Tag Archives: lgbt

Coming out: or mountains beyond mountains

Last week Barry Manilow publicly acknowledged that he was gay. I saw a lot of responses along the lines of “oh, that’s last weeks news” to “what is the big deal?”. There was a nice piece on the Boston Globe that addressed some of the issues around this response. And then I went on a twitter rant, and then I posted it on Facebook. But I wanted to put this some place that would be easier to find – and share – because this is part of a larger and ongoing conversation, just like coming out.

Door to education

This piece addresses coming out as a lifelong process. Often when people ask “when did you come out?” they are referring to the moment when a person acknowledged or affirmed their identity to themselves. Because once we admit it to ourselves, telling other people happens for the rest of our lives – particularly if we do not visually fit into a stereotype. If you aren’t familiar with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s work The Epistemology of the Closet I highly recommend learning more. She challenges the notion of the binary, especially the idea of in and out when it comes to the “closet” (there’s also the phenomenon of bringing people IN to your closet …).

There are various calculations we make every time we reveal that we are LGBTQIA. Here are the questions I ask myself, before I decide whether I will say something: Is my personal safety at stake? Is my reputation? What about my livelihood, my housing, my access to health care? How much power does this person have? Now imagine doing that times 325 million. If you are fairly well known, there is the added onus of the pressure to be a spokesperson or representative once you come out. I consider these things every time I meet someone new. Do you?

I’m lucky I live in a state with protections against discrimination for LGBTQIA people. I’m white (or white-passing), cisgendered, femme, female and educated. I have a lot of advantages. I don’t worry about losing my job or housing. Even with protections, like any form of discrimination, it’s easy to cover homophobia/bigotry if an employer wants to. I live in a big city with a lot of openly LGBTQIA people. I have access to resources. My family accepts and loves me – and my partner. I have a huge buffer and safety net. That’s not the case for many people.

I’ve said this before: my sexuality doesn’t DEFINE me, but it informs me, my experiences, and how people respond/interact. So does yours. I was watching a silly movie and one of the characters comes out to his friend. The friend’s response, “How do you know you are gay?” It’s stuff like this – the microagressions, that wear a person down. Constantly being questioned, having to defend, or be prepared to defend, that exhausts someone. Trust that we know. Coming out to strangers also opens you up to all kinds of personally invasive questions. I’ve had at least two men ask me how I have sex. WTF? Why do people think that kind of question is acceptable? If I didn’t share that information with you, you can trust that you don’t need to know.

I could talk about erasure, absence of representation, and bystander effect, all of which contribute to isolation and confusion. And people wonder why mental health and substance abuse issues are higher in LGBTQIA populations. So the next time a celebrity comes out, look around and see what you can do to make the world safer – not just for the celebrity, but for everyone, including the people in your life, because we are there. And we are here.

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Writing Queer Characters

There have been a lot of conversations in the last few years about diversity, inclusion, and representation in fiction. I have followed along with a lot of interest, in part because I want to see pieces of myself reflected in stories – whether queer, Jewish, female, identical twin, femme, tea drinker, you get the idea, etc.

For the purpose of this essay, I’m going to focus on representing sexuality that is non-heteronormative. If nothing is explicitly stated or said in the text, the reader will assume the characters are straight. (And white. And cisgendered.) The question for many writers who want to represent these characters, then, is how to describe or show their characters are queer without it feeling artificial to the reader.

There are two points I want to make here:

1. How to show a character is LGBT
2. How their sexuality relates to the plot

glowing dahlia

Showing the character is LGBT

You might be tempted to just state it directly. A friend allowed me to use this example from their WIP. Your protagonist enters a room and catalogs the people. They see your gay character, who they also know is gay. They say, “Clearly, Juan and Bob are in a relationship,” without giving any additional information. It’s clear to that character, but it’s not clear to the reader. What is it about any couple that indicates they are in a relationship? How do you show that to the reader? What if they were in an opposite-sex relationship? Without having the characters engage in sex, here are a couple of ways I could think off the top of my head: they wear matching wedding bands, they are holding hands, they mention how they met/their first date/their anniversary/their wedding in conversation.

