Yes, We Can

It’s hard to describe the conflicting emotions I felt today.

Albeit a day filled with immense hope and indescribable optimism, there was an undercurrent of something else – of mourning. And as I marched down Seattle’s glutted streets with over 130,000 other peaceful protesters – staring up at rooftops to see firefighters, window-washers, and apartment residents waving on and screaming in solidarity – I recognized that this is a strange new nation. We are fractured. And no matter how hard anyone tries to pick up the pieces and painstakingly rejoin them, they will never fit back together again.

This farce of an election has cracked something inside us all, and we have a duty to acknowledge it, name it, and rail against that which threatens the safety and security of this great nation, and the world. We owe it to ourselves and the citizens around the world who raised their voices in solidarity with us today.

My hope is that this mantle of justice is taken up and shouldered by us all, and that we don’t chalk up today as some kumbaya moment. This “moment” must keep going far beyond today – in rhetoric and action; in everyday practice, we must always push forward. We must remember our humanity, and the power we wield when we band together.

I haven’t felt this good in a long time.

Today, I’m thankful for my fellow marchers across the nation and globe, especially my awe-inspiring mother and sister who trekked to DC; they’re the two strongest women and role models I’ve ever known.

For the knitter at the bus stop who gifted me a beautiful pink scarf.

For the new friend who pulled up at the glutted bus stop and gave three of us a ride.

For the friends I bumped into and texted with throughout the march.

For every single child I saw filled with hope, and screaming at the top of their lungs for change.

For the seniors walking arm-in-arm, holding signs aloft reading, “I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit.”

For signs calling out all the -isms, and the importance of understanding and recognizing intersectionality.

For the blind marcher wearing a sandwich board reading, “I will not follow along blindly.”

For the great-grandmother who confided to me, “I like all the pink. But I don’t know about the pussy hats yet.”

For the eagle that flew overhead just as the sun beamed down.

Yes, we have much work to do to fix this country. But after days like today, I’m more certain than ever that, yes, we can.

When the Ink Dries

Other than a cone of lamplight over my shoulder, the remainder of the sunporch sits in darkness. Occasionally, I hear Joanna pitter-pattering here and there, rediscovering another partially deformed toy plush to pull apart before jumping up on my leg and smacking my sweater with her paw. It’s nearly 9:00, and it’s closing in on her bedtime. She’s anxious to get to dreamland, but I have another page on the application to complete.

With surgical precision, I carefully spell out my name with the ballpoint pen – making certain I’m not bleeding over into a neighboring field, or smearing the ink with my hand. I angle the 2×2″ photo just inside the designated box, and accidentally staple right through the paper and into my index finger.

FUCCCCCK!

Joanna scampers to her bed, poking her head behind a finless Dory doll. Nursing my blighted finger, I finish the stapling exercise, infill a few more fields, and write the check with all the add-ons to get the critical part of my “just in case” plan returned before the white nationalist fascist takes our country’s helm.

I’d imagined reapplying for my passport would be much more enjoyable – with visions of scenic countrysides to explore dancing through my head. But instead, I’m siphoning the necessary funds from my “maybe I can actually save this at the end of the month” account, rationalizing the expenditure as vitally necessary.

While I’m not a catastrophist, I am paying close attention to the growing warning signs that the coming sadistic “administration” plans to act as judge, jury, and executioner – without any care or concern for the Constitution, much less the Bill of Rights, or human morality. I fully intend to fight and defend what I know to be good and true in this country, but I’m also incredibly terrified of what could come to pass, as well as the violence incited along the way.

Every single day when I leave for work, I envision a time in the near future when the final straw becomes dangerously heavy – when I’ll have to race back, scoop up Joanna, vital documents, maybe a keepsake or two, and just go, leaving my mended home and garden to the coming ravages.

I hope beyond hope that sensible, smart, dedicated, compassionate people will unite and push back against this scourge and his minions. And I fully intend to play a part in it – even if the story’s epilogue ends with me and JoJo in my Toyota, speeding north.

***

Rain cascades down in sheets, and a few shingles fly off the dilapidated roof. Boards above in the attic pop from the dry air and sudden moisture co-mingling, and heated air pipes through the vents – resembling the sounds of the open sea.

