Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"GLBT" - but what about the "IQ?"

This is taken from one of my first posts to AARP's "Spectrum" GLBT online community group.

[Writer's note:  AARP's 'automatic' censor had blacked out some words, most of which I comment on at the end.  But "penis?"  I fail to understand . . . what if this had been a post to a men's health group discussion?  Would the word "penis" still have been censored, while "testes" was allowed?]

I had asked the serious question "GLBT (Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgendered), but what about the 'IQ?' "  Someone commented that s/he didn't understand the term "Intersex" and asked if I was talking about hermaphrodites.

They also thought "Q" was for Queer.

I responded by explaining that "intersexed people are born with ambiguous genitals (and thank God surgeons aren't routinely and arbitrarily 'assigning sex' at birth by amputating **** and testes or sewing up a vaginal opening" as they used to)."

The spectrum of sexuality isn't just Kinsey's scale of 1-6 distinct types, as he would be the first to explain. There's a gradient line that cuts across all six sections . . . reflecting that each person is unique.

And the "Q?"

My reply, in full:

"Q" is for "questioning" -- those young (or later-life) people who are questioning their sexual identity in the process of discovering "who they really are."

I personally used to dislike the word "queer," even when it began being used by Queer Nation (and others) as an attempt to "take back the slur and use it ourselves, re-empowering the community."

That fell flat with me.  However, the late Christoper Isherwood (who I still venerate) said, "I call myself 'musical,' or 'so,' or 'queer."  He also once said "I like the word 'f****t.'  It has a crisp karate-chop sound to it."

I adore Isherwood's writings, and once got to meet him.  He graciously autographed all eleven of the books I brought to a signing of his "October," written with his other half, artist Don Bachardy.  I'd called to ask permission to lug all the books with me -- he was listed in the phone book.

In my own experience, both "queer" and "f****t" have unpleasant associations - especially "f****t.".  I've rarely heard it used by gay friends, but it was screamed at me both times I was gay-bashed as a young man.

Various names have evolved with the gay rights movement.  The problem seems to be the same as with the evolution of terms evidenced in the Civil Rights movement:  the NAACP ("colored people") through the United Negro College Fund, the Afro-Americans of the Black Power era (giving way to the People of Color, and the current African-Americans.  The time taken up getting to know the "right" terminology could be better spent, some feel, but each term reflects an era and a mind-set.

I usually use the word "gay" because (just as the above examples show), I'm a product of my era.

And I use "GLBT" or "GLBTIQ" because, as with the various rainbow flags, it covers the spectrum -- and may include either "Questioning" or "Queer."

"Queer," however, is easier -- and it has a tinge of radical subversion about it that I enjoy.  It savors of Queer Nation (and other queer notions).

Currently, most use "LGBT" (at least, in print).  I have no idea how the Lesbians moved to the front of the line.  I once asked, and was told "ladies first," which seems to me to be the kind of patronizing, sexist attitude that I'd thought the women's movement wanted to eradicate.
My own suspicion is that as gay men bore the brunt of the early AIDS crisis, dying in droves, the lesbians who supported the men's efforts simply co-opted their place in the chain (through having survived) and continued with outreach and education.  They've earned their place, regardless of who gets top billing.  

It was the Gay Rights movement first, Lesbians came into the battle a bit later (although "Dykes on Bikes" tends to be the first group in most Pride parades), and then the Bisexuals and Transgendered were acknowledged and welcomed into the fold.

"GLBTIQ," for me, sums up the history and evolution of the on-going struggle to attain equal rights for the "other/queer/odd."

Reed 13

P.S.  In writing this, I had to re-edit, because I used the full word "faggot" which was censored, coming out merely as six asterisks.  
The word "Dykes," however, was allowed.  
Interesting double standard.

Outing Bayard Rustin - Part Two

The day dawned cold and grey, with yet more rain predicted.  I donned hat, black leather car coat, gloves, and packed along a camera, pens, small tablet, and a little expanding umbrella in the coat's many pockets.  The local PFLAG president and her husband were unable to join us, as he is undergoing a second cataract surgery on Wednesday (didn't want to chance anything, marching in the cold and rain), but Mother and I picked up the banner and materials I'd already prepped from them.

We arrived at ten minutes to 11 at the Merced Amtrak station - only to find the block around it blocked by police (parade control). 

And we we in back of a group of horse riders.  So, Mother took a left, a right, went down two blocks to the next barricade, and I got out, toting banner, sections of poles, and bag with placards in neat plasticine envelopes. 

I looked around, and there was Tania, watching as the gap between the last group of marchers and grew wider.  A friend, Al, was introduced as we threaded the banner onto the poles and quick-marched double-time to catch up to the crowd.  The march had started - 10 minutes early.

And we marched - in the rain - keeping up a good pace, bringing up the rear of the groups, while the horse-riders behind us kept a sensible distance.

I'd mapquested the route:  1.1 miles to the Merced County Fairgrounds (900 MLK Jr. Way).

As we marched, I entertained Tanya with my account of marching on Sacramento 30-some years ago.  She, Al and I also passed the time by swapping accounts of our Native American roots.  Tanya has Aztec bloodlines, Al's Yacqui, and I'm one-eighth Cherokee, which I explained almost everyone seems to be.
Being "Cherokee" is a bit like having the name Smith. 

