Archive | June, 2006

I get allergic smelling hay*


Close, but no cigar.

Yesterday Monkey and I went to the Little Farm, where local city slickers take their youngins to observe the pastoral delights most of us have never known firsthand (yet there they keep showing up, in all the books we read our kids). I myself was reared in the suburbs, but back then my family’s house was situated on the verge of the exurbs. Our backyard abutted a 350-acre cow pasture which was both muse and stage for all my youthful adventures. Summers, when California’s omnipresent oat grasses are baked dry over months of rainless heat, the cattle would listen for the sounds of our creaky push-mower. Upon hearing its whir, whir, they’d mosey up for fistfuls of the sweet green stuff my sister and I would rake up and offer them through our feeble chicken-wire fence. Usually we’d poke the hose through the fence, too, and the heifers would nudge each other out of the way for long cool drinks.

It wasn’t all bucolic. Springtimes, when the new calves were old enough to be put out to pasture, they’d also be old enough to be branded. For reasons I still don’t understand, this took place in a corral just kitty-corner across our backyard fence (the main stables were far across the pasture, down the adjacent canyon). The ranch-hands would gather the calves into the corral, and then, one by one, bind their ankles with rope and brand them. I can still hear the cries they made—very much like Wookie’s war-cry, in Star Wars, actually—and I can still smell the scent of their freshly burnt hides. It made an impression.

No such graphic truths on display at Little Farm, thank heavens. The animal world there does feature what we see a lot of off the farm: single moms doing all the childcare, or a hetero nuclear unit whose parents follow clear sex-based roles. Sows nursing their piglets in the pen, ducklings paddling behind their drake papa and duck mama in the pond. Sure, I know there are plenty of insects, fish, birds, and mammals that have shown same-sex sexual behaviors. And I would be the last person to propose that animal practices should somehow provide any kind of template for human ones—we who have broken away from our closest mammal kin a long time ago, way back when we pre-hensiled our thumbs, or began to walk upright, or whatever. Whenever I get warm and runny about what a deep bond I have with my dog, whenever I get dreamy about how well we wordlessly understand each other, she ups and eats the cat’s dookie. We are not the same.

Still, a trip to Little Farm reminds me how fundamental (pun intended) the male-female procreative unit is. Queer families are social units, not biological ones, and that will be something we’ll be explaining to our kidling(s), in time, when they want to know why there are no “babas” at the farm, only “mamas” and “papas” (there’s always the Central Park Zoo, for two papa families). Our family ties originate and flourish most meaningfully in the heart and mind; less so, much of the time not at all, in the genes. I no longer consider this a disadvantage to our little kinship unit, and actually consider it a boon. Blood may be thicker than water, but love’s even thicker than blood.

*Want all the Green Acres theme song lyrics? Here you go.

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Queerspawn

In case you couldn’t make out the tatoo from the earlier post: today’s afterglow of Sunday’s Pride, still goin’ strong. It sure kicks some tot lot #ss.

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Plus ça change, or Prides I have known

What they're giving out at Pride these days--to the family contingent.

O how they’ve changed.

This year my Pride began in a friend’s church, of all places — though I think we can all agree that the Unitarian Universalists are not your mother’s church. I had contributed to the service (offerings? program?) by sharing a “reflection” on gender, as seen through the lens of parenthood. From a pulpit! Yow! I couldn’t keep myself from finding an opportunity to wag my finger once, and my only regret now is that I couldn’t find a way to work in Ian McKellen’s deathless lines from Cold Comfort Farm, “There’ll be no butter in Hell!” When the collection plate was being passed, the pianist played The Kinks’ “Lola.” Gotta love those UUs.

By the time we got to the city we missed not just the Dykes on Bikes, but the family contingent, which had a berth of #28 this year (out of 194; it is San Francisco Pride after all). So we packed the bairn on my shoulders and made a beeline to the “Family Garden”  playground area. There we hung out with friends and their kids, and met my dad, my sister, and my nephew, who had ducked out of the church early to try to catch the umpteen blocks of revving motorcycle engines. Thanks to Our Family Coalition and COLAGE, we watched our kids’ faces get painted, we tie-dyed T-shirts, and we marvelled (again; for the third year now) at how many families there were, across such a broad chromatic spectrum. After a full day–sans nap–we left the city well before dark. As I was watching my daughter slowly make her way up the sidewalk to our home, hand nestled in my nephew’s fingers, I pondered the stark contrast of this scene with — pick the scene, any scene, following any other Pride I’d been to over the past two decades since the early years.