I sit and watch the moonlit branches dancing in the wind, and listen to the creaking of the makeshift garden fence just outside the windows. I rub my socked foot along the painted floor, recognizing how important this place is to me, and how much I want to grow here.

As I tuck all the documents into the large envelope and seal it tightly, another hearty gust blasts the windows, making the panes shudder.

I stare past the envelope on the tabletop and into JoJo’s marble-like eyes, and quietly murmur.

“We’re in this thing together. And while the storm may rage and weather us, with hope, we’ll still be standing when the sun rises.”

Forward-effacing

The long, expansive access ramp juts out from the midcentury rambler’s facade like a metallic tongue, beckoning me and the other circling vultures inside.

Nearing the front door, I hug the railing as a white-painted headboard bursts across the threshold, followed quickly by the footboard. The couple shuttling the bed frame makes their way to a battered Chevy Silverado as I scoot past the mattress and box spring leaning idly by the door.

Just inside, the hallway is plastered with signs reading “50% off!” My eyes dart to every fixture and shelf, each of which sports a peel-off orange price tag. This is the first estate sale I’ve ever been to, and I’m struck by its emotional heaviness.

I’m so used to seeing antiques and keepsakes wholly divorced from their context; but here, scattered among bedrooms and basement nooks, along patio edges and kitchen counters, everything is laid bare with trace amounts of significance. A couple stands behind a cash register in the living room, and I soon learn they’re part of an auction house group hired to sell off as much of the contents as possible, before the rest is donated to charity. They suggest I check downstairs in the basement, and I wind my way past other oglers coming in through the front door, and down a narrow carpeted staircase.

In the basement, tables upon tables are stacked with tools, drill bits, cigar tins, and every other sort of appliance part imaginable. I’m immediately overwhelmed by the smell of oil and leather, and make my way to an open patio door. Outside, three large wheelbarrows and massive metallic tubs are lined up like prize cattle. In a nearby shed, a few boxes of broken parts sit among an old push mower from the fifties; I briefly entertain the mower, but then counterbalance it with utility, and exit – flies swarming in the dank air behind me.

Back inside, I find a small dinette chair covered in oil-soaked slip covers, a handful of old stoneware pickling crocks, a lamp, a handmade rolling cart, and a hanging bamboo tea light holder – all of which I pile upstairs near the register.

On my last circuit around, I stop in the bedroom farthest from the center of the house. There, in a corner, stands a potty chair walker; the only other furnishings in the room are a partly deconstructed twin bed, and a Kmart shelf with old hat boxes piled on top. I don’t know whether or not I’m supposed to be in here. For a moment, it’s just me and the potty chair, and the bright pink shag carpeting.

I delicately remove one of the closest hat boxes, peering inside at the crumpled tissue paper forms shaped into half-spheres, having cradled spherical glass ornaments for decades; two lone ornaments wobble on the shelving unit below, residual glitter flaking off. Along the interior box rim, I can barely make out a name  – something with a “G,” maybe George.

Suddenly, one of the register operators pokes her head around the doorframe, and I shove the hat box back on top of the unit, give her a slight smile, and cast my eyes down to the shag carpeting – away from the walker in the corner as I shuffle out the door.

After paying, the auction group hands me a receipt, a bright stamp reading “Please Call Again” – ever the reminder of death and endings coming to pass. On my last trip out, I notice a mirror hanging by the door – reflecting so many memories and lives and futures as the past collides with the present, fleetingly out through the door.

With the backseat piled high, I adjust my rearview mirror and quietly assure the former resident that I’ll take care of all of their things, realizing in the same breath that everything on Earth is merely rented.

***

About 12 hours later, a liter of saline fluid drips into the IV plug at my wrist, the dancing light of early afternoon filtering between the slightly opened blinds. The room is dark and silent, and I fade in and out of shallow sleep, readjusting myself on the papery tarp cascading across the pleather examination room recliner.

Whenever a nurse or doctor comes in to check that I’m not dead, I rally both eyes to focus, and my speech to resemble something slightly more robust than a jellyfish slopping through a vat of peanut butter. Every single time I assure them I’m alright, and supplement my verbal affirmation with a thumbs up – the quintessential sign that things are not alright.

Later, in moments of hydrated lucidity, I startle myself awake reeling from the feeling of waking up in an alien place.

I catch my breath, and try to breathe.

In and out.

In and out.

In

and

out.

