Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Soloist Project

Thanks for joining The Soloist Project in its fledgling stage! If you're ready to write a letter to the editor of a Central New York newspaper, you will swoon at the convenience of the handy-dandy contact links on my Newspaper List. So far that's all I've had time for, so if you live outside Central New York, please find your hometown newspaper on and get writing those letters! And please come back and post them here so we can all applaud your solo!

It was around 1994 when I sang my first voice solo: a few bars from "Oklahoma" in a show tune medley. I was so scared that I entered a fugue state. It was as close as I've come to an out-of-body experience.

Solos are scary. The intertwining threads of harmony fall away, leaving your voice alone and exposed. Anyone with half an ear can hear the slightest flaw.

But you have a chance to shine, with no other lights to eclipse you. You have a chance to carry that room. God, what a thrill.

Lately there have been a lot of voices like this. They are embarrassingly desperate to affect logic but their lies and distortions are just variations on the theme of hatred. They can't disguise this any more than a man with an abscessed ulcer can hide the smell rising from the core of him.

And yet together these singers form a rough harmony of sorts. After all, if one gathers enough recta with complementary acoustic qualities, even a chorus of farts can attain a kind of sonorousness.

If you live in a small town and you're reading this, maybe you also hear a chorus of farts from your local newspaper. If you're like me, you've had it with people comparing gay folks to dogs. If you're like me, you're ready to scream at the hateful chorus.

But instead of screaming, how'd you like to sing?

Don't let the chorus be the only thing the audience hears. Take the stage, even if it's only for a few bars. Sure, the timpani and tuba and kazoos will thunder and blat in cacophonous disapproval the moment you're done, but what of it? You may not carry that room, but by god for a moment every ear will hear your joyful noise.

So make your voice heard. And don't let it be a fart - a fart alone on the stage sounds silly. Your solitude obligates you to sing well. Sing with abandon. Sing of love and grace and dignity.

Sing a solo.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Soloist Project - Central New York Kickoff

If you got here from Twitter, you've taken the first step toward showing Central New York that you support LGBT equality! Now you're just seconds away from sending a letter to your local newspaper. Please click the link below and raise your loving voice above the chorus of hate, anger and misunderstanding.

For more on this project, see below.

Last week Senator David Valesky voted "Yes" on S4401, the gay marriage bill. As the Syracuse Post Standard noted, he was the only Central New York senator to do so.

I think this deserves a big "Thank you!". That's why I wrote this letter, which was published in the Post Standard and will supposedly be printed tomorrow in the Madison County Courier.
To the Editor:

Wednesday the New York Senate voted 38-24 against S4401, “An act to amend the domestic relations law, in relation to the ability to marry.” I’m disappointed, but not surprised. Neither am I particularly discouraged.

A New York Times article said that “The vote means that the bill, pushed by Gov. David A. Paterson, is effectively dead for the year and destroys the optimism of gay rights advocates.”

The Times is dead wrong. My optimism is not destroyed. Far from it. I’m delighted with those numbers: 38-24. That means that 39 percent of New York state senators voted for marriage equality. Just 10 or 20 years ago, that would have been unimaginable. That is breathtaking progress.

Of the six senators from Central New York, only Sen. David J. Valesky voted “yes” on S4401. Sen. Valesky: Thank you. You bolster my faith that I will live to see gay people attain the same legal rights that I take for granted.

Hugh Yeman
But I think it deserves a bigger "Thank you!" than that. As a matter of fact, I think it deserves a "Thank you!" from every LGBT individual and ally in the Central New York area.

I've been meaning to start a nationwide grassroots letter-to-the-editor campaign ever since I had the thrilling experience of seeing my letter about the Link Trail published in the Oneida Daily Dispatch. This represents the perfect first step.

It will take a long time to develop a database of all U.S. newspapers along with their editorial contact information and/or their online letter submission URL. But, by limiting myself to Senator Valesky's district, I was able to put together just such a list in a fairly short amount of time.

So now that I have my list, all I need to do is start Twittering, like so.
#LGBT and allies near Lenox, NY! Would you please write a letter to Madison Eagle? [link to this page]
Let's see what happens.


