National Coming Out Day

October 11 is National Coming Out Day in the US (it’s the 12th in the UK), and since I’ve been out (and really, really out online) for a long time, today, what I’m thinking about is those times when I’ve not been.

Like two nights ago when I played the pronoun game at an awards banquet thingy when someone took “partner” to mean “husband” and it just seemed too awkward to correct them. It’s hard, I’ve always found, in small talk with strangers, even if you’re comfortable being out, to have to say, “Oh, by the way, you’re wrong.”

I’m lucky enough to run into situations like this rarely, but they always linger with me, long and strange.

And the world is changing so fast; I don’t always even know how to keep up.

When I met my guitar teacher, for example, she asked if I’m married, and I said, “Oh, no, I’m gay,” which actually didn’t make sense as an answer in New York State anymore (unless we’re actively talking about non-assimilation, which is a great convo, but was not the one at hand). Anyway, she’s surely forgotten about it, but I think about it from time to time; how it marks my age; and how my age has marked me.

So, on the odd chance you were one of the few people who didn’t know: I’m queer. Queer is my preferred word because it lets me get the genderqueer stuff and the attraction stuff and the fact that I feel like bisexual is too binary a word for me (but I’m really interested in gender, it’s not an afterthought, so apparently pansexual is wrong too? I don’t know, I’m not great at keeping up with the ever expanding QUILTBAG terminology) and the probability that I really can’t pass all into one neat little syllable.

I’ll also take gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, whatever, because they’re all varying degrees of accurate and I know queer isn’t a comfortable word for everyone. Mostly, it’s like my pronouns — if you’re not using it as an insult, with that nasty little hitch in your voice — we’re good. As ever, in case anyone still needs to know this, don’t use queer for people who don’t self-identify as queer, and please, it’s an adjective, not a noun.

Meanwhile, coming out is a privilege and should be a choice (political figures who actively support anti-gay agendas and who later turn out to be queer, being a common, but not universal, exception to this belief).

Additionally, coming out is complicated. For a lot of us, it involves not a sentence, but paragraphs, about sexual preference, romantic attraction, personal history and gender presentation and identity; and if we pass for whatever reason(s) (which is this whole mess of a thing filled with advantages and disadvantages and all sorts of complicated stuff), it can feel even harder to speak up.

Coming out can also often involve not just speaking personal truth, but often, countering assumptions or offering reassurances (No, mom, you didn’t make me gay). This can be everything from tiring to amusing to heart-breaking to just plain weird.

Of course, coming out also carries real, serious risks — homophobic violence still exists around the world (including even in my precious New York City) and in most US states you can still be fired from your job for no other reason than being or being perceived as being LGBT.

However, in spite of that (and perhaps because of it) if coming out, if being out, is a thing you feel you can do, it’s probably a good thing, not just for yourself, but other people in your community. Secrets are, I think, a dangerous currency, easily stolen.

National Coming Out Day has a lot of purposes. It says we are not silent. It says we are not invisible. But it also says you are not alone.

And that’s true regardless of whether you’re out or not.

This blog welcomes anonymous and pseudonymous comments that are non-abusive in nature. That’s true every day, but that’s especially true today. If you want to make this random little corner of the Internet a place you can be out in today, you are welcome to do so, but if you just want to keep reading along, that’s cool too. Either way, we’re honored to have you.

Advertisements

National Celiac Awareness Day

So yesterday was National Celiac Awareness Day, and I barely noticed and forgot to make a post. I have celiac disease, and it probably impacts me more than any other fact about me; it affects how I look, how I think, what I eat, and what I can do. Every day I make dozens of choices that are impacted by this illness.

But the reason I want to tell you about celiac disease is that there’s a really good chance someone who reads this has the disease and doesn’t even know it yet. General estimates put the frequency of celiac disease at about 1 in 133 people in US, and if you have it, it means you can’t eat a anything containing gluten or, more generally, anything that has come into contact with wheat, rye, barley, spelt, and in some cases, oats. Many people with the disease also have trouble digesting dairy.

What happens if you have celiac disease and eat those things? Well, it depends. Basically, though, eating gluten will trigger a process whereby your body tries to digest itself. It’s pretty gross.

Celiac has lots of symptoms, both long and short term. For me it means severe intestinal distress, internal bleeding, neurological problems (including numb patches on my skin and aphasia). Mid-term consequences for me have included mental health issues (depression, problem with anger control, panic attacks). Long-term, because I was not diagnosed with the disease until I was in my 30s (and we’ll talk about that in a moment), it’s meant irreversible damage to my teeth, skin and nails.

