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Note: I am reblogging this in honor of World Awareness Day on December 1st 2019.

This piece of commentary was previously aired on This Way Out, the LGBTQ news and culture syndicate headquartered in Los Angeles and published in The Huffington Post.

 

Every now and then comes that rare book that brings your life rushing back to you. How To Survive A Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS by David France (Knopf 2016) is one such book.

The book chronicles the AIDS epidemic from the early 1980s – when the mysterious “gay cancer” started appearing — to 1995 when hard-won advancements in research and pharmaceuticals made AIDS a virus that people lived with rather than a disease that people died from.

It was an epidemic of massive proportions. As France writes:

“When the calendar turned to 1991, 100,000 Americans were dead from AIDS, twice as many as had perished in Vietnam.”

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The book chronicles the scientific developments, the entwined politics, and medical breakthroughs in the AIDS epidemic. AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a chronic infectious condition that is caused by the underlying human immunodeficiency virus known as HIV. The book also chronicles the human toll which is staggering.I came out in 1981 and while the devastation France writes about was not my world, it was very close to my experience.

In my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books, 2012), I write about how volunteering at an AIDS hospice helped me to care for my mother when she became terminally ill:

“The only caregiving I had done at that point was tending to an old cat and reading poetry to the patients at an AIDS hospice, called Betak, that was in our neighborhood. A friend of ours, who was a harpist, had started a volunteer arts program for the patients. She played the harp, [my partner] Barbara came and brought her drum sometimes, and I read poetry. These were poor people—mostly African American men—who were in the advanced stages of AIDS and close to death. The experience let me see how fast the disease could move.”

In those days, the women’s community (what we then called the lesbian and feminist community) was mostly separate from the gay male community. Understandably, gay men and lesbians had our differences. But there was infighting in every group. Rebellion was in the air, and sometimes we took our hostilities out on each other.

Still, gay men and lesbians were also allies and friends (something that is reflected in France’s writing).

I’ll always remember the time my partner and I took a bus to Washington D.C. with the guys from ACT-UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, an international activist group that is still in existence) from Philadelphia to Washington D.C. to protest for reproductive rights. The women then went to protest with ACT-UP at AIDS-related protests. Remember the die-ins in the streets?

One thing that lesbians and gay men had in common was that we lived in a world that was hostile to us. At that time, many gay men and lesbians were in the closet because we were vilified by society and in danger of losing our employment, families, housing and, in more than a few instances, our lives.

AIDS activism necessitated coming out of the closet. Hate crimes against us skyrocketed.

There is much in this book that I did not know, even though I lived through the era. In 1986, in protest of the Bowers v. Hardwick ruling of the US Supreme Court (which upheld a Georgia law criminalizing sodomy – a decision that was overturned in 2003), about 1,000 angry people protested in a small park across from the legendary Stonewall Inn in New York City, where the modern gay rights movement was born after a series of riots that started after a routine police raid of the bar.

At that same time, Ronald Reagan (then president) and the President of France François Mitterrand were celebrating the anniversary of the gift of the Statue of Liberty.

“’Did you hear that Lady Liberty has AIDS?” the comedian [Bob Hope] cracked to the three hundred guests. “Nobody knows if she got it from the mouth of the Hudson or the Staten Island Ferry.’”

“There was a scattering of groans. Mitterand and his wife looked appalled. But not the Reagans. The first lady, a year after the death of her friend Rock Hudson, the brunt of this joke, smiled affectionately. The president threw his head back and roared.”

How to Survive A Plague is told in stories, including the author’s own story. This is apt because the gay rights movement was full of stories and — because of the epidemic — most of those stories were cut short.

Almost every June, my partner and I would be part of the New York Pride Parade and every year we would pause for an official moment to honor our dead. The silence was cavernous.

This silence extended to entire communities. A gay male friend, amazed when his test came back negative, told me that most of his address book was crossed out. He would walk around the “gayborhood” in Center City Philadelphia surrounded by the haunting places where his friends used to live.

And we were all so young then.

When I turned the last page of How To Survive A Plague, I concluded that this is a very well-done book about a history that is important in its own right. The plague years also represent an important part of the American experience. And an understanding of this history is imperative to the future of the LGBT movement.

Amazon THEY

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

 

Happy Thanks Living!

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As a writer, I am usually under a rock — however my partner and I did get out to several events in this past week when a friend told us about “Golda’s Balcony” — a movie of the off-Broadway one-woman play about the life of Golda Meir.

My partner and I saw the play when it was in Philadelphia (Golda was played by the late Valerie Harper.)

The movie was based on the original New York play in which Tovah Feldshuh starred.

I remember, of course, that this play conveyed an integral piece of world history.  When I saw the movie this week, I pondered that the actress said at the end of the play (Golda was the fourth prime minister of Israel from 1969 to 1973) that she had resigned in part because she could no take the destruction, the loss of life, anymore.

