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Archive for the ‘Queer’ Category

This morning, I helped lead a Unitarian Universalist service based on the Oscar Wilde quote — Be Yourself: Everyone Else is Taken. I talked about the word queer in one of its uses as “odd” and also in terms of being Queer. The theme of the service is that there is safety and strength in being ourselves.

The YouTube video of my talk  is below. The complete text of my talk is below that.  The service took place at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration on Stenton Ave. in Philadelphia.

 

 

When I was in high school, my then best friend wrote “to the queerest girl I know” on my yearbook photo and then signed her name.

I had yet to come out – even to myself – so I took her sentiment at face value.  She didn’t use the word “queer” to express the modern sentiment of that word, which has been reclaimed. She didn’t even use the word queer in its old-fashioned sentiment which was often heard in such statements as, “I’m as queer as a three-dollar bill.”

She meant the other definition of the word queer – at that’s how I took it – to mean: odd.  I wasn’t offended then and I’m not now. Given that I remember this incident, it’s likely that I was flattered by it.  As it turned out, I wasn’t only queer with a lower case “q,” but Queer also with an upper case “Q.”

When I came out in the early eighties, I identified as a lesbian-feminist.  Close to ten years later, a younger friend explained to me why she identified as Queer and that it was a more inclusive term that included Lesbians, Gay men, Bisexual people and Transgendered individuals.  These are the initials that form LGBT which is often followed by “Q” for queer and sometimes with a plus-sign that includes Intersex (inclusive of people who are born with both sexual characteristics), non-binary folks who don’t identify with either gender, and those who are asexual.

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I listened to my younger friend and when she said the word “inclusive” I was right there.  I have always been in favor of inclusivity.  It’s a fact that we need each other, and we also need our straight allies. We also need to be allies. We need to be okay with the fact that we are different differently. There’s a good chance that I have my background to thank for my need for diversity.  As a budding queer intellectual, I was bullied and scapegoated by my working class peers. I strongly believe that there is strength in diversity and that there is safety in diversity.

There’s an equally good chance that my need for diversity led me to becoming a member of this congregation.  As is written on the Unitarian Universalist Association website:

“In Unitarian Universalism, you can bring your whole self: your full identity, your questioning mind, your expansive heart.

Together, we create a force more powerful than one person or one belief system. As Unitarian Universalists, we do not have to check our personal background and beliefs at the door: we join together on a journey that honors everywhere we’ve been before.”

I feel that at this point of my life, I have arrived at a place where I am more of myself than ever. This may seem to be more related to being a writer than to being Queer, but it is all connected. I am a gardener, and my life is like my backyard. Finally, (after much work) everything has started to grow in all the right places. And I am amazed.

Recently when I was revisiting the works of Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams, I noticed that they used the word “queer” in their works. Of course, to a writer, the queer detail is the good one: It is odd. It is telling in its unusualness. It is not a cliché.

I’m all for progress, of course.  This includes LGBTQ rights.  We have some major rights but not all rights by any means.  And the rights that we do have are being eroded. But I have mixed feelings about assimilation. I have heard it said that since marriage equality, there is no longer a gay beach in Provincetown, the LGBTQ mecca located on the tip of Cape Cod. If there’s no gay beach, then we cannot find each other.

So, the same time that rainbow Pride clothes are showing up in some major department stores, such as Target, we are being erased.

I do not think it’s healthy for anyone to be just like everyone else.  And I don’t think it’s healthy for everyone else to be just like everyone else. We are all different.

It’s time for everyone to be queer.

 

Namaste

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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“To the queerest person I know.”

This is how my childhood best friend signed my high school year book. I am now in my fifties and don’t remember that much from high school — that I want to admit to — but I do remember this comment.

She was right. I was different. I read books rather than watching the TV. I followed the news — and in a working class milieu this meant that I was an oddball. Then in my early twenties, I came out as a lesbian-feminist.

