Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Meet Patrick

I'm a series of contradictions. I was born in Denver and am a city dweller by design, currently residing in a town described by some as "the sticks" and although I've been told I seem so "east coast", I've never lived anywhere other than Colorado. Contrary to the usual Colorado native, I have never been downhill skiing because I can't justify spending hard earned cash to test the theory of natural selection. I spend greater than 40 hours a week working as a computer programmer for a hospital and have my bachelor's degree in Spanish with a minor in Creative Writing, neither of which help me on the job. I love technology and could spend hours in the Apple Store or online. I love music and the art of sound. I even played the clarinet, the violin and have sang in Carnegie Hall and I think Guitar Hero is pure genius. I love digital photography, especially from behind the camera, writing, reading, and living life. I also love my 100 pound chocolate lab, my golden retriever and my life with my partner. I'm honest, trustworthy, and loyal. And if you want to know more, all you have to do is ask.
I found Patrick's blog after his twitter bio caught my eye.
poet,blogger,tech addict,inspired by life,lover of music, and oh yeah - I'm gay.
As I told him, that casual addendum is at the core of what I’m trying to show people with this blog: that, straight or gay, a person’s sexuality may well not define them. He agreed, and graciously accepted my invitation to be today's face.

I highly recommend checking out Patrick's blog. He and I seem to be on the same wavelength. He's measured, level-headed and respectful. I like that in a person.

Bullying: In My Past and In Our Schools

This morning on twitter I found out from nyclu about an eleven o'clock press conference at Tweed Hall about "bias-based harassment and bullying". This is right up by City Hall, about a ten minute walk from where I work in the financial district, but work was too busy for me to get away. Argh. I wanted to be there because I'm particularly interested in this topic.

The first reason is that I was obese as a kid. I broke the two hundred pound mark by the time I was in sixth grade, and the three hundred pound mark by the time I was in eleventh. School was hell - or at least so I thought. I grew up in a quiet town that was small enough so that, while not everyone knew everyone else, parents were never removed by more than one degree of separation. I never had to deal with the sort of physical violence that some of the kids mentioned below.

The second reason is connected to the first. Whenever I get swept up in something, like I'm swept up in this blog, I remind myself of Maslow's hammer.
When the only tool you have is a hammer, it is tempting to treat everything as if it were a nail.
I tend to see things in terms of bullying because I was bullied. One of the reasons why I react strongly to discrimination and bigotry against gay people is that I see it as bullying behavior. Proposition 8? Classic bully move: The bully isn't satisfied having what he has; he's not satisfied until he takes away what you have.

Is this thought model my hammer? Am I limited by thinking of everything in terms of bullying? I suspect that once I start my volunteer work with Garden State Equality, I'll be better able to answer that question.

But for now, on to the event. It makes for interesting reading, especially the white paper. I have some mixed feelings about DASA, especially when I read things like this.
Ashanta Woodley, 15, sees classmates being harassed everyday. Often the bullies aim their barbs at her. “They call me a lot of names, like fat or fat ass,” said Ashanta, a 10th grade student at a Prospect Heights High School in Brooklyn. The taunts hurt and distract Ashanta from her schoolwork. “It’s like everybody is judging you either by your skin or by how you look, they find something to bother you with, and it’s annoying,” she said. “Sometimes when I keep focusing on it, I slip away from my schoolwork so I get low grades.”
I got called "fat ass", and much worse, all the time. I never let it affect my grades. As a matter of fact, it probably helped my grades. I came to identify myself as the socially inept fat kid who gets good grades. I was the opposite of those who made my life miserable, and my anger at them fueled me.

I don't expect my messed-up little psychological construct to apply to all children. What I do expect, though, is school regulation that is enforceable and doesn't reek of mind-control. The police aren't going to swoop in every time an adult calls another adult "faggot". Should we teach our children that they can be protected from words, and that our government should clamp down on everything that comes out of our mouths? Aha! Apparently not.
Finally, DASA includes a definition of bias-based harassment that appropriately balanced the proscription of bias-based harassment with freedom of student speech and expression protected under the First Amendment. DASA prohibits conduct or verbal threats, taunting, intimidation or abuse that “unreasonably and substantially” interfere with a student’s educational performance or opportunity. By contrast, the Chancellor’s Regulation prohibits written, verbal or physical acts that create a “hostile, offensive or intimidating school environment” or “otherwise adversely affect[] a student’s educational opportunities.” This definition of harassment is overbroad and could infringe on First Amendment speech, with the potential effect of punishing the same students that the regulation seeks to protect, such as students who express an unpopular point of view.
OK, that I like. I think we are capable of drawing a line between intimidating behavior and one student calling another "fat ass", and hopefully the words "unreasonably and substantially" compose that line. In any event, it sounds like DASA is more of an accountability tool for what the DOE should be doing already, and it smacks less of mind-control than the existing Chancellor's Regulation. Sounds good to me.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Go in peace.