Life has gotten terrifyingly weird. No one really knows where they’ll be in a few days, a couple months, a year; everything I do now feels like it’s on borrowed time.

The week a KKK-underwritten demagogue was elected to the highest office in our nation, I was planning a fundraising party, and had to keep smiling. But It’s hard to be festive when you feel like your country is on the brink of collapse.

Even still, in the scary days ahead, we must rally and fight to build the brighter future we know is possible – that we’ve been fighting for all along. It’s hard to do – to push back. But, to pull out a Trekkie reference, “We will do what we’ve always done. Find hope in the impossible.”

Things will be getting worse before they get better.

And I must recognize every morning, that while I feel like I’m waking up in the middle of a dystopian novel’s prologue, I do have a voice, and can do what I can to rewrite the narrative.

“We’ll Get Through This” Isn’t Enough

If you’re like me, you woke up Thursday morning hoping the horror of Wednesday morning was just some sort of Inception-like nightmare within a nightmare.

You read through your newsfeed despite swearing off social media and/or human interaction for the next four years, and unfriended that one person you thought was pretty cool, but somehow turned into a raging insaneclownpants and voted against everything you stand for.

You were reminded that this isn’t just a nightmare; it’s a horrorscape, and everyone you care about is at risk.

***

Early Wednesday morning, a close friend called me from Raleigh. We vented, sat in silence, and vented some more.

“This is how fascism will take hold,” he said, trailing off. “And what’re we to do? They’ll control the House, Senate, and White House.”

After we hung up, I erased my blackboard’s grocery list and scrawled an escape plan: Save money; Renew passport; Research Canadian towns and pet travel laws. I wore all black and dusted off my LGBTQ activism pins; I had to get my armor on.

I ugly-cried most of Wednesday – at the bus stop, at work, in front of complete strangers. I joined other stupefied cohorts and rallied at City Hall, then protested that night.

And despite feeling exhausted, depressed, angry, lonely, and in complete shambles, I felt recharged by the energy of everyone around me; I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t curled into a ball. I wasn’t running. I was part of a crowd of strangers united by a common goal of letting our voices be heard, of refusing to be silent and complicit.

Wednesday night came, and I found myself back home, staring at my blackboard. My adrenaline pumped, and my eyes hung heavy. I took a deep breath and another piece of chalk, and added a line beneath my exit strategy:

Fight as long as possible.

***

I hope that the push against this vile dumpster fire will continue every single day – that we won’t let the spark and fervor of our rage die down.

We were on the cusp of a bright future, and we will not let it go. I still see it every morning, in every sunrise, and I have a painful longing for it. We must reach for it – our arms outstretched, fists clenched in solidarity. This is not about “being a sore loser.” This is about opposing authoritarian dominance of the most insidious kind. Being comfortable is a pastime; and if you are, you’re part of the problem. We should all feel a fire burning inside us – the drive to do something.

I am a white cisgender gay man in a liberal city; I’m afforded absurd privileges because of that, and I intend to leverage them every single moment I can – to speak and act up, and call out injustice against anyone this cadre of neo-fascists targets. I cannot and will not be silent – my friends of color, female-identified friends and family, LGBTQ family, and friends with disabilities deserve better.

It’s mind-boggling and terrifying how far this country may fall, and who may use this significant weakness to capitalize on our fragility. It’s going to be exhausting and heart-wrenching, but we must keep pushing this country in a progressive direction.

I will not flee. I will not hide. I will not change how I present myself to the world out of fear of persecution. I’ll have days when I’m tired, where I feel defeated.

But I will never be defeated. Because I will dare to be defiant.

And Darkness Comes

Like you, I’m numb.

I don’t have the words to articulate the deep sadness I feel in every inch of my bones. Personally, this year has been rife with mourning, and this election’s outcome has broken a part of me.

At 1AM, I woke up from a nightmare in which my house was being ripped apart along with people I love. But I couldn’t exhale, knowing it was a dream. I rolled into my pillow and screamed and screamed and screamed.

I can’t fathom what’s to come, but only know that we can’t cower in the face of such vile, contemptible evil. We have to lift one another up, even when it’s dauntingly hard and we’re racked with grief, and his minions dance with glee.

So much is legitimized by this power-hungry hobgoblin – and I worry for us all, but especially for people of color, women, fellow LGBTQ-identified people, people with disabilities, and our environment.

