Sunday, September 28, 2008

The 19%

Bush's approval ratings are below 20% now. Like watching a fish out of water slowly gasping for oxygen, this worst of the worst administrations is finally making a not-so-glamorous exit.

Yet, incredibly, 19% of Americans polled still approve of this President, who got us into debt, war and economic crisis. Yeah yeah, I know you can't blame everything on him, but if you applied the same standards of a corporate CEO to the Presidency, one would say that the buck stops there. You'd think there would be a least a few substantial accomplishments that supporters could point out to support their support. "Spreading democracy" or "protecting us from terrorism" just don't cut it as accomplishments to me, especially with no specifics to back it up.

So, I find myself wondering about these 19% of die hards. What motivates them? How could they be so blind to the facts? Are they in denial? or just sadistic and cruel? Uninformed or with "issues" from childhood?

I used to be a die hard Democrat, voting party line above all else. I understand the process of identification with a party or a group so strongly that I feel accepted and a part of a whole.

Growing up gay in the South left me feeling so different, so isolated and so lonely in my formative years, I spent much of my twenties searching for a sense of belonging. It felt so good to walk into my first Carolina Gay Association meeting as a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill. Although it was a patchwork group of people, mostly leftover hippies, cultural bohemians and grad students in their 30's and 40's, I finally felt like I could be myself with these people even if I was 19, a redneck and a bit naive about the world still.

Going to my first gay bar, the Capital Corral (or CC's) in Raleigh (http://www.cc-raleigh.com/), was one of the most amazing experiences in my life. It still ranks up there in terms of life changing moments when I entered a room full of men who loved men. Watching men dancing together, holding hands and even sneaking kisses held for me an awakening of a spirit of community. I remember being so nervous and excited, I was shocked and awed that such a place existed.

My new found community carried both fascination and excitement. I wanted to go back over and over again. I wanted to experience that excitement and that freedom as much as possible. I could hardly concentrate on my classes or my homework, I just wanted more of that experience.

Everytime I went, I focused on what people were wearing, how they acted, what they talked about and learning the "gay" code language. Back then, it was all about "Mary" and switching pronouns, and "friend of Dorothy". I wanted to belong so badly, I adopted almost every mannerism I could find. I had been rejected by my fundamentalist family and church so I just couldn't risk rejection by my newfound friends. I was at CC's or the other club in Durham two, sometimes three nights a week dancing until dawn and hanging out with my new friends.

Reality hit me at the end of my freshman year. For the first time in my life, I failed a course at UNC and barely passed most of the rest. With a 1.4 GPA at the end of the year, I was staring at academic probation and the possibility of having to go back to my hometown and live with the parents. NOTHING could have been more frightening. After screaming out of the closet, I couldn't imagine sealing back up the suppression that it took to survive my gay teen years in that little town. I had to buckle down. I had to pull back a bit and learn to find some balance. I allowed myself to continue my social learning experiments, but I made myself study and I never looked back. It took me the rest of my college career to overcome that first year deficit and it created a somewhat more difficult and circuitous path to my career now as a psychologist. I entered my Master's program on probation, not because of my more than adequate GRE score, but because of my GPA. Although I started weak, I finished strong thank goodness.

So, I get the notion of holding on to what you have no matter what. I understand the desire to belong to a group that symbolizes the "right way" for you. I sympathize with the inner need to ignore the evidence to the contrary, to fiercely protect an alliance that fuels a sense of personal power and to suffer the consequences of that membership.

I just hope that the 19% who continue to believe that George W. Bush is on the right path don't have to fall too far. And I certainly hope that at some point, they can see the real truth of his disasterous Presidency so that we can make real change in the country. Hanging on to something beyond it's time has consequences.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Caitlin vs. Palin: You Decide

"We have trade missions back and forth, we do. It's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia. As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there, they are right next to our state."

"I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uhmmm, some people out there in our nation don’t have maps and uh, I believe that our, I, education like such as uh, South Africa, and uh, the Iraq, everywhere like such as, and I believe that they should, uhhh, our education over here in the US should help the US, uh, should help South Africa, it should help the Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future, for us.”




One of the above statements was made by the third runner up to the Junior Miss USA. during the interview phase.

And one of these statements was made by the first runner up to Miss Alaska during her recent interview with Katie Couric.

Can you tell which one has more foreign policy experience?

I didn't think so.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday 49er's game


Brad's family have been fans of the San Francisco 49ers for years and years. They buy a block of season tickets every year, Brad, his mom, his sister Cath, and his brother Steve. So, chances are, one of those tickets will be available every once in a while. Today, his sister and mom are in Maui so we got to invite a couple of friends, Kevin and Randy with us.

We met Randy and Kevin while training for the 2007 AIDS Life Cycle. They are both great people, down to earth and low drama (well, there was that time on the ride.....).

It was a beautiful day and SF kicked Detroit's butt on the field.

I like going to the games even though I'm not really a big fan of football. It's an opportunity to see a wide variety of other types of people in the Bay Area. I've always loved watching people.

Growing up in NC, in a small town, we didn't have much diversity. At the last look, I believe the makeup was something like 88% white, 8% African American, and the rest was "other". It felt so boring to me because I wanted to know more about other cultures, more about the world out there.

When I was in the fourth grade, Ms. Vassey's class, we had just been "integrated" in Rutherford County. Instead of separate schools for blacks and whites, after the third grade, we switched from Forest City Elementary School to Dunbar Elementary, which had formerly been all black.