Last Sunday I attended the 10:00 AM worship at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in my town of Millburn, NJ. I'm an agnostic, and I have no plans to change that. But, since St. Stephen's was on the list of gay-friendly churches in New Jersey that I'm contacting in hopes of getting faces for this blog, I figured the least I could do was hear what they had to say. The notion of coming over after the service and saying "Hey, wanna hear about my blog?" seemed disrespectful.

I happened to come on an auspicious day for the church: the Bishop of the Diocese of Newark was visiting, and delivering the sermon. He had a warm, amenable and disarming nature, and the sermon he gave actually choked me up. Man, what is happening to me? I'm so emotional lately.

The Bishop preached about Mark 4:35-41, in which Jesus and his disciples are in a boat, a terrible storm whips up while Jesus is asleep in the stern, Jesus calms the storm and rebukes his disciples for their fear, and they're duly impressed. What impressed me was how close the Bishop was coming to presenting this passage as a parable. As an agnostic I expect that from my own brain, but coming from a pulpit I expect more or less a literal (excuse me while I go find a shoehorn, because I really want to squeeze in that word that I had to look up this morning) hermeneutics. (Um. Doesn't quite work, does it? All right, all right.) I expect a more or less literal interpretation.

The Bishop went from talking about the actual storms in Mark to the metaphorical storms inside us. And this is what got me choked up, because boy do I have storms in me. I am so damned angry. Ever since that wedding I've been railing in my head against that minister.

Ever since my teens when I "came out" as an agnostic, I've struggled to own a sense of spirituality. If I hadn't had good friends who saw the spiritual in me despite my unbelief in conventional religion, I think I'd still not have the wherewithal to think of myself as a spiritual being. And here I was, in my thirty-ninth year, contributing my spirit to a consecration of love.

And that miserable shitheel turned the ceremony into a political forum. He couldn't have cheapened it more if he'd slapped Pennzoil stickers on the bridesmaid's dresses. And since that moment, when I think of that minister, a single thought fills my being: "Oh, it's on now, bitch." I didn't have a political bone in my body, but he made me a part of something I consider unclean. He picked up one of those brass measuring weights and put it on one side of a metaphorical scale. And by god, I will put a cinderblock on the other side. Because he brought me into it.

These thoughts were coalescing in my mind as the Bishop spoke. And tears were welling in my eyes because, for the first time, I was acknowledging the force and the weight of my anger. I've worked for fifteen years to divest myself of anger, and there are all too many moments when I feel like I have depressingly little to show for all that work. I get so self-righteously angry at inconsequential things, such as people not respecting my personal space on the commuter train, that it makes me feel small, and terribly unworthy of all my blessings. I don't want this anger. I have to transform it. I have to. That's what this blog is about.

Sunday was also Father's Day, and the church was giving out carnations to fathers and father figures. Proud of the source of stability I've been to my daughter, I took one and wore it. I don't know if the following thoughts were influenced by this or not.

My Dad died last year, and I miss him a lot. He wouldn’t know what to make of this gay advocacy blog; he’s probably snort disdainfully and shrug his shoulders. I’ve started to wonder if part of my passion for this project stems from my feeling that, if I can’t do something my father would agree with, I can at least do something he’d respect just by virtue of the sheer effort and dedication I’m putting into it.

All this was going through my head, and then came the passing of the peace. It was the most sincere and thorough such ritual that I've ever witnessed. It felt great. These folks have a good thing goin' on. And in the middle of it, I met Reverend Cornelius C. Tarplee, the Rector of the church. I'd left him a message about this blog the previous week, so I told him who I was and that I was a bit apprehensive because I wasn't sure if it was appropriate for me to be there. He responded warmly, saying "I'm glad you're here" and promising that we would talk sometime soon. So I'm hopeful that there will be some synergy between this, the project of an unbeliever, and the wishes of his congregation.

After the service, there was a coffee hour. The spread was top-notch; one of the congregants told me that, owing to the Bishop's visit, it was superior to their usual fare. As people were eating, the Bishop gave a talk about four tenets of being a good Episcopal witness. I don't remember them, but what I do remember is his exhortation to tell others "Go in peace." Not only that, but do it when it seems least possible, e.g. when someone cuts you off in traffic. Again, this struck very close to home. I've got a lot of anger where there should be purpose, a lot of self-righteousness where there should be righteousness. Gotta work on that.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Meet Anad

I met Anad last night in a bar on Christopher Street. He seems like a quiet but intensely thoughtful man. Thinking back on my conversation with him, I'm struck by the fact that he never spoke ill of his family. He has unflattering things to say about Jehovah's Witnesses in general, but amid all his talk about the difficult decisions he's had to make, I got a sense that he never stopped respecting and loving his family.