People throw their hands up in these moments and claim some deity’s divine plan. I can’t, and not just because I don’t believe in any of that. If you for one second think His or Hers or Their plan is for some racist, misogynistic, anti-LGBTQ, Islamophobic sexual predator to become Commander-in-Chief of the United States, you really need to get your head checked. Clinton was beyond the most qualified candidate. And my skin crawls when I think about the Obamas leaving the White House to these creatures.

So many people’s lives will be impacted by this horror, and I’m fucking terrified.

Children will grow up with that rotting sack of human garbage in this country’s highest position of power, and aspire to sit there; it’s going to change people. Education will continue to suffer, and normalize this behavior.

America has officially become a toxic wasteland.

My bank account balance is in the double digits, and savings nonexistent. I want to sell everything, grab the dogs, and run into the night toward Canada. But I don’t have a valid passport and, really, nowhere is safe with this lunatic in power. The claustrophobia of being trapped is suffocating.

I don’t know if I can pick up the pieces of what’s been broken inside of me. But I’m going to try.

And I’ll be right here for each and every one of you, ready to mend as much as I can – as we step into the darkness together.

Enough. Enough. Enough.

Everyone at work today remarked about how well I looked – how much more rested and less stressed I appeared. I replied with comments about the curative power of Alabama’s micaceous red clay, gave a fake smile or two, and inwardly rolled my eyes.

The past several days have been exhausting in every way imaginable – in many ways for positive reasons, with one notable exception.

The staggering toll of the Orlando hate crime seeps into the fore of my mind every other moment. The faces of the dead slowly begin to emerge; we learn about their lives, loves, passions, dreams – all cut short by the hands of a disgusting waste of human flesh. His selfied face becomes the one plastered across the subconscious of so many television viewers – not those of his victims. And it makes me ill.

So many of my LGBTQ friends are having a hard time with this one, which is a horrible thing to write – “this one,” as if the other tragic mass shootings are any less horrific. But the fact of the matter is this was a hate crime – a deliberate, calculated attack on the lives of LGBTQ people.

It is different for us.

***

A tiny bar tucked away in the far reaches of Tuscaloosa’s downtown, Michael’s was more than a bar; it was a haven for fledgling LGBTs, each like me – unsure, cautious, exhilarated, terrified. But despite those initial feelings of unease, I felt safe when I passed through the doors; these were my people.

It was one of the first places I felt comfortable in my own skin, and the first place I got groped by a crush and felt alive in a way I’d never felt before. I laughed and screeched along to horrible karaoke and stuffed dollar bills into a drag show performer’s nylons for charity; I started to transform into someone I felt could actually make a life and be happy.

And then my friends and I stepped back outside, into the cool of the deeply late evening.

“FAGS!”

“COCKSUCKERS!”

“ASS-LICKERS!”

A bottle shattered in the gutter.

My mind stopped working; my self-esteem plummeted, and I reverted to my antisocial cocoon – all while humming to myself, “Get back to the car. Just get back to the car.”

The small group of fraternity brothers hovered on the side of the street opposite the bar door; they raised their fists, spat, gave us the finger, and made sudden, aggressive moves toward us.

Just get back to the car, back to the goddamned car…

I was sobering up fast. But then, the unexpected happened.

“OKAY! YOU WANNA ROLL, MOTHERFUCKERS? C’MON, I’LL DRIVE MY FIST SO FAR UP YOUR ASSES…”

Our self-described matriarch began crowing back, which is when I realized a few things.

 We’re not punching bags.

We can fight back.

We’re in much better shape than them.

We can be scary too.

We’re family.

We took up a cacophonous chorus, each of us stitching together our entire repertoire of obscenities, and watched the band of misfits melt back into their beer-soaked truck, disappearing entirely.

For the first time, I felt I had a voice.

I felt alive.

I felt I could make a difference.

I felt right.

***

A decade later, I know there will always be broken glass to dodge. But I do know something for certain: I am right.

And so were all the victims.