I didn't really understand much about going to Dunbar for the fourth grade. It just seemed kinda exciting to start a new school. I had heard that it was the "black" school, but that just made me more excited since even though I was born and raised in the South, somehow I missed heavy doses of racism. I know it was there, and all around me, but I just didn't have much direct experience with black people or with their experiences living in a little racist town.

I also remember, a special day, a couple of weeks after school had started. Despite the fact that I was now attending the former black middle school, my teacher was white and all the students in my class were white.

Until Gary started. Gary started the school year late, so he was introduced by the teacher to the whole class at once. Gary was the first caramel-color person I'd ever seen. And he was beautiful. I hadn't even begun to deal with my own sexuality at that point in time, but I knew that there was something intriguing about Gary. I was fascinated by him. I introduced myself right away and tried myself to make him feel welcome and comfortable.

During recess, my heart started racing when he agreed to be my sack race partner. We had to hold hands as we laughed and hopped and fell. I don't know what Gary might have been feeling, but I'd have to say looking back, he was my very first crush. After those first few weeks, Gary made other friends and what I had hoped would be a special friendship turned into just another friend in the class.

I have to give my parents credit. Despite the virulently racist attitudes of many of their friends, family and neighbors, they did not raise me in an overtly racist way. We were taught never to use the "N" word and to be generally respectful of people who are different. Of course, that didn't mean that you should MARRY them- which of course makes any forbidden group or person all that much more attractive.

Racism was much more overt when I lived in southern Mississippi. I did hear the "N" word more often, and there was still a lingering historical sentimentality for the "war". I later realized that the war they waxed passionately about was the Civil War. In North Carolina, much of the local historical identity revolves around the Revolutionary War, and being one of the thirteen original colonies. There was a pride inherent in standing up to the British and King's Mountain, a little town close to my own hometown was the site of a grave of a supposedly heinous British soldier who attempted to declare the countryside for the British crown. Today, visitors heap rocks upon rocks on the supposed grave of this anti-American symbol.

I still remember though from the first social gathering I attended in Hattiesburg, the casual reference to the Civil "wo-er" with a sense of dreamy romanticism. I curiously listened as they described a time in their family (but not necessarily personal) history when they had money and land, and power. And, oh yeah, slaves.

The white, middle class gay men at this party didn't project a sense of hatred of blacks or even a direct wish to return to the days of ownership of other people. What they conveyed though was a sense of lost fantasy- a beautiful dream of status, of velvet and bone china. It was as though thinking about having come from wealth eased the fact that they had anything but it today.

Not to say I didn't see the effects of lingering xenophobia, including vague suspicions of anyone with skin that included pigment. When I walked into the student union on the campus of USM in 1986, it was like two parallels universes- a white world superimposed onto a picture of a black one (or visa versa). It was curious to me why they didn't mix. I couldn't even find the intersection.

In the fourth grade, with a crush on the only boy of color in the class, I started to understand that somehow the color of our skin made us different in some way. Different to me was good then. Different meant being able to have a conversation about things that weren't already known to me. Everyone I was raised with was the same. We all went to the same church, the same kindergarten, the same Tri-City Mall. We were brainwashed with the same catechism and the same perspective. Other white people were boring. And I just faded into the background of the same white-washed fence.

California has its problems, but the thing I love the most about this big state is the chance to know other cultures. The endless opportunity to listen and learn about the way other people think is such a privilege still. Everytime I hear another story about a completely different background and belief system that is different from the one in which I was raised, I feel deeply satisfied. I think it's because it frees me from the heavy, repressive thinking from the fundamentalists I was raised by. There are SO many other ways of thinking in our melting pot. It's a good thing. Go 49er's!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Kay Hagan for Senate

As a native North Carolinian, I suffered through the Jesse Helms years of bigotry, hatred and homophobia.  I'll never forgot him screaming on the US Senate floor "those damned lesbians!!".

I'll also never forget the recent attempt to whitewash his rampant  homophobia by trying to portray him as having "softened" by embracing global AIDS funding later in his life.

Ya know, I'm not sure that late is better than never.  Undoing a lifetime of truly evil words and behavior by "softening resistance" at the end of your career does not, in my mind, entitle this person to avoid the legacy that he has created, by his own stubborn and narrow-minded choices.

He never attempted to see things from the other person's perspective.  He never listened and he never admitted that he was wrong.  I have experience with negative politics.  Jesse Helms was the king of it.  He knew how to strike fear into the heart of working class people everywhere.  He used "God" and gays to convince voters who don't follow politics that he was their man.  He also knew where his bread was buttered.

Jesse Helms was a big friend of big tobacco.  As the major crop produced by the Carolinas, Jesse fought hard to defeat legislation that would impinge on tobacco companies in any way, shape or form.  He didn't care that people, not only in our home state of NC but people all over the world, were getting sick and dying horrible deaths from tobacco.  He only cared that big tobacco continued to funnel big money into his campaign war chest.  

Jesse had a national constituency.  Right wing, racist, homophobic zealots all over the US rallied with the bucks whenever he needed them.  Send out a few letters with a drag queen on the front and he could guarantee a flood of cash.  

