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Last summer, it was my pleasure to see the Woodstock Historical Society show “Living Large,” based on a book by the same name written by Joseph P. Eckhardt  (WoodstockArts 2015). The book chronicles the life of Wilna Hervey and Nan Mason, a lesbian couple, who moved to Woodstock NY in the 1920s and stayed.  The two women were both artists (Wilna was also a comedic actress in the silent films of the 1920s), and the show includes many paintings, drawings, and photographs that they took.  I’m writing a review of the book for The Huffington Post. Click here to read the review.  Meanwhile, here’s some photos of the show:

Historical Society of Woodstock Living Large exhibitionWoodstock Historical SocietyWoodstock Hist. Society -- portrait of Nan Mason & Wilna HerveyWoodstock Historical Society Gaylite CandlesWoodstock Historical Society Living LargeWoodstock Historical SocietyWoodstock Historical Soc. blue bowl fishWoodstock Historical Society Janet Mason woodstock-historic-soc-frame-mirror-Janet-Mason

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by Janet Mason — first published in The Huffington Post

Rigid gender roles are irritating to many of us, damaging to society at large (whether people know it or not), and absolutely toxic to gender nonconforming children and their families. But like it or not, there are “boy’s toys” and “girl’s toys” and they are marketed aggressively.

As a second-generation feminist and a lesbian feminist who has spent many years confronting gender stereotypes, some decades ago I had reservations about transgender issues. My thinking was that we should feel free to pursue our interests, regardless of gender. I still think that. But as the transgender liberation movement grew, so did my awareness. I met a few people. I read a few books. But ultimately it was a seven year old child who opened my heart and changed my mind completely. This child was born as a boy and identified as a girl. She was fortunate to have loving and accepting parents. As I listened to this extremely articulate child talking on the radio, I identified with her. She was saying that she had a few friends that she told, but that she had to be careful about telling most people. At the time, I was working for a large organization and I was treading a fine line about who I came out to since some of my co-workers could handle it and some clearly could not. As in denial as I was about my work situation, a very clear voice in my mind said that this seven year old should not have to live her life in the same way that I did.

It was my privilege to read three new books that were recently published on transgender issues and the story of a gender nonconforming child. Raising My Rainbow, adventures in raising a fabulous, gender creative son by Lori Duron (2013, Broadway Books) is a funny yet serious first person story of a mom doing her best in the raising of her gender creative son, who insists on wearing a tutu to dance class and has to be talked out of knotting his soccer shirt at his hip. Lori is already ahead of the game. Her brother is gay, and she has long been a member of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) which she describes “as the most supportive support group that I’ve ever seen; it’s good for the soul; it’s what church should feel like.”

Duron covers important family issues that a family raising a gender creative child, including parenting his gender conforming older brother and confronting bullying issues that he faces as a result of his younger sibling. Ultimately, she and her husband work with her children’s school, the ACLU and her younger son’s therapist ( who warns the parents that parents that transgender children have the highest rate of suicide) to resolve the issue. The book has helpful sections in the back, including a listing of resources and a section titled “Twelve Things Every Gender Nonconforming Child Wants You to Know.” Item number two: “If you are confused and can’t quite tell if I’m a boy or a girl, just know that I am a person. Please treat me that way.”

On the other side of the equation is Stuck In The Middle With You, A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan (2013; Crown). Boylan writes about her journey of fathering two sons with her wife, transitioning, and being a mother to her children. Particularly poignant is Boylan’s struggle with her gender identity, her decision to tell her wife, and the couples’ decision to stay together through and after her transition. Stuck In The Middle With You is also a writer’s memoir that includes interviews, on identity, parents and parenting, with many authors including Augusten Burroughs, Edward Albee and Ann Beattie.

“Most of the time I just have to resign myself to the fact that this whole business is beyond comprehension for most straight people. If you’re not trans, you’re free from thinking about what gender you are in the same way that white people in America are generally free from having to think about what race they are,” writes Boylan.

 
 

In Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, A Resource For The Transgender Community, Boylan quotes her mother in the introduction, It is impossible to hate anyone whose story you know.” Trans Bodies, Trans Selves (2014; Oxford University Press) is a great resource book (a whopping 648 pages) full of important information and lots of stories. Sections include Sex and Gender (with a simple line drawing indicating that gender identity is located in the mind, sexual orientation in the heart, and sex is in the genitals. The issues are more complex — but the drawing is spot on.