It’s also meant I have spent a lifetime underweight being told that I was surely anorexic or bulemic. I have been bullied by peers, authority figures and even doctors to “admit” I had an eating disorder and to “confess” that I liked it. Of course, I did have a disease, but no one ever wanted to bother to find out what it was; I was just another screwed up girl, and, really, who cares about that?

You should also know that celiac disease also significantly increases the risk of many forms of cancer, epilepsy (something that impacts several celiacs I know), and infertility.

Getting diagnosed with celiac disease is a bit challenging. It mimics a lot of other illnesses, including IBS and gallbladder problems. Until relatively recently in the US it was considered a “rare childhood illness” and was viewed as temporary and unlikely. Neither of these things are true. It’s a life-long genetic condition, and in many countries in Europe blood testing for the disease markers is a routine part of preventive care before any child starts primary school.

I was only diagnosed with celiac because after my doctor said “maybe it’s cancer” and “let’s take out your gallbladder and see what happens” after months of being too ill to eat (and being told to just eat crackers — so helpful!) and losing weight I didn’t have to lose, I freaked out and started Googling. I quickly discovered a list of symptoms (I had 19 out of 20) and a list of diseases that celiac is often mistaken for (I’d been diagnosed with or considered for diagnosis with 17 out of 20).

When I eliminated gluten from my diet, 48 hours later I felt healthier than I ever had in my life. At 33. I’d been sick for 33 years and no one had figured it out, or even accepted I was ill. I was too skinny because I was a picky eater; I spent too long in the bathroom because I was trying to avoid my family; my hair and skin were like that because I was dirty; my teeth… well, that was just because I was a ugly; and I was angry because I just wasn’t a good girl.

It was very strange to be 33 and suddenly feel good when I didn’t know I hadn’t really for all those years before. It was very strange to be 33 and finally feel like I could be attractive. And it was very strange to realize I wasn’t the bad, “crazy” ex-girlfriend, but someone who had been struggling with a lot of neurological issues that removing gluten from my diet abated, giving me the room to unlearn the terrible habits I had in response to them.

Being gluten-free means I feel good and can have the life I want. But it also means my groceries cost a lot more than yours as alternatives to gluten-based products (like bread made from rice, potato or corn flour) can be very expensive.

It means shopping takes longer (I have to read labels on everything, every time in case there’s a reformulation).

It means some cuisines are harder than others (soy sauce commonly contains wheat and so Asian cuisines can be tricky, although wheat-free soy sauce is easily available in many supermarkets).

It means when I go to restaurants I have to be outspoken and friendly about my needs, and trust someone in the kitchen won’t roll their eyes at the “picky eater” and allow my food to be unsafe.

It means learning explain my medical condition in languages I don’t speak when I travel abroad and researching food safety laws whenever I go to foreign destinations.

It means having to decline food and drink at many social occasions to a degree that can be awkward (think unexpected business luncheons and conference dinners where the only thing you can safely eat is lettuce leaves without dressing; people ask about that, and whatever you tell them will probably make them uncomfortable.).

It means not being able to kiss my girlfriend after she eats something glutinous until she brushes her teeth.

It also means accepting that sometimes, even if I do all the right things, something will go wrong, and I will be abruptly and miserably sick. It means knowing that some of the things that are wrong with me (and not just not being able to eat gluten) will never get better — the damage was repeated too often, over too many years, for too long. And it means having to be extra inquisitive because of really crappy things that are more likely to go wrong with me.

If you frequently feel ill after eating, have trouble digesting fats, have weight problems (celiacs are often severely over or underweight, although underweight is ore common), experience intense food cravings, have any indication you may be malnourished despite eating a good diet, and these symptoms have either been a constant part of your life or appeared suddenly after a medical event (accident, childbirth, severe flu, etc. — these often trigger symptoms in those who are asymptomatic) and stayed, please discuss celiac disease with your doctor or try a gluten-free diet.

If left untreated celiac disease can be fatal and/or trigger more frequently fatal illnesses. Celiac disease also causes huge amounts of overuse of the medical system when undiagnosed people seek treatment for symptoms as opposed to managing their undiagnosed disease.