During one of his senate campaigns for re-election in 1990, while I was still living in North Carolina, I got involved directly with the fight to oust Jesse.  I volunteered for Harvey Gantt's campaign, the former mayor of Charlotte and the first African American nominee for US Senate in North Carolina.  I attended my first state Democratic convention as a delegate that year and was mesmerized by Mr. Gantt's intelligence, heart and passion.

It was a battle from the beginning.  I poured a lot of my heart and soul that year into doing what I could for the Democrats.  Harvey, much like Barack Obama this year, was the inspirational leader that I could get behind.  

Unfortunately, Jesse won again with familiar and ultimately dishonest tactics.  According to the Raleigh News and Observer around that time, "Republican Party operatives came forward as having worked within the Democratic Party of North Carolina. The Helms' campaign then used well-crafted TV ads against affirmative action. An advisor to Helms at the time, Charles R. Black, Jr. has since gone to work as chief campaign adviser for John McCain. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvey_Gantt for more.

He  never won an election in North Carolina by a landslide, but managed, through despicable campaigning, to hold on to his office until his health finally led to his retirement from the Senate in 2003.

His seat was taken over by Elizabeth "Libby" Dole, wife of unsuccessful presidential candidate for the Republican Party and Viagra spokesman, Bob Dole.  A right wing conservative in her own right, Libby Dole has continued the tradition of rubber stamping essentially every position that her party leadership tells her to vote for.  A recent estimate of her voting agreement with Bush is 88% (http://www.newsobserver.com/659/story/1187072.html) suggesting that there is nothing new, or even interesting about this token Republican woman.

Who, then is Kay Hagan?  I discovered, amongst the tons of emails I received from Democratic and other progressive operatives daily, that Kay Hagan is Libby Dole's current Democratic opponent for the NC Senate seat.  And I learned that she is leading Libby, albeit by a small margin (3%) at this point in time.

I don't know her and I don't follow her.  But I sent her a small donation today because it's time to take down the Republican reign in my home state.  For all the racist campaigning against affirmative action, for all the homophobic scapegoating, big tobacco protecting, and AIDS funding preventing, it's time to send a message that we want our state back.

And if you find out anything bad about Ms. Hagan, like she doesn't support gay rights or "Republican Light"...don't tell me.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Palin's Pallor

A tanning bed in the Alaskan governor's mansion? Makes me wonder what Sarah Palin's true colors are.

One thing is for sure. She is all about image.

I'm sorry right wingers, but I think you are being taken for a ride- yet again.

Do you think for once you might question the credentionals in an honest way of someone that pretends to be "one of your own"? Just because someone attends a born-again church, does that automatically grant access to your favor? If so, you might want to think again.

Some of you might be surprised to know that I am not a member of the Democratic Party. Nor am I a Republican. I changed my political affiliation to "declined to state" in California about three or four years ago. In California, you essentially have four options, namely Democratic Party, Republican Party, American Independent Party, and "declined to state."

And before I forget, be VERY careful about selecting the American Independent Party. They are not what you think they are. They are a group of extremists who have taken the deceptive name of AIP, but are a fringe group who begins their platform with "The American Independent Party gratefully acknowledges God as the Creator of all and appeals to Him for help in protecting all He has graciously given us. With all these gifts comes the right to use them justly. Hence all such rights are the gifts of God as affirmed in our Declaration of Independence. http://www.aipca.org/platform.html".

Although much of the time, I have supported Democratic Candidates in local and national elections, there have been a few times that I supported an independent candidate or other third party candidate. And it's not that I disagree with the party platform, it's the recent lack of courage in the Party itself that I found distateful enough to leave.

Who could have possibly lost to George W. Bush in 2004? I mean, let's get real here, the man was already slipping in the polls, the Iraq occupation was already understood to be a big mistake and the economy was showing signs of failing. I blame the Democratic National Committee for it's weak response to the lies and distortions of the Bush machine.

And then there's Nancy Pelosi. Living in the Bay Area, I was terribly excited about the possibility of winning back the majority of the House. The House is our main avenue for holding corrupt Presidents accountable. Finally, we would have someone who talked tough and would take the Bushies to task for their war crimes and misjudgments.

What did we get? "Impeachment is off the table" as a strategy. Wrong, wrong wrong! Nancy, the people who voted to put you into power wanted more from you. I wanted more from you. Republicans impeached Bill Clinton for a blow job and you won't push for accountability from the man who took us to war under false pretenses, has taken us from the largest surplus to the largest deficit in history, failed to respond appropriately to Katrina and blocks every major attempt to improve conditions for children, etc. I am SO disappointed in the Democrats, I sent a donation to Cindy Sheehan, anti-war activist who's running an uphill battle against Nancy.

Is Obama the savior? Maybe, maybe not. I've been burned by the Democrats too much to the point that I won't support the party itself. I donate directly to individual candidates or to groups like MoveOn.org, but forget the party.

I like Obama's intelligence. I like the fact that there is so much pressure to simplify his responses to complex questions, but he continues to treat the American public as if they have more than two neurons. I read the Audacity of Hope and I like his honesty. I like that he doesn't sound like the average politician who panders (like McCain). I like that while he may shift a response, he doesn't shift change his basic positions (unlike McCain). He willing to lose the election to maintain his dignity. He chooses the high road, even while attacked on the low road.

But, Obama is a man. Just like Clinton is a man and Bush is a man, with human frailties.