The film was shown at the National Museum of American Jewish History and afterwards we headed upstairs to see the special exhibition on the Notorious RBG. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the first Jewish woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.1D32011E-0840-41C7-8789-D1BA5A7306DF

The exhibition runs to January 12, 2020 and is really interesting — even to people like me who’ve seen the movies about RGB and who have read about her extensively. One of the many things I didn’t know about RGB is that in her years at Cornell University, RGB had the then unknown Vladimir Nabokov as an English professor.  As the caption read he taught her to put exactly the right word in the precise space. I just learned, that the 86 year old Ruth Bader Ginsburg was hospitalized with what the Court describes as a stomach bug.  I am among those sending her good energy for a swift and healthy return.

 

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To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

Last night, I attended a magical gathering at the main branch of the Philadelphia library where we gathered to listen to U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo read her poetry, sing and speak.
Joy talked about many things — including the importance of forgiveness so that we don’t make ourselves sick with anger and resentment.
She wondered what the world would be like if we all experienced each other’s stories.
What would the world be like if we all had that much compassion?
She spoke on #worldkindnessday — and that was auspicious. It made me think that #worldkindnessday should be everyday.
In the short video below, Joy Harjo talks about the trickster, explaining that the trickster in all cultures usually sits near the person in power and reminds that person when power is bestowed on him or her, the power does not belong to the person.  Power is meant to be shared.

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

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This piece is airing worldwide this week on This Way Out (TWO), the syndicated LGBT radio show.  Click here to listen to the entire show.

(TWO is the first international LGBTQ radio news magazine.)

I don’t usually think of myself as an optimist. But in reading Juno’s Swans by Tamsen Wolff (published by Europa editions), I began to think of myself as something close to an optimist: as one who has hope. After all, as a lesbian and as someone concerned about the world – I do have hope that things can change (for the better).

The reader learns at the very beginning that this is a coming of age story – where a young woman falls in love with another young woman only to have her heart broken. Perhaps it’s an all too common refrain: the beloved is in love with someone else.

The exceptionally good writing is what drew me in.  Through this writing, I learned that this was a big love with a capital ”B”. The narrator Nina – who is entering the last year of high school — falls in love with a slightly older girl named Sarah.  Nina and her best friend have gone to Cape Cod for the summer where Nina is taking acting lessons. There is a convincing back story about Nina. She has been basically abandoned by both of her parents and was raised by her grandparents.  However much she adores her grandparents, it’s easy for the adult reader to come to the conclusion that the narrator was left vulnerable by her parent’s absence.6A6100BD-5E84-416E-8EF0-D584892C12C6

However, it was the big love that the narrator feels for Sarah that I was struck by. Wolff writes that Nina slid her hand into Sarah’s, shortly after the two of them met, and that Sarah held her hand:

“The world was between our palms, so discreetly and politely pressed, so heated and limitless, curious and fervent.  The world contracted to that electric violet place.  If we had opened our hands right then, the light streaming out would have dazzled you blind. I didn’t look at her. I couldn’t look at her. I just held that pulsing jewel and marveled, brilliantly distracted.”

The novel is laden with Shakespearean references and the title comes from a reference in Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It.” The novel is set in the age of AIDS, which is evident in the lives of the characters around them. Perhaps indicative of that time period, the narrator is not into labels.

The reader finds out later that the narrator has at the same time always had boyfriends so that she can fit in at school – even if she is contemptuous of them.  Hmmm, the sarcastic part of my mind commented, things haven’t changed that much.

Still, I had hope. What if a girl can look at another girl and see the air break into pieces around her?  What if we lived in a world where labels weren’t necessary?

This world is possible as evidenced by the trueness of the author Tamsen Wolff writing in her novel Juno’s Swans as she describes Sarah’s comfy feather bed: “In it, we belonged to each other and nothing in the world could touch us.”

 

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

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I woke up to the message that just because I don’t believe in hell doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Then the harasser too me to “have fun burning.” I assume that this sentiment was evoked by my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (from Adelaide Books).  Or maybe it is because I am part of the LGBT community.  Or perhaps it is just because I don’t believe in hell. Whatever.

It was “the have fun” part that really caught my attention.

You see, I’m a Buddhist (that’s my root religion which is encouraged in Unitarianism) and I thought that’s nice, my harasser is wishing me to have fun. I am wishing him happiness also.

As Pema Chodron (the Buddhist teacher) says, if people experience true happiness then they are less likely to oppress others.

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My partner who is not a Buddhist stopped by my office to admire my red devil sequin studded horns that I am wearing. ( I am having fun.) At first she said “that’s awful” when I told her about the comment. But later she said, ‘Don’t get mad. Get even.”

Exactly.

I’m having so much fun wearing my devil horns that I think I’ll keep them on — maybe all week!

 

 

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

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Every now and then I connect with an independent bookstore.  This time it was Quail Ridge Books located in the North Hills of Raleigh North Carolina.

Quail Ridge Books is promoting November 30, 2019 as Small Business Saturday.  But for those who work for and run independent bookstores, everyday is Small Business Saturday.

So support your local independent bookstore, support reading, support your community and yourself.

 

Here is the Quail Ridge Books link to my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders

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To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.