Friday, October 29, 2010

Fear and Trembling in the Voting Booth

The  mid-term elections scare me this year.  I don't scare easily.  I've been around through Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and Obama.  I've seen 'em come and go, congressmen, political machines, governors, senators, Republicans, Democrats and every other thing imaginable.  If I could live through Reagan, whose election to Governor of California made even my father, a die-hard Republican all his life, register as a Democrat, and who even my friend Glenna, who proudly displayed a framed photo of herself with Richard Nixon, called "the vegetable," (he had Alzheimer's while actually in office...) there is not much too scary for me in politics.  Honey, I lived through the 50s!  It was a hell-time with the country given over to McCarthy and his better dead than red HUAC horror hearings.  People's lives were completely destroyed, and it's a wonder the country survived at all, we were sunk so far into paranoia and fear.  And we have all just survived George W. Bush, surely one of the most stupid men to ever hold the office of the presidency and whose administration not only completely trashed the economy but almost literally succeeded in overthrowing the constitution. You'd think I would take a laissez-faire attitude toward it all, wouldn't you? 

What seriously scares me now is the hard right turn this country is taking into territory we have not entered before.  There is a serious movement to turn our democracy into a theocratic oligarchy.  It's not new; this began a long time ago and has quietly gained strength through something called men's prayer breakfasts and some larger gatherings (Promise Keepers, etc.).  It is based in fundamentalist Christianity, dating back to Jonathan Edwards. This movement has people in high positions in its ranks and not only in this country, but all over the world. The expert on this is Jeff Sharlet, who has written two books I cannot urge you enough to read: The Family, and C-Street.  They will (or should) nearly scare you to death, but you seriously need to read them.

The Tea Party, sometimes referred to as the tea baggers, have taken a prominent role in the current mid-term elections.  The movement seems to  be based on a number of things -- partly spurred by Republican operatives and partly a grass roots movement of mostly older white people who seem at odds with the 21st century.  It has evolved from a group wanting less government into a sort of anti-everything group with all kinds of agendas and with flavors from Ayn Rand to Glenn Beck to the KKK.  It has been described as a religious movement, and it is largely fundamentalist Christian.  It would seem to have many of the same aims as the Family.  And that's where it gets  scary.

By themselves, the Tea Party would self-destruct much as Ross Perot's party did years ago.   A leadership vacuum sucks everybody into the trash bag.  This has not happened so far, though their candidates are often, forgive my language, batshit crazy.  In fact, the craziness keeps them in the headlines and may well do their campaigning for them.  Christine O'Donnell comes up with some new amazing gaffe daily, from her "I'm not a witch" ads to not knowing the First Amendment to the constitution forbid establishment of a state religion, something she seriously wants to do.  Joe Miller in Alaska is equally astonishing, having his goons handcuff a reporter for asking him questions.  There is the woman in Nevada who wants us to trade chickens for medical care...there is Rand Paul embarrassing himself in Kentucky -- one of his volunteers recently stomped on a liberal activist's head at a rally...the list goes on.  While these people give lip service to wanting less government, they are, in fact, showing signs of extreme fascism and seem to actually want a dictatorship.

What they don't want is any regulation on business or banking or oil companies.  They want to make social security the responsibility of the states, which are now so broke they can barely pay their employees, let alone start supporting all their senior citizens!  They want to get rid of medicare, all social safety nets, and make it hard for you to sue any company that might have done you harm.  But they do want the right to legislate your religion and who you can love.

Some of them are going to be elected, and they will be part of a majority.  And that scares me.

Photo credit: Google images

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Gay "Lifestyle"

This is a really bad picture Of Laura and me living the "gay lifestyle."  Does that sound silly enough?  It is.  I hadn't heard that one -- a great favorite of the religious right -- in a long while, until yesterday when someone I know to be open and accepting of us said it: "the gay lifestyle."  Even though I know he does not understand the negative connotations of it -- he used it openly in front of us and I know for a fact he's not a homophobe -- it still shocked me to hear those words.  That phrase makes it sound like all gay people have the same "lifestyle" -- maybe like going out to dance bars and circuit parties all the time and having a lot of indiscriminate sexual encounters.  That's what the fundamentalists hope it will sound like to you.  That is not what our friend meant at all. 