I cannot fathom why Obama cannot support gay marriage (or why anyone wouldn't, for that matter). He, more than anyone ever in his position, has the experiences of racism and the first hand awareness of what the US Constitution means. How can he not understand the blatantly anti-democratic stance of denying two adults the same rights and responsibilities of marriage simply because they are of the same sex? Is it one his of compromises to win election? Are there other things that he says now to help him appeal to the independents and moderates that he honestly does not believe? Probably. They all do it.

McCain is the most blatant of blatants. He picks the least qualified woman Republican in America to be his running mate simply because she's a woman apparently and would accept his offer. No reasonable person of either party can honestly say that she's prepared to be the President of the US.

Maybe it's her tan.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Imperfect marriage

About twenty years ago, an interesting arrangement began to form between the Republican Party and right wing Christians in the US. On the surface, it would seem an awkward match between the party of Goldwater and the followers of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. After all, Goldwater was a dyed in the wool Republican with moderate leanings, the perfect symbol of northeastern conservatives who believed in fiscal discipline but consistently supported individual freedoms socially.

It made sense and was logically coherent- keep the government out of our lives as much as possible. Avoid wasteful spending on political pork, keep taxes low, and what people do in the privacy of their own homes was their own business as long as those activities did not directly harm a neighbor. I get it.

Slowly however, perhaps due to the changing face of America, the waves of immigration, the urbanization of the coasts, the power base in the Republican party began to get nervous. So nervous in fact, that in order to guarantee a hold on power, someone began to create a rationale for an alliance with a small, but vocal minority in this country, the "family values" voters in America.

Who are they you ask? Poor, white, mostly Southern voters who consider themselves very religious and who have been indoctrinated from birth to believe in "born again" principles of the straight and narrow path, the rapture, an angry, paternal God and the inerrancy of the Bible.

How could the Republican elite ever appeal to a group so different from themselves? How do you convince the very people who benefit from government intervention to vote against their own interests? The link it seems was multi-factorial. First, you win over the leaders of the right wing media. You coax them. You flatter them. You invite them to the table. Pat Robertson, a founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), one of the largest religious cable shows on TV, was one of the first to recognize the power grab he could make by cozying up to Ronald Reagan http://www.cbn.com/; www.patrobertson.com/Biography/index.asp.

Next, you begin to talk about new "threats" to America besides war and poverty. These new threats include the "deterioration" of the nuclear family unit, the decay of moral values and the dangers of unchecked progressive agendas. You start to associate taxes with government waste, and that trickle down economics benefit the larger whole instead of the upper few. You hammer this agenda over and over in the media and through the local churches on a regular basis. Deregulate the media anti-monopoly rules and allow your friends, the superwealthy and corporate entities to purchase our TV networks and major newspapers to control the flow of information.

And you use wedge issues, like abortion and gay rights, to drive your message home.

Soon, a new type of Republican was created, a hybrid of sorts that we now refer to as neo-cons. You don't have to necessarily believe in the wedge issues that you use to get elected, you just have to play to your new right wing base. Campaign hard on how much you despise gay marriage or how much you love unborn babies despite the evidence that you yourself have a family member who is gay or have quietly ended an unwanted pregnancy in your past. It's interested me that after Bush/Cheney/Rove/McCain came to power after relentless campaigning on an anti-choice platform, that in eight years of control of the White House, both house of congress and the Supreme Court, they were "unable" to overturn Roe versus Wade. Think it was because they were distracted by the war? Think again. They just don't care about the issue.

That's the beauty of this imperfect marriage. Growing up inside the fundamentalist mindset, I was amazed at the power of forgiveness my pastors preached on Sunday mornings. There is almost nothing that you can do that is not forgiveable if you ask Jesus to do so. I witnessed many acts of contrition and community forgiveness based solely on the premise that all you need to do is make things right with the Lord to let go of the past. Many times, I believe this occurred in a most sincere way and that it led to healing of individuals and families. But I also witnessed the cynical and self-serving use of this trust by people who were up to no good. People who had no intention of using this opportunity to start again, to gain access to innocents who could be used, again and again. "But he gave his hear to the Lord!!" I'd hear after an extortion or lie was exposed. Better yet, I was constantly amazed at the good "Sunday Christians" who scrubbed themselves clean, put on their best clothes and showed up with the family service after service to display their commitment to Christ. Only later, I came to find that for some of them, the other six days were spent cheating on taxes, committing secret adultery and gambling away the kids' college funds. It seems a fundamental flaw (no pun intended) that the very trust-embuing faith messages also led to a kind of vulnerability to malicious intents.

Another kind of vulnerability also manifested from time to time in the form of a belief that God is all powerful, that the King James Bible is God's direct word and the local representatives of God, namely the preachers, interpret this document without error or personal bias. No matter the particular spin on a verse here or a chapter there, the minister was generally seen as an important community figure, one who was above question and was to be deferred to in times of crisis.

When you are raised with the model of a strong moral authority, you learn quickly that criticism is unacceptable and that any dissent is considered evil. Yes, you heard me right. To even question someone who has been empowered to speak for the church, you are not just considered an agitator, but your desire to dissent is considered suspicious and grounds for damnation to hell. A lifetime of training to have complete and utter faith in the message and the messenger pays off when you want to manipulate. "Hey! I'm one of you!" they say. And then they use your faith to abuse you.