BaldwinsvilleBaldwinsville MessengerEditor: Erin Smith
BridgeportMadison EagleEditor: Beth Pantzer
CamillusEagle ObserverEditor: Ami Olson
CanastotaMadison EagleEditor: Beth Pantzer
CazenoviaCazenovia Pilot
CazenoviaCazenovia RepublicanEditor: Doug Campbell
ChittenangoMadison EagleEditor: Beth Pantzer
CiceroStar ReviewEditor: Farah Jadran Pike
ClayStar ReviewEditor: Farah Jadran Pike
DeWittDeWitt TimesEditor: Tami Zimmerman
DeWittEagle BulletinEditor: Tami Zimmerman
EatonMadison EagleEditor: Beth Pantzer
ElbridgeEagle ObserverEditor: Ami Olson
ErievilleCazenovia RepublicanEditor: Doug Campbell
FairmountEagle ObserverEditor: Ami Olson
FayettevilleEagle BulletinEditor: Tami Zimmerman
FennerCazenovia RepublicanEditor: Doug Campbell
HamiltonMadison EagleEditor: Beth Pantzer
HamiltonMaroon News
HamiltonMid York Weekly
Jack's ReefEagle ObserverEditor: Ami Olson
JordanEagle ObserverEditor: Ami Olson
KirkvilleMadison EagleEditor: Beth Pantzer
LakeportMadison EagleEditor: Beth Pantzer
LenoxMadison EagleEditor: Beth Pantzer
LincolnMadison EagleEditor: Beth Pantzer
LiverpoolStar ReviewEditor: Farah Jadran Pike
LysanderBaldwinsville MessengerEditor: Erin Smith
MadisonMadison EagleEditor: Beth Pantzer
ManliusEagle BulletinEditor: Tami Zimmerman
MarcellusEagle ObserverEditor: Ami Olson
MemphisEagle ObserverEditor: Ami Olson
MinoaEagle BulletinEditor: Tami Zimmerman
MorrisvilleMadison EagleEditor: Beth Pantzer
NelsonCazenovia RepublicanEditor: Doug Campbell
New WoodstockCazenovia RepublicanEditor: Doug Campbell
North SyracuseStar ReviewEditor: Farah Jadran Pike
OneidaMadison County CourierMartha Conway, Editor/Reporter 315-813-0124 or
OneidaMadison EagleEditor: Beth Pantzer
OneidaOneida Daily Dispatch315-363-5100
Kurt Wanfried, Managing Editor, ext. 137
PerryvilleMadison EagleEditor: Beth Pantzer
RomeRome Observer130 Broad St.
Oneida, New York 13421
Phone: 315-363-5100 Fax: (315) 363-9832
SalinaStar ReviewEditor: Farah Jadran Pike
SkaneatelesSkaneateles PressEditor: Miranda Pennock
SyracuseCatholic Sun
420 Montgomery St.
New York

315-422-8153 (phone)
315-422-7549 (fax)
SyracuseCentral New York Business JournalAdam Rombel
Phone: (315) 579-3902
SyracuseDaily OrangeStephanie Musat, Editor in Chief
Meredith Galante, Managing Editor
(315) 443-9798
SyracuseFamily Times1415 West Genesee Street
Syracuse, NY 13204
315.472.4669 (F) 315.422.1721
SyracusePost Standard
SyracuseSyracuse City EagleEditor: Ellen Leahy
SyracuseSyracuse New Times
SyracuseSyracuse Parent
Syracuse Parent
5910 Firestone Drive, Syracuse, NY 13206

Brittney F. Jerred
315.434.8889 ext 322
SyracuseUrban CNY
Kenneth Jackson, Editor and Publisher
PHONE: (315) 422-7778
FAX: (315) 434-8883
Matt Mulcahy
Van BurenBaldwinsville MessengerEditor: Erin Smith

We Few, We Happy Few...

UPDATE: The vote was postponed but it's still important to call your senator and make your voice heard!

If you want to bring yourself up to speed on the state of the gay marriage battle, CNN Political Ticker has a very concise summary. The New York Daily News has a somewhat expanded overview, and has an article about the supporters and opponents of the bill who showed up in Trenton yesterday. All of them remind us that the battle moves to Washington, D.C. next month.

Last week the New York State Senate voted 38-24 against S4401, the gay marriage bill. As I wrote here, I don't consider this vote a loss. I do consider it a call to action. And action is just what we're getting in New Jersey right now.

Over the weekend gay marriage supporters reacted to the news from New York with a fresh surge of activity and opponents realized that they had to take the battle a little more seriously.

Yesterday the bill cleared the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee. The full Senate vote is set for this Thursday.

I have a modest proposal.

