How it feels to be a minority in the U.S.

•January 4, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Let’s be clear, most of the time I am white, and benefit from white privilege.

But I’m also Jewish and queer. And whenever I hear about swastikas being brandished on the walls of the oldest Jewish school for rabbinic training, or in junior high schools or cemeteries, I think I have an inkling into what it feels like to be brown in this country: My first thought is not shock or outrage, but rather well, yeah, I knew they were only barely tolerating us, there’s still plenty of people here who don’t like us, who think I’m evil just for being me.

I feel ambivalent about the title of this post, because comparing swastikas to the literal war on black and brown bodies in this country seems like the height of clueless of white privilege.  But at the risk of violating Godwin’s Law, the Holocaust started with swastikas and nationalism and ordinances.  And maybe the reason there’s been such backlash against the idea of oppression theory, and undoing systemic white privilege, is because certain powerful, capitalist, white, male forces not only want to return to the days of slavery but the days of women in the home and queers being closeted and Jews being assimilated and silent.

Now, my rabbi is full of hope in the American experiment and American ideals. It’s why I love him. And I want to believe him. But we’re about the be tested like never before under Trump. Our Supreme Court will hopefully be inundated with cases challenging the constitutionality of all the bullshit his administration is going to throw our way, and I’m hoping my state of Massachusetts, like California and Oregon and Washington and a few others will shield me and other minorities from the worst with state protections to health care, civil liberties, reproductive access.

We sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial this May as a congregation and had a beautiful short prayer service. We read George Washington’s letter to the Touro congregation in Newport, RI while gazing out at the Washington Monument.  From the very first days, there were some good intentions with this country.  Of course, there were also murderous, imperialist impulses that led to the massacre of Indians and the enslavement of black people brought over just to be slaves.

I felt that hope in America that day in May.  I hope that someday I will feel it again.


•November 10, 2016 • 2 Comments

I have been processing my feeling about the election on Facebook on and off all night Tuesday as it was happening, as results were coming in, as hope died.  Then I processed it all day Wednesday with clients who were all freaking out, in different ways, and then Wednesday night in my class.  And all along the way I was continuing to process it on Facebook.  And I hit my limit there.  I need time. I need time to regroup, gather my thoughts and feelings, go into “self-protection mode” as one friend said, and you can’t do that on Facebook.  It’s too immediate.  And most importantly I need to refocus on taking care of myself and my son, here and now.  I fear for what a presidency by Donald Trump will mean for my son, for our family, but I also can’t really process that too much because we have to live our lives and get through our day.  There’s a reason why social activism is predominantly done by middle class folks – because the closer you are to the working poor the less you can afford to take time out of your day to day.  Which paradoxically is why the working poor keep getting screwed, and I think this actually ties right back into why Trump was elected, irrationally, because I am not convinced he will solve the answers people crave.

We will get through this. I know we will, because we got through some terrible times in the 1980s.  I hope things won’t get that bad again. I am confident that in some states, like Massachusetts, where I live, things will not because we have put some things in place that will not be revoked by Trump.  But mostly, we will get through this despite Trump, regardless of who the president is, because we have each other.  And we have to keep looking out for each other, because the president doesn’t really care about us, as individuals.  The president also can’t really solve our problems, as individuals. I am not saying this means we shouldn’t stop pushing our leaders to do the right thing, and fighting back when they don’t, but we have to maintain some perspective.  Ultimately, we are the ones who care for each other.  And we have to keep doing so. And we will.

We are a frustrated nation

•September 20, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been watching with horror the masses of people excited about Donald Trump. I’ve been watching with annoyance the Bernie Sanders voters who rail about “never Hillary” as if their voting records weren’t nearly identical.

What Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump stand for is very, very different. I voted for Bernie Sanders, after all, and would seriously look into leaving the country if Donald Trump were elected, after his hate-filled rhetoric.

But what they have in common is that they have pulled in disenchanted voters on opposite ends of the spectrum, who share a mutual frustration with the system. It’s the reason why the one thing my one Tea Party friend on Facebook, someone I know from elementary school who is now a small business owner in Texas, and I have in common is our mutual dislike for the money in politics.

Because that is our system. We are a capitalist country, more or less run by corporations who government can only try and reign in and regulate – not get rid of entirely or even prevent from spending money in elections.

Like most things, it’s all on a continuum, as opposed to being black and white in the way that Trump and Sanders both tend to talk about it. But Citizens United means things swung pretty far in the direction of more money in politics, and that won’t change until we either elect enough people in Congress or get a substantially different Supreme Court makeup. It will probably swing back eventually.

But that’s the thing – our democracy is one of swings back and forth. Unless we dismantle the system entirely, that’s never going to change. So when people talk about voting for the “lesser of two evils” that really is all we can do. We can vote for the direction we want it to swing, but we can’t realistically expect revolution. People seem to have gotten the idea from Obama’s campaign that he promised he could bring about a revolution, but he never said that. He ran as a moderate Democrat and has governed as one. His foreign policy has largely been the same as both Bushes, and Bill Clinton’s. I’d like that to change, but clearly the corporate interests don’t. So I wait for that to swing back. Still, many not insignificant changes have happened in our country in the last years, in the realm of domestic policy and civil rights. Nothing revolutionary but still important.