To me, the funny moment came when we were talking about stereotypes. I remembered that, early in the conversation when I was telling him about this blog, he hesitatingly asked if I was gay. I realized that this flew in the face of my assumption that, as soon as I walked into the bar, everyone there would know I was straight because I'm not well-groomed. I told him this, and he said "Look around." I did, and he said "You're one of the cleaner ones here." It was true. So, so much for that stereotype. Me, one of the better-groomed guys in a room full of gay guys. Imagine that.

This beautiful thing won't change.

Over the last few years I've created a bunch of stations on Pandora by leapfrogging from one artist to the other: create a station based on someone I like, listen to that for a while, create a new station based on someone I like in that, lather, rinse, repeat. This process led me to another of last week's moments of synchronicity.

I'd been listening to a station that was pretty much all singer-songwriter chicks. One of the songs I'd thumbed up was Vienna Teng's "City Hall". I suspected that it was about gay marriage, but I hadn't listened closely enough to be sure. Naturally, when it came up last week I was more inclined to pay attention to the lyrics. When I did, it made me cry.

Between Thursday and today, I must sound like I cry at the drop of a Hallmark card. I don't. I doubt I cry once a year. But the thought of those people waiting ten years and then finally getting the opportunity they never expected - that did it.

Please listen to this, especially if you feel that two men, or two women, can't feel the same things for each other that a man and a woman can. In case you're wondering, as I did, Vienna Teng is not gay. She wrote this from the point of view of a friend of hers who got married in San Francisco in 2004.

If you're sure that the people in this song couldn't be all the things to each other that a husband and wife are, ask yourself why you're so sure. Have you ever talked to anyone like the women in this song?

City Hall
by Vienna Teng

me and my baby on a february holiday
'cause we got the news
yeah, we got the news
five hundred miles and we're gonna make it all the way
we've got nothing to lose
we've got nothing to lose

it's been 10 years waiting
but it's better late than the never
we've been told before
we can't wait one minute more

oh, me and my baby driving down
to a hilly seaside town in the rainfall
oh, me and my baby stand in line
you've never seen a sight so fine
as the love that's gonna shine
at city hall

me and my baby've been through
a lot of good and bad
learned to kiss the sky
made our mommas cry
I've seen a lot of friends
after giving it all they had
lay down and die
lay down and die

10 years into it
here's our window
at the vegas drive-thru chapel
it ain't too much
for 'em all to handle

oh, me and my baby driving down
to a hilly seaside town in the rainfall
oh, me and my baby stand in line
you've never seen a sight so fine
as the love that's gonna shine
at city hall

outside, they're handing out
donuts and pizza pies
for the folks in pairs in the folding chairs
my baby's lookin' so damned pretty
with those anxious eyes
rain-speckled hair
and my ring to wear

ten years waiting for this moment of fate
when we say the words and sign our names
if they take it away again someday
this beautiful thing won't change

oh, me and my baby driving down
to a hilly seaside town in the rainfall
oh, me and my baby stand in line
you've never seen a sight so fine
as the love that's gonna shine
at city hall

oh, me and my baby driving down
to a hilly seaside town in the rainfall
oh, me and my baby stand in line
you've never seen a sight so fine
as the love that's gonna shine
at city hall

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Meet Phillip

I'm a freelance musician in New York trying everyday to make the world a little better through music. When I'm not singing, conducting, or teaching, I enjoy reading a good book on my comfy sofa, having a delicious meal, playing with new tech toys, going to the theatre and the movies, shopping, or just plain walking around NYC. I'm not much of a sports person but I love swimming and cycling, and watching the occasional tennis match! I love travelling, especially to other countries. I grew up in Singapore even though I was born in Louisiana so I feel like I have the best of both cultures. I am very blessed to have a community of loving friends and family (both blood-relation and otherwise), supportive professional colleagues, and the love of my life with whom I have been together for four and a half years now. In fact, my partner was the one who got me hooked on dogs, especially golden retrievers (probably because he had one growing up!) Oh, and I also LOVE beer, but only the dark varieties ... although I'm slowly allowing myself to expand my palette. Slowly. I also adore desert wines and sweet whites. I am a through and through science fiction geek, both books and movies, and nothing sums that up more so than my love for Star Trek.

I'm really honoured and psyched to be part of this endeavour.

