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Archive for March, 2014

Author Janet Mason with ocean behind herRecently, I went to the Richard Stockton College near Atlantic City to be part of the  Women’s History Month reading series.  South Jersey is a favorite place of mine — in particular Brigantine Beach.  My late aunt (my mother’s sister) lived nearby in Absecon.  I went down early to take a long walk on the beach. One of my last memories of being with Aunt Ethelind before she became terminally ill was driving her and my elderly father down to this beach at night when there was a full moon.  It was very cold that night so my aunt ran up the ramp, looked at the full moon, ran back to my car and said, “It was beautiful. Thank you.”

The day of the reading was the day of the March snowstorm.  It was windy and cold and when it started to snow, the air smelled like rain.  The ocean was beautiful.

The Seventh Annual Women’s History Month Prose & Poetry Reading was hosted by poet Emari Digiorgio who brought together a chorus of

Emari DiGiorgio at Stockton Collegediverse voices including poets and prose writers from all stages of their writing lives, including students and established writers.

In particular, I was happy to see my long-time literary colleagues Anndee Hochman (who opened with a poem by Lucille Clifton) and Crystal Bacon.  Crystal was nice enough to send me some of the poems that she read. One of those poems (Anniversary)  is below and more will be featured next month on my webzine amusejanetmason.com.

At the reading, I read from Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books, 2012).  A short excerpt is below:

Anndee Hochman reads at Stockton College

 

Sitting in the living room with my mother, I stared into her face and saw my grandmother, not as I knew her, but as a girl whose life lay before her. My grandmother, Ethel, a girl who dreamed.

 

Anniversary

For Thomas

by Crystal Bacon

The Schuylkill purls and glitters

its way East between thawing banks

of snow crawling back from gold

grass, white as the scumbled fur

of the cat hit crossing River Drive,Poet Crystal Bacon at Stockton College

its few days journey from form

to shape. Still, it carries a memory

of repose that somehow brings you

to mind. Image, imagined,

your nameless body found,

in the seaside town where you left,

last year, your lived life.

Trees reach bare knuckled toward heaven

holding emptiness, that luminous blue

defined by black lines, branches,

wires silently humming with voices,Stockton student reads at Women's History Month reading

both letter and speech, like prayer. A train

clatters across the river, I mean above

it inexplicably. Tons of metal: cars,

cargo, rails resting on those piled rocks

that span what flows, one heavy leg

planted on either side, bridge of agency.

Last March, I scattered a small bag of ash

into the cold and flowing Arno, like all

its kind relentless toward the sea. It took

you South beneath the seven bridges

past old men fishing at dusk.

Along this city’s scenic river, out pastJanet Mason reads at Stockton College

the steel and glass, reflection glides

on its lighted surface, sunset glowing

and generic against the smudged

domestic trees. I think of you,

gone now, like February’s late,

last days.

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It has been said that children are our future. This is exactly why we should be concerned about LGBT children and teens — and in fact with any kids who are different in any way. I was strongly reminded about this with two new books that recently came across my desk.

Heal This Way, a Love Story (Hot Glue Press, LLC, 2013), written by the Little Monsters ( the name for Lady Gaga fans derived in part from her song titled “The Fame Monsters”) and photographed by Tracey B. Wilson, is a rare gem of a book conceived by Wilson. As she explains in the preface,

In the winter of 2013, Lady Gaga had to cancel the remainder of her concert tour due to a debilitating hip injury. On the weekend that was to be the Born This Way Ball at Madison Square Garden, Little Monsters from around the world gathered in New York City to celebrate their love and devotion to Lady Gaga and to the community that she has given them. Knowing how anxious they were to let Mother Monster know that they loved her no matter what, I had an idea. A signup sheet, three tweets, and 100 Little Monsters later, Heal This Way was born…

The result is a profoundly touching collection of color photographs and letters — many of them handwritten.

I am eleven years old and You have already changed my Life. I love You because You support people who are bullied everywhere.

Dear Lady GaGa,

I want to thank you for INSPIRING a generation! For creating a message and a platform that changed not only how gay, bisexual and transgender people are viewed and portrayed in the media, but for creating an incredible positive message for people in my community everywhere!

One fan, writing about how Lady Gaga has changed her life, writes:

Probably the biggest way that she had impacted me would have to be helping me accept that I’m a lesbian. Before I heard “Born This Way,” I felt ashamed and longed for something to make me feel proud of this part of my identity. The first time I heard her sing, “No matter gay, straight or bi, lesbian, transgendered life/ I’m on the right track, baby, I was born to survive,” I got chills like she was singing that line directly to me. I haven’t come out to my family and not sure if I ever will; I’m terrified of how they would react if they knew. I have come out to my friends and I’m definitely more open about it to other people and I have Gaga to thank for that.

To read Heal This Way, was for me a, baby boomer lesbian (and, in full disclosure, a Lady Gaga fan) was extremely empowering. In the words of one Little Monster, “You have inspired us to follow our dreams and to try our hardest at things people say we can’t do.”

