Up in Smoke

Marijuana has been legalized in several states at this point. CO and WA were notably the first to legalize recreational use of cannabis. So far the sky hasn't fallen and yet, things have been happening. We dug in a little and ended up with more questions than answers.

Transcript Link: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1AIxq0_1xI-rA9U_GaS-j1LtQIi7Wvdbzyc7vibh_0MM

Are You Sisters?

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I remember the first time I held her hand in public. Not where we were, how it felt. The headlines were full of the Rebecca Wight murder. Wight and her girlfriend had been camping in the woods. Another camper met them on the trail and, when he learned they were lesbians, he stalked them and then shot them 8 times, severely injuring Brenner and killing Wight. He was convicted for his crimes, not before his lawyer introduced the defense of "gay panic".  In 1988, when the murders occurred, it was admissible in court to claim the panic of being exposed to homosexual behavior could create a legitimate, violent response.

I remember the act of courage it felt like, to reach over in a public mall in Orem, UT, and touch my fingers to her fingers. I remember forcing myself not to look around and see if people were looking as our hands slid from touching to entwined. I remember the simple, sweet feeling of her palm against my palm. And my racing heart, inspired by the first rush of romance and the background awareness of possible violence. Was I creating gay panic with my fingers caressing her fingers? 

Other headlines, like Sakia Gunn and Matthew Shepherd's murders, furthered a belief of unexpected violence. Friends of mine, told me stories of being teens and playing "smear the queer" with their friends. (A game where several boys would chase one boy and then kind of beat on him.) They hadn't known what it meant and felt pretty awful about it. And where did they get the idea? Kids learn these things. In 1992, Colorado passed Amendment 2. The only place in the country where it became legal to discriminate against LGBT people. A psychologist, Glenda Russell, studied the impact and eventually wrote Voted Out. She learned minority groups show signs of PTSD when their basic human rights are voted on. That doesn't surprise me. I felt constantly under siege. 

Flashback to 1999. I put gay bumper stickers on my car, hopeful I wouldn't find my tires slashed because of it. We moved to Tacoma, WA and bought wedding rings. We probably paid more for them than we should have, we were both so delighted when the salesperson commented we were a cute couple. She worked Borders and I ran the Rainbow Center, Tacoma's LGBT Center. We decided to be out, as much as possible, to stand for those who couldn't be out. I volunteered with the Legal Marriage Alliance of Washington and appeared on television and debated in public across the state. We were interviewed by the local paper, twice. We got married in Canada when it became legal and had it spread across the front page of the paper. And still, when she was stuck on the freeway in a snowstorm and I had to call the highway patrol, I told them my sister was trapped. I didn't want our gayness to delay her possible rescue. And I believed it might. 

I didn't wonder if I was safe. I knew I wasn't. When 9/11 struck and the country reacted with panic and fear, I realized the rest of the population was having a moment of experiencing what I felt when I held my girlfriend's hand in public. I didn't feel less safe after 9/11, I felt less alone in knowing I wasn't. 

We have come far. We have achieved social equality and legal equality in many areas. I don't fear for my life when I hold a woman's hand in public any more, most of the time. And, on Feb 10, I sat and listened to Orlando, a poem about the 2016 massacre of LGBT people at a nightclub in Florida. It reminds me however far we have come, we have farther to go.

Modern Canaries

I am committed to the values of our country, flawed though the implementation may be at times. Democracy offers hope of a different way. It requires more of us than self-interest. As people, we fail in this at times. And the stories we tell are victim centered. Women are harmed by men. Immigrants are harmed by citizens. Black people are harmed by white people, cops. The harm happens. The stories confuse the issue. 

The story we fail to tell is the larger story. Black people bear the burden of the stigma of racism. Immigrants are disproportionately affected by the stigma of xenophobia. Women show the more obvious wounds of patriarchal assumptions. And we all suffer. They aren't the victims. They are the canary in the coal mine, indicating the toxicity we are walking toward. Warning us of a future we can avoid. 

Being black is being strong and resilient. Being an immigrant is a sign of courage and strength. Being female is a simple fact of living. Who a person is, is not the problem. None of these identities are the reason folks suffer. They suffer because as a society, we have put the burden of our fears on these identities. Citizens aren't going to lose jobs because immigrants are working. White people aren't going to be less capable because black people are treated as the capable people they are. Men aren't going to be diminished because women are acknowledged as strong and powerful. 

As long as we make this about the identity of the people suffering, it sounds like a hand out to a victim. It is insulting. Who they are isn't the problem. Who we are is. We, all of the different 'we's' need to fix our problems, deal with our insecurities, so other people don't walk around carrying our problems and their problems. We need to intervene and work to create equity.  We need to create equity to address the suffering we handed off to immigrants, women, and black people to hold for us. 

 

What Happens in Vegas... Ripples Across the Country

I was born in Vegas. A few years ago, my partner took me there for a weekend of silly extravagance to celebrate my birthday. My grandmother lived there when I was young. I saw ET with her at the Omnimax when I was 9. My cousins marveled grandma's energy (It was 2am and she wanted to find a place to go dancing and we were TIRED, they exclaimed. They were 20 years old, she was 70ish.) My grandmother passed away in the buffet line at the Silver Slipper Casino. The story is she turned to the guy behind her, smiled, and fell over from a stroke. It seems like how she would have wanted it. It was her favorite place. I loved the ice carved slipper they had on the buffet line. It felt magical. 

My partner and I spent a weekend there early on in our relationship, celebrating another friend's birthday. We saw Ka together. My ex-wife and I went there to see Melissa Ethridge in concert. It was weird and uncomfortable and awesome. My then gf gambled a quarter and won $40. She's always been lucky.  