Phillip sang, along with me and a few other guys, at the baptism of my Goddaughter. I was a bit surprised to read that he only likes dark beers, because I plied him with some of my favorite beers at a social event last summer - Blue Point "Hoptical Illusion" and Tröegs "Hopback Amber", if I remember correctly - and he bravely tried them both, even though they're far from what I would consider dark. Phillip's a good guy to hang out with.

We must love our enemies.


I am nearly positive that today was the first time I even considered typing the word "squee", or making the noise it represents. But, see, this afternoon I got a lovely e-mail from my favorite poet, Julia Kasdorf, in response to a message I sent her this morning. Squee!

I wrote to her for two reasons: one old, and one new. I'd been trying for years to find the words to tell her how she had affected me: how I heard her poetry for the first time when Garrison Keillor's reading of "Mennonites" made me cry, and how the rest of her book Sleeping Preacher affected me similarly. I put all that into this morning's message to her because now I had a request: I wanted to ask if I could use "Mennonites" on this blog.

Ms. Kasdorf's response was thoughtful, kind and gracious. God, I'm such a groupie, but... SQUEE!!

I regret the necessity of beginning this post in such an undignified way. But the point is that I have the author's permission to reprint this beautiful poem.
by Julia Kasdorf

We keep our quilts in closets and do not dance.
We hoe thistles along fence rows for fear
we may not be perfect as our Heavenly Father.
We clean up his disasters. No one has to
call; we just show up in the wake of tornadoes
with hammers, after floods with buckets.
Like Jesus, the servant, we wash each other's feet
twice a year and eat the Lord's Supper,
afraid of sins hidden so deep in our organs
they could damn us unawares,
swallowing this bread, his body, this juice.
Growing up, we love the engravings in Martyrs Mirror:
men drowned like cats in burlap sacks,
the Catholic inquisitors,
the woman who handed a pear to her son,
her tongue screwed to the roof of her mouth
to keep her from singing hymns while she burned.
We love Catherine the Great and the rich tracts
she gave us in the Ukraine, bright green winter wheat,
the Cossacks who torched it, and Stalin,
who starved our cousins while wheat rotted
in granaries. We must love our enemies.
We must forgive as our sins are forgiven,
our great-uncle tells us, showing the chain
and ball in a cage whittled from one block of wood
while he was in prison for refusing to shoulder
a gun. He shows the clipping from 1916:
Mennonites are German milksops, too yellow to fight.
We love those Nazi soldiers who, like Moses,
led the last cattle cars rocking out of the Ukraine,
crammed with our parents—children then—
learning the names of Kansas, Saskatchewan, Paraguay.
This is why we cannot leave the beliefs
or what else would we be? why we eat
'til we're drunk on shoofly and moon pies and borscht.
We do not drink; we sing. Unaccompanied on Sundays,
those hymns in four parts, our voices lift with such force
that we lift, as chaff lifts toward God.
This poem gets me every time because I have a lot of useless anger that I can't seem to get rid of, and when I think of people like Ms. Kasdorf's uncle forgiving his enemies, it makes me feel awash in a pool of emotion of which "humble and small" form only the barest beginning.

I can't think of a better emotional core for this blog than this poem, and it ties into something I realized last week: If I'm telling people that GLBT folks are normal people just like them, then it has to work both ways: I also have to be telling GLBT folks that those who harbor prejudices and discriminate against them are normal people just like them. If circumstances had been different, each might be just like the other. No one is The Other. The Other is us.

Yeah, that one is going to be hard for me too. Believe me.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Meet Steve

Today maplewood.blogs.nytimes.com had an article about how the Maplewood Township Committee voted unanimously to pass a resolution calling on state legislators to sanction same-sex marriage (see below). The article noted that...
Prior to the vote, Mr. DeLuca issued a proclamation making June LGBT Pride Month, in recognition of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. A plaque was presented to Stephen Mershon, a representative of the Rainbow Families of Maplewood and South Orange.
I found Steve's number and cold-called him, and he graciously agreed to have me come over and take his picture. As is my wont, I messed about with my flash a bit, eventually getting the shot above. Then he offered me something to drink and I sat sipping grape juice while shooting the breeze with him and the son of his house-mate's cousin, who's visiting from Florida. We talked pies (it's rhubarb season... Mmmmm, strawberry rhubarb!... Mmmm, strawberry raspberry rhubarb!) and music and the various pleasures of South Mountain Reservation, the beautiful county park that borders both Maplewood and Millburn. In short, a fine time was had by all. Thanks to the first Steve on Meet Adam and Steve!