When I picked up, Coming Around, Parenting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Kids by Anne Dohrenwend, (New Horizon Press, 2012), I was surprised to see that it was addressed to straight adults of my generation. But then it made perfect sense. These are the majority of the people parenting the next generation and they need help.

Coming Around offers help by explaining what being LBGT means and then acting as a guide of how to be tolerant, accepting, and lovingly guide LGBT children into adulthood.

The author explains:

People often confuse sexual orientation with gender identity. Sexual orientation is about the gender to whom one is attracted: men, women or both. Gender identity has to do with one’s internal experience of being male or female.

The author offers the advice for the liberal and conservative parent of what to say when a child comes out to them. Her basic advice is to tell the child (who may be a young adult) that you love him or her (not that you love them despite the fact that they are LGBT) and that you are glad that she or he told you.

She says:

I look forward to the day when mockery of LGBTQs is viewed as socially repugnant. Until that day comes, there are always bridges that can allow passage from the world view to another. Stand up for your child by interrupting gay jokes that occur in your presence. Listen to your child’s insights and perceptions. By valuing his or her experiences, you build the bridge that maintains your connection.

The author also mentions the importance of connecting with others, and mentions PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) which is one of the country’s largest ally organizations with 350 local chapters. PFLAG is committed to advancing equality through its mission of support, education and advocacy.

Coming Around gives the sound advice of getting to know your child’s partner, and includes sections on marriage equality, same sex parenting and becoming a grandparent.

While the advice that Coming Around offers may just sound like commonsense — the fact is that this information is not common knowledge in the dominant culture. Coming Around is the kind of book that could change an entire family’s experience of life.

first published in The Huffington Post

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Yesterday my partner and I spent the morning and afternoon at The Philadelphia Museum of Art  seeing the opening ritual in the morning performed by the 7 monks from the Bongwon Temple, the head temple of the Taego Order of Korean Buddhism for more than 1,000 years.

The Korean Buddhist ritual at The Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Ritual was incredibly beautiful and moving.  I’ve been chanting Nam -Ryo – Rengi – Kyo (the Buddhist chant that Tina Turner does on You Tube) for about six months now and no doubt that contributed to my appreciation.

Buddhis ritual at The Philadelphia Museum of ArtLater that afternoon, we visited the Treasures from Korea: Arts and Culture of the Joseon Dynasty, 1392–1910 exhibition.  The exhibition was interesting in that it brought to mind my lack of knowledge about Korean culture.

After I read that there were separate residences for the men and the women in the Joseon Dynasty, I jokingly remarked to my partner that it was nice that everyone that lived at that time was homosexual.  She replied that she didn’t think that was  the case since they had managed to have some children.  It was then that I started wondering about LGBT rights in Korea, North and South, and what it is like to live there.

Korean Buddhist Ritual at The Philadelphia Museum of ArtOn Wikipedia, I found, ” There is no visible LGBT community in North Korea and no LGBT rights movement, although the country’s criminal code does not appear to expressly address same-sex sexuality or cross-dressing.”

North Korea’s official web site states:

 “Due to tradition in Korean culture, it is not customary for individuals of any sexual orientation to engage in public displays of affection. As a country that has embraced science and rationalism, the DPRK recognizes that many individuals are born with homosexuality as a genetic trait and treats them with due respect.”

I found that gay and lesbian life in South Korea is legal but that there is widespread discrimination.
Wikipedia also states, however, that,  “South Koreans have become significantly more accepting of homosexuality and LGBT rights in the past decade, even if conservative attitudes remain dominant. A 2013 Gallup poll found that 39% of people believe that homosexuality should be accepted by society, compared to only 18% who held this view in 2007. South Korea recorded the most significant shift towards greater acceptance of homosexuality among the 39 countries surveyed worldwide. Significantly, there is a very large age gap on this issue: in 2013, 71% of South Koreans aged between 18-29 believed that homosexuality should be accepted, compared to only 16% of South Koreans aged 50 and over.[23] This suggests that South Korea is likely to become more accepting over time.”

Reuters reported last September that Gay South Korean film director Kim Jho Gwang-soo “symbolically married his long-term partner on Saturday, with the couple exchanging vows on a bridge, though same-sex marriage remains illegal in the conservative Asian country.  Both men made clear they were trailblazing in a society where traditional values keep many homosexuals from coming out, let alone pressing for legal approval for same-sex unions.

‘Now people cannot but call us as a married couple as we have had a wedding,’ Kim, 49, told a news conference, holding his partner’s hand tightly before the ceremony got under way.

‘It is important whether or not we become a legally bound couple. But more importantly, we want to let people know that gays can marry too in our society.’

So now I know a few more things about the culture and history of Korea.  In the exhibition, the word “filial” kept cropping up — as in the honoring of ancestors. I strongly related to the concept — having taken care of my mother when she was dying and learning more about my family history and legacy.  I then wrote about this is my book, Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters.

It is my hope that Korea holds onto its history and its strong sense of filial duty — and at the same time recognizes that same honor is due to all of its citizens.

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