but not lesbian cozy romances where the exact same emotions/frustrations/trust issues abound? Sexism, plain and simple. Starting in school with the literature used to teach, we’re taught that men authors are worthy and talented and their male characters significant changers of society. Women authors aren’t introduced until you take a special Women’s Lit course in college and those are almost always filled with women while the men are taking courses in Western Lit, or Classic Lit, or World Lit where the booklists are heavily slanted with men. When questioned, professors who make up these lists always say, “Well, there just aren’t that many significant women’s authors.” They never seem to realize they’re part of that very problem.
And lesbians have been sent to the back of the bus by both two significant social movements in recent history:
1) Right from the start, gay men tried to reject our participation in the whole movement (until AIDS devastated them and only their lesbian sisters stepped up, but that’s another story). For instance, did you know that the very first stone thrown at police during the Stonewall riots was hurled by a butch lesbian? A true, but obscure fact.
2) The women’s movement, during the 70’s, came right out and told us to step away from the whole cause because our participation somehow lessened their arguments for equality. We were visually distracting, our sexuality driving away male and Christian supporters. Huh, what, how?!?
Everyone seems to want us to be invisible, and since lesbians are the ultimate symbols of women resisting male domination I once again call SEXISM.


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Being Sick Totally Sucks, but not in a Good Way

17d7e-get-a-sick-day-off-from-school-without-going-to-the-doctor-step-4It’s flu season, but you probably already know that. If you’re in the first few days, you’re probably bed-ridden, spreading germs like crazy, and feeling really icky. So, put the laptop/tablet/phone away, get the sleep you need, try to alleviate your symptoms, and keep hydrated.

I’m a huge believer in reducing symptoms, so I’m totally open to over the counter medicines as long as they don’t do me more harm than good (always check the list of active ingredients). I also believe there are a lot of common sense things I can do, involving no specific drugs, or vitamins, or even foods, that still make me feel better enough to think about resuming life as normal.

So, this list of recommendations is for the 3rd, 4th, or 5th day of being sick, the ones I call ‘Could I?’ Days; when I feel significantly better and start wondering if I should get back to work, run errands, and clean up. Then, after trying to do just that, I realize that although I’m clearly on the mend, I am not well enough to resume my life, yet. If that is you, try some of my home remedies to feel better:

1) Take a nice hot shower/bath to help break up the phlegm, taking in deep breaths of steam. Being clean automatically makes you feel better.

2) Put on clean PJs/Nightie/ T-shirt and sit up in a chair for a while with a blankie tight around your chest for warmth.

3) Have a cuppa your favorite hot drink (with lemon and honey, if possible), inhaling the steam between sips.

4) Light a scented candle if you have one, or bring something that smells good near you. It’s entirely possible I’m crazy, but I find it opens my sinus passages for my nose to have something to search for.

5) If you have them, get each one of your furkids to purr or wave their tails – I have three cats and on those days I can please every one of them I win the trifecta. When you stimulate love and pleasure for them, they return it to you. Love heals.

6) Laugh out loud. Scientists have discovered that the act of laughing creates endorphins that help in healing, so watch comedy: a favorite film, TV show, even cartoons if that’s what gets you to giggle. I like witty dialogue, so I often end up rewatching The Philadelphia Story, or Harvey.

I’m recommending watching something over reading something because what I do involves so much writing. If you spend more time using your eyes watching videos all the time, or always on a small screen, pick up a good book to get lost in. (I recommend my new release, When Butches Cry, to carry you away for a few hours.) Give those neural pathways a day off.

7) Take frequent naps. Doctors (my sister and father) have told me that the majority of healing happens during sleep. The body is on ‘light duty’, as it were, and that gives it the time to repair damage and fight enemy germs.

You’ll feel better soon, I hope! Remember, you are in charge of keeping basic necessities going so the body can heal optimally. In other words: Take care of you, You.

How I Lost Eighty Pounds in One Year

b2bd2-fatsilhouetteI went from 237 lbs The Deed is Done, Dithering Done Withto 157 lbs 

from Dec. 15, 2015, to Dec. 15, 2016

Two-hundred-thirty-seven pounds is the highest weight on record for me, and that was taken a long time ago.  I’ve been heavier, I’m sure of it and I’ve been lighter, sometimes significantly so, but since I refused to be weighed at ninety-nine percent of my doctor appointments, there’s no record of it except the occasional photograph.