Timely as Today's Headlines

I could hardly look on the internets today without seeing something that reminded me of Meet Adam and Steve. First came The Onion, with its beautiful way of sparing no egos: New Hampshire Passes Law Forcing Old People To Watch Gays Marry. I love the punchline:
Gay marriage advocates are already protesting the new statute, which they say unlawfully forces homosexuals to have gross old people at their weddings.

Then along comes Dan Savage with a column very near and dear to this blog. Dan's last reader submission was from a straight couple who plan to ask guests at their wedding to make charitable donations in lieu of gifts. They asked Dan to suggest nonprofit groups that advocate for marriage equality, and Dan responded thus.
Thanks for thinking of us, STBM, which is more than President Obama is willing to do: I would recommend that you put Lambda Legal (they’re lawyers, they sue) and Freedom To Marry (they’re advocates, they woo) on your list. Unlike most national gay organizations, Lambda Legal and Freedom to Marry do good work and get results. Thanks and congratulations!

I immediately added these to my list of churches and organizations to contact in order to get input on, and faces for, my blog. Then I reminded myself that it's early days yet, and I need to consider carefully before throwing myself behind organizations that look good. I'm not a political animal, and I don't like lobbyists or litigiousness. Hmmm... how could I make that last sentence more alliterative? Bah. Too late to think about it now. Where was I? Oh, litigiousness and thinking.

See, the thing is, I don't want to preach to the choir. It's all well and good to get a bunch of GLBT and liberal folks following this blog, but if that's all I get then I'll consider it a big, popular failure. I want to reach people who are like I would have been if I hadn't gone to Cornell: those who are living in small towns across the country and who've never knowingly met a homosexual. And I think I can say with authority that most of those folks not only dislike big government and political power brokerage, but they feel like their voices are never heard beneath the roaring of slick-talking politicians who listen only to the other slick voices coming out of places like New York City and Albany. Right or wrong, associating myself with groups like Lambda Legal and Freedom to Marry will ensure that I lose lots of the very people I'm trying to reach with the first page load.

What do you think? I'd appreciate the advice of anyone who has worked with these groups.

Now, on to an article that I found while googling "gay [something or other] in millburn nj". I'm not sure what the something or other was, because I've been doing a lot of googling like this lately. Anyway, I found an article in maplewood.blogs.nytimes.com that was published just hours earlier. It seems that...
the Maplewood Township Committee meeting last night ... voted unanimously to pass a resolution calling on state legislators to sanction same-sex marriage. It is believed to be the first of its kind in New Jersey.
Maplewood is a town within walking distance of where I live in Millburn, and is known for being gay-friendly.

I'm psyched about the Maplewood Township Committee resolution. I'm psyched to have found out from this article about Garden State Equality, "a New Jersey advocacy organization for marriage equality based in Montclair". I'm much more psyched, though, that the article also led me to tonight's daily face. See above.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Meet Kristina

My name is Kristina Boerger, and I am a musician. I specialize in vocal ensemble music – as a conductor and as a singer.

I was born in 1965 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to two young parents. My father, his parents, and his two sisters were born in Germany but lived in Venezuela before coming to the United States around 1960. For the first years of my life, we all lived near one another, and I spent a good deal of time with my Oma and Opa and my Tantes. Thanks to this, I acquired a good command of household German and also gained a strong foundation for the fluency I would later develop in Spanish. I also received training in Continental etiquette, a habit of respect for authority, a strong ethic for work, excellence, and responsibility, a reflex toward criticism, an openness to foreign cultures, and a near-religious regard for studying, teaching, and arts and literature. My family is not religious, but we keep with fervency the traditions of the German Christmas: a ceremonial gathering in our handsome clothes, the decking of the house and of the tree in the finest of handmade adornments, the singing of carols, and the loving exchange of gifts. My childhood was perfectly joyous, secure, and nourishing. Both my mother and my father had fairly miserable upbringings, and their siblings and the children of their siblings have not fared as well. But my parents are champions, as my own confidence, happiness, freedom, and success prove.

I began my music study with piano lessons at age five. I continued these up through the middle of my junior year in college, and though I abandoned the instrument at that time, it was as a pianist that I experienced my richest musical development. Between the ages of 12 and 18, I went away every summer to Blue Lake Fine Arts camp, where a marvelously dedicated and inspired teacher named Ellen Pool ran a comprehensive piano program that challenged and stimulated me on all levels: performance, history and literature, theory, and aural skills. Those weeks were the best of my teenagerhood, when I could pursue my nerdy passions in the company of hundreds of other teenagers who were similarly passionate. And then, just as I turned 15, I began lessons with a remarkable teacher who happened to live in our town. I still say that Annie Sherter is the greatest musician I will ever know. To study the piano with her over those three years was my greatest privilege, and I always credit her with giving me this musician’s life that I love so madly. I am no longer her student, but we have long since developed a deep friendship. She is in her 70s and won’t be with me forever, but I have her signature tattooed on the inside of my upper, right arm.