My first LGBT Pride was only a G-one; back then Prides were just evolving to L&G, but it was a while before they matured enough to include B, and finally T. Was it 1985? My first sweetie and I, out to only each other, and for just a few years, were so nervous about being at Pride that we went under ostensibly heterosexual auspices. A straight politico friend of ours hooked us up with a gig fundraising for Berkeley Citizens’ Action, the lefter of the city’s two left-wing political coalitions. We sold Häagen-Dazs ice cream from stands that were positioned conveniently within sight of the post-parade mainstage in Civic Center Plaza, on which at one point the legendary Sylvester performed the disco anthem “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).” That morning I had rummaged my closet for something, anything respectable to wear, and had come up with a t-shirt I had purchased at one of the Berkeley Anti-Reagan Festivals (better known by their acronym BARF; they were held annually during his presidency). It commemorated Anna Blum’s all-women’s expedition to Annapurna, and on its back was the racy slogan “A woman’s place is on top.”

I feel I can say with reasonable certaintly that I probably kissed my sweetie in public for the first time that day.

Imagine my titillation when an as-then still-closeted young English professor from campus strolled up to my stand to buy a cup of Vanilla Almond Fudge. We made a flicker of eye contact and, at least as I recall it, when she saw the recognition in my face, and when she moments later placed me as an undergrad in her department, she looked away and scurried off without her change. Ten years later she had tenure and could be found traipsing the august halls in a black leather mini-skirt. Kid you not. Had she sported that kind of attire earlier I might have given Chaucer a second look. Bathed every veyne in swich licour, indeed.

At dusk on Pride day, any given year after I’d been out a while, I might be a little tuckered out after a day in the hot sun, but usually only beginning to rev up for an equally hot evening. O, the Pride weekends past. The debauchery. Ice cubes on bellies on pool tables in crowded bars; O, the debauchery. Standing in lines that snaked around the block so’s to get into the A-list clubs, since substandard DJ-ing just wouldn’t do, and it would be years, years I say, before any concerns would emerge over the difficulty of hearing anyone speaking under a yell. The beer-sticky dance floors. The piles of leather jackets balled up in the corner, trying to look (for the moment) cheap enough to be not worth stealing. Because while it was worth finding the money to procure the jacket, it was still too hard to spare it for the coat check. O, the dancing for the joy of it, for the self — and for whomever else might be a-lookin’.

This year was the first in recent memory that I hadn’t even gone to the Dyke March, nor what’s grown to be the daylong galfest in Dolores Park in San Francisco preceeding it. Which absenteeism I must say is sacrelige. It’s sacrilege considering I snagged my beloved at one halfway across the country. I was jogging past her in cutoffs and boots (it was the 90s), bearing a white armband with the words “Sodom and Gomorrah Tourguide”  scrawled on it, as I helped signal my then-adoptive city’s first Dyke March unpermitted through downtown streets. “That’s my old Women’s Studies instructor!” she reportedly swooned to a fellow straight gal pal, as they strolled the freshly liberated middle of the street with their lesbian chums in ribald feminist solidarity. That night, at the Dyke Ball, a fundraiser for our Lesbian Avengers chapter, she tracked me down in the kissing booth, after having watched me dance, happily, for the longest time, by myself. I’m sure I was dancing for the joy of the good music, but I’m sure also for whomever else might be a-lookin’. Well, she was a-lookin’, and it worked. Ah, young love; ah, the unbeatable babe magnetry of activism.

A dozen years later and back across the country in my hometown, said babe was the mother of my child, and feeling queasy and fatigued from manufacturing spleens and kidneys and cardiovascular systems for kid #2, in utero. So we heaved a sigh of resignation and took a pass on the Dyke March and its preceding galfest. Our lesbo parent friends across the street came over for BBQ when throngs of our kind — i.e., tens of thousands — were across the Bay milling, eating, drinking, comparing nipple rings, and exchanging phone numbers and emails. In our placid back yard, to the thumping tune of nothing more than a neighbor’s lawnmower, we watched our daughters romp and frolick. Crumpled up cotton toddler jackets replaced the balled-up leather jackets. If our kids were more martially inclined, they would have surely marched at one point, and then we could have said we actually had attended a dyke march. Or rather a dykespawn march.

