My Hope For You

Cari and I chat, wondering, what is happening? What makes a white female police officer shoot a young unarmed black man in his own home? What makes a white male police officer shoot an unarmed black woman in her own home? What excuses any man for killing a transgender or homosexual person based on being “surprised” by the persons’ gender identity or sexuality? What makes a brown person more apt to be demonized based on their skin, regardless of their contribution to society, values, or morals? What makes any woman believe that a misogynistic, sexual predator, or abusive man is fit to fill any elected office in this county?

I wish we had the answers, but we don’t.  All I can offer is hope. I hope you have the opportunity to experience so many things you may never have experienced before.

I hope your white daughter brings home her black boyfriend, the boyfriend who challenges your views on what it’s like to feel safe in the world. The boyfriend who says that they must teach young boys in their family to raise their hands every time, regardless of the situation, even if the police have not yet screamed at them to do so. Especially when weapons have already been drawn on them for utterly no reason. Your daughter would instantly jump in front of the bullet meant for him, and your future black grandchildren. I hope you understand why.

I hope your son brings home his boyfriend, the one with an old soul who sees beauty in everything around him, but who has been bullied every day of his life and been disowned by his biological family. The beautiful boy who befuddles you with his gentle and kind spirit, the boy who exudes love and compassion even though he has yet to experience these things in his life. How does he know these exist, and how does he know how to give these to other people? I hope you see the gift he is giving you and family.

I hope your brown neighbor has a wife and children sitting in detention at the border waiting for an immigration hearing. I hope you know your neighbor well, and know that he is a good man who would do anything for his family or for you. He works hard and has told you his dreams for his children, which are simply to go to school and not be killed by the gangs in their country. I hope he mows your lawn when he sees you are tired and the lawn need mowing. He will, because that’s the sort of neighbor he is, and I hope you will do the same for him.

I hope you have the privilege of knowing a transgender person both before and after transition, watching them struggle with the fear, guilt, and shame they must slog through in order to simply live as the person they were meant to be from the beginning. I hope you have the chance to hold the hand of the most courage, amazing people you will ever have the privilege of knowing. And I hope you hold their hand in the most public of places so the whole world has the chance to know these people are beautiful, and real, and special, and belong.

I am so sad about what is happening in this country right now, so much fear and guilt and doubt, all seeming to build into misunderstanding and hate. I don’t believe hate comes first. Hate comes last. It comes out of not knowing another person. Not willingly understanding someone else’s lot in life, not believing them when they tell you their story. Thinking no one else can possibly have it worse than you, and that it’s someone else’s fault that you have it rough.

I do not know why it is so difficult for some of us to believe that other peoples’ struggles are equally difficult as ours, or more difficult, but for some reason we hold it against people who seek to shine a light on the injustice they experience every day. The injustice inflicted upon our brown and black neighbors; the violence experienced by our gay and trans brothers and sisters; the hateful remarks and attitudes continually thrown at our Muslim, Sikh, and Jewish friends. The list goes on. Needlessly, and remarkably, the list goes on and on.

I hope you are faced with love and compassion from those in your life who you have struggled to give love and compassion in return. Those who have surprised with the gift of unconditional friendship, who have left you completely and utterly speechless with their devotion to family and community.  Given the opportunity, these people will open your hearts to an entirely new world, one in which color and sexuality and gender and identity and ethnicity are not required to add up in certain way in order to make a person worthy of love and compassion.  I hope you see a world in which simply BEING is enough.

I hope you have the chance to see the world through the eyes of truthful people, whose hearts and minds are honest and true and loving and kind.

I hope you are touched by kindness and find it within your ability to return the kindness to anyone and to all.  Is that really so much to hope for, friends?

