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Posts Tagged ‘Tea Leaves’

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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As a practicing Buddhist, I admit that there are times when it’s hard not to be defensive. We’re naturally wired to the negative – it’s part of our DNA fight or flight hardwiring.  So, I sit with my feelings for a while before responding.  Sometimes I go online and listen to Tina Turner chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.

At this point, I am used to being told that I’m going to hell for writing THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books – New York/Lisbon).

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But this time, a case of online harassment left me nonplussed. The harassing Tweet was of my review of Jeffrey C. Stewart’s biography of Alain Locke published by Oxford University Press which won the National Book Award for nonfiction. The review was aired on the international LGBTQ radio syndicate This Way Out.

Alain Locke was the first black Rhodes Scholar (in 1907) – and a gay man – who went on to start the Harlem Renaissance. In my view, the publication of this book was a major step forward.

The harassment stated that being gay was a sin (but being Black was not) and then it went on in very explicit terms to state the sexual practices of what the harasser thinks that it is that all gay men and all lesbians do with each other.

It was the use of the word “sin” that threw me.  This is a secular book and we live in a secular culture where the sizable (22 percent) number of people who don’t identify with a religion is rising.

As far as what the harasser said about being gay being a sin but being Black not being a sin – it gave me pause to reflect that racism and homophobia often go hand in hand.  As the saying goes, “Haters gonna hate.” Of course, there are homophobic Black people as well as racist LGBTQ people. But a moment of feeling better than someone else doesn’t negate the fact that we are in the same marginalized boat.

Recently I was hospitalized for kidney stone surgery.  The minister of the Unitarian church that I am a member of came to visit me. I knew that he and his wife had joined the counter protestors outside a local library and lent Christian support to the story-time drag queen reader.

I asked him what he said to the Christian group of protestors who came to protest the drag queen story reader.  He said that from a Christian perceptive that since Jesus died for our sins (specifically for the sins of the whole world – John 2:2) that all sin was erased.  So therefore, sin is negated.

I was elated to hear this.  I have never related to the word “sin.” I was raised secular and came to religion after fifty.  I have always wondered about the word “sin” – if we are all sinners, why isn’t a moot point?  So it seems to me that  “sin” is an antiquated word – and given its ability to harm adults and children (and to keep them away from religion), I would prefer to use the word “ethical” as in “I’ve always believed in living an ethical life.”

As for the harassment – since it sounds religious – I will pray for the harasser:

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo

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 was delighted to read this review in Sinister Wisdom, A Multicultural Lesbian Literary & Art Journal! These paragraphs are from the end of the review.

 

In this modern, provocative, deeply layered book, Mason presents allegory as powerful knowledge: how far or how little we can see and use this knowledge—depending on perspective—tells us how far we have come or how far we have to go—perspectives are the choices written between the lines, illuminating a different kind of spiritual guide, born from matrilineal teachings and ideas passed down and remixed into an inclusionary spirit of today, Mason uses exquisite story-telling skills to envision a place where a more just and equal world can co-exist with all its differences.

As the premise of the LGBTI movement as coalition goes, our alliances with different genders, colors, and religious belief—; Mason teaches us with a grace and vision as exquisite as it is otherworldly fun.

THEY reviewed in Sinister Wisdom, A Multicultural Lesbian Literary & Art Journal (http://www.sinisterwisdom.org/ ) by Roberta Arnold

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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Looking back into the not so distant past, I recall wondering as I looked out the window — what if Spring doesn’t come back this year?  I didn’t wonder that this year, probably because I was busy — with my head in my laptop —revising my novel The Unicorn, The Mystery.

Having been raised secular (along with being a fan of Greek mythology), one of my favorite stories is about Persephone and her emergence from the underworld to be reunited with her mother Demeter.

I’m the first to acknowledge that I’ve had my issues with Christianity over the years.  What it came down to was that traditional religion just had too much baggage for me.  But that is changing.

But having been raised secular was freeing enough for me to once write a poem that said 

Jesus is a daffodil.

That’s it.  That’s all the poem said and, in my mind, all it had to say.