It is powerful behavioral conditioning to believe that you not only risk community and family rejection for speaking out, but your very soul is at risk for anything less than total investment in the mores of your religious community. Imagine that this is the prevalent attitude in 98% of the community around you, that you were raised in this environment from the time you were born, and that even small testing of authority is met with hostility, threats and shame. Fundamentalist Christians thus share another feature with Republicans- namely, an air of self-righteousness and demonization of anyone with a different opinion. Question represents uncertainty which represents threat. No issue can have uncertainty associated with it because it could lead to a collapse of all givens and all absolutes. Bush is a born again, therefore, whatever he says is ordained by God. Period.

The use of fear based politics in Republican campaigns make perfect sense. It is a way of living that most fundamentalists understand and live with day to day. It is not the fear of eternal damnation however in politics- it is fear of the Big Government, of social decay, of loss of lifestyle and tradition and of real world enemies instead of Satan himself.

Where the alliance between Christians and Republicans begins to show strain however is in the apparent lack of compassion, altruism and unconditional love. I was raised in a fundamentalist church, yet despite all the noise, I learned through the examples of the life of Christ that his message was simple: wealth is not what matters, giving to others is a directive, all people are created equal in the eyes of God, and it is not our responsibility to make judgments of others. Killing is wrong.. babies, convicts, and innocent civilians during war. Consistency is a virtue.

Yes, I think it would be difficult for me personally to have an abortion if I had an unexpected pregnancy, but who am I to impose my personal beliefs on another American who may have a completely different value system than my own? Isn't that what America is all about?

In the fundamentalists' world, unfortunately, too often dissenting views are viewed as not just different but deserving of respect, but inferior, suspect and even Satanic. How odd it was to grow up around many different forms of fundamentalism- the Southern Baptists, the Assemblies of God, the Nazarenes- who ironically condemn each other for their subtle differences in interpretation of faith. "We believe that people who smoke are disobeying the word of God" or "People who dance with the opposite sex are encouraging lustful behaviors" weren't uncommonly held beliefs. It encouraged in me an air of superiority, that my church was the right church and all others fell short somehow. How could I then love someone who evokes pity in me?

How do people who identify themselves as Christian reconcile the politics of Bush/Cheney/Rove and McCain with these principles of Christ? How does paying less taxes, leading to the cutting of government programs for the poor, jive with the multiple messages that implore us to give to the poor, to abandon our wealth, and to love our neighbors?

How does Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh resonate with a community taught to seek peace? Why can Bush lie about going to war and yet still command a strong following by people who have read the Bible?

Jesus was a progressive. So shoot me.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

My Interview On OutSpoken for Loving Ourselves

Here is my interview on the Comcast show, OutSpoken, with host Tim Gaskin on 5/19/08. I was discussing my new book, Loving Ourselves: The Gay and Lesbian Guide to Self-Esteem.

video

Foggy day in San Carlos...Autumn has arrived

There are so many things to love about California- beautiful geography, fabulous weather, major cultural diversity. Love living next to the Bay and having mountains in my back yard. Love the right to get married and to spend time with my husband's wonderful Irish Italian family.

Friday night, Brad's brother Rob was inducted into their Catholic high school's Sports Hall of Fame. Not only did he have a successful athletic career during his teen years, playing baseball and football, but he went on to play baseball in college, play in the College World Series, and later play professionally in AAA. After that, he made the transition to coaching and managing for the Red Sox. Yes, you read it right- my brother in law is a manager for the Sox! He now has three, count 'em, three World Series championship rings (two with the Sox) as a part of management.

What impresses me most about Rob is how he remains humble about his accomplishments and a genuine loving person. It has been clear to me that despite his years on the road with professional athletes, that he loves his family (and especially his brother Brad) above all else. He could take the easy way and deny the existence of a gay brother, or barring that, giving his brother's partner in life the cold shoulder. But he doesn't. All of Brad's family is loving in a way that I never quite understood before I got here. Rob however, always makes me feel like a special part of the family, no different from his brother in law David, or his sister in law Anita. He loves me because he loves Brad and I have some role in making Brad happy.

It was a "given" that I would attend the Hall of Fame induction dinner on Friday night. Dressed in suits and ties, Brad and I joined Rob's family table to watch him accept his honor and congratulate him on his accomplishments. I have to give Brad credit where credit is due as well. Having me there couldn't have been all that easy. There were seven inductees, from different eras of the school's history including one from Brad's class of '93 for basketball. That means that Brad was going to see people from his past that would not know about his "coming out". They were likely to see our table of eight and wonder who the guy was sitting beside Brad. He didn't bat an eye and at least twice introduced me as his partner.

If you've never been to Catholic school before, especially in the burbs, there is a special bond that forms there that supercedes other forms of relationships. I went to school with the same group of people from kindergarten to the 12th grade and never formed the kind of bond that I see when Brad meets someone from the Catholic school community. Even if they attended different schools, they feel an instant affinity for each other and resonate with a familiarity that inevitably leads to a connection of some sort- families that they know in common, a particular priest that evokes respect or jokes.

My experiences have been positive in almost every instance. Without skipping a beat, Brad forthrightly introduces me as his partner, the person politely shakes my hand, and I don't detect even the slightest hesitation to resume the bonding and the catching up. I still feel a little like a cultural anthropologist, observing the emotions and the sharing. It's almost like the petty differences between all of us don't really matter when you account for all the commonalities of experiences. Maybe it's just my memory, but in the South, around all the fundamentalists, there wasn't a sense of easy acceptance of differences. If someone even suspected that you were different (heaven forbid QUEER!), there was a subtle moment of judgment first and then a wide variety of expressions of the outcome of that judgment from passive aggressive to outright hostile.