I talk about this a lot less than I used to (in part because I have to talk about the annoying logistical parts of this every day), but if you have any questions, you can go for it in comments

a place where I was real

If you know me, you’re probably heard me do the whole hand wave-y, Oh, I’ve always been out thing about my sexuality. But that’s not true; I just didn’t always know what it was that I was hiding; after all, I went to an all-girls school through 9th grade and I was attracted to men. Therefore, it was pretty easy to grow up at least pretending to be sure that I was a girl, and that, like all good girls, liked boys.

I was way more preoccupied by how weird I felt in a generalized way — my face was too long; my uniforms never fit right; and I hated everything from the way my voice sounded and to the shape of my eyes that made me, I thought, look perpetually sad (okay, truth be told, I still think that). I was other, and being queer sort of never really entered into it. In fact, I remember calling myself queer when I was 12, before it was a reclaimed word, before I knew it was a slur against gay people; I thought it just meant peculiar, and I was.

So while I was never really in, I also certainly wasn’t out until college, which sort of happened with a bang I didn’t have all the control over I would have liked (opinion piece in the university paper about how my being bisexual didn’t make my roommate a lesbian? did that seriously happen? can I get a do-over?), but it is what it is and happened over 20 years ago now.

My first experience of being a real-live gay person in a world where everyone knew I was a real-live gay person, was working at Lambda Rising, a gay bookstore in Washington DC. I worked in the stock room, with a dude we all called Millie. We took the phone orders that came in, found the books people wanted, shrink wrapped them and packaged them up in plain brown boxes.

We loved that stupid shrink wrap gun, the way we made the warning beep on the Mac SE that ran the stock room into a clip of Millie squealing about something, and the ice cream shop next door than the manager would sometimes buy us cones at. It was my first normal job in that it was an appropriate fit for my age and skills. It was the type of job people in TV shows had. It was what you do, when you’re in college.

But it was also the type of job that made Millie and I spend a lot of time talking about what it meant to be gay. We sort of had to, after every order, when callers would ask if we had foot-fetish books (I can still hear Millie drawl, are they gay foot fetish books? then yes!) or proclaim they were doing their once-yearly order from a town of 351 in Alaska or check and recheck that the boxes wouldn’t be labeled with anything that might let their neighbors (or their wives or their parents) know that they were gay.

“Sometimes, this job feels like a public service,” Millie would say.

“Don’t you feel guilty sometimes?” I’d ask.

“What do you mean?”

“The way people call like they’re perverts or it’s a dirty secret or they can’t believe I’m actually saying lambda when I answer the phone.”

“We do stock a lot of porn,” Millie would reply.

“Look, I just want you to know, all girls that like girls are not interested in Wonder of the Labia coloring books.”

I was 18 and I worked a gay bookshop in a gay neighborhood across from an independent cinema that often played gay movies. And even if I was never, ever going to get a TV sitcom style romance because I didn’t work as a cashier, I loved it. It was movie magic and hope over and over and over again.

Today, LGBT bookshops are largely disappearing, driven out of the market my a changing culture and by changing technology. Twenty years ago, they didn’t save my life, but they taught me I could have a good, happy, small, non-combative life and be queer, at a point when my life was big and public and very combative in ways that no one really gave me a chance to choose or not. In a life of big blessings, Lambda Rising was for me a small one, but a critical one.

One day, a lot of the things that have defined my queer experience just won’t really exist anymore. I mean, no one really keeps little maps in their dorm rooms anymore of what states they’d broken sodomy laws in, not since Lawrence v. Texas, but that happened in 2003, and we did, back in 1993. And ACT UP seems like more a part of history than the thing, along with Queer Nation, that taught me about what it meant to be gay as a teenager.

One day, this stupid, awful equal marriage rights fight will be over; one day kids won’t risk getting all the clubs in their high schools closed down just because they want to start a Gay-Straight Alliance; one day people won’t even understand why we had to have these conversations. That world is a long way away, but I also know it’s closer than I think most days, because where we are now in this struggle right now? More than I ever could have hoped for when I was 18 and working in a bookstore warehouse and reassuring people about plain brown paper packaging.

But sometimes, I feel like we’re losing things out of order. Or get really scared that my culture that makes me me is disappearing. Assimilation hurts. Sometimes it’s a prize, and, sometimes, it’s a bargaining chip; how much of your history would you be willing to bleed out just to get treated like you’re normal? It’s a shitty question, and one no one should have to answer.