I've ridden the New York Hotel roller coaster.  I thought Circus Circus was all that when I was little. My ex-husband and I were entranced by the dancing fountains at the Bellagio when we visited in college. My step-mom loved to shop there. She and my dad lived a couple of hours away. Her house was full of sparkle found in outlet malls in Vegas. I hated the way my hands smelled like cigarette smoke almost the moment I walked into a casino. I loved the cheap buffets. 

My cousin lives there. I texted her after the shootings. Isis claimed responsibility. The police say they can't find a motive. What does motive tell us? It shapes the story into a narrative meant to comfort us. Oh, this happened because this person is x or y. Next, combine it with ever increasing restrictions on liberty and invasive search procedures. Eventually the motive will be connected to something culturally expendable, something agreed to be 'other'. This will help with profiling, another way to feel safe. Only minorities or immigrants or ... something not 'us' would do this. Does it matter the shooter was a (seemingly middle class) white man? So, definitely 'us'. It matters to me. It matters to me because the fiction of 'not us' doesn't serve our country. It doesn't keep us safe to pretend only 'other' people do horrible things.

It hasn't worked. The invasive searches, the racial profiling, the restrictions on liberty, the ethnic profiling, the religious profiling- it hasn't stopped the violence.  Who benefits when we fear each other so much? Not us. Not our communities. Not our poor, hungry, sick, tired, black, immigrants, disabled, hispanic, white, working class, middle class, women, men, straight, gay ... not the majority of us.Not our kids. Not my neighbors. Not me.

As country, we respond with outrage and sorrow. We mourn the loss, the waste, the violence. Maybe we will react and demand stronger gun laws or better care for the mentally ill. I hope we do. What we have done, rage and blame, hasn't worked. 

I hope my cousin is okay. My heart is with everyone suffering and watching loved ones fight for their lives. 

 

1st Anniversary

My ex husband died last year. The father of my children. My first love. My best friend. I met him when I was 18, we started dating when I was 19 and we married when I was 20. Our parents weren't super supportive, they thought we were too young. We didn't care. I mean we did care, we wanted their approval, but we were full of the confidence of youth and our faith. We moved into a basement apartment with earwigs and ignored the color of the walls.  

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We were students together at Brigham Young University (BYU) and faithful Mormons, and we started our family rather quickly. Barely married, pregnant, and going to classes together, we awkwardly tried to figure out how to navigate our mutual dysfunctions. He was a brilliant artist and programmer. He wrote a zork-like game to ask me to homecoming our first year of marriage. (I said “YES!”) We spent our first New Year’s Eve as a married couple at his office, with another couple we knew, playing Doom until 3 in the morning. He worked too much. I studied like my life depended on it. 

Our baby was born and we were so delighted. Our little boy slept 5 hours a night from the start, rarely cried, and was constantly curious about the world around us. I realized I hadn't actually ever fallen in love before when I started loving my child. Pregnant again, still adjusting to life with our first baby, my exhaustion level rose to heights I hadn't been able to imagine before. My then-husband would get up early with our 10 month old and sit and program in the other room. He would put headphones on our son, so he could play on our little electronic key board while his father worked.

My former husband's father was a bully, my mother a narcissist, so we hurt each other in the ways we understood meant love. Our daughter was born and we adored her.  His job became more and more consuming. I learned how to make cinnamon rolls from scratch and to pretend I didn't miss being a student, didn't miss being seen as a person. We tried to be okay with how things were- until we couldn't pretend anymore.

We separated. We divorced. We stayed friends for years after, working together to be the parents we believed our children deserved. We celebrated holidays together, went to counseling, and took the kids to Disneyland with our other partners. We tried. We loved each other and liked each other and hurt each other in ways only ex-lovers can do. 

We found other loves and couldn't always find space in between to be our best selves. We tried. He fell in love again, with someone who finally consumed him in the way he felt was love. She demanded everything, including his past. He resisted for awhile, and then, finally, he gave it to her. We became a distant memory that he visited for birthdays, sometimes. Our children were confused and hurt. They knew he loved them, how could he disappear like this? We tried. I won financial support. I took them to concerts (he loved music) and supported their hobbies and hated my helplessness to give them the one thing I couldn't give them- their father.

June 2016, he died unexpectedly, 4 days after Father's Day. His wife, so caught up in her story of claiming him, threatened our children. 19 and 20, confused and broken hearted, they bore the burden of her insecurity. I watched our daughter grip her chest, gasping for air, when I told her I had learned her stepmother had threatened to arrest them for trespassing if they attended their father's funeral. I watched them crumble when their aunts and uncles, save one, and their grandparents, so afraid they too would be denied the chance to grieve, accepted this. "We don't want to take sides" said one aunt. Not realizing that was taking sides. That not standing up for the person being bullied and rejected is siding with the person who is doing the bullying.

We made it through. Unexpected kindnesses from old friends, and expected strength from their uncle and each other, together, we made it through. We were able to go to a viewing of his body, through much effort on behalf of many people. Our son attended the funeral, obeying the condition that he not acknowledge he was his father's son. They were mentioned in the obituary only as part of their uncle's family. They were erased, like she wanted, in her final attempt to claim their father's life in mourning his death. Our daughter couldn't make herself go to the funeral where she would be a stranger to her father. She couldn't accept the mantle of secretive mourner. She loved her father and knew that he loved her. She didn't want to hide that for someone's fears and insecurities. We went to Starbucks and read while her brother attended.

My ex husband died last year. And it changed the course of our lives in ways I would never have imagined.