Let's make those marriage equality opponents take it really seriously.

Let's win.


Even if we don't win, that's not the point. We're progressives, so let's make progress. Let's make every call, every letter, every conversation count. The vote last week in New York was 38-24. 39% of the senators voted for the bill. How about we push those numbers as far as we can? And push. And keep pushing. And push some more. And after we've pushed as much as we possibly can, we put our hands on our knees and wheeze for a bit and then we stand up again and we push.

Here's one way folks in New Jersey can do that right now.

1. Show up in person at your senator's office.

2. Call your senator.

3. Write a letter to your senator.

4. Send an e-mail to your senator.

Most people don't have time for #1, so that leaves 2-4.  You may be surprised to hear me recommend #2 next: phone calls. I know I was surprised when I heard that senators pay more attention to phone calls than to letters. Don't buy that? Read this article about why New York Senator Joseph Addabbo, who was funded by LGBT groups, decided to vote "No" on gay marriage last week.

So get on the phone, New Jersey and Washington D.C.! Hate tends to get people off their asses and yelling into the receiver more easily than compassion, so you'd better believe that monsters like this are burning up the lines. Don't let them speak for you. Make yourselves heard.

List of links from this article:

Saturday, December 5, 2009

OK, so I guess this would be "The Abyss".

My five-year-old nephew was sitting on my knee as I prepared the pizza. My three-year-old niece was sitting across the table from me, and my sister was standing at the stove over near the kitchen wall. I thought it was as good a time as any to bond with my sister a bit. Plus, I felt like I had it coming. She'd bent my ear plenty over the last year with all her woes, so I figured that telling her about an emotional experience I had would not only be a nice bonding experience, but also a way to show her that I had... stuff... too.

So I started telling her about my reaction to "Brokeback Mountain". I started to say something like...
I've cried at three movies in my life: "Star Trek II", when Spock died; "The English Patient", which doesn't even really count as crying because my eyes got wet but never welled over with tears; and "Schindler's List". If you put the three of them together, they still wouldn't equal a third of how much "Brokeback Mountain" made me cry.

The thing is, it was a sucker punch. If you'd stopped the movie three seconds before I started crying, I would have told you that I'd make it through the whole thing dry-eyed. But it turned out not to be about these two guys and their gay relationship. It was about one man's relationship with his daughter. It was about how we are incapable of articulating our inner landscapes, and how much that messes us up. Ennis had all these things happening inside him that he couldn't even begin to understand, and even if he had been able to understand them he wouldn't have been able to express them. So he did what people do when your feelings are incomprehensible and dangerous: he did what everyone expected him to do. And that not only messed him up, it hurt all the people around him.

When Ennis said to his daughter "This Kurt fella... does he love you?" there was so much channeled through Ledger's whole performance that came out in those words. He wanted what any father wants: for his daughter to have it better than he had it. He wanted her to have the thing that he was unable to have, or didn't allow himself to have. It was probably the only time he'd ever said the word "love" in his life. And this simple question was the closest he'd ever come to expressing all his pain and regret and enfeeblement and longing and love. I put my head on Grace's shoulder and just lost it. I was a wreck for the rest of the night.
But I didn't say all that. I never got past the words "gay relationship".

My sister immediately shushed me, pointing to my nephew on my lap. I gaped in incredulity as she said in a loud whisper "Don't say that in front of him." I came over to where she was preparing the pizza toppings and sputtered a bit, and she whispered "We don't tell them about that stuff!" I gaped some more and she said "Are you surprised?" and I said quite honestly "I'm shocked."

And I sat back down. And the gears turned in my head.

I thought back to the conversation I'd had with her in July. And I realized something: I'm a fucking chump.

Right around the beginning of that conversation my sister said something like "I don't think you're right [for doing the blog] because they may not want your help." My response was "Yes, that's a valid concern. As a matter of fact, it was my first serious concern with the whole idea, before I even started it. And it still is." And I proceeded to tell her all the ways in which I've thought about, read about, and talked to people about that concern. I gave her a laundry list of ways in which I had already addressed that concern.

And it didn't matter. She just kept saying "Well I don't agree with you."

Well, now I know why.