Gay books stores mattered. They were a place where I was real. And I don’t necessarily feel like I’m real enough in this world as it is now for them to be gone already.

Zoom, zoom, zoom trash day

Patty and I are getting read to head upstate for a couple of days to do absolutely nothing for our anniversary, other than occasionally wander across the street from our B&B for French food. Explaining this Do Nothing plan to my mother was slightly awkward. I could just see the look on her face as whatever I said translated to we are going to have sex all weekend, which, you know, isn’t untrue. Parents are definitely past that stage where they think my being queer is awesome because it doesn’t involve sex they define as sex. Anyway!

The less sordid truth is that I’d also like to get to Boscobel this weekend. Despite all the time I’ve spent in the Hudson Valley, I’ve never managed to make this happen, so if we’re feeling it on Sunday before we head back to the city for Easter dinner or if there’s decent weather on Saturday, I think that is the plan.

It should be noted, meanwhile, that planning a birthday party in NYC is challenging. This is currently Patty’s task of woe for her recently transpired birthday. Everything is difficult because of weather, people’s over-committed schedules, and just the general aggravation that so many aspects of New York living can be. Have I mentioned that we deeply, truly, sincerely love it here, though?

Meanwhile, I’ll be back in Boston twice in May. I may, may even be able to see people one of these times around. I also desperately need to call some hotels about a wedding we’re going to in Pittsburgh. Oh, this life of extreme glamour. Clearly, I need some, since I’m starting to get really excited about the West Coast trip for Labor Day already, but I suspect part of that is my periodic desire to have a better relationship with California than I do. That said, I love San Francisco, and its Chinatown and Seal Rock are two really fertile creative places for me. It’s been years, Patty’s never been, and it’s going to be a great good thing.

All of this aside, I have to confess I’ve been in a sort of funk lately. I do this sometimes. I say it’s pothos, and it’s a little bit that, but really it’s just me being a moody bastard. I struggle, even at 38, with accepting that I need to be the best me I can be, even if some things about me don’t seem as complimentary to my goals as things about other people. The storm in my head broke the other day though, so I’m hoping I can pull it together on getting a ton of stuff done soon. Actually — dance break, I’m going to go send some emails!

Okay, AWESOME. How was that for you? That was great for me.

Finally, I want to link here something I mentioned in passing on my LJ the other day: The Sad, Beautiful Fact that We’re All Going to Miss Almost Everything. I like this piece both because it’s about the beauty of sadness, but also because it speaks to a tendency that I not only have to fight in myself (often, admittedly, unsuccessfully), but that I run headlong into in other people constantly: the need to devalue, sometimes aggressively, things that don’t speak to us or that we don’t have time for; this is not, for the record, a complaint about actual critical discussion, because, man, I love me some stuff that is deeply flawed. Rather, this is an objection to “I don’t enjoy this and therefore no one else should either,” which, I’ll grant you, is sometimes what we hear even when it is not meant. Anyway, check the piece out; it’s cleverer than me on this front.

Now I have to throw some stuff in a satchel and get the hell out of here.

stories, loss, and the power of what needs be done

When I talk about the Whoniverse, one of the things I tend to talk about it how it frames heroes and heroism. It’s all about the ordinary (all those shop girls and queer boys), who have a tremendous amount to sacrifice (e.g., their lives), and the extraordinary (like Jack and the Doctor) who have been deprived of the more obvious means of sacrifice. It’s one of the things I really love about the Whoniverse, even though it’s hard. I love it because because it takes a common trope and bends it; I love it because it speaks, effectively I think, to our societal tendency to overuse the word hero; and I love it because I’m wired for tragedy.

At least in narratives. Fictional narratives.

It’s kind of different when big, real, terrifying, impossible to miss tragedies are actually happening in a manner relentless, ongoing and actually beyond the previous scope of our imaginings.

So, if you’re still in a place where you’re actively able to engage the news, it seems like one of the only things I can do, beyond getting out my wallet, is to encourage you to read stuff about ordinary people, doing heroic things.

Miki Endo was a 25-year-old who worked in the Crisis Management Department in Minami Sanriko. Her voice led people to safety in the face of the tsunami wave. She died doing her job.

While we don’t know the exact numbers of workers remaining at the Fukushima Daiishi Nuclear Plant (numbers have fluctuated between 50 and 180), they are undoubtedly putting their lives at risk, if not this minute, then this month or this week or this year; radiation is funny like that.

