Thursday, November 20, 2014

Survival and standing in our integrity, at Thanksgiving and every other day

There's an American holiday this month that is often associated with family.  I have been holding in my heart the too-many people I know and care about who are not welcome at their family Thanksgiving, or who are otherwise alienated or estranged from their families, born or chosen, for refusing to lie. For not pretending to be straight, for not pretending to be a gender they're not, for not tolerating abuse or harassment, for not pretending to be a religion they're not.

For living honestly and with integrity.

That integrity is often necessary for survival. Being alienated from our families may be the price we pay for our mental and physical health, but that alienation takes a toll in physical and mental health, too. The simple fact of that discrimination, that our families treat us that way, and the separation from our folks.

No one should ever have to choose between survival and our families. And too often, our families ask that of us. This shit is hard.

Our lives are worth that integrity.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Re-posting for Veterans Day / Armistice Day

It’s 3:45 am when my pager wakes me. I speak to a man who is quite upset: his sister has just died – at the end of a long illness, but unexpectedly soon – and his sister’s son is on active duty in the military, stationed overseas.


Friday, November 7, 2014

Let's talk about ally behavior, straight people edition

Dear people who say you're allies:  When you act like you know more about the reality of the lives of oppressed people than oppressed people do, and when you disbelieve our lived experience, that is NOT ally behavior and it's not helpful. 

I experience and witness this all the time, both in person and on line. 

In today's example, we're talking about: straight allies; lesbian, bisexual, gay, and queer people in same-sex relationships; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people whom straight people are likely to read as some version of queer.  

I was part of a conversation on social media recently that went something like this:

Original Poster (OP):
Re-posting for some friends: looking for safety tips for a lesbian couple traveling abroad, etc. 

Peanut Gallery (PG):
Examples from personal experience; on-line travel and legal resources, etc.  

Straight Person (SP): (Not their exact words)
This is so interesting; someone said traveling without displaying much PDA is safer, and I agree; whose business is it anyway what you do behind closed doors?; I usually travel with my husband, but it's not like people know he's my husband, he could be my brother, right?; I mean, it's not like we're making love in the street; of course gay couples don't want to have to hide that they're gay, and of course I respect that, but why prove you're a romantic couple instead of regular friends?; I traveled with an opposite-sex person I wasn't married to and someone asked us if we were married, and we said no, but if I was a lesbian should I have said that I was a lesbian?; people of the same sex travel together all the time; I traveled with a lesbian friend and shared a bed without having sex and I felt totally safe in terms of what other people thought; I'm just trying to figure all this out; I guess I'm just a little confused by all of this...

Here's what I did say, with link to a NY Times article about the Langbehn-Pond family's experience:
That's b/c you don't have to worry about things like being able to make decisions for each other should one of you become ill or be in an accident, that sort of thing. Or being prevented from seeing each other in the hospital b/c legally you're not kin. Or your kids not being allowed to see you in the hospital when you're dying b/c the hospital staff have decided you aren't really their mother. These are the kinds of things people in same-sex relationships have to worry about all the time, even within the US.

There are also some places where women traveling without a man are harassed b/c they are perceived as not being under a man's protection and therefore fair to harass.

I didn't even get into the more 'ordinary' forms of anti-queer harassment.  LIKE GETTING BEAT UP JUST BECAUSE SOMEONE PEGS YOU AS SOME VERSION OF QUEER. 

SP's response (again, not their exact words):
We are talking about going on a trip, and I don't understand how that needs to include all these life issues; you're telling me that if you are an American in Europe and something happens to you they will not let your travel companion come into the hospital room with you; I find that hard to believe; I'm not talking about all the other issues that are part of this; JUST THE PART ABOUT TRAVELING ABROAD; that's what we're talking about.

Ummm, riiiiiight.

Things I did not say:

YOU'RE RIGHT!  We're MAKING THIS SHIT UP!  For FUN!  And OF COURSE you know so much more about this than all the queer people in this conversation!

Also, hello, "I'm a straight person let me make this conversation all about me and my experience and how unfathomable queer people's experience is."

Also, hello: a straight person turning this conversation from "What do I as an LGBTQ person need to do to stay safe when I travel?" to "I'm a straight person and I'm going to talk about my experience and how unbelievable your experience is" is not ally behavior.

What I did say:
Yeah. We're talking about going on a trip. Yeah, queer people have to worry about this shit. [Name], why would it even occur to you not to believe this is an issue queer people have to deal with? It seems hard to believe to you? I'm sorry your straight privilege makes the daily reality of our lives hard for you to believe. We don't have that luxury.

Let me just say right now that when OP came back to the conversation, they stated really clearly that disbelieving LGBTQ people about our experience was not okay with them. 