When our soggy little contingent arrived with all the other groups, I spotted Mother's car parked close to the exhibition hall where the speakers and celebration group counters were located. 

We took a moment to snap some photos of Al and Tanya, me and Al, and me and Tanya holding the banner - then disassembled and packed it all up. 

I don't know why PFLAG didn't have an informational counter inside.  I think it was a lack of planning, though I fear that it may have been apathy.  I'd like to think that it wasn't fear.

I found Mother inside, chatting with a friend from AARP and her writing group.  Tanya and I joined them.

After a nice large coffee with too much cream and sugar (prompting the merry African-American woman at the counter to comment: "Oh, you're just like me.  You like a little coffee in with your cream and sugar."), we took our seats and listened as the MC calmly and repeatedly said, "Please take your seats" (about eight times) until the crowd noise muted down.  Finally, he began by asking for a moment of silence in memory of Helen Nixon, who died last month.  As the hushed crowd (with only a crying baby or two) listened intently, he listed some of her many, many accomplishments over the last half-century and the first deacde of this new one.  My Mother, hearing Mrs. Nixon's name, said, "Oh, good.  I'm glad somebody remembered"  She and Helen had been pals in one of her writing classes.

We stood with the others for the Pledge of Allegiance.  A woman in front of me removed her hat for it, and a quick glance around showed me that almost everyone over the age of 10 was standing, hands over hearts, waiting as the Pledge began.  I have a voice that can, literally, be heard a block-and-a-quarter away, over traffic (classical voice training is a wonderful thing).  I'm afraid I may have alarmed a couple of folks in the row ahead of us by punching the last words:  "with liberty and justice for ALL!"  

The National Anthem was sung by the grand-daughter of the woman who had been listed as the soloist.  Grandma handed the microphone over after introducing Grand-daughter, who did us all proud.
One of the problems with our National Anthem is that most singers start off too high.  Unless one is a high tenor or soprano, the top notes have one screeching on "rockets' red glare." Mother sings alto, and I'm a bass.  Fortunately, the young woman began nice and low - the perfect register for all to be able to join in - which we did.  The second problem I've found with the anthem lies not in its tune, but in its performers, who all too often "Whitney Houston-ize" it - wild riffs and obligattos that show the singer is more interested in his/her own performance than in conveying the message.'  Our song leader once again proved to be top-flight.  Her voice, strong and sure; her diction impeccable. 

For me, the greatest fun came as we remained standing (after an invocation) to sing "Lift Every Voice and Sing", sometimes called "the Black national anthem" (words by James Weldon Johnson).  Mother and I had sung it the day before in church, as it was one of that Sunday's hymns at the "traditional" service.

I love the song, and cherish my memory of attending the Black Police Officers and Employees meeting in Long Beach some years ago with my boss:  one of the very few white AME (African Methodist Episcopal) ministers.  When we stood up for the singing, some of the folks at the tables near us looked somewhat askance at this unlikely pair.  And when we belted out the song, full-voice, strongly and vigorously, the quizzical looks turned to delighted smiles. 

This MLK Day, I thought the soloist had made a mistake with "Lift Every Voice."  Her pace was strong, slow, and deliberate.  I wondered how long it would take to get through all three verses and choruses printed on the back of the programs.  I discovered that, by taking it slow, singers have a chance to breathe so as to be able to make give every word and note their full value.  She sang only the first verse and chorus.  It was "sufficient unto the day."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Once and Future Marches

Yesterday, I contacted the contact for information about our local Martin Luther King, Jr. Day march, inquiring about whether PFLAG would be welcome in it.  
She promised to call me back.  
I also posted the information to AARP's "AARP Prism Network Online" group.  
My AARP mailbox alerted me that "Jane," a group member, had posted something related to my info. 

       Did she call back?  and, good for you! 
     Bayard Rustin is one of our gay history heroes, for sure.

My reply: 
She DID call back.  We join the march at 11 a.m. at the Amtrak station and will march with the aforementioned items( see "Outing Bayard Rustin" ), AND the PFLAG group banner, to the fairgrounds.

I reported this to the PFLAG group at last night's meeting and our vice president was delighted.  Monday's her birthday.  She thought this was the "keenest" present she'd get.

Our current president, Jeane, and her husband Dave founded the group.  Definitely "friends," and very active.

The guest speakers were the former head of Ally Alliance in the SF bay area and her co-worker there.  Both had worked there years, and both had their positions eliminated (all positions were eliminated, in fact) by the economy tanking.  So they're continuing on doing what they were doing as volunteers.

I had to leave early (rehearsal), and gave them both my card, with e-mail address.  I want to see everything - especially their draft position papers and informational packets for schools.  Recent legislation requiring anti-discrimination policies and fair treatment of all students are currently being skirted by an "opt-out" status to parents who don't want any mention of gender equality, same-sex equality, etc.

And before the meeting, I got to chat with Blaine and his lover of many years, and discovered he'd graduated from my high school two years ahead of me.  His brother was one year behind me.  And now, he's the Gay/Straight Alliance advisor for our high school.

I'm looking forward to possibly speaking to the GSA.

The most heartening news was that, in the opinion of the Ally speakers (both with 5-15 years of teaching experience), the climate in classrooms has changed dramatically.  A large majority (about 3/4) of students know someone gay, accept and welcome their gay friends and relatives, and speak up on our behalf.  Mind you, this is in ordinary small charter schools as well as larger non-charters.  In classrooms, not just at GSA meetings.