The only thing I miss from the East coast in California would have to the be the four distinct seasons. A foggy morning means Fall has just arrived.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Apple pie, anyone?


I've had an hankerin', yes hankerin' dammit, for a piece of my grandmother's apple pie. We called her Maw Maw, but her real name was Vera.


She was my dad's mother and raised nine children through the Great Depression with my grandfather by working multiple jobs, growing their own vegetables and canning everything she could put away for the winter.


Pa Paw Hardin died when I was about 12 or so. My memories of him are brief and sketchy, but I do remember that he loved to tease and have fun when we went over. Everyone called him a "character" because of his love to laugh. I remember watching him actually plow the patch of land behind their house and he would often let me distribute the seeds of corn and okra down the long empty rows while he covered them up. I remember "getting" to hoe the weeds sometimes too and I felt like I was a farmer myself. The whole thing couldn't have been more than half a football field, but it felt bigger to me back then and when the corn was at it's peak, it was a fun southern jungle to dart in and out of while I played with my brother and my cousins.


I learned how potatoes grew under ground and summer squash splants spread out so quickly that you could almost watch it literally growing. I learned that you picked okra, that odd pod of seeds so common in gumbo, wearing gloves because the fuzzy outer shell made your hands itch if you didn't. Fresh tomatoes and radishes, collard greens, and even watermelons were available all summer. Around the rest of the yard, there were large and shady fruit trees, from several kinds of apples, to cherries, figs and even walnuts that might hit your car if you parked under it too long.



Maw maw didn't miss an opportunity to stock up on everything nature had to offer. She was responsible for feeding eleven mouths after all, three meals a day for quite a number of years if you think about it. Her plan was to capture as many apples as possible when they were ripe or even fell to the ground on their own, sit in her big recliner with her feet up, and peel and cut the apples into pieces. Some of these pieces would go directly into a big pot on the stove, where she would make apple sauce and start canning. The rest, she would lay out on wire racks in the sun to dry so that she could store them until the apple season was over, but still cook them up into her signature dessert. After Pa Paw died, I spent even more over there- just me and her.


Those were precious moments for me. Coming over to her house, as soon as I'd open the door, I'd smell the most amazing amalgam of cooking apples, cinnamon, clove and allspice. She was often making the dough for the pie crusts at the kitchen counter and I'd sidle on up to the bar to watch, mesmerized. She had the most efficient system of adding water to the flour, stirring it up, adding lard, and kneading the dough on her floured countered until it met her expectations. I wish I could remember the exact process so that I could duplicate it in memorial.


Then there was the time that I told her that I wanted a goose down pillow just like hers. I loved sleeping in her big bed and smelling her home remedy linaments and ointments (a stinky mixture of Absorbine Junior and who knows what else?). The next day, we took a ride in her little Chevy Nova to town to the cloth shop. She purchased some striped heavy canvas and proceed to sew the perfect little pillow for me before my very eyes. I loved to watch her sew and knit and crochet. For a woman with a second grade education, she could do almost anything. that would keep a family going.


I watched excitedly as she took her two big down pillows and slowly removed the seams along the sides. What in the world could she possibly be doing now? Within minutes, I watched her reach deep inside and grab a huge handful of feathers stuffing them down into the perfect little pillow she was making for me. From her two pillows, she was able to skim just enough for me to have my own. I couldn't believe it then, that someone would so something for me that was so simple, but carried so much power.


As soon as I walked in to her little ramshackeled house, her reaction was always the same- a look of pure pleasure , like only I could produce that kind of exhiliration. I've often wondered if she had this reaction to everyone. After all, she had 9 kids and by the time I came along, tons of grandkids. Maybe she did love us all the same, but to me, her reaction told me that I alone was special, and that her day was now complete that I had come to see her.


So now, I forever have this sensory memory of smelling the oh so heavenly scent of apple pies and feeling oh so special. Sometimes, she'd actually stop what she was doing, begin cutting a small circle out of the pie crust scrapts and then spooning the piping hot apple sauce on to one side. She'd carefully pinch the dough closed to form a half moon and she's fry it up right then and there just for me. NOTHING compares to a pie made with love by your grandmother just for you and no one else. So on days that I feel kinda beaten down or empty, I have a hankering for Maw Maw's apple pie.


She died a few years back at age 99. To the end, through the nursing home years, even when her mind was failing, I could always detect a certain light in her eyes when I'd come for a visit or to push her wheelchair through the garden. I don't know if my perception was always true, but I kinda need to believe that it was. Especially on quiet days when I'm feeling reflectful. Like today.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ok..I need a break

I find myself drifting too often to this election. I take it too seriously I guess.

I just can't believe that people would seriously choose McCain over Obama after the last eight years. It blows my mind when I hear that women are shifting over to Palin. Are they serious? Do they realize that what she stands for would represent a set back for women everywhere? A woman who supports giving the government control over your choices rather than trusting you to make them yourself? Please, who honestly WANTS an abortion? But who gives her the right to make that choice for you? I think my blood pressure is up right now.