In a separate conversation about this in my space, people pointed out:
  • Has SP ever held hands with her husband in public while traveling?  Ever kissed him in public? 
  • Has she ever worried about someone bashing her upside the head for doing so?  Or simply because they thought she was straight?
  • Has she ever had to choose between safety and invisibility? 
  • Is kissing her husband or holding his hand where other people can see it "proving" they're a romantic couple instead of "regular" friends? 
  •  "I'm just trying to figure all this out" is a convenient line, but this person was displaying behavior that indicated she really didn't want to know: she wasn't listening to the lived experience of queer people, and she didn't believe what queer people told her.  What's more, she was insisting her thoughts, feelings, experience, and disbelief take center stage. Not the experience of LGBTQ people, hers.  This is derailing.  So is insisting members of a minority educate her.

Also, EXCUSE me?  The only queer people who get beaten when traveling are the ones who have sex in the street??  It's a very short step from the belief that people won't beat you for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer unless you're having sex and they witness it, to the belief that if someone beat you for being queer, you did something to provoke it and it's your fault

That is victim-blaming bullshit.  Victim-blaming bullshit is not ally behavior. 

SP talked about being in a same-sex romantic relationship vs being in a "regular" friendship, thus reinforcing the notion that same-sex romances and partnerships are not regular, are not normal, are deviant.

That is not ally behavior.

SP talked about her experience as a straight person in a heterosexual marriage and as a straight person traveling with another person of the same gender as if it were equivalent to queer people's experience.  As if it gave her the same understanding of queer people's experience in same-gender relationships, and as if it gave her the same understanding of being a queer person whom straight people read as queer.  SP made it clear she considered her experience as a straight person to be more valid in assessing LGBTQ safety than the experience of not just one LGBTQ person, but several, in the conversation.  (WTF?)

That is not ally behavior.

It's also derailing. 

Derailing is not ally behavior.

SP, who is straight, took over a conversation among LGBTQ people about their experience as LGBTQ people to talk about her experience as a straight person and to demand LGBTQ people educate her. 

That is derailing.  Derailing is not ally behavior. 

All of these behaviors are heterosexist.  Heterosexist behavior is not ally behavior.

For more information on derailing, I suggest these excellent resources listed here:

I want to talk about some of the aspects of this kind of behavior that bother me the most.  

1)  There are straight people who think of themselves as LGBTQ allies, but who have no clue about the lived experience of LGBTQ people.   

Who think it's all about same-sex marriage.  Who think same-sex marriage is nice, but have no idea why it's important -- know nothing about the additional tax burden of being in a same-sex relationship, know nothing about the legal threats to our families, know nothing about the spreadsheets we keep to track how many times laws in different states have required us to dissolve our legal relationships and then re-form them, know nothing about the health care threats, know nothing about second-parent adoption.  Who expect us to look and act like cis straight people.  Who chastise us when we look too masculine or too feminine, or kiss our partners in public.  Who have no clue that we can still be fired for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, or just never hired in the first place; denied a mortgage; stopped by the cops for walking down the street and arrested for prostitution if we have condoms in our possession; refused medical treatment, including in life-threatening emergencies; refused rental housing.

These things I mention?  They are the tip of the iceberg.  There is much, much more.   

If these surprise you, you're not paying attention, and you're not behaving like an ally.  If you think of yourself as an LGBTQ ally, you need to educate yourself about the lived reality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and genderqueer people.

And DON'T ask us to educate you.  It is your job as an ally to educate yourself.  There is plenty of good material out there by LGBTQ people for you to find.  Go find it. 

2)  There are straight people who like to think of themselves as LGBTQ allies, but who refuse to listen to that experience when we share it. 

When we tell you about our experience, believe it.  Don't tell us it's hard to for you to believe.  We live it.  Every day.  Our other LGBTQ siblings live it every day. 

When we tell you about our experience, don't change the focus back to you.  Don't talk about your experience as a straight person.  Don't tell us how your experience with something as a straight person means you understand our experience as a queer person. 

Believe what we tell you, however we tell you -- in person, in writing, in documentaries, in music, in theatre, etc.  We have all sorts of ways we talk about our experience.  Seek them out.  Believe them.

Dear people trying to be allies:  

Do you want to be an ally?  Ally is a set of behaviors.  It's not a title.  If you want to behave like an ally, some of the very basic things you can do are:

  • Educate yourself about what the people who are part of the minority you are trying to ally with go through.  Educate yourself about their / our lived experience.  
  • Respect that we know more about the truth of our own lived experience than you do.  
  • Listen when we tell you about our experience.  
  • Believe us when we tell you about our experience, and believe us when we tell you about prejudice, bigotry, and the -isms we face every day. 
There's lots more you can do.  Start with educating yourself, listening, and believing, and you'll find out what behaviors we really need from you.