And while we fully intend to go to Dyke Day in Dolores Park again next year (really, the scene up around the playground was lesbian dad heaven, and it would only be my sweetie’s 1st trimester nausea that would keep me from it), I can’t say I didn’t feel utterly fulfilled by the homebody evening we had with our lesbo parent chums. Nor was I disappointed the next day, coming home from Pride with the sun still high in the sky. There’ll be activism and debauchery in our futures again, I’m sure. Ours, or our kids’.

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Accesorized @ Pride

Beads courtesy DadDad, who got ’em flinged at him by some scantily clad lads on a float. Tatoo from Queerspawn. T-shirt, by Baba, reading: AMOR VINCIT OMNIA. Sticker by COLAGE. Not pictured here: rainbow painted on left cheek by Our Family Coalition/COLAGE volunteer face painter, & DIY tie-dye T-shirt.

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Jizoo Boodah

Lil’ Monkey’s most favorite talisman at the moment is the Jizo Bodhisattva. She has a hard time with the mouthful “bodhisattva,” and has settled on the misnomer “Buddha”; “Jizo” itself comes out more like “Jizoo.” [Update: “bodhisattva” is now approximated by “bodhi’s office.”] Jizoo Boodah has a swing to it, though, and for this reason, plus Monkey’s being 1.75 yrs. old, we let her pronunciation stand.

I was given this beautiful statuette from my Mother Out-Law (hereafter MOL), following a meditation retreat she’d done at Great Vow Monestary in far northwestern Oregon. Jizo means lots of things to lots of people—for Wikipedeophiles, their entry focuses on its pan-Asian, pan-Buddhist range of meanings; for bibliophiles, Jan Cozen Bays’ Jizo Bodhisattva was the volume my MOL recommended to me. The thumbnail sketch accompanying the statuette reads:

Jizo figures are placed at crossroads in Japan to guide those who travel in both the spiritual and physical realms. Jizo has special significance to pregnant women and to those whose children have died. Jizo is usually portrayed as a child-monk, often carrying a pilgrim’s ringed staff which jingles to warn animals of his approach and prevent mutual harm. Jizo also carries the wish-fulfilling jewel of the Dharma whose light banishes all fear.

The occasion for this gift was the one-year anniversary of my nephew’s death. (It will be another decade entirely before I can write those two words—nephew and death—in sequence without an involuntary, huge, intake of breath.) Jizo rests on my meditation altar, alongside an old brass Buddah statue that my Christian missionary great-grandmother brought back from China around the turn of the last century (ironic! and true!); a picture of my mother taken by me with my first Brownie camera, circa 1975; a shark keychain my nephew Erik gave me after his Make-A-Wish Foundation trip to Hawai’i; and a small, well-worn piece of the Western or al-Buraq Wall that an old therapist gave me, from her year in Jerusalem.

The E-Z, on-the-ground access of my meditation altar means that the objects on it often find themselves relocated to other spots around the house by the Lil’ Monkey, a neat exersise for me in non-attachment.

The death of a loved one, in stark contrast, is a sprawling, untidy exersise in non-attachment. It possesses the gentleness of a swimming pool bully holding your head underwater while the lifeguard isn’t looking, keeping you down just long enough to rattle the living daylights out of you, but not enough to actually cause you to expire.

Am still working on both lessons, small and large, and expect to for the duration.

The Jizo, talisman of the crossroads, is an apt symbol for my own parenthood, which is marked phenomenally by the crossroads of life and death (and, much more modestly, by the crossroads of biological and nonbiological, female and male parenthood). When Erik was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, on the eve of my beloved’s third trimester, we were a galaxy away from recognizing, much less accepting, what was very, very, very likely to come. But when my oldest and dearest friend’s partner was killed on our daughter’s six-week birthday—the day we were to have a Welcome to the World party for her—it simply became impossible to not see. Life/death life/death beginning/ending happiness/sorrow blessing/curse bliss/despondancy here/gone tick/tock tick/tock.

When my little one walks around with Jizoo Boodah, when she wraps it lovingly in a blanket of dinner napkins and puts it to sleep in her crib, I worry that it’s a sign that she’ll go early, too. I mean, why would she attach so strongly to it? It’s shiny and hard. Then again, when she walks around with nothing whatsoever in her hands I worry that she’ll go early. My job: to massage this worry so deeply into my tissues that it transforms itself, leaving as its only trace a radiant sheen of gratitude on the surface.

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