Also, where they stand in relation to one another will tell the reader a lot about their relationship and/or personalities – are they close in private but won’t stand within five feet in public? Are there societal things that make that kind of behavior normal, or is that just the personality of the characters (could be both).

Finally, the attitudes towards the queer characters will tell the reader a lot about the society in your book. Are all forms of sexual orientation equally valued? Are some accepted and others not? This will inform how your characters behave in public versus private, and an individual character’s opinion and judgment about those characters will tell the reader a lot about them.
Last weekend I went to a restaurant for lunch. It had a very long bar. I noticed two women sitting next to each other. The one to the right had her arms stretched out on either side of her, resting on the seatbacks of the chairs. It was a very possessive posture, and it let me know that the two women were a couple.

Here’s an exercise: go to a restaurant in your area. Watch the people and how they interact with each other. See if you can figure out who is in an intimate relationship. What are the cues they are giving? Is it different for same-sex couples than opposite-sex couples? Are there cues that a single person is sending that tells you what their sexuality might be?

Sexuality as a plot point

I have been having this conversation a lot, so I figured I would write it up. It’s very common to read a story or see a movie where the character’s sexuality moves the plot along. The one most people are probably familiar with is the coming out story, where the moment of reveal is the climax, and then the character is punished because of their sexuality.

The movie Carol defies this trope this incredibly well. It’s set in the ‘50s, when American society was less accepting and there were laws against being gay. The titular character, Carol, is married to a man, but has affairs with women. She meets a young woman and tries to run away with her, but her husband sends someone after her. She has a young daughter and is sued for divorce. There are consequences for her due to the cultural context, but the character herself isn’t punished for being queer. She doesn’t feel ashamed or sorry for her sexuality. It is an immutable fact of who she is, just as being blonde or 5’6” tall. This is not to say that everyone’s sexuality is fixed, just that it is for this character.

What I’m trying to get around to is this: your characters will be informed by their sexuality and their social/cultural contexts, but it shouldn’t define them.

I will try to see what resources I can pull together, including a recommended reading list of queer fiction, but that will be in a future post. In the meantime, check out these resources for finding and working with sensitivity readers: Write in the Margins, Writing the Other, and Mary Robinette Kowal’s advice on working with sensitivity readers.

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Art AIDS America at Tacoma Art Museum

In December I made the trek down to Tacoma with two friends to see the Art AIDS America exhibit. I expected it to be intense, but beyond that, I had no idea what it would be like. The week before I went down, a group protested in front of the museum to express their anger and sadness at the small number of artists in the show who were people of color, since 40% of people living with HIV/AIDS today are PoC.

The exhibit felt overwhelmingly white and focused on gay men. I have a few theories as to why, related to who had access to support, whose voices were and are being listened to, and how the early AIDS activism was fueled and driven by white gay men.

Altogether, there were over 100 pieces in the exhibit. Apparently I took pictures of about a quarter of them. There was a lot of staring death in the face, like Tino Rodriguez’s Eternal Lovers, which also took advantage of lack of gendered markers. Many of you know I love calaveras, and I loved the interpretation of this one.

Eternal Lovers

The Tale of 1000 Condoms/Geisha and Skeleton flirted with the macabre, again, staring death defiantly in the face.

Tale of 1000 Condoms/Geisha and Skeleton

Many of the pieces I saw engaged with death and dying, bodies wasting away, the corporeal husks that so many people turned their eyes from, but the gaze was unflinching and loving.