It wasn’t easy being different when I was a teen in the 1970s. But being different is a good and necessary thing. People who dare to be different make change. As I write in Tea Leaves: a memoir of mothers and daughters, a few of us girls on the elementary school playground hung upside down on the parallel bars in protest of girls not being allowed to wear pants — before the women’s movement: “It was 1969. The following year, having learned the power of showing out (almost) bare asses, we were wearing bell bottoms.”

I came out in the early eighties. About ten years later, I began hearing the word “queer” in the gay and lesbian community. This was before we had the term LGBT. I had some resistance to the word “Queer” until I talked to a younger friend who embraced the term. She explained to me that “Queer” included everyone that didn’t fit the gender and sexual orientation expectations of society. In other words, queer was not heterosexual — or “het,” as we said in those days.

We are still figuring out gender. A older friend who is a strong feminist began researching transgender issues when her nephew, who started out life as a niece, transitioned. My friend had some old school feminist notions at first but quickly came around to supporting her nephew whole-heartedly. At one point she said to me, “I’ve been gender non-conformist my entire life.” So my friend (who is a celibate bisexual), her nephew, and I, are all queer.

So I applaud the HuffPost for changing “Gay Voices” to “Queer Voices.” Queer recognizes our commonalities — in the fact that we are all different. We are a community and we do have enemies — although that is not the only thing that makes us a community — and there is strength in numbers.

I recently read two books about queerness back to back. One from the other side of the world — is called From Darkness to Diva by Skye High, a leading Australian drag queen. The other, about a man who grew up near me in a neighboring suburb of Philadelphia, is Dying Words: The AIDS Reporting of Jeff Schmalz And How It Transformed The New York Times written by Samuel G. Freedman with Kerry Donahue.

In From Darkness to Diva (O-Books, an imprint of John Hunt Publishing Ltd. in the U.K.) the tall gay man who took Skye High as his drag name writes of his growing up gay and being so badly bullied that he had to leave high school. High writes unflinchingly about the beatings he endured, but also delves into the self examination and spiritual lessons that he experienced. He also writes of the trials and triumphs of finding a gay community and of the liberation he experienced in entering the transformative world of drag.

I was on the journey with him — as someone who was a teen who was bullied (to a lesser degree) and as someone who came of age and found my place in the world. But at no point was I more riveted as when he stood up to a bully in his second high school. He had to leave his first high school because he was bullied and after working several for several years returned to another high school for his degree and was bullied again. High explores how he felt as he eventually stood up to the bully:

“I now had the power over him. I was in control. In that moment, I finally felt vindicated. It was as though my actions would have been justified had I wanted to snap his neck and kill him.”

But ultimately he showed mercy on the bully and let him go, explaining that he felt “saddened by the sight of him helplessly lying on the floor.”

Dying Words, The AIDS Reporting Of Jeff Schmalz And How It Transformed The New York Times (CUNY Journalism Press) is a moving tribute to Jeff who died at the age of 39. It is arranged in the form of interviews with colleagues, friends, relatives (including his sister the literary agent Wendy Schmalz Wilde) of Jeff’s and by the time the book presents his reportage on the AIDS epidemic, the reader feels a kinship with him.

“I think often of the dozen friends who have died of AIDS, and I feel them with me. It’s not that I am writing editorials, avenging their deaths. It’s that I feel their strength, their soothing me on. They are my conscience, their shadows with me everywhere: In the torchlight of the march. Over my shoulder. By my desk. In my sleep.”

Jeff had to break out of the box of the Times impeccable third-person reportage into the finding of his own voice. Participant-journalist doesn’t quite describe it, but it comes close.

Former Times colleague Samuel G. Freedman writes eloquently in the foreword about the reasons that he put the book together:

“For a lack of a better term, I felt survivor guilt. And beyond it, I grieved that as the years passed, fewer people would remember who Jeff Schmalz was and what tremendous work he had done.”

What impressed me about both books was how different they were — yet universal to the human experience. Who isn’t different in some way? In my view, anyone who says they are the same as everyone else is either lying, extremely boring or both.

previously in The Huffington Post

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