So, I decided today that I will not listen to progressive talk radio on the way to or from work for a while. And, I will not watch CNN or the local news because even the images of the political process while I was at the gym (with no sound!) made me cringe.

I wish I knew why I take this so personally. Maybe it's because at middle age, I'm really really tired of living a second class life. At least in the eyes of straight people.

When I was a kid, and I knew I was gay at an early age, I knew that I could not be myself. My mother told me herself before either of us knew anything about me, that being gay meant that you were shady, a pervert, and slinked around in dark alleys. I spent a lot of time trying to run from that part of myself. In my early pubescent mind, I could not be gay and have a family. It didn't take a rocket scientist to know where they stood on the issue. And listening to fundamentalist preachers twice on Sundays and at Wednesday night prayer meetings, I heard a lot of stories about what happened to people who didn't follow the narrow and "straight" road.

Fundamentalists use fear as a motivator as much as joy. Republicans scare me because they use fear too to motivate. They tell the rich that the poor want to dethrone them. They tell the poor that the Dems will tax them more. Gays and African Americans are irrelevent, other than tools of threat. I felt irrelevent as a gay boy in the South. Maybe that's what scares me the most. My country thinks what I think or feel doesn't matter. You have to pay taxes like straight people, but you're not entitled to full citizenship.

I've held my breath for almost eight years, hoping that Bush didn't have a chance to replace Souter, Ginsberg or Breyer. The wait was almost over. My faith in this country remained strong that people would finally see the false promises, the lies and the destruction that our most right wing administration ever heaped upon us.

I know that what matters most are the electoral college votes and that Barack is still ahead. But I almost cry when I hear that McCain is even close and that a right wing liar like Palin has helped boost him in the polls. Are people really that dumb? Are we really a cult of personality?

Ok...enough about all this. Time for a break. My next post will NOT be about this stuff. Do I actually have anything else to talk about?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

James Dobson is not REALLY a psychologist

Calling himself a "christian" psychologist, James Dobson, long a foe of anything reasonable, recently decided that he could anoint Sarah Palin to run for Vice President with McCain. Although for many years, he has railed against women with children working outside the home, he'll make an exception in this case to support right wing zealot, Gov. Palin.

Although in this case, sticking with his core values might have actually made some sense, say for example, a woman with five children, one of whom recently got into some trouble and one of whom will need lots of attention and care, Rev. Dobson has decided that in this case, the greater good will be served by such an "outstanding" candidate.

This is the woman who was back at work, three days after giving birth to her youngest son during what most real psychologists consider one of the most important times of a child's life. Will her new son bond with her now?  If he doesn't, when will we notice the effects?  When he's 17?  Will that be ok with you Rev. Dobson if he doesn't?  

Which is it Dr. Dobson, a woman should stay home with the children or she shouldn't?  Can you say "double standard" Dr. Dobson?

Real psychologists use science as their basis for treatment.  Mr. Dobson is no psychologist.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Is it just me?

Ok. Time for me to fess up.

There was a time, in the not so distant past, that I actually thought I liked John McCain. Before the W. years and before his 2000 run for president, he occasionally broke ranks with the lock step Republican leadership and did something decent. Like the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill. And calling the likes of Jerry Falwell an "agent of intolerance". I was frankly impressed. It disgusted me when he was running against W in 2000 when Rove et al. began using the dirtiest of smear tactics against McCain to win South Carolina calling him "the fag candidate", questioning his "temper" and "stability" and even suggesting that he fathered a child out of wedlock with an African American woman.

Then something odd began to happen. After W won, McCain started to cozy up. Wait... someone just called you a crazy, loose-moraled, traitor and you turn around and support him? Is it just me or does that seem lame? I had to ponder this for a while. If someone publicly tried to humiliate me and my family just to win an election, I can't imagine a scenario in which I would put on a happy face after it was over, even for the sake of political unity.

Unless....

I wanted to be president more than ANYTHING in the world, meaning that I would stoop to whatever levels I thought I needed to for the win.

And as a part of his complete retailoring, he began to oppose reasonable legislation that marked his "maverick" status before that bears his own name!! And abandoned his fairly progressive religious background, Episcopalian, to adopt a more "right wing friendly" Southern Baptist church. Listen, I know Southern Baptists and I know Episcopalians and trust me, the two are about as close as the south of France and Dollywood, Tennessee. Making the switch is not a simple decision like moving to a nicer neighborhood or putting the kids in a private school- going from one to the other is a major move. And let's say it was truly motivated by a change of spiritual direction, why now? How did he come to make this important life decision? How did he suddenly become "born again"? Just like we should have been able to question W about his substance abuse history and the steps he takes to maintain his sobriety, we should be able to ask McCain about his decision-making process in rejecting his former church and adopting a right wing theology.

He retracts his comments about Falwell and Pat Robertson. He changes his stand on multiple major issues (http://howinsaneisjohnmccain.blogspot.com/2008/03/mccain-never-met-position-he-didnt-like.html). He's very pro-Bush, but now says he's the candidate of change.

He picks a woman not exactly qualified to be on any major party ticket, doesn't fully vet her, rails against pork and earmarks, yet the very woman he picks asked for $27 million for her small town. He's for ethical behavior, yet was a part of the Keating Five scandal (http://www.slate.com/id/1004633/) and his campaign team is full of lobbyists (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/21/AR2008022101131_pf.html).