Other sections include “Race, Ethnicity, and Culture;” “Disabilities and Deaf Culture; “Religion and Spirituality;” “Legal Issues;” “General, Sexual, and Reproductive Health;” “Medical Transition;” “Mental Health Services and Support;” “Intimate Relationships;” “Sexuality;” “Parenting;” “Youth;” “Aging;” “Arts and Culture;” just to name a few. The volume ends with an Afterword from the founders of the Boston Women’s Health Collective, authors of Our Bodies, Our Selves. I expect that Trans Bodies, Trans Selves will become a staple in the trans community, including non-trans family members and loved ones — and, like Our Bodies, Our Selves, will become such an integral, helpful resource that we cannot imagine living without it.

from The Huffington Post

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from The Huffington Post

Now that Harvey Milk is on a stamp, I’ll be able to ask for him by name whenever I go to the post office.

05_10_Milk_Stamp_52_LRGThe announcement was made close to the 35th anniversary of the assassination of Harvey Milk, who became the first openly gay official to hold public office when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.

The news was broken on Twitter by Stuart Milk, the nephew of Harvey Milk.

The Harvey Milk stamp is being heralded as perhaps depicting the first openly gay LGBT figure.

However, Harvey Milk is not the first openly-gay LGBT figure to be on a stamp.  One notable exception is James Baldwin. 

Baldwin was perhaps ambiguously out but he was the author of Giovanni’s Room, one of the first gay novels. He is known for his identity as an African American writer, as a gay writer and as a great literary figure in general. When his stamp was issued in 2004, my partner, now a retired postal worker, came home with stories about a co-worker who asked her if Baldwin was indeed “that way,” a customer who said he would take any other stamp other than the one with Baldwin’s face on it and another customer who said,  “He was a great man. I had the honor of meeting him once.”

My partner’s response to hearing that Harvey Milk was going to be on stamp was one of wonder.
“Wow.  That’s deep… I wonder what people will have to say about that.”

Undoubtedly some will be thrilled, others repulsed and, unfortunately, a great many will be indifferent.

The fact that the issuance of the stamp will offend the religious right is a cause for celebration in itself. But Harvey Milk is a great American hero.  And although we were on opposite coasts and I was in high school when he was elected to city supervisor, he is someone who influenced my life greatly. The fact that Anita Bryant, the former Miss Oklahoma who was best known perhaps as an outspoken opponent of homosexuality, was on the national news denouncing Harvey Milk meant that there were others like me out there.

Before the movie Milk, the box office hit starring Sean Penn, in 2008, there was a documentary called The Times of Harvey Milk that I saw when it first came out in 1984.

I had a ticket for the premier showing at the Roxy movie theater on Sansom Street in Philadelphia. I was 25 and had come out a few years before. Inside the small but cozy theater, the audience was comprised mainly of gay men, with a few pockets of lesbians here and there.

The Times of Harvey Milk opened with Diane Fienstein, as the first female President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, announcing that San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone had been assassinated. As the documentary progressed, with the narration of Harvey Fierstein, the delightfully husky voiced gay icon (and one of the few openly gay actors at the time), I became aware of an unusual sound coming from all around me.

I realized then, that it was the sound of men, sitting in the dark, softly crying.

In those days my activist life was divided into two camps, women’s liberation — which is where most of the lesbians were — and the gay movement, at that time still predominantly men.  Often, I was the person who brought the two groups together in my activist community in Philadelphia.

Today gay men and lesbians are working together — and we are a force to be reckoned with.

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married in montgomery countyMarried With Benefits in Montgomery County PA: Same-Sex Marriage As Real As It Gets

 

As a little girl, I never dreamed about weddings — and discarded my baby dolls for dump trucks.

As a grown woman (who became a lesbian-feminist in my early 20s) — I never professed to understand what the fuss was all about when straight women talked about looking forward to their “special day.” (Isn’t every day special? Isn’t the relationship as important as the wedding?)

Last week I went to the courthouse in Montgomery County Pennsylvania and got a marriage license.

My partner and I went with another couple and then a “self-uniting” ceremony where essentially we married each other without a third-party just as Quaker’s have been doing for centuries. It was a private ceremony, with just the four of us. There was no gathering of family and friends, no religious ceremony and no white wedding dresses. My partner and I have been together for 30 years and the other couple has been together for 27 years.

Surprisingly, being legally married does feel different to me — different in a good way. Afterwards, as we sat around the table at a nearby Thai restaurant having a celebratory luncheon, we remarked to each other that getting married was easy. 

We decided to go when one of the women in the other couple called and mentioned that she noticed that the American Postal Workers Union AFL-CIO has announced on their website that federal benefits are now available to same-sex spouses regardless of where they live or work — including health insurance and retirement benefits. Postal employees and retirees have until August 26, 2013 to make immediate changes to their health insurance enrollment.