Some pieces invited us to interact:

In the sand

In the sand
write the names
of those you
loved and lost
to Aids

So I wrote “Jerry” the sweet doorman from the Timberline, and Mark, another doorman at the Timberline with his Tom Selleck mustache and gentle spirit, and Jim, my dad’s college roommate. After each name I swept my fingers through the sand and thought of Keats’ gravestone: Here lies one whose name was writ in water.

Glenn Ligon’s “I am not an invisible man” was particularly chilling after the protest:

Untitled (I am an invisible man)

I’m only going to talk about one more piece: Silence = Death:

Silence = Death

I had this on a button when I was in college. I wore it pinned on my backpack. During the summer of ’92 I traveled around Europe. I remember being at a hostel, I think in Switzerland, and someone saw the button and said to me, “Sometimes silence equals life.” I kept silent, but I wish I hadn’t, because now I understand in a way I never could have then, that the price of silence is the death of the soul.

I really encourage you to look at the entire album. I included a lot of the plaques that give a lot more explanation. Or you can read this write up from The Stranger that gives a lot more context and information. It was what made me want to see the exhibit.

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Over a cuppa

#OverACupOfTeaToday …

I would tell you that my heart is heavy and light, full of emotion, swinging wildly from one end of the spectrum to the other.

cuppa Assam

It’s World AIDS Day, and I think about all the people we’ve lost, before their time, due to fear. I still remember Mark, a beautiful, warm-hearted man who welcomed me when I first moved to Seattle. He was sweet and kind, and we had a special connection. My heart aches for the people around the world whose families have been destroyed, and who are denied treatment due to lack of access or funds. I hold the Bush administration complicit in the deaths of many people in Africa, due to their withdrawal of funding for comprehensive sex ed, in favor of abstinence-only sex ed.

It’s also the 60th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ act of civil disobedience. I can’t remember when I learned that she was an activist, trained for action, not a tired woman acting alone, but it blew my mind and made me so angry when I did. I know it was long after I finished all formal schooling. How much more powerful a story, and one that mainstream educators didn’t want us to know: collective action can and does push the needle. See also: ACT UP.

I saw a young black girl sitting at the front of the bus this morning, while I sat toward the back. I was struck by the ordinariness of it. There was no friction or conflict about where either of us sat. We sat where we chose. I was pleased by it, aware at the same time that there is still so much work to be done to reach true racial equality, as the Black Lives Matter work has made abundantly clear.

The past returns, in Yeats’ ever widening gyre, but I don’t believe it trends toward anarchy, as he predicts. History repeats, and the echoes reverberate. Some lessons it seems we need to learn over and over, with a node to Santayana.

I despair over humanity ever finding a sustainable peace, as the fresh wave of refugees, driven from their homelands, seek safer ground and find themselves rebuffed for the same reasons the German Jews were in the 1930s and 1940s. It’s Bosnia, it’s Sarajevo, it’s Rwanda, it’s Syria. It’s Armenia, it’s Tibet, it’s fucking “ethnic cleansing” which let’s be honest is state-sanctioned murder. If these are the examples I can list off the top of my head, I’m sure there are an equal number of atrocities I’m missing. And most of them haven’t been made into movies, sanitized for Hollywood audiences.

I try to take the long view, to see that progress is happening, even if it’s not on the timeline I’d prefer. In HALF my lifetime, gay people in America went from being persona non grata to having access to marriage. There’s still a long way to go in terms of protections, particularly for trans women of color, but given that 20 years ago there were NONE, this gives me hope. Hope for American culture to shift on things like gun ownership, access to health care, housing, gainful employment, and a standing down of the military. Hope for acceptance of all people. No, not just acceptance or tolerance, but celebration of the variety and diversity of what it means to be human, across sexuality, gender, religion, race, ethnicity, ability, age, and any other variable you can name. It may be naive, but the alternative is too painful to bear.

In my slowbloom way, I choose to return my focus to what I want. It’s easy to get distracted by all the things. It’s hard to admit what I want.

This is what I would tell you over a cup of tea today.