Just recently, I published a blog post about seeing the movie, Wild Nights With Emily, and how happy it made me as a scholar of Emily’s lesbian life.  I received a comment from someone who called himself “a reverend” about how upset it made him to think that Emily Dickinson was “gay.”

The movie is based on solid research regarding Emily’s relationship with her sister-in-law Susan and how that relationship was erased.  The comment (given its source) made me wonder if all – or most — of homophobia is based in religion.

A7CFB471-CA19-44C6-9F38-DDCFC95058E7Thankfully, religion is changing.  At the movie theater, I picked up a copy of The Philadelphia Gay News, which had an article about Drag Story Time at the Mt. Airy Philadelphia branch of The Free Library being protested by conservative Christians. My partner and I were delighted to  see the minister (McKinley Sims) of the Unitarian Church we attend on the cover of the newspaper as one of the counter protestors protesting the protestors and taking the side of the drag queen and story time. 

McKinley is on the bottom right of the photo (holding a big wooden cross) and his wife K.P. Is next to him holding a sign that says, “Christ is in all things, including drag.”

I was delighted that the a substantial graduating class of Notre Dame College walked out on speaker Mike Pence because of his anti-LGBTQ views. One of them coined the hash tag #notmyjesus. (For more informative, click here )

So let’s hear it for the people changing Christianity and changing the world!

 

Available through you local library, (including the Lovett Library branch of the Philadelphia Free Library where the protest was) THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is also available through your local bookstore or online.

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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Last night, in the writing class that I teach, a mature student asked me why I first started to write. I was quiet for a moment and said I would have to think about it. We were talking after class and as we exited the room at Temple University, I commented that I suspected that the reason had to do with writing being a way that I was able to stay in my own little world — and that I preferred that world to the outside one.

When I was a child, I was always making up stories and writing them down. I could often be found in the rustling leaves of the apple tree in my backyard where I climbed up with a book in my back pocket.  As I sat among the branches reading, that book and that tree was my rocket ship, my way of transporting myself to other places.

Once again at the end of a writing project, I find myself on the uphill climb (Sisaphysean) that often feels futile.  Even though I have come to terms with rejection (realizing that it  has little if anything to do with me), I still find it a mildly depressing, if necessary, part of writing. For that reason, I wanted to remind myself why I write, so here goes …18C21D96-F37F-4602-9BA3-C821E5E747DD

1)      To learn something new –

In the writing of my book, Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books, 2012), I researched the labor movement and combined my findings with conversations with my mother about her life and her mother’s life. In my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books, 2018), I finally read the Bible and found the story of Tamar in Genesis as my entry point.  I wrote the novel as an answer to my question of how marginalized people survived in a harsh desert culture.

2)      To have fun —

and to live (for a time) in the alternate worlds that I create. This gives me an internal landscape that I seem to need, something inside me that I can hold onto.

3)      To preserve memory –

After Tea Leaves was published, I found myself doing readings only from the funny parts of the book.  My mother had a wicked sense of humor. Yet, years ago, I thought that I may have emotionally damaged myself by spending so much time working on Tea Leaves. But now I see that I never could have remembered the details had I not written this in the years immediately following my mother’s death. A friend once observed (at my book launch in the old Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia) that my mother was a palpable presence as I read about her.

05FD236A-C6AE-4BB8-93F3-1D700997224C4)   To tell my story to the world –

Only lastly do I reach the point that publishing brings me to. I want to tell stories that are meaningful to people. Perhaps it is a tall order, but I also want to change the world. When I found that my publisher Adelaide Books displayed THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders at the Frankfurt book fair (described as the most political ever) and that my novel was selected for possible publication in other languages, I was thrilled.  Still, publication is the last on my list and perhaps inconsequential compared with the other reasons I write.

All of this, makes me wonder – what are the reasons that you write?

 

In addition to being available through you local library, THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is available through your local bookstore or online.

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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When I heard about National Library Week, April 7-13, I immediately wanted to blog about libraries.

But my deep belief in libraries is too large to be contained on one week.

When I heard that the Free Library of Philadelphia was order multiple copies of my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books; 2018) for its branches, I was thrilled.

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The Free Library also has multiple copies of my book Tea Leaves: a memoir of mothers and daughters(Bella Books; 2012).