Hoo-rah-I-think-everyone-should-be-able-to-get-married is not enough.

An Oppressed Person Who's Tired of This Shit

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Let's talk about ally behavior, white people and men edition

Let's talk about ally behavior:

1)  Hello, white people: we don't get to decide what's racist, because a) we're not the targets of it and b) we benefit from it.

If you actually want to be an anti-racist person and ally to people of color, rather than someone who merely benefits from white privilege and is well-meaning, then you need to listen when people of color speak the truth of their experience.

And when people of color say something is racist, if you want to be an ally, you f'ing shut up and listen, you don't whitesplain all the reasons it's not racist or why it's okay to act that way.

2)  Hello, men: you don't get to decide what's sexist or misogynist, because a) you're not the targets of it and b) you benefit from it.

If you actually want to be an anti-sexist person and ally to women, rather than someone who merely benefits from male privilege and is well-meaning, then you need to listen when women speak the truth of their experience.

And when women say something is sexist or misogynist, if you want to be an ally, you f'ing shut up and listen, you don't mansplain all the reasons it's not sexist or misogynist or why it's okay for you to act that way.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Let's talk about ally behavior, derailing edition

Derailment, people.  Derailing is never, ever a good idea.  And yet well-meaning people do it all the time.  I feel the temptation at times, myself.  Never, ever a good idea.

I find it very, very useful to be able to identify derailment -- when other people are doing it to me,  when I'm tempted to do it to other people, or when I say something and someone tells me to stop derailing. 

Here are some excellent resources on derailment:

Enjoy.  (Some of them are pretty funny.  Wait, humor -- ?!)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Let's talk about ally behavior

I am about to post a series of articles on ally behavior.

This started out as a single post based on one experience I had last week.  However, the past week has turned into a stream of Allies Not Behaving Like Allies experiences.  Some of these have happened in person, some have happened on line, some have combined both.  It just keeps coming.

I know a lot of well-meaning white people who think they don't treat people of color any differently than they do white people. 

I know a lot of well-meaning straight people who think they accept lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer people whole-heartedly. 

I know a lot of cisgender people who think they support transgender rights.

I  know a lot of men who think they're Nice Guys and would never do anything to make a woman uncomfortable.

I know a lot of well-meaning non-disabled people who think they are fully accepting of people with disabilities.  

But you know what, people, that's not enough.  

If you really believe everyone is equal, if you really believe you're not racist, homophobic, transphobic, sexist, or ableist, if you believe everyone should be treated equally, believing is not enough. You need to walk your talk.  We need to walk our talk.  You need to behave in ways that mirror those values.  We need to behave in ways that mirror those values.

We're going to start out here talking about ally behavior -- what it is, and what it isn't. 

First, what's an ally?  

Here's an excellent definition from the Geek Feminism Wiki:
Allies are people who support a group who are commonly the subject of discrimination, prejudice, etc, but who are not members of that group. Specifically, feminist allies are individuals who are not women who support women's rights and promote feminism. 

Let me be real clear here, folks: an ally is not what you/we are, it's what you/we do.   It is not enough to say "I'm an ally" or "I support this marginalized group" without adding behavior that puts that into action. 

Okay, then, what is ally behavior?  

Here is a very basic starting place, again from the Geek Feminism Wiki:
  • Accept and understand your privilege
  • Learn to listen
  • Don't make it about you
  • Adopt a language of respect and equality

The "Allies" entry has further examples of ally behavior, and further resources.  I recommend it.  

Here is the most basic ally behavior I can recommend to you:
  • LISTEN when people who are members of oppressed minorities talk about their experience with oppression. 
  • DON'T defend what happened, don't explain it, don't say it wasn't racist etc, don't insist it's okay for people to behave that way.
  • BELIEVE what people who are members of oppressed minorities tell you about their experience.  Don't talk about how hard it is to believe, don't say you've never witnessed anything like this, etc.
  • DON'T DERAIL.  Don't talk about your own experience, don't tone-police, etc.  
In addition: 
  • CALL other people who are members of the same dominant society groups you're part of on their behavior.  

Here are some excellent resources on what derailing is and isn't:

More soon.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Samhain blessings in music

"Hecate, Cerridwen," Reclaiming and Friends:

Hecate, Cerridwen
Dark Mother, take us in
Hecate, Cerridwen
Let us be reborn

"Breaths," Sweet Honey in the Rock:

Those who have died have never, never left
The dead are not under the earth...
Those who have died have never, never left
The dead have a pact with the living

 "We Are," Sweet Honey in the Rock:

We are our grandmothers' prayers
We are our grandfathers' dreamings
We are the breath of the ancestors
We are the spirit of god

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Queries for Samhain

Friendly Pumpkin, (c) Anders Lagerås, used with permission

Friday is Samhain, the Witches' New Year and the Feast of the Beloved Dead. 