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52 Photos: Celebration

To be honest, I thought I had missed the deadline for the celebration prompt. I just wasn’t feeling it, as my friend Rebecca said so beautifully. But seeing her post gave me the tiniest glimmer that I might have a picture somewhere in my vast archive that captured a celebration. And then I found this treasure:

yippee - Catholic for Marriage Equality

Yippee! A Catholic for marriage equality!

This picture was taken almost a year ago, but the moment it was celebrating was the triumph at the polls on election night. For the first time, marriage equality measures were passed IN THREE STATES. BY A POPULAR VOTE. I like the symmetry, because today is election day. And the legislature in Illinois just passed a marriage equality bill. And Hawaii is on the cusp of passing marriage equality in their state as well.

Even though there is still so much work to be done, we can pause and celebrate our victories, too. There are now 15 states that recognize the legality of same-sex couples’ love. Before the election last year, I think there were 10? Plus the District of Columbia. So here’s to love!

Love wins!
love wins with roses

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52 Photos Project – At the end of the day

I should first admit that I heard this phrase waaaay too much when I worked in corporate America, to the point where it felt like a cheese grater against my last nerve every time I heard it. I still have that reaction to it, so I wasn’t super excited about the prompt this week. And then I went to a wedding on Saturday that changed my mind.

My friends E & G got married on their 15th anniversary, 10 months after marriage equality arrived in Washington State and a mere three months after the Supreme Court overturned DOMA.

Bride wore diamonds on her shoes

We first met E & G through dance, and we loved to watch them, because their connection and adoration for each other shone on the floor, through every spin and turn as the music played. So it was only fitting that E bedazzle her dance boots to wear for their wedding. At the end of the day, what really matters is love. And this couple has that in spades.

Bride wore diamonds on her shoes

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Why I Am Skipping Ender’s Game

compass rose in Union Square

I must have been a teenager the first time I read Ender’s Game. It may have been the first book I read in one sitting. Once I started, I could NOT put it down. And then, of course, the ending came as an utter surprise. It was a brilliant little piece of fiction which I devoured. I knew nothing of the author and my own identities were nascent, so I had no problems in supporting his work and recommending it to others.

Skipping forward in time, I have known for quite a few years that Orson Scott Card was a gigantic and very active homophobe. He wrote The Hypocrites of Homosexuality in 1990 after Bowers v. Hardwick was decided (which upheld the criminalization of sodomy laws, even in the privacy of one’s home). In this piece, he will try to convince you that he is the victim, for speaking his mind. This tactic is becoming more and more common, where people who say mean, hateful things will defend themselves by saying, “You can’t attack me! I have a right to say this. Free speech! Free speech!”

I agree, he does have a right to say whatever he wants. But this does not make him immune from letting those who oppose him say what we have to say. Apparently he can dish it out, but he can’t take it. I will give him credit for putting deeds to his words. He has been on the board of NOM since 2009. NOM is the National Organization for Marriage, which was instrumental in getting Prop 8 passed in California and actively campaigns to create laws that restrict marriage to “one man, one woman.”

Earlier this year, press started coming out about the movie. The first thing I saw was Alyssa Rosen’s piece in ThinkProgress, An Ethical Guide to Consuming Content Created by Awful People like Orson Scott Card. I like that she offers options, from flat out boycotting the movie to giving “homophobic offset credits.” And above all else, she encourages everyone to talk about their decision.

Because I loved the story so much and so many of the actors in the upcoming movie, I liked the option to give a donation to an org working for LGBT rights. I felt torn, because people I respect were telling me they weren’t going because they didn’t want to give OSC another penny. And then, today, for some reason, a fresh round of arguments came out. Chuck Wending puts it succinctly in Tolerance for Intolerance. And then he said this:

… we’re not exactly lacking for brilliant art and powerful reading material. It’d be one thing if we had, like, ten good books or movies out there — but we have a wealth of beautiful and moving art available to us.