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34

Stanley Almodovar III, 23

Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36

Luis S. Vielma, 22

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20

Kimberly Morris, 37

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30

Darryl Roman Burt II, 29

Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32

Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25

Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50

Amanda Alvear, 25
Martin Benitez Torres, 33

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37

Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25

Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26

Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31

Enrique L. Rios Jr., 25

Miguel Angel Honorato, 30

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40

Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19

Cory James Connell, 21

Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37

Luis Daniel Conde, 39

Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24

Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32

Frank Hernandez, 27

Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33

Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49

Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28

Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25

Akyra Monet Murray, 18

Paul Terrell Henry, 41

Antonio Davon Brown, 29

Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24

Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33

Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25

Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24

Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25

Jerald Arthur Wright, 31

Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25

Jean C. Nieves Rodriguez, 27

May they rest in power, their memories kept alive in the fight for justice, compassion, and understanding.

For our humanity.

Pulse

I don’t realize how hard I’m clenching the waded paper towel until I turn from the television to look out the window and lose my balance, my hold loosening as I re-center.

My parents’ dogs have just been bathed, and are rolling around in the sun-bleached grass. I try and lose myself in their simple revelry, but know I can’t. My mind is swirling with the news anchors’ voices, the phrases “domestic terrorism,” “deadliest mass shooting in nation’s history,” “lone wolf,” and, occasionally, “LGBT community.”

I can’t breathe, and start sweating; my chest tightens and face burns. I grab my camera and walk out, up the gravel drive past the dogs – the youngest’s plaintive cries to tag along drifting away as I quicken pace.

Every step on the gravel sounds like a series of crashing cymbals; everything is amplified. I snap a photo of newly bloomed flowers, and try to map on a heartening metaphor, but fall short. A turkey feather catches my eye, and I dissect it through the lens; it’s nothing special, and completely uninteresting – but I have to focus on something, anything other than the rapid-fire thoughts pounding inside my skull.

I wonder how frequently the lives of those lost will be glossed over, their identities stripped and tamed and drained of color to be palatable enough for mass media consumption; how frequently “hate crime” will be disjointed from the narrative of this horrible attack; that “domestic terrorist” will become the coward’s moniker, divorced wholly from his anti-LGBTQ bias and motivation; that the fuel to his sickening fire was never spurred by our own politicians’ hate speech and rhetoric, but rather from “over there,” from “The Enemy,” “Them.”

I worry about our future, and mourn those whose futures were ripped from them – taken in an instant that should’ve been filled with joy and laughter, part of a series of rhythmic vibrations to club music, to living. Each of them should’ve been leaving exhausted and hung-over and sore from dancing, not having their lives become part of a protracted national narrative about hate and guns.

But then I watch the lines to blood banks grow longer, and hear calls to action ring out from more than LGBTQ groups. Where ignorance inspires hateful action, hope springs like seedlings from the earth, ready to grow. We must be constant gardeners.

***

A few feet away, our childhood seesaw hangs broken and rotted, a testament to the passage of time. Behind me, the wind gusts forcefully, nearly blowing me from the molding deer stand’s ladder-like steps.

But instead of bracing against it, I turn and face it. Eyes brimming with tears, I look to the horizon, to the infinite space before me, and murmur, “Keep dancing. Keep living. That’s how we’ll prevail.”

Dear Slighted Millennials

Dear Slighted Millennials,

Hi. I guess I could be considered one of you.

*Fist bump*

I couldn’t help but notice yet another one of your adjective-laden op-eds flooding my Facebook feed – although I guess it’s better than one of those BuzzFeed articles about the Top [insert numeric] Ways to [Enrich, Worsen, Waste…] Your Life. I applaud your political activism and how you thread it through your appropriately angsty social commentary – especially the parts about thanking your forebearers for the sociopolitical inroads they paved to your slightly less stressful life’s doorstep, right before you kindly tell them to fuck the fuck off.

I understand your rage at everything. For most of my twenties, I lived out of several motels whilst working my way through the Great Recession as a shovel bum, returning home to my mold-covered basement apartment long enough to tabulate another tragically paltry paycheck, pay for the rest of my Master’s degree, and buy canned soup. I did all that and then completely changed careers because there was nothing I wanted to do less than what I was doing, even if I had a Master’s in it.

The world often seems to be in shambles. And it doesn’t help that the lunchbox you carried around in 1987 is suddenly in a vintage shop window and you’re left alone bracing against the cold wind, staring into a puddle, wondering where your life went.

