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Posts Tagged ‘Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays’

I still remember the first time that I set foot in Giovanni’s Room, the beloved LGBT bookstore that recently closed its doors this past May. It was 1981, the year that I came out. I was in my early twenties. I had known about Giovanni’s Room, the gay and lesbian beacon on the corner of Twelfth and Pine Streets in Center City, Philadelphia. The store was founded in 1973.

The storefront was a rare and welcome presence for gay men and lesbians like myself who came out in a hostile time before the television shows Will and Grace, and Ellen, but after the Stonewall Gay Liberation Riots in 1969 which meant that gay bookstores, gay, lesbian and women’s presses were in existence. Gay marriage was just a glimmer in the eyes of our forebears (such as Gertrude and Alice) and still way in the future for us.

Stepping into Giovanni’s Room in 1981 felt like an act of courage and it was. Years later, the bookstore hosted Rita Mae Brown as a guest signing her books. I stood in the long line that went up the narrow staircase to the second floor where Rita Mae was signing her books. I arrived upstairs just in time to hear Rita Mae ask Ed Hermance, the owner, how many rocks had been thrown through his store windows over the years. As I recall, it was a high number.

On that first visit to Giovanni’s Room in 1981, I bought a book about Sojourner Truth, the African American abolitionist (born into slavery) and women’s rights activist. The book was hardback and had an off-white dust jacket with a pebbly feel to it. The title was Sojourner Truth: A Self Made Woman. It was in many ways a safe pick for me. If I ran into someone on the street and they asked me where I had been, I could be honest and say Giovanni’s Room which was a feminist bookstore, too. But Sojourner Truth had been an important figure in history and someone who gave me courage in my young life.

After my first trip to Giovanni’s, it was easier to go back. Inside the walls of that corner city house turned bookstore, I found a community of past and present. It was where I heard activists and authors of all types speak. And it was where I became most intimately acquainted with James Baldwin (whose pioneering novel Giovanni’s Room the store was named for), Willa Cather, Sappho, of course, and so many others.

Finally, Giovanni’s was a place where I came to find myself as a lesbian and as an author. I had been writing since childhood and began taking it seriously at the age of twenty-nine, the same age I learned that Gertrude had been when she started writing as a daily practice. When I began to get published in journals and anthologies, I would come into the store and find myself on the shelves. A little while later, when a small press began publishing my chapbooks, they were in the poetry section. A poster with one of my poems on it was in the rack upstairs. In the last five years, when I had readings for a novel and then a memoir, I had my book launches at the store.

I was part of many readings at Giovanni’s over the years, but that is what not I remember most. I remember that Giovanni’s shaped me as a writer and that Ed Hermance nurtured my talent. Ed and I would often talk when I came into the store, and he was always let me know when a new book had come out that I should check out, including a new translation of Sappho and a collection of James Baldwin’s letters. It was more than just good business. Ed really cared.

One of the people we both cared about was Toni Brown, the late lesbian poet, who worked at Giovanni’s Room for a stint when she first moved to Philadelphia from Amherst, Massachusetts. Toni died, unexpectedly, at the age of fifty-five. I had a very large print made from a photograph that I had taken of Toni made for her memorial service in April of 2008. The photograph was displayed on the stage of The Painted Bride Art Center where the memorial was held. Toni was a tall African American woman, about the same height as I, and the service was packed with a diverse crowd. I remember standing on the stage talking to Ed Hermance, both of us crying, and me handing him the photograph. He displayed it in the store for a time, on the wall behind the cash register. I remember thinking that I could walk into Giovanni’s Room at any time and see Toni.

Losing Giovanni’s Room is in many ways similar to losing a good friend. It was a place that contained our history, as a movement, as a people. It was a place that gave testament to our lives. It was a store that gave so many of us a safe haven and, in reality, saved many lives.

It was a place where we could be ourselves.

Note: as of this writing, Giovanni’s Room is still awaiting the decision of a potential buyer — which most likely will come by the middle of June.