When I was 10, my baby sister Karin was born. She, my great joy, was the most perfect child there ever was. And she has turned into a nearly perfect and completely ass-kicking adult. She is working on her doctorate in speech pathology, specializing in language disorders in Spanish-English bilingual children. She has been my most constant advocate.

Shortly after Karin’s birth, I took a trip to Germany with my grandmother. We stayed in the farmhouse that had belonged to my great grandfather. I absorbed much information about my background without realizing its importance at the time; only in my 40s have I begun to understand something of the influence of my Germanness on my personality.

My first experiences outside the U.S. came when I was eight years old. Dad had a long business trip to take throughout Latin America, so my parents decided that they would take me out of school so that we could spend those two months together.

I saw Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Columbia, and Venezuela.

The poverty I saw then – and during three Christmas vacations spent in Haiti when my grandparents were living there – confused and disturbed me, having long-term effects, I believe, on the outlook I would develop as an adult.

When I was 16 I lived for six weeks in Buenos Aires, with business friends of my father. That was when I developed my Spanish fluency. Since then, as an adult, I have enjoyed a work-trip in the Yucatan Peninsula and two vacations in Spain, though my Spanish has been just as useful to me in the United States as anywhere else.

I started coming out when I was 17, though the rest of my family didn’t learn this until some harrowing circumstances when I was 20. There were some bad years there; only young Karin never made a misstep. But the strength of the loving bonds in this family prevailed, and we have healed and grown into one of the most happy and functional nuclear units on record. I always feel so fortunate for this.

I went to music school at the University of Illinois in Urbana in 1983 and didn’t leave that wonderful town until 2000. In that time, I earned my bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate in choral conducting, made it to All-State during my rookie season on the rugby team, worked successfully as a Lesbian activist for a non-discrimination policy at the University, conducted choirs at the community, junior-high, high-school, college, and conservatory levels, loved many women, and spent 10 years with a partner who had three amazingly wonderful daughters. She left me after those 10 years and never had much use for me after that, but I continue to enjoy loving connections with the daughters, who are now splendid adult women doing amazing things like designing “green” environmental systems for buildings, raising beautiful children, blacksmithing, and crunching data for the Forest Service.

The best thing I’ve ever done for the world was to found and lead a chorus in my Illinois community for Lesbians and other women allies of Lesbians. The chorus is called AMASONG, and I was its director from 1990 through 1999. By the time I was done, we had sung at several national venues, recorded two award-winning CDs, and toured in the Czech Republic. But the best thing was that by our beautiful music in our hometown, we made our community safe for Lesbianism and for good treble-choir music! I am understating the power, grace, and impact of this organization on the lives of all it touched, but you can get the full story by watching the PBS documentary about us. (Details can be found on my professional website at: .) AMASONG will celebrate its 20th anniversary this coming May.

As I write this, I am in a period of transition. I have just left a nine-year freelance career in New York City, where I taught music history at Barnard College, taught choral conducting at the Manhattan School of Music, directed the Cerddorion Vocal Ensemble, AMUSE, and the Collegiate Chorale, and performed, toured and recorded as a soprano with the Western Wind Vocal Ensemble, the Renaissance choir Pomerium, the Vox Vocal Ensemble, and various others. I grabbed several musical brass rings during those years, singing or conducting performances that were as thrilling and satisfying as anything can be, and collaborating with some of the most gifted and enjoyable musicians anywhere. It was a challenging and exhilarating life.

It was also exhausting and threatened to become more so as this recession began to carve into my possibilities. So I went looking for a single, full-time job on the music faculty of some college, and I found what I think will be a wonderful fit at Carroll University. On June 3rd I boarded Amtrak and left New York ensconced in the comfort and privacy of my own sleeper car, which afforded me a fittingly gradual departure during which I could reflect on where I have been and what is to come.

Believe it or not, Carroll is just west of my hometown, Milwaukee. I have selected a wonderful house just one street over and three blocks down from where I lived as a happy two-, three-, and four-year-old. I’m very excited about the new quality of life that awaits me, even as I am nervous about excelling in all the challenges of my new position.