So when a presidential candidate full of amazing ideas and outlooks and ideologies starts inching into the limelight, espousing all of these life-changing notions that’ll transform America’s tattered, sweat-stained polyester-blend fabric into locally-sourced, free-range cotton as soft as a hamster’s belly, your awe is well placed.

*High five*

But I have to wonder how this politician is any different from the rest. I mean, sure, he’s supposedly the antithesis of everything we associate with a run-of-the-mill politician: a certain slimy, easily corruptible, fickle so-and-so. Who knows, maybe he’s none of those things. Or all of them deep down. All I know is that he seems like a nice enough guy trying to change America for the better. And I agree with 98.9% of what he’s all about. I, too, think our country needs a political face-lift.

*In sync booty shake*

IN SYNC. Not NSYNC. Jesus. Fucking Millennials.

Where was I?

OH, right.

All that to say I’m bunkin’ with The Hillz. For now.

(Oh, c’mon, you #feelthebern. I can come up with something equally as bizarre, sans sounding like I have indigestion or a problem down there.)

I could start defending myself to everyone on the street, each individual user of The Internets, spout off statistics about the feasibility of his plan on this or hers on that to the old high school friend I scrounged up on Facebook even though I’m sure they’re a racist, misogynistic, homophobic asshole. Because that seems to be what we’re supposed to do these days – bait and bite hard, unfriend, friend again, vow to leave the country and unfriend everyone.

I’d rather just laugh, really. And suggest that instead of all this silly infighting, we agree on one thing: Whether you #feelthebern or believe #thehillzhaveayes, let’s all circle up on November 8th, sing Kumbaya, and vow to never vote for a Republican. They cray, y’all.

Kisses,

A Disaffected, Slightly Amused Gen Yer/Millennial/Whatever I Am

White Privilege: The Lion in the Room

I’m a few hours away from another phone interview. The hurdles we clear in the course of starting a new career are stressful and tiring, and we often just long for them to be behind us, with an offer waiting in our inbox.

But for me, there’s something more wrapped up in this particular interview.

When I made the decision to leave my papered academic past for nonprofit work, I knew it wasn’t going to be glamorous, the path wouldn’t be littered with hundred dollar bills. The adage “underpaid and overworked” became my mantra, whether or not I embraced and adopted it. And it was okay, because I felt like what I was doing was worth the exhaustion that nips at most nonprofit professionals’ heels.

Part and parcel to most nonprofit work is educating the public. Whether your organization increases awareness about racial inequality, STI transmission, human trafficking, environmental conservation, planned parenting, LGBTQIA advocacy, or animal welfare, the crux is always education. Because a more informed public is more likely to speak out, stand up, and effect meaningful change.

As a kid, I didn’t always grasp the importance of why I had to do certain things, and why my parents pushed me and my sister to branch out – always reinforcing how crucial it was to be able to relate to people from different backgrounds and respect differences. During those teachable moments, I – like most my age – would roll my eyes and complain about spending yet another valuable weekend of my youth planting trees, cleaning up roadside garbage, caring for injured wildlife, or taking food to people in need.

I’d often think Where’s my freedom? Why do we have to do this? Nintendo and Bonanza marathons were much more appealing.

Little did I know, I was learning exactly what it meant to be free – and, not until I was much older, the problematic, insulating effects of white privilege.

***

Growing up in the Deep South, racial lines were socially mapped and cultivated in our consciousness through school and print media – and unabashedly writ into the landscape of our small Alabama town. In ninth grade, we weren’t taught World History, but rather Alabama History. We came to recognize “the other side of the tracks” or a “rough area” was synonymous with a predominantly black neighborhood or an area of violence. In daily dialogue, describing people without a racial preface was unheard of – there was no “There was this guy” or “That lady at the grocery”; often whispered, black became the most important identifier in a descriptive parable relayed from the day’s happenings. Without fail, that hushed tone conveyed something else – something sinister pulsing through that word and, by association, the person to whom it was applied. Everyone was guilty of such profiling – even if we didn’t realize the implications of what we were doing, we became complicit in widening that divide, contributing to tacit racial tension. But this proclivity wasn’t reserved for towns in the South. Whenever Andy and I talk about growing up, we always touch on how racism was just as prevalent farther north – just cloaked in different veils. We both grew up very differently, but we shared a privilege we couldn’t exactly articulate until now, in retrospect.