 

From The Huffington Post

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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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When I heard the news that President Obama had selected yet another preacher with an anti-gay past to preside at the swearing-in ceremony, I wasn’t angry; I was perplexed. When I read about Pastor Louie Giglio withdrawing from the inaugural ceremony, I also had mixed emotions.

In his letter of withdrawal Giglio states that he does not agree with the president on every issue and that “[d]ue to a message of mine that has surfaced from 15-20 years ago, it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration.”

“Their agenda”? Hmm. He mentions that he is being criticized for a sermon that he gave more than a decade ago, but he does not retract his anti-gay statements — or, to use his words, his “agenda.”

The thing that I find most disturbing, though, is that he had decided to decline the invitation and that he was not disinvited by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which announced that it was “not aware of Pastor Giglio’s past comments at the time of his selection,” adding that “they don’t reflect our desire to celebrate the strength and diversity of our country at this Inaugural.”

Nowadays, with the Internet, it is easy to vet a person’s background. And four years ago the Presidential Inaugural Committee selected another white, fundamentalist preacher who had made anti-gay statements, Rick Warren, to offer the invocation.

When I mentioned all this to my straight-talking partner, a retired postal worker, she remarked (referring to President Obama), “What’s wrong with him?” and then, when I gave her the update on Giglio’s withdrawl, she responded, “Why don’t they just have a woman do it, for God’s sake?”

Obama campaigned on his support for gay marriage and raised quite a bit of money from the gay community. It was also speculated that his support for LGBT rights brought out young voters of all sexual orientations in support of him. I believed President Obama when he said he was doing the right thing. And I do think he was sincere.

There is something wrong with this picture.

When it seemed that selecting a fundamentalist preacher for the inauguration was a conscious decision, I thought that the Obama administration may have decided to throw a bone to the white Christian fundamentalists who did not vote for him and probably will never like him. (It wasn’t that long ago that many white Christian fundamentalists were opposing interracial marriage based on their “religious” beliefs.)

In full disclosure, I was raised atheist, which I write about in Tea Leaves: A Memoir of Mothers and Daughters (Bella Books) “That my parents became atheists when I was a child had worked in my favor — I learned to think for myself,” I wrote. “I didn’t have to unlearn the small-mindedness that too often comes with religion. At the same time, my parents’ atheism sometimes left me searching.”

read the entire article in The Huffington Post

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The Obama administration has declared that November is National Family Caregivers Month. The proclamation declares that family member, friends and neighbors dedicate countless hours providing care to their relatives and loved ones.

When my mother was diagnosed with fourth-stage cancer, I put aside everything that I could and went to take care of her. I was 34 at the time and my mother was 74. She died a little more than 17 years ago. I chronicled my experience in Tea Leaves, a Memoir of Mothers and Daughters (Bella Books, 2012).

My personal journey of caretaking my mother in her final months coincided with my curiosity of learning more about my working-class background. Despite my belief (rooted in strong denial) that she would somehow, miraculously, get better, I knew I was hearing her stories for the last time.

Being the first person in my family to graduate from college put a wedge between me and my background. I was only marginally in touch with my best friend who I had grown up with. We had grown apart. She had married young and was in an extremely conventional marriage to a man (think 1950s). A few short years later, I came out as a lesbian (very 1970s, but this was actually in the early 80s).

I was okay with the fact that I had nothing left in common with the friends I grew up with. But I had a yearning to understand more about my own history. So I read up on the labor movement and asked my mother questions about my grandmother, who as an adult had been a spinner in a textile mill in the Kensington section of Philadelphia:

“When your grandmother was a girl, she worked in a candy factory,” my mother said, slowly and carefully.   I remembered that this was not the first time she had told me this.

“What did she want to do?”

My mother looked at me as if I were insane.

“No one asked her what she wanted to do. She just went out and worked.”