I am a fucking dumbass. I was arguing from a place of clear surety - both that I was honestly addressing her concern, and that her concern honestly represented what was on her mind. I should have known better. Because my family never says what is on our minds. If we did that, we would run the risk of having a productive conversation. And we cannot have that. We cannot let go of our anger. So we bitch at person B about how much person C pissed us off, and the next day cry to person C about how person B hurt us. And if we ever bitch at person B about something that actually has anything to do with person B, you'd better believe that the thing we're bitching about has little if anything to do with what we really feel. That would be sane. That would be productive. And we cannot abide that.

She said that she believed that I was wrong to help gay people because gay people may not want my help. If that had been what she truly felt, then the news that I had already spent a great deal of time, thought and effort in addressing that concern in several different ways would have had some influence on her assertion. But it didn't.

I think that the truth is that she doesn't like gay people, and she doesn't want me helping them.

So, as I baked and served the pizza, my skull went from simmer to a rolling boil to one of those old boilers that's starting to creak and emit gouts of steam around the rivets because the janitor has fallen asleep in the rocking chair in the corner with the ol' bottle of hooch lolling on his breastbone.

And I made another pizza, and I went to hang out with my friend Dennis and his son. Dennis lives about a mile and a half down the road from the house where I grew up. I've been hanging out there since way back around '97 when I was going on walks by the house and Dennis would say "Hi" and we'd strike up a conversation. Over the years I got close to him, his three sons and his daughter. I've been a part of the family for some time. When my father was dying, and my family was tearing itself apart from the strain, his place was my cave. Being able to escape there meant the world to me.

But it seems like this year has been different. Our arguing - about politics, about anything and everything - has developed more and more of an edge. Lately it seems more and more like we're fighting. Well, that night something really changed.

I needed to blow off some steam about the conversation with my sister, and what it implied about what was really going on during that conversation in July. Hell, I sure had it coming to me. I'd listened with a sympathetic ear to him enough times as he'd come back enraged after a particularly upsetting conversation with his own control-freak sister. Unfortunately it turned out that he wasn't so much prepared to listen as to slap me down.

I'd barely begun telling the story before he interrupted, saying "Well, I can see her point." He proceeded to say that, right or wrong, she gets to say what people say around her kid. Then he dropped the bomb that I had been saying controversial things around his own kids, by way of illustrating how he agreed with her. He pointed out that I had told Nathan, his sixteen-year-old son, about this blog before I'd told him. Which was true. I had.

I avoided telling Dennis about this blog because Dennis... Dennis is a nut, at least from my left-of-center viewpoint. Dennis voted for Bush because Bush was a Christian, while I think that calling Bush a Christian is like calling shit caviar. We have our differences. Another one is that Dennis loves to argue, because it gives him a chance to "win". It gives him a chance to puff himself up and be right. So I knew that if I told him about this blog he would just leap at the chance to deride me for it and start an argument that he could then "win". He doesn't understand that I'm not looking to argue. I'm looking for dialogue and dialectic. Those are very different things. So I skipped over him and told his son about it before I told him. Maybe I was wrong to do that. But if that was bugging him, he should have damned well said something at the time. You don't wait until your friend is hurting and, in the middle of them confiding in you, say "not only do I agree with the person who's hurting you, but let me give you an example of how you pissed me off." You listen. That's what I did for him.

So we got into a loud argument - one of those arguments that's funny and zany but, oh yeah, it's actually not. Like so many of the arguments that we've had this year. But this time, after I walked away, I realized we'd gone too far. He'd gone too far, I'd gone too far, I'd allowed him to go too far, whatever. I had to change something. I was hurting because of my relationship with my sister, and now I was hurting because of my relationship with him. It took me a few days, but I worked up the nerve to talk to him about it. I figured that I couldn't talk to my sister because it's just not what we do in our family, but I can talk to him. Really talk to him. So I should. Right?

Well, apparently not so much. Because when I called him, it didn't work out so well.

I started talking about my sister again, trying to lead in to talking about me and him. Of course this backfired, because again he interrupted with "explaining" to me how parents need to be able to control their kids' environment, right or wrong. I finally broke in and said "I didn't want to talk about this." And I told him how I was angry at him because I had been in pain and, instead of listening to me, he had chosen that time to attack me. He kept cutting in with "Well, no, I wasn't doing that, I was just pointing out that..." and I kept going back to other times when he'd failed to listen, or to be supportive. I pointed out some of the times dating back to January that he'd cut me off and looked for ways to tell me what to do or win an argument rather than just listening to me. I told him that when I'm upset I don't want anyone to tell me what to do - I just want them to listen.