We have a two party system. We always have, and we always will, unless the Great American Experiment ends. And I’m not sure we really want it to end, since we don’t know what will pop up in its place. Rather, we have to keep pressuring the system to shift in the direction we want it to shift, and have patience with things not moving fast enough.

Homage to Gay Night Clubs

•June 12, 2016 • Leave a Comment

There’s a tweet going around the internet that says something like “if you’ve never thought of a gay night club as a synagogue or church, you’ve never felt afraid to hold someone’s hand.”

It’s true. I spent almost every weekend of my life from age 16 to age 24 in gay nightclubs. I’m not exaggerating. I didn’t come out until I was 18 but even so there’s no place on earth – much less in San Antonio,Texas – that I felt safer than the Bonham Exchange, the Wild Club, Queer Nite at La Luna, or the Egyptian Room.

Which isn’t to say I felt safe in every gay club. In his book Bad Kid, David Crabb shares a horrifying assault on a mutual friend that took place in F/X, and I wasn’t surprised. Because in order to be welcoming to anyone who needs the safe space of a gay club, it means being vulnerable to people who show up in order to harass or assault. The history of gay night clubs in this country is littered with incidents like Orlando, though this was by far the worst, and it’s depressing to think it could still happen in 2016.

Gay clubs are where I first learned to be myself, where I felt free to experiment in all sorts of ways.  The idea of someone violating that sacred space feels like just that – violating a sacred space.  Fuck you to all the right wing bigots like Donald Trump who want to blame this on the murderer being nominally Muslim.  He wasn’t religious, he was arrested for domestic violence, he was squicked out by two men kissing in Miami.  This wasn’t an act of Islamic terror, this was all American anti gay hate.   Take responsibility for your own violent, disgusting creation,  America.  And make it stop.  

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•March 18, 2016 • Enter your password to view comments.

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Meshugana Lyons (August 1997-March 2016)  and Biddy Hawthorne McGraw (July 2000-February 2016)

•March 17, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Meshugana was my cat first. Meshugana was my cat before there was an us, long before we were a family. Long before I knew I’d be moving across the country to go to grad school, and again across the city when we bought a place. I remember when I had to move six blocks away within NW Portland, from one apartment to another, because my floor was so badly damaged they had to tear the kitchen up, he freaked out about the move and tried to climb the walls. Six months later I packed him into a moving truck and loaded him up with kitty tranquilizers. As it turns out, he didn’t need them. He was miserable for the eight day drive, and probably thought he was in hell, but he bounced back just fine when we arrived in Cambridge.

There was that one night in Nebraska when I became panicked that he must have gotten out in the hotel parking lot, but it turned out he just wedged himself between the dresser and the wall, even though there did not appear to be any space for a cat to fit.

He was pissed when we brought home his little sister, and we couldn’t leave them in the same room for two weeks. Eventually he stopped hissing at her and started trying to play with her, and they became the best of friends. He’d groom her if she didn’t do it well enough. I remember working ten hour shifts at the residential treatment program in Oregon, and I’d come home to find him needy and squawky. He was better not as an only cat. He never tried to answer the phone when we went out, or escape to play with the raccoons, once he had a companion.

Once he squawked at us until we figured out we’d accidentally closed the coat closet with Biddy locked inside. “Timmy’s in the well! Timmy’s in the well!”

He was playful once. It feels like a long time since he chased paper wads and red laser lights, but that those were his favorite games. We had to keep all our plants up high because he wanted to eat them all, and then one day he was so arthritic he couldn’t jump up on the couch. I guess that’s why they say cats are “senior cats” by the time they’re seven or eight, so by the time Meshugana was 18.5 he’d been a senior cat for longer than he was not. Biddy only lived to be 15.5 and never seemed as playful. She was serious – serious about needing her space and serious about catching bugs and mice and trying to eat anything she could fit into her mouth. But even she liked to chase her tail, right up until the end.  They were healthy, hardly ever sick, until the end.  It fed my irrational hope that they might be immortal. 

When we moved across the river into Boston, both cats freaked out a little, but they just hunkered down in one closet and stayed there till it was over. They had each other, and that made everything better. And having a deck was nice – the closest thing our indoor cats could get to being outdoors. Meshugana totally took advantage of it, even went across the deck to our neighbor’s side when he needed his space but still wanted to be outside. Biddy never wanted to be outside. They balanced each other out nicely.


The state of American politics

•February 23, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Let’s be clear: Usually after 8 years of one party having the White House the other party gets a chance to try running the country. This SHOULD be the Republicans’ year.

But the Republicans have such a mess of incompetent, lying sacks of shit running for their nomination that they have all but ceded control of their party to Trump, with some last ditch hope that maybe Rubio (who I think they didn’t want to run until 2020) will be able to be as good candidate as Romney – which we all see how good that got him and them.

Refusing to even consider Supreme Court nominees Obama might select has no historical precedent. The longest period of time we’ve been down a justice is 125 days, and Obama has over twice that left in office. This grandstanding obstructionism will not play out well in the election, and just hands the election to Clinton OR Sanders, barring some disaster.

What this says about our political system is terrible. We have one party that has no idea what it stands for and will allow a bully celebrity who is only a celebrity and a billionaire because of family wealth run their party into the ground.

And then we have the Democrats, who are still trying to pretend we have a functional democracy made up of grownups.