Struggling with my weight is a life-long endeavor. At eighteen months I got my first lesson in holding my stomach in; my diaper fell off. I’ve tried so many diets I can’t even remember them all. I’ve joined gyms, walked enough miles to fill a Fitbit, resized portions, tried hypnosis, therapy, and popped a zillion diet pills/cookies/candies and even expanding packets of some substance that was supposed to fill my stomach and then pass harmless through me. Since I never saw anything pass through me, I can only assume they were absorbed directly (ugg) or are still in there somewhere (oh yuck!).

I’ve lost weight, successfully I might add, many times in my lifetime, losing almost this much weight before, and lesser amounts as well.  All told, I’m sure I’ve gained and lost at least five hundred pounds over my lifetime. The yo-yo phenomenon was so cruelly automatic that I’ve completely lost faith in dieting as a permanent solution to obesity.

So, how did I finally do it? Well, if you’re hoping for an easy miracle, get ready to be disappointed.

I had bariatric surgery, a Roux en Y, to be exact.

Bariatric surgery reduces your stomach size and bypasses some of your intestines. This limits the amount you can eat at any one time and guarantees a really nasty sensation when you ingest too much sugar at once.

But perhaps more importantly, the medical group I went through insisted on thorough testing and comprehensive education about not only the procedure itself but also the other physical, psychological, and emotional changes that would take place as my body rapidly shed pounds. It took from October of 2014 until December 2015 while I was probed, tested, analyzed, educated, and had proved my deep conviction with four weeks of a liquid only diet to be approved for the final step, the operation itself.

I was in the operating room for over four hours while they undid my Nissan (a procedure that helped manage my GERD) and then performed the Roux en Y. Thank God I’d already had my gallbladder removed, or that would have taken yet another few hours.

I spent the next month on liquids only, then graduated to three months of blenderized-to-applesauce-consistency solids. I slowly reintroduced vegetables (so well cooked they were limply translucent) and ultra-lean meat back into my diet. Peanut butter became my best friend and the only taste of sweetness (outside of diet applesauce) in my world. I survived a Christmas feast while still on a liquid diet, a candy-less Valentine’s to avoid the dreaded ‘dumping’ syndrome, a quarter cup of Easter dinner, Fourth of July cookouts that consisted of one hotdog, various birthdays with a forkful of cake, and a child-sized plate at Thanksgiving. Twice I left the country, only to severely limit my tastes of foreign cuisine.

The fat melted away so rapidly I missed the chance to wear clothing long hanging in my closet in case I ever fit into them again. Before I knew it, nothing I owned fit me.

My entire life changed. I feel healthier now than I ever have in my life. I learned things about myself and our society I never knew, discovered for myself the differences between the way large and smaller people are treated, and experienced emotions that surprised me. I also suffered a sense of depression and disappointment directly at odds with my success.

But this post has gone on long enough. I’ll share more about my journey another time. For now, let me just say this:

I lost more than weight and gained more than self-esteem.

Check back soon for more about my journey from being morbidly obese to hearing the magic words from my doctor, “You’re no longer overweight.”


Interview With the One and Only Genta Sebastian PLUS FREE BOOK!

A few more days to make a comment on the original blog post for a chance to win a free copy of When Butches Cry!

Women and Words

Hey Genta! Welcome to Women and Words! So happy to have you here, and so excited for your new book, When Butches Cry! Congrats!! Can you tell us a little about you?

Hi Jessie! Thanks for the welcome. Well, I’ve chased the Earth around the sun quite a few times now, and hopefully learned a thing or two along the way. One of my pleasures is telling people stories that somehow improve their lives. It’s what I live for, actually.

Tell us a little about your checkered past!

I’m an award-winning novelist with a, yes, checkered past that includes taking a year off to drive an RV around the United States, performing as a storyteller for places like the Majestic Yosemite Lodge, and public speaking in places as varied as Disneyland and the Foxwoods Resort & Casino. Nowadays I’m content to sit at home in the Twin Cities with my…

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