So Much To Care About

You can’t get away from it. Every radio program, every TV station, websites, social media, newspapers, EVERYWHERE YOU TURN!  Bad news.  People suffering in so many ways, and hateful words spewing out of the mouths of leaders, elected officials, so-called clergy, neighbors, friends, even family.  How do you decide what gets past your defenses and what glances off your well-worn armor? How do you decide what to care about and what to ignore? How does a person sleep at night when they think it only matters if it hurts them personally, but not if it hurts someone else?

Thinking back, I realize with no small amount of shame that I used to fall into a terrible pattern myself.  If a human situation didn’t effect me I didn’t think it was important enough to care about, or even worse, there was something wrong with the people who were suffering.  They somehow let themselves be put in those situations so it was their own fault they were suffering.

I wasn’t homeless, so it was easy to look down my nose at people living on the street.  Get a job, I remember thinking to myself.

I remember believing that if you lived in the United States of America that you should learn to speak English.

Dressing that way, what did you expect to happen? All the guys will see are your boobs!

I remember playing games on the playground with names I can’t even bring myself to type on the keyboard now, full of racial slurs, homophobia, and hatred of what I did not know. I just knew no one else seemed to have a problem with those games. It wasn’t until we had a Black family move into the school district that those games suddenly felt wrong but I couldn’t pinpoint why.

Surely you could decide not to be gay, right? And cross-dressing was odd, fun to play along with, but nothing you really wanted to talk about.

The shame that burns my face with a bright red flame never dies. I was that person and I have to own it.  But what changed? What happened to me in my life that has me thinking in such dramatically different ways now?  Well, I don’t have an easy answer to that other than I grew up and lived life, met so many people and soaked up experiences as I went along that completely altered my way of being.  It had been easy to go with the flow of the majority I was surrounded by, to blindly follow the bright colors of the flag, to hold others to a different standard based on nothing but uneducated myth and opinion.

Thinking for myself, opening my heart, becoming educated, learning empathy…….those things were hard, and they remain really hard.  So many things to care about now! How can a person care about everything all at once?  Homelessness, the opioid crisis, food deserts, cancer, veterans, LGBTQ rights, immigration, animal cruelty, climate change, sexual assault, misogyny, elections, police brutality against young black men….the list goes on and on and on.  My heart hurts in exponentially more ways now than it ever did before. Wouldn’t it have been easier to stay in the dark? To shield my heart from the inevitable pain that grows out of empathy?

I look at the people living their lives without any concern or care for another living thing and I have to believe it is pretty hard to stay in the dark like that. It has to take a toll on a person’s heart. Where empathy causes pain because it swells the heart with love, disengagement and hate causes pain because it shrinks the heart and creates a darkness that surrounds the soul, blocking any warmth or light.

So much to care about, yes, but you can care about ALL of it! Don’t pick and choose one over another based solely on your own experience. Care about the immigrant even if you’ve never had an immigrant to your house for dinner. Care about climate change even if you don’t understand the science. Care about the victims of sexual assault even if you’ve never been assaulted. Care about transgender people because they are real, even if you think you don’t know any trans people (statistically you do, though, just so you know.)

Care.  Care about all of it, be okay knowing you can’t fix all of it, but do what you can as often as you can.  For some of us that means we talk a lot, trying our best to educate and change minds and open hearts. For others it means running for public office, or marching on the capitol or raising money for a cause.  Whatever it is you are doing because your heart is swelling with love and desire to help, keep doing it. And then do more. Your heart can take it.

 

Pride Month 2018

Pride 2018

Happy Pride 2018 to all the dear people celebrating authentic life, loving unabashedly, and showing the world what it means to be truly compassionate, kind, genuine, caring, and positively joyful!

I’ve learned so much from my LGBTQ family and friends, there is no doubt in my mind that I am a better person for knowing them. These people and my experiences with them have shaped who I am today, changing me in all the best ways, helping me evolve, pushing me out of what I thought was my comfort zone into a much more beautiful world!