As a result of taking care of my mother in her final months, I learned more about myself. In coming to accept my mother’s mortality, I came to an acceptance that my own life was finite, also, giving me greater insight into the things in life that were important to me. My mother had a keen sense of humor, which undoubtedly got us through:

Increasingly, my mother’s moods changed from minute to minute. On my last visit, she was laughing, telling me that she almost put her straw in the urinal which was sitting next to her water bottle on her nightstand. Then, less than ten minutes later, when the HMO nurse came, my mother told her she wanted a black pill. I was sitting in the room with my mother when the nurse turned to me with an exaggerated expression of shocked concern on her face, and said, “Did your mother tell you she felt like this?” I shrugged. My mother, in moments of excruciating pain, had told me she wanted to end her life. But there was no legal way to do it. A black pill, or suicide pill, was illegal in Pennsylvania and almost in every other state. When my mother suggested that I could put a plastic bag over her head, all I could do was suck in my breath.

click here to read the entire article in The Huffington Post — including practical caregiving advice

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Recently, I went on a tour through Vermont with Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books, 2012).  There were Tea Leaves event in Burlington, Vermont — in the Women’s Center at the University of Vermont, the Peace and Justice Center, and at Phoenix Books; at the Woodknot Bookshop and Turner’s Cafe in Newport, Vermont; and at the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, Vermont. We enjoyed the rolling hills, the Vermont fall foliage, and seeing old friends and meeting new ones.  Vermont is beautiful and relaxing.  In many ways, it felt like home.  We were very close to the Canadian border and were careful not to get lost.  I learned, from friends in the area, that it is very easy to get out of the U.S. but not so easy (without a passport) to get back in. In this post, I am bringing you some highlighs in the form of photos from our trip. We’ll be back.

Fall leaves in Hardwick, Vermont

Tea Leaves, a memoir -- Janet Mason standing behind sign outside of Galaxy Books in Hardwick, Vermont

Author Janet Mason in the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, Vermont

Pam in the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, Vermont -- wearing her crown

on the road in Northeastern Vermont -- green mountains in background

Standing next to the sign at the Women's Center -- the University of Vermont

Janet Mason reading from Tea Leaves (Bella Books) at the Women's Center, the University of Vermont in Burlington

Barbara with her new friend, the goat

]

Rooster in Vermont

Sky just before the rise of sunset in Northeastern Vermont

Janet and Wendy at the Peace and Justice Center in Burlington, Vermont

In the hallway behind the Peace and Justice Center. Barbara petting a whale.Janet and Janice -- connecting with new friends

on the road with Tea Leaves -- Vermont fall foliage

Janet and Nat -- seeing old friends, like family

Connecting with old friends -- Barbara, Anne and Pam

feminist graffiti at UVM -- new meaning for The Women's Room

Farmhouse on the road in Vermont -- we'll be back soon!

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read the entire piece in The Huff Post

It was 2008 and I heard a buzzing all around me. I had gone to the doctor and was misdiagnosed as having dementia but I discovered later that I had had a nervous breakdown. I said to my grown daughter, ‘What is this thing called Obama?’ and she replied, ‘Obama is a black man and he is running for president, Mama.’ ‘Oh my Lord,’ I said. ‘My mama had told me this day was coming and now it was happening.’ Then I realized that I had to pull myself together. I had to watch this historic moment take place. -Jean, 77

Jean, a 77-year-old black woman, uttered those words in a room full of about 20 white people at a senior center in a predominantly white working class neighborhood in Philadelphia. I was there to do a reading from my book Tea Leaves, A Memoir of Mothers and Daughters (Bella Books, 2012), and then to lead a discussion and conduct a writing exercise. I looked at Jean. My mother’s name was Jane. She was 74 when she died and she had been misdiagnosed as having arthritis by an HMO doctor who prescribed Extra Strength Tylenol. My mother found a new doctor but it was too late. She was correctly diagnosed with fourth-stage cancer of unknown origin and six months later, she was dead.