I'm beginning to think that there may be a distant light at the end of the tunnel, and that it's NOT an on-coming train.  "These kids these days" may be derided by some, but I think the new generation gives great reason for hope - and though it's been in short supply of late, hope is something we can all use.

This will be the first time I've marched since the 1978 "No on Prop 6" Sacramento demonstration.

I was one of an estimated 80,000 marchers who turned out in the pouring rain to urge Governer Jerry Brown to fight Prop. 6's ban on gay teachers.  Gray Davis spoke in support.  Pouring rain.  My nice woolen pants and overcoat were completely sodden.

After a two-hour drive back to San Francisco, we sat around a fireplace in various states of undress, running dryers-full of clothes and towels, feverishly discussing strategy, and warming up with Irish coffees.
Not everyone was in the disco in the '70s.  

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Outing Bayard Rustin

Merced, California is a former farm town/Air Force base bedroom community that's experienced a lot of changes in the 30 years since I last lived here.

We got the second-largest settlement of Hmong refugees placed here back in the late '70s, Castle Air Force Base (where I was born) was de-commissioned, and the tenth University of California campus opened here about five years ago.  Michelle Obama was the commencement speaker, and did a fine job on a sweltering 100+ degree July day.  That's summer in Merced.

I've become semi-active in our PFLAG chapter, and try to keep abreast of developments.  The Prop 8 federal case will be the first to address whether or not marriage equality for same-sex couple is a right guaranteed under the California State and U.S. Constitutions

I think the case for overturning Prop 8, which mandates that marriage shall only be between a man and a woman, is strong.  And I also think that we'll lose this time.  So far, it's been the matter of equal treatment under the law that's been stressed.  I think the real linch-pin will be that Prop 8 passed with only about 53% of the vote; the California State Constitution clearly states that a two-thirds majority is necessary to make any amendments to the Constitution.

If one does the math, 2/3 is 66.67% - far less than 53%. 
This however, is not a point that's being addressed by the plaintiffs in this possibly-historic case.
The Merced Sun-Star had a small squib about this coming Monday's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day march and festival.   This year's theme is "Unity."

We'll march from the Amtrak station to the fairgrounds, and then the various speakers will speak, and the booths and exhibits of various organizations will be available for perusal.  PFLAG, however, didn't think to inquire about the event, so we won't have a booth there.  

But, there's always the food.

And there's always next year.

I called the contact who's co-ordinating the event, gave her my name, and asked if PFLAG would be welcome to be a presence in the march.  I also explained that PFLAG stands for "Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays," and said that, as Dr. King had said that "None of us is free until all of us are free," we'd like to participate.  Bayard Rustin, I went on, the man who had organized the historic March on Washington, D.C., was gay, but was kept in the closet because it was felt (at the time) that the issue of civil rights should focus on oppression of the Negroes (I'm using the terminology of the time).  Gently, I inquired whether, with this issue having been placed, in essence, on the back burner, whether it wasn't time to let gays and lesbians participate equally - moving to the front of the bus.

The contact thanked me for raising the question, and said my timing was good.  There's to be an organizational meeting this afternoon, and she'll bring up the topic.  

She took my name and number, and promised to call me back.

So, while waiting, I printed out a copy of my PFLAG Christmas card to President Obama, and got a mild brain storm.

If we're approved, we'll march.  I prepared five small placards:  the first (with PFLAG logo and rainbow letters in the title) says, "PFLAG - Unity for All."

The next is a portrait of Dr. King (Web search and graphics programs are a marvel).  Dr. King's name is below the portrait (as if his image weren't familiar to all).

The next says:  "None of us is free until all of us are free." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The next is a portrait of Bayard Rustin, with his name below.  I think this one will puzzle on-lookers.

The final placard says "Bayard Rustin organized the March on Washington, D.C.  Bayard Rustin was gay."

I'm looking forward to it.

Being the clever-boots artist I am, I'm also contemplating (for this coming summer's Pride Celebration in Modesto - the closest one to Merced) some t-shirts.

Picture this:  A black and white image of Rustin with below it the name "BAYARD RUSTIN."  The first and last names will be in large block letters, the first name on top of the last name . . . and how nice that there are six letters in each name to match the six colors of the gay pride flag.

I'm looking foward to that, too.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Letter to the Bishop - May 2001

Here is some Wikipedia information about Anita Hill - not the Anita Hill of the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination controversy, but a Lutheran minister.  As I've copied it direct from Wikipedia, it contains several links to other Wikipedia entries.

Rev. Anita Carol Hill is a pastor at Saint Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church in Saint Paul, Minnesota, (United States). The congregation is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), however, her ordination is not recognized by the ELCA. Hill is a lesbian in a committed relationship, and ELCA guidelines require celibacy from "ministers who self-identify as homosexuals." Hill made national headlines when she was called and ordained by the congregation in defiance of ELCA regulations. She is one of a handful of openly gay and lesbian pastors serving congregations within the ELCA. This has caused much controversy within the church.