I began hearing from people from coast to coast, that they were ordering my novel THEY through their local libraries.  I was thrilled, of course.

When a library buys a book, it means that many people can read it. Libraries are the great equalizer of knowledge. And in a nonreading culture (even if this was not true) libraries are essential. There is a very important link between reading and thinking.

Libraries — and librarians — teach people how to think.

(In addition to being available through you local library, THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is available through your local bookstore or online.

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

To read a previous post about me reading from my book Tea Leaves at a local branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, click here.

 

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This morning, I gave a talk titled “Religion?” at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration on Stenton Avenue in Northwest Philadelphia.  I discuss being at a workshop with the feminist witch Starhawk, my understanding of the differences between religion and spirituality, and how being raised secular enabled me to write my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books — New York/Lisbon).

You can see my words below on the YouTube video or read the talk below that.

 

 

Religion?

Some months ago, my partner, Barbara, and I were attending a nearby workshop with the feminist witch Starhawk.  At dinner I was sitting across from Starhawk when she was talking about the liberal theologians that she works with. A woman sitting next to me said that religious people are part of the problem.  She mentioned that religious people elected you know who.

I replied that it is true that religious people did put you know who in office but that they were CONSERVATIVE religious people and that there are plenty of liberal religious people.

Suddenly it was as if I was looking at myself from the outside:  Really, you’re defending religion? a voice hissed skeptically.  Maybe it was the ghost of my card-carrying atheist bible burning mother.  Perhaps it was the voice of my younger self that pretty much happily ignored all things religious.

In any event, the voice was so strong that I stopped defending liberal religions and went back to eating my dinner.

Five years ago, or so, when I became a member of this congregation, I recognized that I had found a religion that fit my values.  I knew that coming here worked for me – and that my partner and I love being part of the community here.  In fact, Barbara already knew many of the people here because of her job at the Mt. Airy post office, which she is now retired from. And we had a few long-time friends here such as the multi-talented Jane Hulting who many of you know as our music director.  Jane rescued us during a hard time and became our yoga instructor.  We are now taking qigong with Jane, and I still consider her my spiritual teacher.

But having been raised secular, a part of me was still wondering what religion was and where I fit into it. Of course, the Unitarian Universalists (or UUs as we are often called) encourage freedom of thought and value reading as evidenced by our well-known book sales.  And, of course, we came to a tradition that is welcoming of the LGBTQ community.  When I initially expressed surprise to my partner that the congregation was so open minded, she replied that we wouldn’t be here otherwise. Right again.

I’m sure this all factored into my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders which I wrote about five years ago and which was published by Adelaide Books.  In fact, as I mentioned at a recent reading, I probably would not have been able to write that book had I not been raised secular. In other words, had I been raised to regard the Bible as, well, Gospel rather than myth and story and had that Gospel instructed me to hate myself then I would had justifiably left and avoided religion for the rest of my life.  I know plenty of people who have had this experience and believe me, I do understand.

So, I was still left wondering what religion was all about – and why I am drawn to it. Then a while ago, I heard fellow member Wayne Boyd talk about the difference between religion and spirituality and what being a member of this congregation means to him.  He talked about the rules of religion being on the outside of him and spiritual development being on the inside. I sat in the pew and thought “Aha.”

A crucial piece of the puzzle fell into place.religion

For many reasons I have never cared for rules. And my early self-destructiveness aside, my adolescent 1970s motto that “rules are made to be broken” served me well: particularly in coming out as a lesbian in my early twenties and in becoming a creative writer – a field in which rules really are meant to be broken.

But in the spiritual journey of my inner self, I have come to value myself and others as important entities on equal footing. This is a value that I have long held, but in this UU culture where the first principle is — The inherent worth and dignity of every person – I value and believe in myself even more and that means that I value and believe in each one of you even more.

In my UU journey, religion must certainly mean something as different to me as it does to each one of you.  In fact, I think difference is a big part of what religion means to me.  And so, I go deeper into myself, through my yoga practice and through my Buddhist meditation — and through being a member of this community.

Is that religion?

 

Namaste

 

THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is available online, through your local bookstore or library.

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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