Even still, we also shared a nagging feeling that we were somehow different. In high school, I had an odd fixation with The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – the weight of the albatross a fitting analogy for the emotional baggage that’d been weighing me down, something that I was terrified was as obvious as a dead bird strung around my neck. But it wasn’t. And I could pass. Again, not until I was much older, I realized the color of my skin diluted my difference – made it more socially acceptable.

Not until I became more outspoken, and had the privilege of a collegiate education, did I start to comprehend the enormity of the problems humanity faces. We parse and segment as a means to better understand, but in so doing, we lose the connective thread that connects them all: education. And by education, I don’t mean post-secondary. I mean hands-on, face-to-face, person-to-person interaction; getting in the dirt together and finding common ground in meaningful, proactive ways. But many of us must first acknowledge our white privilege – that we have the luxury to obsess over the death of a Zimbabwe lion, while our black friends are under threat every single time they leave their home. Until we understand why black bodies are grossly policed, are subjected to structural violence, and take action to change it, we can’t really move forward to tackle everything that we face.

***

I’m inching closer to my interview, and I’m remembering why I was drawn to this particular organization: its emphasis on early, comprehensive education for every child, every family. And I can’t help but think about what I learned as a kid, and how much I want to teach my child so many of the same things – chief among them, respect.

I hope I’ll be open about difference, and be able to answer hard questions. I hope I’ll be able to appropriately frame how inequality hurts everyone, and how important it is to speak out and stand up for your friends, known and unknown – to speak and to act.

Because if we don’t first take care of our species – prioritize humanity – there’s no hope for those others with whom we share this planet.

The Social Construct Wars

Between the news from Baltimore and the Supreme Court, social media consumers are undoubtedly gorged with tragedy, violence, and anxiety. All in all, it’s a horribly normal state of being.

We want answers. We want resolution. We want peace and security.

But above all, we want a quick sound bite that we can use to wave away all of these issues – freeing their cobweb-like hold on our minds and congratulating ourselves that we’ve donated $10 to Nepal relief – so we can go about our day as if nothing has happened. Again, it’s all sadly status quo.

And I’m just as guilty of it as anyone. But today something just snapped. I’m tired of reading all of the erroneously overwrought statements about how “certain people” should act. You know, black people.

Sorry, I should’ve whispered “black” or, at the very least, put it in smaller font. Because that’s how we talk about others, in hushed tones, looking over our shoulder for added emphasis. Just like with “gay” people, or “brown” people or, you know, “the handicapped.” Like the people “over there.”

It’s all about distance, even if what’s happening – who it’s happening to – is writing itself into history right outside your door. Because as long as there’s a mental gulf in place, you don’t really have to think about it.

***

A few weeks ago, on a longer than usual trek up the 405, my stop-and-go journey came to an abrupt stop on La Cienega, just before the Beverly Center.

Goddamn traffic. It’s Friday. I just want to go home.

I leered at the base of the hills, the apartment complexes taunting me like desert mirages. But horrible traffic is par for the course. So I prepared to wait.

And as I turned up a random song from Brand New, I noticed a crowd gathering on one of the intersection’s corners.

Something’s happen…

I didn’t even finish my thought before a tall woman with a long, curly wig cut across the crosswalk and fell prostrate in the middle of the intersection. Then the chants started, and protesters began moving into the street waving handmade posters. I cringed.

Of course this has to fucking happen right now. 

And then I heard it.

“TRANS LIVES MATTER! TRANS LIVES MATTER!”

It was like someone threw a bucket of cold water over my brain. I was immediately incensed by my former thoughts. Of course this matters.

But pretty much everyone around me, save a few taking photos, leaned on their horns and yelled unintelligible gibberish out of their partially cracked windows. I inched up as car after car made a U-turn, adding to the vehicular welter around us. Just a few car lengths from the intersection, I kept my gaze fixed on the woman in the street – she’d draped herself across the intersection like a speed bump; she wasn’t moving anytime soon.

Just then, my phone rang. Andy’s voice came through the car speakers before I realized I’d hit “Answer.”

“Hey, what the fuck is going on? I’m stuck on La Cienega.”

“I must be just ahead of you. It’s a protest – a Trans Lives Matter crowd. We’re not getting through.”

“Goddammit! Why do they have to do this today?”

He quieted, and then, like me, realized what he’d said. “I mean, it’s just inconvenient. They have to know that being this close to WeHo, they’ve got plenty of support.”