And indeed it did.  At the time I was working as a secretary at a Long Beach, California ELCA church, Rev. Hill had been called by her congregation to serve as their pastor.  I'm pleased to note that the ELCA finally changed its policies in 2009.  Its current policy is set forth in Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hansons' Message to Rostered Leaders:  ELCA Message on Sexuality 

The Washington Post's account sums up the matter neatly:  Washington Post "Monogamous Gays Can Serve as Clergy"

This letter was sent in May of 2001 to Paul Egertson, Bishop of the Southwest California Synod.  He had ordained Anita C. Hill, and publicly disagreed with other prominent church officials over her ordination, as well as on the matter of equal treatment and respect for GLBT congregants and clergy.  He paid more than lip service; he took a strong, principled stance on the matter, and resigned rather than give in to pressure from the higher-ups.

I think he was serving a God who was even higher up than his fellow bishops.  

 Dear Bishop Egertson: 
Thank you for publicly doing the right thing in the matter of Anita Hill.  

I know that you must have struggled with the decision to participate in her ordination.  I am overjoyed that, for once, an American Lutheran bishop chose to publicly take a stand on this matter.

The ELCA has discussed this matter to death.  Thank God someone has chosen to actually DO something.  

An old joke asks:  “How many Lutherans does it take to change a light-bulb?”

The punch-line is, of course, “Change?  What do you mean, change?  My grandmother gave that light-bulb to this church!”

While the national church hems and haws, urging continued “prayerful discernment,” “additional dialogue,” and “remaining engaged in discussion on this matter,” gay and lesbian children are born into Lutheran families and grow older.  Some remain with the church, “sitting quietly in the back of the bus;” some leave to find other churches willing to declare the truth that “God doesn’t make second-class citizens;” some fall away from church altogether, abandoning their hope along the way; and some, as we know, fall so deep into despair that they kill themselves.

Meanwhile, the ELCA demonstrates that, “when all is said and done, the Lutherans will still be talking.”

I pray that all will be well with you, and that you will join with Bishop Olson in becoming publicly active in pursuing true full participation for God’s gay and lesbian children.  I pray that our national church will once again learn to lead by example on this crucial matter of social justice.  I pray that the ELCA will place Jesus Christ at its head, relegate the pieties of Paul to their secondary position, and recognize that its own slavish adherence to its present constitution and “Visions and Expectations” document thwarts Luther’s vision of a priesthood of all believers.

Thank you for taking action and “changing the light-bulb.”  I hope you will continue to bring light to our lives for many years to come, and that your example will help move the ELCA to become more than merely a stale punch-line to a hoary joke.

If you do resign, I urge you to do so loudly and as publicly as possible.  Let our nation know that churches have been removed from the ELCA’s roster for calling non-celibate gay and lesbian clergy who refuse to lie about their committed relationships – and that these congregations are well and thriving.  Let America know that we enjoy full communion with the United Church of Christ, which ordains non-celibate GLBT persons.  Spread the truth that Lutherans are the largest religious body in every country in the world that accords same-sex partnerships the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual marriages.

Educate and enlighten:  Lutherans need not be the reticent stuff of Garrison Keillor’s comic monologues – they are as passionate and deeply committed to the Great Commission as their more outspoken Episcopal brothers and sisters, and far more numerous.  In short, even if you resign, as you do so, continue with your gift as a teacher, spreading truth and light.  

Personally, I believe the national ELCA office has become so pre-occupied with bureaucratic niceties such as “correct rostership status” that Martin Luther would have included our American church as his 96th thesis.  If Luther had kept the same quiet “wait and see” attitude as our present ELCA, we’d all still be Roman Catholics.

Thank you for DOING something.

May God continue to bless and keep you.

Your brother in Christ (whether Bishop Anderson likes it or not),

Reed  Boyer

Copies were sent to Presiding Bishop H. George Anderson, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Bishop Murray Finck, Pacifica Synod; Lutherans Concerned North America; and the Lutherans Human Relations Association

A month after this letter of support was sent to him, Bishop Egertson resigned.  His resignation letter, provided by Democracy Now! details his reasons for his "act of 'ecclesiastical disobedience'" in having ordained Rev. Hill:  Egertson's resignation

Bishop Egertson's letter also stated in part: "Yesterday, Shirley and I celebrated our 45th Wedding Anniversary.  Within our first year of marriage, God gave us our first son.  He was and is a gift.   He was and is gay.  Over the next fifteen years God gave us five more sons.  They were and are gifts. T hey are straight.  You never know what is in God’s gifts until you open them.  We have been blessed and we are grateful."

In my estimation, Bishop Egertson and Rev. Hill must be ranked with Martin Luther himself, who famously said, when asked to recant his "heretical views:"  -- "Here I stand.  I can do no other."

A link to a Fox11 news report is also attached.  The viewer comments are very interesting, but not unexpected.

Last week I decided to become a member of the United Methodist Church where my mother worships and I sing in the choir.  I've been in the choir for nearly three years, but always balked when invited to become a member.

Last month, the congregation voted 54-15 to become a Welcoming and Reconciling Congregation, welcoming all GLBT people home to a church that values them.  I may slip off to Shepherd of the Valley ELCA Lutheran church during the choir's summer break, but in either place, I feel that I'm finally home.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

"Confessions of a Church Secretary:" One From the Vault - March 2K

 Like many of us, I find myself going through old letters and papers at this time of  year - especially as I'm STILL (after 3-1/2 years here) unpacking the half-garage-full of boxes.  There are a lot of them, taking up nearly half of a smallish two-car garage.  And I know, having counted them when I was moving, that there are more than 70 boxes full of books.  I once counted them, and had over 800 volumes that I couldn't part with, mostly reference works, biographies, gay lit, English Lit, writing- and theater-related, American and World literature and letters, mysteries and horror (including a three-foot shelf of H. P. Lovecraft and other Arkham House works), and sundry art and occult/esoteric works.  Thank God mother's friend June suggested using clothing as packing material, otherwise each box would have required two people to lift it.  As it is, the boxes (stacked six high and four deep) are still quite heavy.