There were no protestors at the Court House — either pro or con. There were no rainbow flags.  One of us commented that maybe same-sex marriage has become a non-issue — as it should be.

We had a moment of levity as my partner asked on the way in, “Okay, who’s pregnant?” — since we had all decided to get married so quickly.  And then we had an impromptu moment of silence as my partner asked, “I wonder what it was like to for the first interracial couples who married after it was legalized.” (The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of interracial marriage in 1967, overriding the laws of the states.)

In that moment of silence, we acknowledged that we were part of history, marching forward to claim our rights.

Thirteen states have legal same sex marriage and 30 states have state constitutional bans against gay marriage, while an additional five ban the right to marry by state law — including Pennsylvania. 

Montgomery County began issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples last month when a lesbian couple contacted the County through their lawyer and said they would like to get married.

Register of Wills, Bruce D. Hanes, reviewed the state constitution and found contradictions (the state constitution also says that civil rights of any resident shall not be denied and that no citizen shall be discriminated against because of their sex).  To date, about 135 same-sex couples have been granted marriage licenses in Montgomery County since last month when Hanes was contacted by the first couple.

Pennsylvania’s Republican Governor Tom Corbett’s administration has filed an injunction against Montgomery County to stop issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. Oral arguments are scheduled for September 4 in the Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg.

On the opposite side of the state, four hours away in Allegheny County — which includes the Pittsburgh metropolitan area — Mayor John Fetterman of Braddock officiated a marriage of two men who had obtained a marriage license in Montgomery County. Interviewed on MSNBC, Fetterman described this as “an act of civil disobedience” and went on to say that legal same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania is just a matter of time.

Obviously, the fight in Pennsylvania is not over. 

This past July, the A.C.L.U. brought a lawsuit against Pennsylvania’s Constitutional Ban on Gay Marriage.

And a recent poll reports that 54 percent of Pennsylvanian’s are in favor of same-sex marriage.

Friends from New York state (where same-sex marriage is already legal) suggested that we have a protest wedding. A protest wedding is a great idea. 

But our marriage is already real — as real as it gets.

 

Read the entire piece in The Huffington Post

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To tell you the truth, I wasn’t really paying attention to the recent decision by the Boy Scouts that it will no longer deny membership to openly gay youths “on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”

When I first heard the news, it seemed to me that continuing to discriminate against openly gay scout leaders while admitting openly gay members was sending a mixed message. But there was more to my apathy than that. A quick internet search confirmed my suspicion that the Boy Scouts is a training ground for the militarization of young men.

But last Friday when I was in my driveway, packing up the car to take a trip to the Catskills for the legal same sex wedding celebration of two close friends, I had the opportunity to listen to a program on the Boy Scout’s decision on a Christian radio station that my neighbor’s roofer was blasting. The radio announcer was firmly against the Boy Scouts’ decision, and surprisingly I found myself agreeing with some of his logic. He mentioned that openly gay Boy Scouts may be scapegoated. This had occurred to me, even before I heard the Conservative Warrior railing against the decision.

He also mentioned that he would under no circumstances send his 16 year old son camping in a pup tent with an openly gay Boy Scout. He said that hormonally charged teenage boys experiment and implied that the openly gay Scout may seduce his presumably straight son.

The fact is that pre-teen and teenage boys do experiment — with each other. When I was growing up, it was known around the neighborhood that straight teenage boys were experimenting with each other. A gay male friend once explained to me that straight teenage boys actually saw more action with one another — than gay teenage boys, because the gay teens were more inhibited due to a fear of being identified as gay. The parenting website, Baby Center, has the results of a poll about boys age 11 to 13 year old boys experimenting with each other.

Sex is sex to a hormonally charged adolescent boy -whether that sex is with another boy, a girl, or a blowup doll. Chances are that if this radio personality sends his 16-year-old son into a pup tent with anyone – even avowed heterosexual Boy Scouts–that he is running the risk that his son will experiment.

As a pre-adolescent, I was an overachieving Girl Scout with badges up both sides of my sash. I learned about camping and tying ropes (neither of which stayed with me) – but what I remember most was that I learned the definition of “jerk off” by asking my mother what this meant after another Girl Scout called me this. My practical nurse trained mother explained to me that jerking off is something that a man does to himself while pretending that he is with a woman. Mind you, this was close to a half century ago. As I recall, knowing the facts did make me feel a little intellectually smug when I went back to the next Scout troop meeting and told my taunter that it was, in fact, not possible for me to be a jerk off.