We decided to turn around about the time the helicopters started circling, and the fire engines pulled up. But even over the sirens, I could faintly make out the chanting.

***

Weeks later, Andy was trying to counteract a case of insomnia at 3:00 AM, but nothing settled him.

“I’m going on a walk.”

I grumbled something unintelligible about not doing it because it was so early. But I heard the lock click over before I finished, and dozed back off. Twenty minutes later, the phone rang.

“I JUST GOT DETAINED BY THE POLICE!”

I bolted upright. Toby snorted awake beside me.

“Wait, WHAT? Where are you?!”

“I’m on my way home. They thought I was a robber or something and put be in the back of their patrol car and asked me all of these questions.”

Now I was completely awake.

“WHY IN THE HELL WOULD THEY THINK THAT?”

“I’ll tell you when I get back. Apparently, there was a break-in somewhere around here.”

“Did you at least have your license?”

He paused.

“No.”

I facepalmed in the dark. This is something that Andy and I always sparred about – always taking some form of ID with us, even when we’re going out front with Toby.

“Just get home safely.”

A few minutes later, Andy came in and relayed the whole story – clearly shaken, and more awake than ever. Long story short, there was a robbery and apparently someone saw Andy walking around the block in his hoodie, and misidentified him as the suspect.

“Are you fucking KIDDING ME?”

And then, seemingly out of nowhere, “Thank the gods you’re the epitome of a WASP.”

It was horribly true. In that moment, all I could replay was the scenario going wrong, not being able to be in touch with Andy, not knowing where or how he was. And all I kept thinking about was how things would’ve been different if Andy were a racial minority. Had he been black, would the police have suspected him more? Would he have even been able to call me? Would he have been hurt?

This isn’t an illogical jump. West Hollywood is about as racially diverse as Orange County. Had Andy been black or Latino or Indian, he most likely would’ve been detained much longer than he was, and possibly arrested. As much as we’d like to think our police officers are above racial profiling, they’re biased people just like you and me.

But through that uniform, those biases can morph into disturbing behavioral practices if left unchecked.

Now, I’m not saying every law enforcement official is a racist, classist, homophobe, or any of the other horrible things people can be. What I’m saying is that officers are people, and everyone needs to be educated and re-educated on a routine basis. I’m just saying that everyone in a position of power may would benefit from an Anthropology 101 primer. Because by page 10, the differences we use on a daily basis to pigeon-hole and judge people are brought into sharp relief for what they really are: social constructs perpetuated by us, oftentimes through state-sanctioned violence.

Gender? Race? Labels for constructs we’ve developed to try and isolate and explain difference and constrain people.

And while we keep perpetuating these constructed differences, we neglect to see or address the root cause of social upheaval – social fissions and fractures that signal that something in this crazy-ass social structure we’ve developed just isn’t working. Instead, we throw a hashtag on it and dust off our hands.

#blacklivesmatter

#translivesmatter

#alllivesmatter

#lovemustwin

We reduce the work that needs to be done to a few characters on our smartphones. And then we disengage completely.

But you know who can’t disengage? People fighting for their lives – black, white, brown, trans, gay, straight, queer, differently-abled. People who take to the streets because their brains can’t handle another damn hashtag; they crave resolution and demand immediate answers from those in power. And their emotions bubble over. I can’t fault people who’ve had enough – who march and demonstrate and do what they must to be heard. Many of us have been there.

Ides of Love

What I can’t stand is the person who piggybacks on tragedy to satisfy their own endgame, to line their pockets, to cast someone’s livelihood asunder, to divert attention away from the real problem.

We’re fallible beings. We make mistakes. But sometimes those mistakes coalesce into a flashpoint for change. Had the Stonewall Riots and so many protests and marches and non-peaceful demonstrations not happened, would the SCOTUS be hearing Obergefell v. Hodges today? Probably not. So who can say that the protests and volatile confrontations in Baltimore aren’t going to translate into something positive?

It’s certainly (unfortunately) true that violence often begets violence. Or at least that’s what we’ve conditioned ourselves into thinking. But what we often let our minds gloss over is that the same unbridled anger that’s been channeled through violence has also helped propel us forward – through the breaking glass, bloodied fists, and smoking wreckage to today.

And tomorrow.