The word "lifestyle" doesn't even vaguely go with the word "gay."  I think of the Jet Set lifestyle, the Bohemian lifestyle, maybe even the lifestyles of the rich and famous.  Lifestyle is what one chooses to do, not what one is at the core of their being.  Our friend gets it that it is innate, something inborn that can't be changed.  He even mentioned genetic components, yet he still came out with a stunner like "gay lifestyle."  It jarred me to my very soul -- so much so that here I am still wallowing in it more than 24 hours after the fact.  He said it not once, but several times.  Each time, the words made me flinch, even though I knew he didn't realize they were offensive.     

When I was little, I more or less ignored boys and stuck with the girls at school.  Boys seemed like aliens to me, and about as nonexistent.  I always came in dead last running races, but one day in 1947 -- I was about 9 -- a boy named Tommy sneaked up behind me and tried to kiss me.  My friends said they had never seen me run so fast in my life.  I ran straight to the girls. That should have been a revelation, but I was only 9 years old.  I didn't realize the truth until I was about 13.

It was 1951.  It was against the law to be gay then.  It was considered a mental illness and a perversion, sort of like the conservative Christians, who actually seem to still be living in 1951, see it now.  Very few people were out.  They didn't dare.  You could be locked up and given shock treatments for it!  Another girl had a crush on my best friend.  She was open about it, which shocked me.  People seemed pretty tolerant of the girl, though they called her "Queera" (her name was Kara).  One afternoon, one of Kara's posse stopped us to give my friend a love note from her as we were walking home from school.  My immediate thoughts were "That's really stupid!  You NEVER tell anybody! And anyhow, she's already mine!"  This interior revelation shocked me worse than Kara's openness.  I was stunned and horrified.  I had buried my homosexuality and my attraction to my best friend so deeply that I wasn't even aware of it myself.  Of course I followed my own advice and never told anybody about it.  I pushed it back down so deep that it didn't fully resurface in my consciousness again until the early 1980s, though there were plenty of covert signs it was in there, and I had a big crush on a girl in college.  I read someplace that teenagers normally have homosexual crushes.  I don't really believe that now, but it soothed my fears a little back then.   

My first husband occasionally used to say "I think you might be a lesbian."  He said it gently, quietly, without any negative connotation, just trying to see if I was aware of the possibility.  "Of course not!" I'd tell him.  "I'm married and have children!"  as if that were proof of my heterosexuality.  As if!  All that was proof of was that I was hiding from myself.

Over the years, I had been an active and vocal supporter of gay rights.  I had a lot of gay male friends and had no trouble understanding that they were who they were and had been the same way all their lives and that they were not mentally ill or perverted in the least -- just gay.  I knew, also, that they could not change or be otherwise even if they wanted to.  Somehow, I did not apply that same logic to my own condition.  When it resurfaced unbidden when I was in my mid-thirties, I was horrified again, almost to the point of wanting to hide in the house and never come out again.  I had realized that my feelings for my best female friend were not in the least way platonic.  But I had 5 children and I could not hide myself away.  I had to keep going.  They were also the reason I was so horrified.  What would finding out their mother was queer do to their lives?  They would be teased and bullied at school.  I vowed never to act on it so that they would not have to know. 