When I'd first met Robert, his family background in fundamentalist "Christianity" still influenced his views on my interests in witchcraft, Buddhism, Judaica, and other spiritual paths.  He was so disturbed by my foot-long expanse of books on witchcraft, Wicca, and early pagan religious survivals that I finally just dumped them all into a box that I left out in the alley garbage dumpster.  Ironically, a decade later he decided that Wicca was for him and started taking instruction in its history, tenets, and practices.  Over the next few years, he acquired book after book, despite not being a reader of much else (except John Christopher's "White Mountains" trilogy).  By the time he died and I moved, we had two half-sized bookshelves filled with witchcraft, Buddhism, Judaica, and other spiritual paths, etc.  The foot-long shelf of esoterica had become three feet, and one box-worth finally filled three.

As I'm going through the boxes, I'm finding all kinds of things, including some computer diskettes with letters and other information from 1999 onward.

The following was written to my aunt in March of 2000, so this is "One From the Vault."

Sharon –

Had a busy and productive day yesterday (usually they’re just busy), so I can finally sit down and write something more than a blip.  I’ve got so much to catch you up on that this may be quite lengthy . . .

You asked for a newsy note, but you should know by now that with me it’s either not enough, or too much.  So . . . why don’t you make yourself a cup of tea, put your feet up, and settle in for a visit.

MANY REASONS I’D CHANGE JOBS, despite loving it and having a great boss:

FIRST, I have to commute 45 minutes to an hour by bus(es) in the morning.

It wouldn’t be so awful were it not for the fact that the number 90 series buses that I take pass by Jefferson Middle (Jr. High) school, Wilson High, and Cal State University Long Beach.  The buses run every 15 minutes, but are still packed – especially during the AM and afternoon peak times.  Even the Zap (express) buses get pretty full.  The worst time so far we had two wheelchairs (loading and unloading of which throws off the schedule by about 5 minutes – not too bad), and 24 people standing for almost 30 city blocks!

Aside from the congestion, bear in mind that the buses are packed with children from the ages of 12 to 20 lugging backpacks and book bags – not enough lockers on campus.  Lockers are becoming rarer, in some instances being eliminated since they might conceal weapons or drugs.  Even when they’re available, there aren’t enough to go around, because the population has boomed while school construction has waned.  Thanks to Howard Jarvis and Proposition 13, which rolled back property taxes and gutted public services, we’re still playing catch-up in our schools 20 years later.

The children don’t know how to sit in a seat and keep backpacks on their laps.  Instead, they take up another seat with the bag. 

In short, I’m getting old and cranky because THESE KIDS TODAY JUST AIN’T RIGHT!  (why, in my day, I bicycled 2 miles to school . . . )  Oh, well, that’s life in the big city. 

It really wouldn’t be so draining if the little darlings weren’t so foul-mouthed.  I despair when I hear a conversation between young (16?  14?  12?)   African-Americans (both sexes) that’s filled with examples like:  “F***, niggah, his m*****-f***ing a**  best not even f***ing f*** with me.  Sh**, cuz, I f*** that niggah up good.”  The repetitive use of obscenities gets on my nerves, but I can pretty much screen it out – after a while a word repeated often enough ceases to have any meaning.  HOWEVER . . . the use of “The N Word” drives me up the wall.   Don’t these brats have a clue that it’s just not acceptable in public? 

Suffice it to say, my blood pressure could stand a change of commute, and I’ve developed a nostalgic longing for the good old days of high taxes and plentiful public school buses.

SECOND REASON:  My successor at Trinity Lutheran has put in her two weeks resignation notice.  She lasted exactly one year, before burning out just as I did. 

The problem was (and is) that Trinity’s senior pastor (WHO SHALL REMAIN NAMELESS) is autocratic, demanding, sneaky, dishonest, mean-spirited, gossipy, greedy, lazy, and runs the place as if it were a military base . . . follow orders, never presume to correct him or ask questions, etc.  In his ten years there, he’s had six (seven?  eight?) secretaries.  I worked there a year and nine months, and was miserable for a year and a half of it.

A shame really, as the associate pastor is worth his weight in gold . . . really walks the walk (and does three-quarters of the work), while the other one merely talks the talk, takes the credit, and continues to erode the congregational attendance and financial base.  

(Something about “practicing what one preaches” springs to mind)

Fortunately, the bad pastor may soon transfer to Florida, so that he can damage public perception of the ELCA in another state.  The congregational council, after years of putting up with him, buying his load of goods, etc., has finally started putting their feet down and demanding accountability.  Even his staunchest and oldest friend, after a year on the council, is ready to start agitating for a congregational meeting to oust him. 

(It’s been a long time coming – almost like Darwinian evolution – but the council has started to develop a spine.)