A year later I was smoking pot and drinking and beginning my slide into full-blown adolescent self-destruction so it could be deduced that the Scouts did not instill anything in me to prevent this. However, when I was eighteen I did attempt to join the military and this was directly linked to me trying to redeem myself. The military recruitment video showed young women who looked like they had been Girl Scouts. More precisely, the women in the boot camp recruitment video looked like lesbians and undoubtedly this is what hooked me. I wanted to be a photographer. In 1977, the occupation of Army photographer wasn’t open to females so, fortunately, I did not join the military.

There are alternatives in life to joining the military and also to being a Boy Scout or Girl Scout. In Philadelphia, there is Mountain Meadow Queer Camp Alliance for children, girls and boys aged 9 to17, of LGBT parents and there are other similar camps across the country.

The New York Times reported recently that the Boy Scouts membership has been dwindling for years. After listening to the Conservative Warrior, I got to thinking that if he and his ilk decide to keep their sons out of the Boy Scouts and we do too that the result could be revolutionary.

It’s time to teach our children that it’s okay to think and stay outside the box.

This piece was originally published in OpEdNews.com

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Like many LGBT Americans, I was profoundly moved by President Obama’s recognition of gays and lesbians in his inaugural speech. Even my straight-talking retired postal worker partner who usually has something to say about everything (when it comes to gay rights, her usual comment is “it’s about time”) sat quietly in front of the television taking it all in. It is about time and it is still amazing.

There were quite a few historic firsts at the inaugural ceremony, but the highlight for me was the inaugural poem by Richard Blanco, the first Hispanic and the first openly gay poet to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration. For me a poem is a slowing down of time, an opening, and a good poem always presents a teaching moment, that is once in a while life-altering, and leaves you experiencing the world differently.

There were two such moments within Blanco’s poem, “One Today,” and with the help of thecamera panning the immediate crowd, we can see the immediacy of those moments on the listeners. The first was when, Blanco recited the words “…. on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives– to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did for twenty years, so I could write this poem.”

The camera panned to Michelle Obama who looked up from her poetic reverie and opened her eyes when Blanco mentioned his mother. The look in her eyes was solemn, one that appeared to be based in compassion and identification.

The second teaching moment occurred closer to the end of the poem when Blanco was reading the words, “Hear: the doors we open for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom, buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días in the language my mother taught me…” And then the camera panned to Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor. Shortly after the phrase “buenos dias,” he twitched. In all fairness, Cantor may have been twitching all day — it was cold and he couldn’t simply sit in his warm home and turn off the television like so many other Republicans undoubtedly did. And it could have been worse. If Blanco had read a poem with explicitly gay content, Rep. Cantor might have done more than twitch.

I had been wondering, how Cantor and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) could stand there and listen to Blanco’s poem and not be moved by it. I was profoundly moved. I was the first in my family to go to college and I was close to my mother. When I began to write my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books 2012), I was primarily a poet. And even though I haven’t written poetry in years, I still have poetic sensibilities.

I wrote Tea Leaves to make some sense of losing my mother to cancer and being, along with my father, one of her primary caretakers. I also explore my working class background in this book, in particular writing about grandmother’s life who was a spinner in a textile mill in Philadelphia.

It is because of my class consciousness that Blanco’s poem resonated so strongly with me. Many immigrants have taken jobs that others would not do and whether it was picking fruit, packing meat, bagging groceries, or taking care of other people’s children they provide the services that this country could not do without. Then if they are “illegal,” they are deported or at least must always live in fear of deportation. Don’t we owe it to them to provide them with citizenship?

This week, both parties plan to introduce overhauled immigration legislation and they have the opportunity to do the right thing. Cantor, predictably, is solidly against immigration reform. His record speaks for itself. In 2007, he voted to declare English as the official language of the United States. In 2006, he voted yes on building a fence along the Mexican border.

More recently, Cantor was consistent in his conservative views in voting against enforcing anti-gay hate crimes in 2009, and in 2012 stated that taxpayer money should never be used to “kill innocent life” and in 2011 he voted in favor of banning federal health coverage that includes abortion.

There has been much talk about how Republicans lost the Hispanic and female vote in the Presidential election — and how they have to appeal to these groups of voters if they want to have a future as a viable party. While I have found these discussions interesting, I am not personally invested in the Republicans improving their lot.

But I do think that Republicans should do the right thing on immigration reform.

And if they do, then maybe some credit can be given Richard Blanco’s poetic moment.

In short, we are more alike than different. And if you doubt that, remember Blanco’s one word sentence,

Breathe.

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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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