Among my particular hopes for my new life is that I will manage – with a regular work schedule at last – to maintain a regular exercise regimen, and also that I will find time to be engaged somehow once again in social-justice efforts. Perhaps because I saw such widespread, abject poverty at such a young age, I mistrust my economic privilege and material comfort as essentially ill-gotten at some level, and though I haven’t found the moral strength to give away more than insignificant amounts of my excess, I would like to think that I can at least get involved in some way with efforts that effectively redistribute wealth, access, and other privileges. If there is a hell, I will go there, not for my unbelief, for my foul cursing with the name of Jesus Christ, for working my ass off even on Sundays, or for all my covetings and fornications, but for failing to part with my unneeded wealth or to effectively challenge the systems that put it in my hands in the first place.

My personal life takes a very contemporary shape. When both lovers in a relationship are women with their own careers as passionate artists, it is simply accepted between them that each will live where her art is. I am an unfailingly devoted lover, but my only real marriage is to Music; I will follow Her wherever She takes me; I will go nowhere without Her; no one and nothing will share with Her the place She occupies in my life. My bond with Her is the only one that I cannot conduct as a long-distance relationship. Such choices were unthinkable for women when we were legally prohibited from earning our own wages or owning our own property, when we were but our husbands’ breeding chattel. The legal institution that is marriage was cast in and still reflects those antiquated conditions and as such is an outdated and undesired model for me. Culture changes, continually, or it disappears. Lesbians have always been heavily represented among the drivers of cultural change; we learn by the trauma and thrill of coming out that when there is no room for what we need, we must create that room or die. When all is said and done, the other people whom we have dragged kicking and screaming into the next phase of their societal evolution end up thanking us.

To sum up how I feel about my positions in this world both as a pusher of society’s envelope and as a teacher of the arts of choral singing and conducting, I quote Tom Hanks’s character from _A League of One’s Own_:

“If it wasn’t hard, _everyone_ would do it.”

Kristina is a musical force in New York City. Her site summarizes her accomplishments, but I can tell you from listening to her performances that she's a fantastic conductor, and from hanging out with her that she's a beautiful human being.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Meet Mel

There isn't a whole lot to tell about me. My name is Mel and I am 28 years old. I think I have one of the most incredible jobs in the world (I work as a personal trainer). I have some of the most incredible friends in the world and they mean more to me than words can explain. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be surrounded by such supportive and loving people. I love going to dinner, movies, and concerts with my friends. One of my favorite past times is hanging out at my family's shore house with all of my friends and family. We have huge barbeques, music playing, and laugh our butts off.

I came out as a lesbian when I was 17 years old. My family and friends were all extremely supportive of me. I am so lucky to have people in my life who love and accept me for who I am. Although my friends and family were supportive of me, there were times that I came across intolerance and cruelty. When I was in high school there was a group of boys who would throw me down flights of stairs, or push me into walls as they yelled out profanities at me. I was always so confused as to how people could be so cruel. I didn't understand it then, and I still don't now. To me love is a universal thing....it shouldn't matter who a person loves or is attracted to. The ignorance and intolerance that some people have is really sad, but I want people to realize that members of the GLBT community are no different than anyone else.

Mel is a supportive friend. We met through Grace, who did her internship last summer at the physical therapy office where Mel worked. Mel and I like talking history, eating burgers, and hiking together. She's one of the only people I know who will get up at 5:00 AM and hike with me.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Wedding

Gooseflesh. That’s what I thought when I looked at the shoulders of the woman two seats to my left. Despite the bright sun, the cool breeze off Spring Lake had turned her bare shoulders to gooseflesh. I thought of how appropriate that expression was – how much her skin looked like the skin of those chickens I remembered from childhood. After their decapitated bodies had taken a turn in the scalding pot, the feathers had been easy to pull out. I remembered how the texture of their bared skin had seemed both grotesque and compelling. I looked forward at the gathering bridesmaids and saw that their shoulders were also bare. Did they all have gooseflesh?

The minister was a friend of the bride’s family, so at first I was sanguine about his avuncular style. Pretty soon, though, he started to seem needlessly puerile, as though he were plying a group of children for cheap laughs. It got worse when he made a joke about how God made Adam from dirt, and how that goes to show man's status. I was embarrassed and saddened because I saw in his comment the exploitation of hurtfulness.

Since college I've noticed that arguments between men and women tend to boil down to a very simple exchange: an adolescent boy screaming "You're ugly!" and an adolescent girl screaming back "You can't get it up!" Vitriol runs between the genders like a brackish river, and men like that minister are just smart enough to stick in a water wheel and draw some power from the flow. It's much easier to convince a woman that she should willingly stay behind her man if you smile and wink and say "Men are just big and dumb and we need someone to take care of us, am I right, ladies?" It was a morally bankrupt and intellectually slipshod disgrace, made worse by his simpering obviousness. It was also just a warm-up.