He kept denying, and I kept getting more frustrated. At some point, as he was circling back to the politics that were not the point of the conversation, he said "Well, I have my own opinions on the matter. If you want to make a website to help gay people, that's fine. I think that there are better uses for your time, because those people have a choice. I think you'd be better off helping people who really need it..."

Now here's where I need to stop and tell you a little about Dennis. He's a Viet Nam vet who's been on disability for many years. I don't know how many because I never asked. All I know is that he has panic attacks which prevent him from having a job, and he's lived off a small monthly government check for a long time. He gets all his knowledge and all his politics from the television. For months now he's never missed a chance to talk about how angry he is at the new per-cigar tax in New York State, how it unfairly taxes poor people, and... how this has something to do with George Washington for some reason. Dennis loves to be right. About everything. The man doesn't eat a green vegetable. Ever. But he'll tell you how you're eating wrong and exercising wrong and how you are wrong about pretty much everything, and incidentally if you just do what he tells you everything will be perfect.

So at some point during our conversation I said that he thinks he knows more about any subject than anyone else - more medicine than a doctor, more science than a scientist... and then he dropped the big one. He said "You know that a lot of people think you're a know-it-all?"

Anyone who knows me - anyone who loves me - would have known how much that would hurt me. Throughout the conversation I had refrained from saying anything about what anyone else had said. I was just trying to tell him how I felt - how I was angry and hurt because of how he had acted toward me. He apparently disliked what I was saying enough to want to deflect it at all costs. Well, he succeeded. He succeeded beyond his wildest imaginings.

Because now I've had it. The spell is broken. For a long time I've treated Dennis with kid gloves because of his situation. When I quit drinking in January, I made a special exception for him because I knew how much he likes to have someone to drink with. So I've been drinking wine with him. I've been violating my own promise to myself. And this is just one of the things I've done for the sake of his feelings and his... specialness. Well, no more. Because now I don't think he's special. My image of him is blown. Now I want to go over there and tell him "You know what, Dennis? You're right. Gay people do have a choice. It's ridiculous for me to waste time helping them. (beat) By the way, when are you going to get a fucking job, you lazy bastard? You have a choice. If you wanted to, you could just suck it up and get over your stupid panic attacks. So why don't you do it?"

He expects everyone to have compassion for him in his situation. He has to pay a tax on his cigars and it's an insult to George Fucking Washington. But when it comes to gay people having the same rights as everyone else, well, that's different. I see now that he can't give the same compassion to others that he wants for himself. And that means he's not much of a Christian.

So you can see why I need to stay away from Dennis for a while. I love him. He's my friend. But the scales have fallen from my eyes. I see him differently.

I've been lucky and cautious enough never to have broken a bone. I haven't dropped a kidney stone. The most serious injury I've ever had was a gouge in my arm that required seven stitches. So it may be hyperbole for me to say that I would rather stick knives into my flesh than to continue feeling this emotional pain, but that's honestly how I feel. If you told me that the blades would make it all go away, I'd hold them over the burner for a minute to sterilize them, plunge them in, pull them out, and walk happily to the hospital.

My relationship with my sister has changed. My relationship with my friend has changed. I didn't mean for them to change. It doesn't feel accurate to say that the changes resulted from me becoming an advocate for gay rights, because there's lots of other stuff mixed in there. But my newfound advocacy runs through the whole thing like a persimmon thread in an otherwise earth-tone scarf.

What the fuck did I expect? Did I think I was a hero a la Joseph Campbell? No. I'll give myself that much credit. I'm no hero. I didn't think I was going to change them. When I think back to what I expected, I draw a blank, so I guess I never really thought about what I expected. I suppose that if you'd asked me to articulate it, I would have said that I expected them to at least... see me true. I expected them to see what I'd brought back. I expected them to recognize that this thing that I was passionate about was a real thing - a thing worth being passionate about. I expected them to respect me and respect this new thing that I'd seen.

I looked up Campbell's Hero Journey and saw an accurate if whimsical chart of the prototypical journey. At the bottom, in the middle of the journey, I saw "The Abyss". A wry smile crossed my brain. The Abyss is the point of the journey where the hero experiences some sort of death and rebirth. In Campbell's words, it's the belly of the whale. Either one sounds about right. I feel like I'm losing my goddamn family. If that's not an abyss, I don't know what is.

I swear to god, I never used to be this much of a fucking drama queen.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Loss" My Ass!

OK, first of all: we did not lose anything yesterday. We failed to gain something. There's a sodding great difference, isn't there?