It has occurred to me, as I go around reading from Tea Leaves and listening to people’s stories, that in writing about my mother, I have not only written her story and my story and my grandmother’s story. I have touched into a deep, mostly untapped vein of writing the story of many women — and men — whose lives are often overlooked not only in literature, but by society in general and by the medical system in particular.

Another woman in the group talked about being misdiagnosed and, as a result of her untreated illness and the wrong medicine that the doctors in the hospital had given her, she went down to 87 pounds and nearly died several times. She got better and then felt she had wasted her life up until that point — in pettiness, in pursuing things that didn’t matter.

The group met in a 55-plus senior center, but most of the people in this group were in their mid-seventies. I have taught creative writing through the years to children, teenagers and adults of all ages, but have always recognized that my older students are the ones with the best stories to tell. Everyone in the room was brimming with stories — one man wrote about being placed in an orphanage at age 4 because both of his parents died of tuberculosis. He then went on to serve in the military but afterwards was denied entrance to college based on low math scores. An extremely fit woman in the group — who works out every morning in the center’s gym — wrote how her husband became frail and ill and how one day she came home to find that he had not been able to get out of his chair all day. She gradually became his caretaker. The hardest part was learning how to be the strong one and not let her grown children know how terrified she was.

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The Lovett Library Memorial GardenMy friend Maria Fama and I were recently talking about libraries.  Both us are writers and long-time friends.  Of all of our accomplishments through the years, we are both really proud of the fact that our books can be found in The Free Libary of Philadelphia.  There are presently five copies of my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books, 2012) in the library system.  One copy is at the Lovett Memorial Branch, and others are at Central, the Walnut Street and Indendence branches and the Joseph E. Coleman Northwest Regional Branch (in Germantown).  One of these copies of Tea Leaves is being transferred between libraries and the last time that I checked a copy was on reserve.

author Janet Mason standing outside Lovett Library

When Maria and I talked about the fact that libraries are so important to us because when we were working class kids on our way to growing up and becoming writers, the library was a sanctuary for us.  I don’t have to tell you about the budget cuts affecting libraries in Philadelphia (and elsewhere) and the signs about limited hours on the doorways.

Without libraries, there would be fewer readers and most definitely fewer writers.  There would be more violence in the streets and less learning.  Can we afford that?

Janet Mason talking about Tea Leaves at Lovett Library

Recently, I did a reading from Tea Leaves at the Lovett Memorial Branch (my local library) of the Free Library of Philadelphia.  I invite you to see the pictures and also to read the article that was written in NewsWorks about the reading.  We had a lively discussion after the reading about our mothers, grandmothers, fathers and grandfathers, and the people’s history of Philadelphia. I credited the city as being a partner in my writing process.  The library is  a partner, too.  It has been there with me through all the years.  Let’s make sure it stays with us.

The Lovett Library sign

Madeleine and Barbara at the Lovett Library in Philadelphia

from NewsWorks article by Jane Shea

How does one process a mother’s mortality and honor her life, her history and her influence? Author, Janet Mason, found the answer in her writing. The resulting book, Tea Leaves: A memoir of mothers and daughters, documents that journey. Mason shared readings from Tea Leaves in her Mt. Airy neighborhood twice this past week at the Lovett Memorial Library last Tuesday and at the Big Blue Marble bookstore on Friday.

Mason’s mother, Jane, was diagnosed with late stage cancer in 1993, after being initially misdiagnosed. Mason did what comes naturally to an only child – she assumed the role of primary caregiver. She had six months left with her mother. In that time, Mason not only handled the “immense responsibility” of caring for a terminally ill parent, but also recorded those experiences, family stories, memories, history and learned how they shaped three generations of women.

Mason who describes her mother as a atheist, feminist, hopeless realist and an amazing storyteller always encouraged Mason’s writing. “I got a lot of validation,” she said. Through her published poetry and literary commentary on This Way Out radio program, Mason has pursued her creative dreams in a way her foremothers never could, making good on the advice of an early therapist who once told her, “You’re the only one who can write the story about your life.”
read the entire article

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