Particularly galling for me is that Trinity is Long Beach’s only RIC (Reconciling in Christ) congregation – a designation that Lutherans Concerned (organization of gay and lesbian Lutherans working toward full inclusion in church life) uses to denote congregations which welcome and affirm gay men and lesbians as members of their congregations . . . including acknowledging their long-term committed relationships.  “Acknowledging” DOESN’T mean holding “gay weddings,” “same-sex marriages,” or ceremonies of holy union.  It means that a church bulletin, for instance, might note that Howard and John have been together for 28 years now, and offer congratulations.

So, Long Beach’s only RIC congregation has a senior pastor who takes it for granted that he’ll be supported by the gay and lesbian members because Trinity’s the only game in town.  Meanwhile, he gives them a terrible impression of what it is to be Lutheran.  Eventually, they become resentful and decide the RIC designation is less important than real spiritual values . . . and they go elsewhere, to the Episcopalians, to the Metropolitan Community Church, to the Unitarians, or they simply abandon the church altogether and continue to drift.

Do you wonder that I left the place, and that the new secretary is ready to jump ship?

(Office politics is always nasty, and more so when it’s a church office)

So, if I were to take another position, Selma (my successor) would be immediately available for hire here.  I trained her at Trinity, where she was going to cover my vacation for 2 weeks, and have continued to help her by phone.  I’ve made it clear to her and my boss (Pastor Mary, a.k.a. “PM”) that I’d show her the ropes here and continue to be available for questions that come up. Selma has my fullest recommendation, and I think she deserves to work for more money in a position with fewer demands.  If nothing else, she deserves a loving and supportive boss after the year of hell she’s been through.

THIRD REASON:  St. Luke’s Episcopal church needs a parish administrator “yesterday.”  I know a half-dozen of the members already, and one of them (a member of their Vestry) brought my name up for consideration before I’d even learned that the job opening existed.  So, I have a slight inside edge, especially since I’d be willing to step in at the busiest time of the year.

I faxed them my resume last Thursday.  Knowing how church councils operate (way too often), I’m not expecting to hear anything for another week.

FOURTH REASON:  Ironically, St. Luke’s Episcopal is located a block from Trinity – 5 minutes by bus (or a 20 minute walk . . . and I could always use the exercise).

FIFTH REASON:  The new position would pay the same (or better), and be only four days a week instead of five.

The last reason is especially compelling because of Robert’s health.


Robert’s had been HIV positive for quite some time, but still working nine hours a day at Disneyland and commuting 1-1/2 to 2 hours each way by bus.  (Much better than when they wouldn’t schedule him during the hours the bus ran,  and for more than three years he bicycled 18-1/2 miles each way five days a week in all kinds of weather)  After years of experience, we aren’t Disney fans.  Great public image; lousy, hostile, working environment.  Pretty debilitating.

Last May, Robert noticed a swollen lump under one arm and began having trouble swallowing because of throat pain.  His primary physician did some blood work, found his viral levels through the roof and his CD-4 (T-cells) in the basement, found a fungal infection in the esophagus, and referred us to a splendid specialist.  Diagnosis:  all things taken in conjunction, Robert now “officially” has AIDS.

By June the swollen lymph nodes had kept him out of work until his sick leave had been exhausted while the new doctor began trying several combinations of anti-fungals, anti-virals, and running many tests (in and out of the office every two weeks like clockwork -- sometimes twice a week if there was a bad reaction to a medication).

In July, Robert was placed on state disability and I began hassling with the Human Resources people at Disneyland to try to find out what resources (if any) were available for an employee with AIDS.  Job protection?  Medical coverage continuance?  Support groups?  Viatical life insurance buy-out program?  COBRA health coverage information? 

They wouldn’t discuss it with anyone but “the employee.”  I’m not the employee.  I am, however, his registered domestic partner with the company (as well as in the City of Long Beach), share health insurance coverage, and am the beneficiary of his company life insurance policy.  I was told that, nonetheless, they couldn’t discuss employee benefits with anyone but the employee. 

So, while Robert’s semi-conscious, incoherent, and having fevers ranging from 102 to 104, I’m getting lots of exercise.  I ran around to an attorney friend who drew up a Statutory Power of Attorney (giving me power to discuss any and all financial matters with any and all agencies and companies including his employer), Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, and Directive to Physician.  We then get to go (by bus, with Robert’s fevers diminished to 100-101) to the office to sign all the papers in mid-August. 

Thank God Stephanie (the attorney) did it all for free – she won the L.A. County Bar Association’s “Pro Bono” award last year, and no wonder.  Otherwise, we’d have had to have spent about $500.00 to get someone in Disneyland’s Human Resources to tell us what benefits and resources, if any, Robert (or any other employee with HIV or AIDS) would have available, or whether any kind of employee assistance program in place.  (Mind you, this is a company that gets a lot of publicity mileage out of giving a couple million dollars a year to the Pediatric AIDS Foundation)

Meanwhile, I picked the brains of five other friends, and we signed up at St. Mary’s hospital’s CARE (Comprehensive AIDS Research and Education) Program.  Within a week, Robert had been visited by a social worker familiar with available public and private resources, including daily meal deliveries if needed (so I wouldn’t have to come home in the middle of the day,); respite and/or regular housekeeping service once a week; various medical insurance continuance programs; rental assistance; transportation vouchers and/or public transit passes (including obtaining L.A. County Disabled pass).  She also told us what to do when the disability payments run out, helped to guide us through applying for long-term disability (Social Security) application, and has continued to help with information and moral support.  In addition, a nursing social worker visits him once or twice a month to monitor his status.