After both husbands had died and my kids were in their 30s and 40s and safe from the playground bullies, I finally could not keep it pushed down any longer.  I was 61 years old.  I had tried all my life not to be who I am at the core of my being.  Circumstances arose -- the death of a dear friend -- that made my hiding it seem too dishonest to bear any longer.  I will never forget what it felt like to look at myself in the mirror and say out loud "I am a lesbian."  I burst into tears, not of shame but of joyful self-acceptance.  I can still feel what that felt like.  It gave me a sense of health and wholeness I had never experienced before.  Memories I had suppressed for a lifetime began resurfacing -- things my kids had done and said, things from my own childhood.  For a long, long, time, I had not been able to remember much of my life at all, and it all came flooding happily back. 

Gay for 61 years, and never once acted on it.  I assumed it would continue that way -- who would want me at this age?  I was happily wrong.  My beloved Laura had loved me for years and never said a word.  When she found out I had come out, she emailed me instantly -- "Is it true?" and I answered with a long story.  The truth was, I had a crush on her for years, too.  We have been together more than 10 years now.  Now I know what "and the two shall be as one" means.  When I was married to a man, that was never the case.  And that's the crux of being gay: you cannot bond in a true way, soul to soul, with a mate of the opposite sex, however hard you try.  It simply is not possible.   

So the real "gay lifestyle" is just ordinary people living, learning, raising families, working, loving each other, learning to accept themselves when others won't, living with uncertainty like everybody else.  Living with what God dealt us -- an unusual hand that takes some strategy to "make it work," as one of my very favorite gays, Tim Gunn, says.  And make it work we do. 

Photo credit: Laura's Macbook web cam

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Are You Ready For Some Football?

I'm not sure when I became a die-hard football fan.  I have no sports ability and not much interest in participating as a spectator or otherwise.  I had been to a bunch of college games and even a Forty Niners game, which scared the living daylights out of me.  I had never been surrounded with so much testosterone-driven aggression in my life.  Not on the field -- in the stands!  In those days, I didn't understand the game and was probably more interested in watching the cheerleaders.  I think I may have become hooked on it when the Niners were winning Super Bowls on a regular basis.  It would have been un-San Franciscan not to run out into the street and cheer with the neighbors when the Niners won a game, or not to go down to Market Street and cheer them in their post-Super Bowl victory parades!   Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott and my all time favorite, Jerry Rice worked their spectacular magic and I have been a fan ever since.  Watching it all on TV where I was not surrounded by scary fans helped! 

I still love my Niners, but when I moved to Nashville ten years ago, I began to be a Titans fan.  This was against my partner Laura's best advice.  She is still annoyed about the stadium being built with taxpayer's money and the owner given all kinds of breaks.  I wasn't here for that part, so I just root for the home team,
unless they are playing the Niners, which can only happen in the pre-season or at the Super Bowl, since the Titans are an AFC team and the Niners are in the NFC. 

Every year, the Titans fans hope they'll make it to the Super Bowl.  Every year, something happens at the last minute to knock them out of the competition.  In the past ten years, I have learned the one consistent thing about the Titans is that they are inconsistent.  Two years ago, with a record of 16 games and no losses, they were knocked out of the competition in the very first game of the playoffs.  Last year, they lost the first six games, won all the rest and still lost in the playoffs.  So far this year, they are 4-2 and in a three way tie for the division championship.  Who knows what they will do?  Their defense is one of the best in the league and their offense is fairly spectacular this year.  They're a young team and they just keep getting better. 

The Titans have a serious rivalry with the Jacksonville Jaguars because one of the Jacksonville players once spit on the Titan's coach's wife.  That created some bad blood that only grows worse as time passes.  Last night, the Titans beat the Jaguars 30-3 on the Jaguars own home field.  The Jacksonville fans looked stunned.  The coach was grim-faced. It was a sweet victory. 

Maybe this year...


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

To NaNo or not to NaNo?

It's the middle of October, and November, National Novel Writing Month,  is rapidly approaching.  My email inbox has daily messages from the NaNoWriMo people.  I have still not finished polishing up last year's novel, and I remember how obsessive I was about getting in so many words a day in a fever pitch of creativity heretofore never experienced.  I may even have been even more impossible to live with than usual. 