He has no original ideas for how to lead the country out of the huge mess W has made, so he makes the election about "character". He wants to call Barack a "cult of celebrity" yet brings a woman onto his very own ticket who does not have the experience or character to lead this country if he were to die. Who's the celebrity cult figure now? Wait....

I could go on and on, but it just seems to me that this is a man who will say or do anything to become President, not because he thinks he can actually change this country for the better (he's not offered any substantive new plans), but because he appears to have a burning desire for the position. Is it just me or does he seem like a little, shallow, shell of the image he used to project?

How the mighty have fallen.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Ugh...lipstick?

I couldn't stomach more than a few minutes of the Repub Convention last night. It traumatizes me to listen to angry, rigid people judge and mock their opponents simply as a power grab.

I grew up with these kinds of people. I know how they think and how they work. It takes a lot of mental work to maintain the dogmatic world they need to live in. They are taught as children to feel superior to anyone who does not share their beliefs. They are trained to denigrate other ways of thinking and believing and to deny that what they are doing is actually in direct opposition to the example of Jesus Christ. I mean honestly, would Jesus speak to the masses in a mocking and snide manner? Was the sermon on the mount a platform to attack and malign?

Taking someone like Sarah Palin and making her the "example" of good family values seems a form of idolatry, to use their own language or actually creaing a "cult" of celebrity to use McCain's. He compares Obama to Paris and Britney and turns around and selects the closest thing to a celebrity that he can find within the ranks of the RNC. How cynical is all that?

Man, I just don't know if I can take much more of this process. It disgusts and sickens me.

I can only imagine what her seventeen year old daughter must be feeling to live with someone who seems to have all the answers.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Palin's Pain

I was musing today about Sarah Palin's stressors. How hard it must be to suddenly be thrust into the spotlight and have all your private business become a national obsession! Makes me wonder if she truly thought this whole thing through now that her life has become exposed. What does her decision to take on this whole thing say about her decision-making ability in general, what with a new baby, ethics troubles brewin', and grandparenthood only four months away!

What must a typical day be like for the Alaskan supermom?

Here's my imaginary agenda:

5 am- Wake up, check Blackberry

5:30- JAZZercise!

6 am- Clean the guns (and crowns)

6:30 am- Whip up breakfast for the kids

7 am- Teach kids about abstinence (dammit, why didn't I do this earlier??)

8am- Take the salmon out to thaw for dinner

8:30- Shower, do the "updo", dress for success!! Compare mirror with Tina Fey photo.

9am- Get sister's ex FIRED.

9:30- Study state capitals

10:30- Run Alaska

11am- Take questions from the media (except KATIE COURIC!!)

Noon- Lunch at Cracker Barrell

1 pm- Prepare for VP debate (watch Nora the Explorer)

2 pm- Pilates

3 pm- Run Alaska

3:30- Have driver pick up the kids

4 pm- Mani/Pedi

5 pm- Have nanny play with kids

6 pm- Start cookin'

7 pm- Family values time (watch Jon & Kate Plus 8!!!)

7:30- Watch FOX news to get caught up with the lower 48

8 pm- Get those kids to bed!! ALONE!!!

9 pm- LOVE THAT MAN O' MINE!

10 pm- Take down the hair

10:30pm- Thank God for another successful day!! I am SOOO ready to be President, er Vice President!!!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Done with the SF Chronicle

Today was enough. Maybe I just woke up in a bad mood. Something about the Editorials and Opinons page tipped me over the balance. So I wrote my last letter to the San Francisco Chronicle:

Dear Editor:

This isn't a letter for publication. This is my goodbye feedback.

I am a person who loves to read the letters. For many years now, when I sit down to breakfast, I go directly to the Bay Area section and turn to the letters and Opinions page. I like to feel connected to my community by hearing what they have to say. I would also like to contribute my own voice to the dialogue from time to time.

However, after recent frustration in the last couple of years, I've decided to call it quits with the Chronicle and here are my reasons why.

First, the Chronicle is deserving of a much better regular columnist than Debra Saunders. Ms. Saunders is a GOP shill who does not have many original thoughts about anything. I shudder everytime I read her predictable response to current events, almost a line per line recitation of GOP talking points. It would be understandable in a progressive community to want to include a balanced perspective, but the Bay Area deserves someone in that spot who is truly a thoughtful and articulate conservative who can actually stimulate rational debate rather than emotional, baiting and sometimes just plainly inarticulate ranting by Saunders. Done with her.

Second, I have written at least four letters to the editor myself over the years in response to someone else's letter or an opinion column, most recently a couple of weeks ago. Not selected as usual. Yet I've noticed a pattern of certain crotchety older writers whose rants constantly make it onto the letters page with short, irrational clips of anger or rigidity instead of something that adds to the discussion. Maybe I just don't get that the letters are now about entertainment instead of discussion? I know that I'm a decent writer since I have had four books published, the most recent one in March of this year. Done trying.

The only thing I'll miss is Cynthia Tucker's brilliant columns. She always hits it out of the park with her thoughtful progressive tone. On the bright side I can access her column online now whenever I want and I've established my own personal blog so I can enter the dialogue of the future.

The Chronicle deserves a better Editorial and Opinions section. It's sad to see such an American staple fading away.

Sincerely,


Kimeron Hardin

I'm turning over a new leaf today. Out with the old, in with the new!