I wanted to believe it was the cold medication making me hallucinate but no, these words had actually just came out of his mouth: "It was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." It had never occurred to me that anyone would actually speak those words out loud. Sure, maybe you'd give in to temptation and type that saying in an e-mail because you thought it was cute, but it beggars my imagination to think that someone would actually give breath to words that idiotic.

Now I can articulate my stupefaction at the thought that anyone would truly want to win people over with a silly rhyme. As rhetorical devices go, that's a... that's not even a pointed stick. It's a stick with an awkward bend in it that's not even good for poking. But at the time I wasn't full of ironic commentary. I was angry that someone had taken what should have been a hallowed ceremony and cheapened it by turning it into a political forum. I was angry that I'd been made a part of it. I was angry at myself for being naive enough to be surprised when I heard those words that, until then, had been nothing more than a silly joke.

After the ceremony I went back to the car and tried to sleep. I was sick as a dog from a sinus infection, so I had a good excuse to stay away from the reception. I kept toying with the idea of going back in there and starting up conversations in which people would ask me what I do and I would say "These days I spend a lot of time praying that, someday soon, homosexual marriage will be made legal in every state of this fine land of ours." Since I didn't want to make a scene, I thought that staying away was a good idea. Then again, I wanted to be with my fiancee at her friend's wedding reception. I fretted, failed to sleep, and eventually came up with a way to reconcile it.

To my mind, the minister had taken something precious and cheapened it unimaginably; what should have been a ceremony about love and commitment had become a whore's bauble. But that's no skin off my nose, right? Whore's baubles can be nice enough to look at from time to time. It wouldn't kill me to spend the evening in the presence of paste nestled between perfumed breasts.

So I went back in and danced with my honey and ate dinner. Then, being so sick that I was no good to anyone, I went back to the motel for about ten hours of miserable semi-delirium. My rage at having been made a part of a political statement with which I disagreed wholeheartedly became the cannon fire in my 1812 Overture of chills, sweats, and despising humankind.

There was something unavoidably familiar about my anger. My father had a robust disdain for bullshit, and my mother's side of the family had an overdeveloped disdain for outsiders. Both had more than a hint of a snarl and a sneer. And that's how I felt: disdainful, snarling and sneering. The idea of handing down hatred from one generation to the next like an heirloom is anathema to me. Yet there are parts of my father's disdain for bullshit that I heartily admire. I went round and round in my head, wondering how I could divorce myself from anger and, once that was done, do something useful with what was left.

I spent Monday helping to drive the twelve hours back from Michigan, almost completely failing to sleep, and mulling it over. I fell asleep as soon as we got home. The next morning, during that lucid state before waking, something useful came to me. As usual, it involved empathy.

When I was a kid, the word "nigger" was not that uncommon in my family. I vividly remember an incident during my teens when my uncle, sitting in the car with the rest of the family, pointed at a young boy running by and said "Look at that little nigger!" He smiled and laughed as he said it, and his need was immediately clear: the boy had to be obviously funny, with no explanation asked or given. At least I had the wherewithal to challenge him on that one: I asked “What about him?”, he said “Well look at him!”, I said “What about him??”, and he said “Never mind” and backed off. Of course he couldn’t explain the simple truth that the boy was not of our tribe, our pack, our particular little group of naked apes.

I wish I could say that that ugly word never made it past my uncle’s generation, but back in elementary school I used it on a girl in my class a few times, to her face. She was the only dark-skinned girl in town. I said it because it was easy - because it made me feel superior.

I remember listening to Eddie Murphy's breakout comedy routine on cassette during my early teens - it was the one that was later named "Delirious" when it was put on video. In it, he said the word "faggot" a lot, even employing the highly memorable epithet of “faggot-ass faggot!” I got quite a kick out of that. I don't remember whether I actually used the word out loud much, if at all, but it wouldn't surprise me if I used it as a generalized insult to other children.

What's the connection? Ease. It was easy for that minister to say "It was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." I understand this. I wish I didn't, but I do. Because I know how easy it is to say "nigger" or "faggot". All you need is sufficient ignorance to think of another human being as The Other.

I thought about all this, and about the moment during my early years at Cornell when, for the first time, I saw two girls holding hands. I could take you back to within thirty feet of where I was standing. I thought of what an important moment that was for me, and thought of the millions of people who haven’t knowingly met a homosexual. That’s when I got the idea for this blog: Put a face on The Other so that they're no longer The Other.

Each day I'll post the picture of a non-straight person and a short autobiographical passage. This is a very simplistic idea that (hopefully) most people nowadays don't need, and the truly hateful will ignore. But people who are capable of changing their minds when confronted with the evidence may look at this parade of faces on the screen and realize… they’re just people. My goal is to put a human face on what people like that minister try to turn into a punchline.