Am I really crazy enough to go for it again?  I can't even imagine characters or a plot,  but then at this time last year, I couldn't do that either.  Then the characters began introducing themselves, and the story unfolded and the next thing I knew, it was November 30th and I had written more than 50,000 words and the first draft of The Lucy Redfish was finished.  Even though I have not finished polishing it up or looked into getting it into print, I am proud of that book.  If someone else had written it, I would download that book to my Kindle.   The process of writing it was one of the most exciting things I have ever experienced.  I really felt fully alive and engaged, the way I used to feel when I was young and connecting a paintbrush to a responsive canvas.   

So do I give it another go or not?  Do I fire up the creative juices and have at it again?  I should ask Laura if she is up for my disappearing into the computer for a month again.  Really, writing a novel in a month doesn't take all your time.  You have to get in an average of 1700 words a day.  I actually got ahead on my word count after a very short while. Once you get into the rhythm of it, those 1700 words roll out in a couple of hours and the rest of your time is your own.  Except for the obsession.  Except that your whole mind is wrapped around this process and you find you are even writing in your sleep.  Except that you eat, drink, breathe and live your novel for that entire month.  And who can stop at 1700 words? 

Except for that. 

So I am still sitting on the fence about this one.  I feel a little guilty turning my attention to a new book and leaving Lucy incomplete and abandoned, like a stepchild after the new baby has arrived.  Who knows, if I give her a little sister, maybe I will roll my enthusiasm over to doing the finishing touches on Lucy herself. Or maybe I could do that now and not feel guilty if I start another book.

Then there is the discipline of having to write every day, which is very, very good for me.  

To NaNo or not to NaNo: that is the question.  But NaNoWriMo is so much fun...

photo credit: NaNoWriMo

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Come out, come out, whoever you are!

Forty years ago, on March 10, 1970, my partner Laura kicked down the closet door and has been out ever since.  Monday October 11 is National Coming Out Day.  On Monday, Laura, an English professor, is coming out again, this time to her classes.

Our very dear friend counseled her not to do it, saying it's too risky.  What if you lose your job?  But her school has a diversity policy that would prevent that, and there are other out teachers on campus.  Because of the number of gay teen suicides in the past week alone, she really feels compelled to come out to her students.  Five gay teens committed suicide last week, in the kind of total anguish and despair that only teens can feel -- the hopelessness that nothing will ever get better, that their lives are over because of one event.  They chose a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  We are all responsible that this happened, every one of us, by our apathy, by our inattention, by our jaded tolerance of intolerance.

I have always believed that if everyone who was gay came out, there would be no more discrimination, because people would finally see we are not the stereotypes, the subjects of jokes, the weirdos and perverts that many straight people think we are.  These are the images that shame gay kids and make them kill themselves, that make other kids think that being gay is bad and empowers them to tease and torment and terrorize, and sometimes even kill.  Being gay is neither bad nor good;  it is simply a condition of existence, like having blue eyes, or skin that freckles instead of tans in the sun.  If we all came out, maybe people would see for once and for all that we are just ordinary people -- their teachers and doctors and grocery clerks and coworkers and coreligionists and favorite entertainers and their family members and maybe even that nice person who smiled at them on the way to work this morning and let them into their lane of traffic.  Maybe they would see that we have long-term loving relationships just as they do, and families and jobs and perfectly ordinary interests just like theirs.  Maybe then they would allow these kids to grow up healthy and proud and whole instead of self-loathing and scared and suicidal. 

So I am very proud of Laura for coming out to her students.  If her doing so saves even one kid, it is worth all the risk our friend fears she is exposing herself to.  It took me 60 years to do what she did with pride 40 years ago.  I know what those kids go through.  I want them to be whole and proud and healthy and have good, productive lives. And live to be very, very old. 

photo credit: Essygie

Friday, October 1, 2010

Health Insurance Outrage

Like the logo?  It is incredibly cynical, considering the reality of United Healthcare's behavior.  