That, coupled with @cafenowhere’s comment to me on Twitter, “I don’t think of it as punishment. Just, I won’t give $ to that asshat. I will, & do, pay to see POC in other flicks,” pushed me further into the not seeing it category.

And then I saw that Summit, the studio making the movie, is distancing itself from OSC by not having him show up at Comic Con. The studio recognizes him as a liability. It’s only unfortunate they didn’t realize this sooner. I don’t know the details of Card’s contract with them, but he has ALREADY made money and it sounds like he may be getting a percentage of the profits (if there are any).

I am not telling you to Skip Ender’s Game, but I would be pleased if you joined me. As others have said, there are other artists and performers out there creating great works. These artists aren’t actively promoting hate and sending messages that we are awful sinners in need of saving. They celebrate diversity and acceptance. Whatever your decision, I encourage you to talk to your friends and family about it.

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Gay as in HAPPY

LOVE WINS RECEPTION

One of the things that annoys me is the dearth of happiness for gay couples in movies and books. I can’t really speak to television, since I don’t watch that much of it. At any rate, I asked my friends on Facebook and Twitter to help me compile a list of movies and books where the same-sex couple gets to stay together and be happy at the end. If there’s a movie based on a book, I’m going to list the book (unless they have different endings). Here’s what we came up with:

Books:

Movies:

Web series:

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Prop 8, DOMA and SCOTUS

my 43 year marriage is not threatened by equality

As you are all probably aware, the Supreme Court is going to hear oral arguments for Prop 8 (Hollingsworth v. Perry) on Tuesday and DOMA (United States v. Windsor) on Wednesday, Apparently people are already lining up for tickets. The NY Times made a super helpful infographic to understand the possible decisions. And Scott Fujita, another NFL player for marriage equality, wrote a great op-ed on acceptance. The SCOTUS Blog has tons of entries to help you understand these two cases. They are going to release same-day audio of the oral arguments, since there is so much interest in these two cases. There is going to be a noon rally in front of the Federal Courthouse on Wednesday, to show support and solidarity for marriage equality.

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Immigration policy

Gay cake

I know at least two same-sex bi-national couples. Unlike their heterosexual counterparts, unless the foreign partner can attain a green card through other channels, they are always forced to make painful choices in order to stay together.

If you have ever deeply loved another person and had that love returned, you know what you would sacrifice to keep that love. This is the same equation that these couples work through. There is new legislation being proposed that would include bi-national same-sex couples in immigration reform. I urge you to take a few moments to write a letter. You can use the following letter I wrote:

To the Honorable Senator [name],

I’m writing to ask you to include bi-national same-sex couples in immigration reform. Specific provisions for same-sex bi-national couples MUST be included in ANY comprehensive immigration reform bill going forward. America’s gay and lesbian citizens should not be forced to choose between loved ones and country.

This is an important and highly personal issue for me. In 2007, my friends, a same-sex bi-national couple, moved to Canada because of the current immigration laws did not allow them to remain in the U.S. together. Sze came to the U.S. from Malaysia as a student 12 years earlier and earned a degree in Computer Science. But with her work visa expiring, she and her wife, Nadine, a U.S. citizen, left their friends, family, careers, and community behind. They were fortunate to be able to move back in 2011 when Sze got a job that sponsored her for another work permit. If the federal government had recognized their marriage, they would not have had to spend four years in another country. While in Canada, they met dozens of other couples who moved from the U.S. in order to stay with their partners.

I met another same-sex bi-national couple while I was traveling in SE Asia a few years ago who have not been able to stay in America, for the same reason as Nadine and Sze. But unlike Nadine and Sze, they haven’t been able to return. They have been separated from the support of friends and family because Tony cannot sponsor Thomas to remain in the United States.

I think this is a terrible injustice. As one of your constituents, I respectfully ask that you support gay and lesbian inclusive immigration reform.

You can write to your legislator here or call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

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