New York State has never allowed same-sex marriage. Yesterday the New York State Senate voted on a bill intended to change that aspect of the law. The bill did not pass, so the law did not change.

Everyone focuses on the supposedly devastating 38-24 vote. The New York Times, just minutes after the results came through, published an article saying that "the vote... destroys the optimism of gay rights advocates". BULLSHIT! My optimism was not destroyed. Those numbers simply prompted me to grab a calculator and quickly figure out that 39% of New York State Senators voted for the bill. 39%! Forget for a moment that, in the current political environment, we were guaranteed an upper ceiling of 51%, the percentage of Democratic senators. Even without taking that into consideration, the enormity of those numbers is staggering. Just ten or twenty years ago the very notion of same-sex marriage was unthinkable. Yesterday 39% of New York State senators voted for it. My god, people, if that's not progress then I'm... one of those hyperbolic animals.

How the hell can progressives see that kind of progress and not wake up with a smile on their faces, feeling invigorated and ready to push that 39% to 40% and to keep pushing until we get the progress that we want? I'll tell you how. It's easy if you have an overweening sense of entitlement.

People have worked and bled and died for the progress of the last few decades. Unfortunately that progress seems to have given this generation a pathological teleology. The world should be the way we want it to be, so if the requisite changes don't happen it… breaks us. We can't accept that the world hasn't already conspired to be the way we think it should be.

Yesterday I "listened" to people on Twitter and Facebook begin the predictable chorus of "Fuck New York". Even more disheartening were the self-satisfied microscreeds against all the "stupid hicks" who live "north of the Bronx". Never mind that, of the eight Democrats who voted "No" on the bill, only two were from upstate. That's right. Of those Democrats who had the temerity not to give us what we wanted, only 25% were dumb hicks.

Twenty years ago, few would have dared dream we'd make it this far. But here we are, and we're celebrating by... treating this as a loss? Having made massive progress, can it be that all progressives can think of to do is throw a hissy fit because we didn't get everything we wanted right now?

Progress takes time and effort. A 38-24 loss is not a defeat. It is the blowing of a horn. All who hear it should take heart, and throw themselves into the battle with renewed vigor. Else we don't deserve to call ourselves progressives.

Say it with me: "We did not lose anything. We failed to gain something."


But what about tomorrow?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Times Square Rally

It's too late for me to start writing about today's disappointing but unsurprising New York State Senate defeat of the marriage equality bill, so for now I'll just post pictures from the rally that occurred in Times Square tonight in response to the decision.

Keep the Pressure on for Marriage Equality

As a media contact for the office of Christine Quinn, I got the following e-mail a little while ago. Then I clicked the link and got the phone numbers of two Senators: David J. Valesky, D-District 049 (for Oneida, where I grew up and still own property); and Suzi Oppenheimer, D-District 037 (for Larchmont, where I live). I just called each office. I was thrilled to hear that Senator Valesky is supporting the bill, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that someone will get back to me about having him on this blog. I don't know yet whether Senator Oppenheimer is supporting it, but anyway I made the call and it felt great. I will be awaiting the outcome of the vote.

December 2, 2009

Dear New Yorker,

This is it.  The Marriage Equality Act is being debated on the floor of the New York State Senate today.  (You can watch it live at 

We've been waiting for this day for a long time, and it's my hope that a majority of our senators in Albany will make the right decision and cast their votes for marriage equality.

Right now, I'm in Albany after having met with senators on both sides of the fence - and I can report that our leaders in the Senate are working very hard to get the votes.  Governor David Paterson, Senator Tom Duane, Assemblymember Danny O'Donnell and every one of our allies in Albany deserve our appreciation for getting us this far.

We need to keep pushing, though.  Please call or write your state senator now and urge them to vote for this bill.  You can find contact info. for your state senator at  

It's my hope that marriage equality will soon be looked back upon as a great accomplishment that all New Yorkers achieved together.

Thank you.