In mid-September, he developed anemia (family history?) and had to be hospitalized for 3 days while he was given blood transfusion (three units).  Fungal infection eliminated, lymph nodes (an atypical form of TB called MAI) beginning to respond to treatment; no appetite to speak of.

In October, just before we visited Merced, he was again hospitalized overnight for a second transfusion (2 units).  Turns out the anemia was a side-effect of one of his anti-virals, which destroys red blood cells.

Had a nice week’s visit with Mother and Bill, being very lazy and watching a lot of cable television. 

When I got back, I contacted Disneyland to find out who I should deliver copies of all the Powers of Attorney to so that I could finally get some answers . . . and I was told that because I’m already on record with the company as Robert’s registered domestic partner, ANYONE should be able to discuss ANYTHING with me AT ANY TIME – directly contradicting everything we’d already been told. 

In other words, we suffered the runaround for no reason at all.  I held my tongue and my temper, and politely told the lovely Ms. Browne what we’d gone through so far.  I further said that I hoped she or someone in Human Resources Management would see to it that the company’s domestic partnership policy was widely disseminated and clearly understood by all of Human Resources so that others would be spared this kind of frustration in the future.  She thanked me, gave me a contact number for the Employee Assistance Program (separately administered through an outside contractor in Boston, Mass), and also gave me the number of the woman at Disney World in FLORIDA! who administers the domestic partnership program . . . ye gods!

In November, reactions developed again.  Another round of tinkering with medications, adding this, subtracting that, substituting something else.  Received information from Employee Assistance in Boston, which boiled down to:  you should probably contact Social Security or a local AIDS information program about resources . . . doesn’t the Human Resources office at Disneyland have any information about local programs?”

I gave up.  We’re listening to CARE Program.  This is why I continue to boycott all Disney animated features.  In my opinion, the Great Beast 666 is Mickey Mouse . . . we already knew that Michael Eisner is the Anti-Christ.

We had a nice, quiet Christmas.   Robert’s viral load has continued to decline, but his CD-4 hasn’t increased (good news, overall).  He weighed 172 last May, and weighs 145 now.  His weight is seven pounds up from his all-time low in January.  Various problems with side effects continue to crop up, but they’re mostly minor.  He’s quite weak most of the time, but is steadily improving.

This past weekend, he came to the church spaghetti supper – his first big outing in months, other than doctor visits.

My boss has been great during all this, allowing me a completely flexible schedule to meet with doctors, lawyers, and social workers.  She and the intern pastor both visited Robert when he was in hospital.  (By the way, he’s the grandson of long-time members here).

HOW THIS TIES IN TO CHANGING JOBS:  Working at the other job would allow me to have a full weekday always set aside for doctor appointments, etc., and as it’s so much closer, I’d be available if an emergency arises at home.

This is the first time I’ve set all of this down in order all in one place.  Looking back, I realize I’ve had one of those rough years that’s so nice to have gotten to the other side of -- it’s been Job’s own year.  Mother and Bill have been wonderful during all of it.  Despite having had quite a tough row of their own to hoe, they’ve saved my sanity several times.  It would take several more pages to go into any kind of detail, so we’ll leave it at that.

During this past year, I’ve turned 40, gained 25 pounds, gotten a lot of grey hairs, acted in two plays and a church worship/drama service, and done too little housework.  I think I’ve gotten a few clues as to what things in life are important, and what aren’t, but I’m still not sure where housework falls in the grand scheme of things. 

Feeling fat, unattractive, and stressed-out in November, I started smoking again after being off cigarettes for 19 months.  Within a week, I was back up to nearly a pack a day of Camel Wide Lights; I’m now 2-1/2 weeks away from my projected quit date – thank God for Wellbutrin/Zyban.  I’m down to six True Blues a day.

Robert and I celebrated our twelfth anniversary last July.  (As one of the characters in Lanford Wilson’s “Love!  Valour!  Compassion!” says, “We’re role models.  It’s very stressful.”)  I’ll be 14 years clean and sober this coming May, and 41 next month.  Robert will be 35 in May.  We’ve been in the same apartment for eight years last month, and I’m ready to build the last two bookcases so we can “finish unpacking.”  After that, I’ll spend until about August re-painting the apartment (our landlady has approved the colors), putting in new blinds and cornices, and finally getting the place to look like “home.”  About time.

I’m helping Pastor John at Trinity (the good pastor) cast, organize, and do-direct this year’s Lenten worship/drama series, “The People vs. Judas Iscariot:  The Punishment Phase.”  Our first service is tomorrow night.

Unusual weather this winter (for southern California).  Lots of rain (which we need), regular thunderstorms – even hail the other night.  With all of this, Aunt Billie’s building project has doubtless been further delayed.

Your summer plans sound great.  We may hit Merced, Philadelphia, and Fort Lauderdale in a three-week blitz in late May/early June – regardless of whether or not I change jobs.

Love to you and Gene, and Tom and Mary . . . hope he won’t agonize too much about whether to stay in the chicken business or not.  On one hand, people will always need to eat, so it’s bound to be there for awhile.  On the other, most people will now change careers six or seven times in their working lives – as Mary’s already discovering.  As long as it’s honest work, not too horrible, and keeps a roof overhead, I hope they enjoy learning from the experience.