It's the time of year when many of us honor those who have gone before, remember our beloved dead, recognize our not-so-beloved dead and let them go, mourn (and celebrate) endings, welcome new babies, welcome the presence of new people in our lives, and celebrate new beginnings.  

Many Pagans feel that this night, the veil between the worlds, between the living and the dead, the seen and the unseen, is thinnest.  Witches have a saying, "Who is remembered, lives."  In Roses, Too! Tradition, Samhain is a time when we honor our ancestors, physical and spiritual, and cultures which have nurtured us.  

Queries for Samhain:
  • How are you marking your endings, your losses, the deaths that have happened this year, the deaths that have happened in the past that are still with you?  
  • In what ways do you do to honor your ancestors and those who have gone before? 
  • What foods have come to you from them?  What ordinary, everyday things?  What special-occasion things?
  • What gifts from those who have gone before do you pass down or share in the world?  
  • How are you welcoming new babies and new people who have come into the world or your life this last year?  

May your Samhain be blessed. 

May these next weeks between the Feast of the Beloved Dead and the Rebirth of the Sun at Yule be a time of rich darkness for you. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Winter Solstice 2014?

I am looking for people anywhere in the world who would be interested in doing a Winter Solstice Celebration based on A Winter Solstice Singing Ritual, privately with a small group of friends / family. Think, getting together in someone's living room, using the CD or an iPod for the music, and sharing the reading. Five is a good minimum number, though I've done it with fewer -- you can do it by yourself -- and as far as I know there is no maximum number. Support and encouragement available from me.

Let me know if you're interested!

More information is available at

There's also a Facebook group for people who are involved in this project at

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Upcoming posts for Samhain: Talking about suicide

Because I do a lot of work around dying and death, and because Samhain is fast approaching, dying and death have been on my mind. 

But in particular, suicide has been on my mind, and for a number of reasons: the topic for the November gathering of the Quaker Concern Around Dying and Death is sudden death and suicide; I've been having a lot of conversations with other people, especially suicide-loss survivors, about suicide; there are so many places in my life where the topic just comes up, over and over. 

For quite some time now, I've wanted to post some articles, both by me and by guest authors, on the topic of suicide. 

Suicide touches so many of us.  But we're conditioned not to talk about it, whether we feel like we want to die, or we've tried, or someone we know or care about or love wants to die, has tried to kill themselves, or has died by suicide. 

That don't-talk-about-it message makes it harder to reach out for help, harder to grieve and mourn, and harder to heal.

Over the last few years, but especially this last year, I have felt a renewed commitment to talking about suicide, particularly to being open about the fact that I'm a suicide-loss survivor.  A number of people in my life, over the span of many years, have died by suicide.  The most recent suicide death in my life came three years ago.  In response, that part of my extended family has been very committed to talked about it, especially amongst my generation.  To reach out to each other. I've also found myself talking more openly in the rest of my life, not just about that death, but about previous ones.  Robin Williams' death in August also prompted a lot of discussion about suicide.  And I've heard from a lot of other suicide-loss survivors, as well as from other people who have contemplated suicide.

I've had some really amazing, hard, courageous, and wonderful conversations over the last months and year with many people about suicide, being a suicide-loss survivor, and how to talk about all of this.  Thank you to everyone who's been part of those.  You have really helped me, and each other.

In the next week or so, I'll have several guest posts to share from people who have different kinds of experience with suicide.  I hope these pieces will be helpful to you in your spiritual work approaching Samhain, and also in general.

They'll each be clearly labeled, so if you're not ready to read about suicide, you don't have to.  You can also come back and read them later.

To start, I'd like to recommend some easy-to-read, thoughtful, helpful pieces by my friend Hollis Easter.  

Among other things, Hollis "runs a telephone crisis hotline and teaches people how to listen, offer support, help people who think of suicide to choose life, and build lasting strength in communities."  Hollis is one of the friends and colleagues I've had deep, chewy conversations with about this issue, the kinds of conversations which catalyze other work. 

Here are some of Hollis' pieces I've found helpful in stumbling towards talking about this.  I hope they're helpful for you, too:

There are many more fascinating, and useful, articles at Hollis' blog; I recommend exploring.

If you are struggling with suicide, please, talk to someone.  
  • In the US, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline free from anywhere at 1-800-273-TALK. 
  • In the UK, you can call the Samaritans anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on 08457 90 90 90. 
  • In Scotland, you can call the Breathing Space phoneline, which is available 24 hours at weekends (6pm Friday - 6am Monday), and 6pm - 2am on weekdays (Monday - Thursday), on 0800 83 85 87.

Look for some more posts within the next week. 

This is gentle, tender work.  Be kind to yourself.