Christine C. Quinn
New York City Council 

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Meet Jett

My name's Jett Smith. I'm 28 and transgendered, meaning I was born female but live and identify as male. I was raised across the bay from San Francisco, and have lived in SF for the past ten years. I've worked all sorts of jobs, from security guard to managing a restaurant. Currently, I work as a Supported Living Skills Instructor for adults with developmental disabilities, such as autism. It is a challenging job, and I enjoy it, but I am also attending school. I hope to transfer to San Francisco State University next year, where I will first earn a degree in math and then obtain my teaching credentials. Ultimately, I'd like to teach math at the high school level. In the little free time I've got, I enjoy spending time with family and friends and doing outdoorsy things. I strive to live life fully and simply.
I met Jett when he responded to my post on the Facebook page for Original Plumbing, a magazine about FTM transsexuals. He graciously agreed to be a face of the day. Thanks Jett!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Meandering Manifesto, Part 2: Moral Turpitude

Continuing from Meandering Manifesto, Part 1: Tintinnabulation...

I've been thinking a lot about society's relationship with bendy people. Of the disparate sources that contributed to my musings, the most unexpected was Skylark of Space. It was written between 1915 and 1921 and first published in 1928. It's considered by many to be the first space opera, and man, it's quite a ride. I highly recommend it. You can read the full text on Project Gutenberg.

One of the reasons the book is such a gas is that it's breathtakingly foreign to modern sensibilities. For example, late in the book there's about to be a double wedding on the planet Osnome between two Earth couples: The good guys and the damsels they've rescued from the bad guy. The leader of Kondal, the nation they've befriended, is holding forth on Kondalian customs.
     "I have called in our most expert weavers and tailors, to make the gowns. Before they arrive, let us discuss the ceremony and decide what it will be. You are all somewhat familiar with our customs, but on this I make very sure. Each couple is married twice. The first marriage is symbolized by the exchange of plain bracelets. This marriage lasts two years, during which period either may divorce the other by announcing the fact."
     "Hmmm..." Crane said. "Some such system of trial marriage is advocated among us every few years, but they all so surely degenerate into free love that none has found a foothold."
     "We have no such trouble. You see, before the first marriage each couple, from lowest to highest, is given a mental examination. Any person whose graphs show moral turpitude is shot."
Whu... buh... WHAT???  That was my initial reaction, and it still hasn't faded. The thought of exterminating people who don't live up to a standard has been anathema to most folks ever since Hitler's Final Solution. Obviously the idea wasn't so abhorrent in 1921.

Speaking of extermination, the second most breathtaking thing about the book is that the Earth people give the Kondalians the technological knowledge that will allow them to annihilate their Mardonalian enemies. Just a few pages after the wedding, we find a justification for this action.
     "You do not understand?" he went on, with a deep light shining in his eyes. "It is inevitable that two peoples inhabiting worlds so widely separated as are our two should be possessed of widely-varying knowledge and abilities, and these strangers have already made it possible for us to construct engines of destruction which shall obliterate Mardonale completely...." A fierce shout of joy interrupted the speaker and the nobles sprang to their feet, saluting the visitors with upraised weapons. As soon as they had reseated themselves, the Karbix continued:
     "That is the boon. The vindication of our system of evolution is easily explained. The strangers landed first upon Mardonale. Had Nalboon met them in honor, he would have gained the boon. But he, with the savagery characteristic of his evolution, attempted to kill his guests and steal their treasures, with what results you already know. We, on our part, in exchange for the few and trifling services we have been able to render them, have received even more than Nalboon would have obtained, had his plans not been nullified by their vastly superior state of evolution."
Wow. Now I see Star Trek's Prime Directive in the context of the late twentieth century. The contrast between E.E. "Doc" Smith and Gene Roddenberry is blinding: at the beginning of the twentieth century, there were clearly some lessons yet to learn about stepping into a foreign civil war and handing over weapons to "our guys". And there's that pesky genocide issue again.

World War II gave people in the United States a powerfully negative association with racial sanctions. I think that this stigma favors inclusiveness, so it helps progressive movements. On the other hand, World War II also made socialism into a Brobdingnagian boogeyman by associating it with both National Socialism and Communism. Just glance at today's headlines and you'll see that that one's still got legs.

There are plenty of people alive today who, as children, ran laughing past newsstands stocked with the issues of Amazing Stories that brought Doc Smith's unapologetically genocidal and eugenics-happy vision to the general public. They liked it well enough for it to blossom into a series of books, so apparently folks had no problem with an absolutist, conformist vision of their society. Think of the changes that have been wrought in a single lifetime. Think of the assumptions and certainties that have shattered. Be grateful for the opportunities that the twentieth century afforded for progressives, and understand how fragile the circumstances are in which progressive thought can fluorish. And be aware that the bubble could pop at any moment. We have to be smart about how we maintain and reinforce it.