Like too many other American families, though both were employed full time at good jobs, my son and daughter-in-law did not have have health insurance for a long time.  My daughter-in-law changed jobs and with the new employer, at last, came health care coverage.  What a relief!  Though everyone had been amazingly healthy while they were uninsured, it was comforting to know they had coverage if they needed it. 

A few weeks after the coverage with United Healthcare took effect, they noticed a lesion on 4-year-old Emma Alice's scalp and discovered that the lymph nodes on her neck were swollen.  Neither of these things is particularly scary -- there are many reasons for either thing to occur and kids' lymph nodes often swell up for very minor reasons, but they made an appointment with a pediatrician, and it was discovered that Emma had ALL, a common form of childhood leukemia.  I remember that my shock and sadness at the diagnosis was tempered slightly by knowing that at least they now had health insurance and she could get good care! 

Thanks to their good and observant parenting, they actually caught the leukemia so early that her original blood work was completely normal.  The ALL was at the very earliest stage, and she immediately began an aggressive treatment regimen at the wonderful Children's Hospital of Orange County in southern California.  After two weeks, her lab work showed that the leukemia was already in remission.  Her prognosis is excellent.  Seven months later, she is now completing the last intensive phase of her chemotherapy and will soon go on maintenance.  She has been a trouper through it all: lost hair, painfully bad reaction to a chemo drug, having to sit out kindergarten with a home tutor, times in isolation at home when her blood counts were very low, and all the other discomforts and indignities of being a kid with a serious illness.  None of this should ever happen to any kid, let alone a 4-year-old warrior princess. 

Today, my son and daughter-in-law got the news that United Healthcare, their insurance company, has decided not only NOT to cover Emma Alice's medical bills prior to the day federal law prevents them doing this,  but to demand the doctors and hospital return the fees they have already been paid!!!  They say Emma is being treated for a "preexisting condition."  I guess they think "preexisting" means having begun before Emma originally saw the pediatrician.  Doesn't every illness begin before we seek treatment for it?  By that definition, they could refuse to pay for any and all medical services. You would have to be clairvoyant and go to a doctor for an illness you might get in the future, before you had any symptoms at all.

United Heathcare is the villain in this case.  The company itself is a big, soulless entity, but the employees who carry out its policies are presumably humans with beating hearts.  I wonder what kind of bonus the pencil pusher who made this decision got for cutting off coverage for the care for a now 5-year-old leukemia patient?  I hope it was worth it.  I also hope his or her child never gets leukemia -- especially if their insurance is with United Healthcare.

Judge Judy always says that people better be careful because the bad stuff they do is going to come back and seriously bite them or someone near and dear to them in the butt.  There is the law of three in witchcraft that states whatever you do to others will return to you times three.  I wish I believed in these maxims, but I'm afraid it's just wishful thinking.  The bad guys nearly always get away with it, and make out like the bandits they are. 

What I would really like is for people to bombard United Healthcare with phone calls and emails and letters protesting what they have done to Emma Alice Marchesi and her mother and father and her brother Nate.  It is, I think, a criminal act, what they have done.  It may be marginally legal in whatever slimy universe they inhabit, but it is morally incomprehensible and evil beyond belief.  I also wish the media would pick it up and investigate this, not only for Emma, but for the thousands of other little girls and boys who have had their insurance cut off for similarly crooked  reasons.  I started to say unfathomable reasons, but it seems perfectly clear that the reason is the enrichment of the executives and shareholders of United Healthcare. 

I really, really hope Judge Judy is right.

Contact information: 
Web site:
(note-- it is nearly impossible to contact them through this website, so far as I can see)

United Healthcare Corporate Headquarters 
5901 Lincoln Dr 
Minneapolis, MN 55436 

United Healthcare Customer Service
California - Customer Service
Toll Free Phone: 800-357-0978

photo credit: Google images