All right . . . there.  I’m finished now.  Now I can keep future letters down to a sane page or so . . .



This was written ten years ago, and in that time I've turned 50.  I'm smoking again, still weigh 168, and have more and more grey hairs.  Most are in my beard and chest.  I keep my face clean-shaven most of the time, and don't even want to contemplate dying my chest hair.  

I'm older, much wiser about some things than I ever wanted to be, and relatively happy.  Living in Merced, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) usually crops up, as we're virtually deprived of any direct sunlight most of the time from November through late February.  

I did one play last year, participated in mounting three others, and am rehearsing for "King Lear," which goes up next month.  I'm playing the Fool - appropriate, as I did my senior British Lit secondary source paper on "The Wisdom of the Fool in 'King Lear.'"  This will be my second time in a production of "Lear."  Thirty-two years ago, I played Oswald, the scheming steward to Goneril.  

Once again, it seems as though I've come full circle.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Gay Widow is Not a Merry Widow

I've cribbed this from a response to AARP's "Never Alone International" group, since I'm widowed, of the right age, and the group's for widows.  Someone wrote about her difficulties with unexpected crying.  So I wrote:

The crying thing is surprising.

It's been almost four years, and the other night, while talking with my mother about her late husband (my step-dad) Bill and about Robert, I suddenly choked up completely and started weeping.

Just from speaking his birth and death dates aloud . . . which I've done many times.  But this time . . .  out of the blue, WHAM!

That's Bill and my Mother, taken at Christmas, 1994

Life's like that, and so we go skipping merrily down the path, wondering what little emotional booby-trap we may spring on the way . . . but never stopping to wallow.

And out of all that, I'm grateful.  It's better than the two years of numbness I went through, deeply depressed and clutching a pillow at night in a near-fetal position, crying quietly to myself a lot and unexpectedly -- which is bizarre, because the waitress who'd triggered it had only asked if I was ready to order.

THAT was another odd one.

Although I did eventually give away most of Robert's clothes, we were within a half-inch of each other as to sleeve and trouser lengths.  The same at the waist.  So his clothing has become mine, which is only right:  we used to borrow from each other all the time.

But I no longer hold it to my face because it smells like him.

And I no longer rage that there's nobody in this podunk burg that I can talk to about it.  I am a gay widow, but not a merry one.

Until I remember to go dancing down the path, toward the future.

That's me on the left, Robert on the right, and Cindy-Lou on Robert's lap. 

Cindy-Lou died last year at the age of 21 - a great age for a kitty. 

Robert died at the age of 40. 

I wonder what that is in cat years.

And, as Linda Ellerbee says, "so it goes."

Joseph Amster's "Amsterama"

I've known Joseph Amster for more than 30 years.  Astonishing!

We met as Drama students and actors at Orange Coast College, and reconnected more than a decade later when he was the editor of the Orange County/Long Beach Blade - a GLBT monthly magazine.  At the time I was the secretary of a Lutheran (ELCA) church that was making a commitment to reaching out the the GLBT community, and we were running an ad once a month.

I put two and two together, called Joe, met with the publisher, proofed three pages of sample copy, and soon was e-commuting:  proofing and correcting submitted copy via e-mail and going down to the Laguna Beach office once a month (three buses each way for a four-hour round trip) to mark the final draft.  The Blade's creator/publisher (the splendid Bill Lapointe) found out that I'd learned my proofing skills as Editorial/Opinion page editor of my high school's monthly newspaper, and asked to see a writing sample.  He liked what he read, and asked if I'd draft a "Religion and Spirituality" column on spec.  His current columnist was heavily, heavily Christocentric, with a Pauline bent for quoting verse after verse while giving spiritual advice to the GLBT readers.

Bill wanted something more inclusive.

And that, kids, is how Daddy became (with the click of a mouse) the Rev. J. R. Boyer.   

I obtained a Universal Life Church (ULC) ordination with the click of a mouse.  With that, I was instantly qualified to perform any religious ceremony or rite except circumcision.  So the pen name was accurate.   I planned to "out" the ease of ULC ordination in a piece titled "Believer, Beware!  Wolves in Sheep's Clothing," which was printed after I'd been writing the column for a year.

It was one of the best periods of my life, although during it, Robert was having difficulty with his HIV meds and beginning the slow decline that led to his death.

Through all of this, Joe was flexible, supportive, and remarkably compassionate - a far cry from the stereotype of the cynical, hard-bitten Big City editor.

After Robert died and I moved back to my hometown, I managed to remember the word "Amsterama," Googled it, and lo and behold!  JOE!  

He is doing well, still writing, and the proprietor of "Amsterama" - a shop in the Oakland/Bay Area.

The Wonderful World of Amsterama, his blog, is one of the best on the Web, (in my admittedly biased opinion).  

However, as a crack editor myself, I can assure you of one thing:  there will be NO typos.

"Magical Waters" and AARP Wiccans

For my Wiccan friends, a little info.

This is a good site.  It's creator is fairly new to the craft, and would surely appreciate contributions about Wiccan/wiccan ways.

Also (who would've thought it?) there's a Wiccan AARP group.  I'm fifty, grudgingly, and fighting it all the way, but I qualify for membership.

AARP Group: "WiccanReligion HarmNone

And much thanks to Todd for the Magical Waters site info.