Last night, I caught one of those non-scientific polls on the CNN website. It asked whether you’d be willing to risk your life the way those workers are. It made me so angry. Not, actually, because it had simplified the matter to a short, trite, and unscientific query, but because it is absurd to think you know what you would do in a moment like that.

No matter how much you’ve thought about it, no matter the degree to which your job or other circumstances of your life may require you to think about it, no matter how wired for tragedy you are in your fictional habits or whatever else, there are some questions we never know how we’ll answer until they come to us. I’ve faced some of the smaller quandaries on that continuum, and they were nothing like I could have expected.

I haven’t, in regard to all this tragedy and horror in Japan, been particularly calm. I am, as previously noted here and elsewhere, one of those people who had a childhood shaped by our collective nuclear imagination. We didn’t get a color TV until the late 80s; my father resisted the law (and fought with our building management) that forced us to have a smoke detector in our apartment — in both cases, he was concerned about the radiation.

Until today, I’ve always viewed that as part of the many frustrating, sometimes alarming, eccentricities that surrounded my childhood. But today I remembered that my father, born before WWII, knew the world before we split the atom.

The habits of fear from my nuclear childhood are not due to my father’s eccentricities or paranoias that often made the world of my childhood seem both cruel and arbitrary. They are due to the fact that he was a twelve-year-old boy and in love with television and radio and the idea of soldiers when the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And he, of course, just lived in New Jersey, in a perfectly safe life, in a blue-collar seaside town where his father was a shoemaker. If you read the comments here, or on my LJ blog, you’ve seen comments from people whose parents didn’t grow up in New Jersey, but instead lost friends due to the radiation that resulted from the those bombings my father listened to on the radio. It makes all the terror of my American 1980s seem absurd and crass, even as it makes it make sense.

All of this is why I’m so invested in fiction, because of the way it intertwines with non-fiction, because of the way non-fiction gradually morphs over time, becoming our myths, our lies, our stories, our fictions that ultimately, in times like these, force us back to the non-fiction truths from whence they came.

These stories, these truths, tell us heroes are real. And ordinary. And pay terrible prices, not because of what suits the story, or because the audience might be wired for tragedy, but because of what needs done.

The Red Cross | Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières | ShelterBox

life in these times

It’s sort of hard to blog about anything right now in the face of Japan.

Anything I have to say seems somewhere between inadequate and absurd (and that’s the best case scenario). Even critiquing the media right now doesn’t seem worth the trouble, if I even had the perspective to do it effectively. Which I don’t. I’m deeply cognisant of how really irresponsible much of the nuclear coverage has been (some of it’s been excellent, but it’s largely been the exception), but I’m also the age I am; I’m ashamed of how much will-power it takes not to feel like I’m 8-years-old and my best friend has to go to therapy every other day because of the panic attacks she has because of all the nuclear war books they make us read in school.

Meanwhile, the rest of life continues. Whedonistas launched today, sold out on Amazon, and is back in stock now. Last night there was the reading at the Way Station, and despite thinking my head wasn’t in it (too many deadlines, too much news horror), it was tremendously fun and warm and good, and the thing I read seemed to amuse people and seemed to be meaningful and personal for one person in a way that was deeply gratifying and sort of intense. In a different week, I’d know how to write about that. This week, all I can say it was nice to see people.

Today I got that Sherlock thing done and out the door. Erica & I have been working on Dogboy & Justine; Kali and I are back on track with the novel; and I have another abstract I need to write and pitch and a friend I want to interview here about her film project. Oh yeah, and a couple of things to schedule – a podcast interview for one thing and a video interview for something else.

I’ve also spoken with Patty the last couple of days. She’s tremendous, and sometime in the next week or so, we should know when she’ll be home. So that, and the fact that she’s doing lots of neat stuff, is pretty exciting too. So is the approach of Passover, which means a sudden masses of gluten-free products I can’t get the rest of the year.

In a day or two I hope my head is screwed on enough to write neat stuff about neat stuff. Today the world seems a bit short on neat stuff, and I’m definitely a bit short on words.

Here are some ways to help Japan:

American Red Cross.
ShelterBox.
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières.
Donation efforts and recommendations by members of the pagan community in the US.

We all have limited resources of time, money, and attention. Remember that Japan, and, in fact, all places affected by disasters at any time, tend to need help over the long term. Putting an alarm in your calendar to donate or boost the signal a few months from now is a valuable form of assistance.