In consideration of Pride Month, I’d like to share with you a few things I’ve learned, some of the beliefs that I hold now thanks to the welcoming people in the community, some pieces of advice, and a couple things that hurt my heart.  It’s just a list but there are numbers to refer to if you would like to open a dialogue about certain items. Here goes……….

  1. Being transgender is a real thing.  Believe them when someone comes out to you.
  2. None of this is a “lifestyle choice”.  Straight folks, can you just “choose” to be gay?  No? Then what makes you think they can?
  3. The singular “they” is acceptable. Get over it.
  4. Trans kids NEED and DESERVE loving adults in their lives, often for their very survival.
  5. If you are afraid of your kid sharing a restroom with a transgender person you are looking for monsters in all the wrong places.
  6. There should be both baby changing tables and hygiene boxes in EVERY restroom.
  7. One LGBTQ person murdered is one too many.
  8. Every state should have a hate crimes law.
  9. There is no shame in having a queer child. They are a gift, not an embarassment.
  10. As in so many other aspects of our society, LGTBQ people of color are disproportionately discriminated against, abused, murdered.
  11. Just because it doesn’t hurt you, it doesn’t give you the right to diminish the problem or deny its existence.
  12. I respect ALL religions and the right to practice them; however I will NEVER respect someone who uses religion as an excuse to discriminate against another person.
  13. I believe I am a good ally but I still have to work hard not to appropriate culture that is not mine or put words into the mouths of community members.
  14. Being married to a happy transwoman is far, far easier than being married to an unhappy human hiding their identity.
  15. It’s never, EVER been about the stupid cake.
  16. People deserve to be treated equally. Period.

If you are not planning to attend a local Pride event, please reconsider. These festivals often help support local artists, raise money for social issues or educational scholarships, and showcase businesses that are friendly and welcoming of everyone.  We’ll be braving the Indiana heat and humidity Saturday to attend Pride, loving this community more and more with each rainbow flag we see flying against a summer sky! That reminds me, we need to buy sunscreen.

Celebrate Pride with pride, friends!!

 

Letter to the LGBT Community on our 30th Anniversary

Dear Friends,

You were there for us when we needed you most. About three years ago we took our first tentative steps into a community we knew very little about, unsure, more than a little scared.  And there you were, waiting for us with open arms and open hearts. We are still in awe of your strength, and your fearless ability to live your lives out loud, never backing down and never compromising. We admire your loving relationships, and you validate ours.  You made us feel welcome, like we had a place to belong. You helped us map our future and reassured us that we could indeed move forward together as Carli and Tracy.

We celebrated our first Pride event in June 2016, marching side by side with the first transgender unit in the history of the Indy Pride parade.  We choked back tears of joy as we walked, holding hands, hearing nothing but love, support, acceptance, and encouragement all around us. It was a life-changing event for us.  The next day we woke up to the news of the Pulse shooting.  There was no holding back the tears.  The grief was overwhelming.  49 people, simply living their lives out loud, gone out of pure hate. So far in 2017 there have been 27 transgender people murdered in this country.  It could be anyone of you, our dear friends. Or our son and his partner. Or us.  Yes, we woke up that day and we continue to be “woke” as the cool kids might say.

You, friends, continue to keep us woke about LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, the relentless tragedies that continue to besiege people of color.  You care about everyone who struggles to be seen, everyone whose rights are still not a foregone conclusion.  Your compassion knows no bounds, and you strive to make the world a better place for everyone.  You are quite simply remarkable. Thank you for being there for us, for all of us.

In love, gratitude, and appreciation…………Carli and Tracy

Carefully Taught

Sometimes we focus so intently on everything we think is going wrong, all the unfairness, mean-spirited behaviors, outright hatred and violence in the world we get caught off guard when something goes right. This week I’ve witnessed a few go-right moments that leave me breathless, teary-eyed, and full of more hope than I’ve felt in a long time.

As most of you know I pretty much lived in my little hometown community theater as a kid.  Port Austin Community Playhouse helped define me when I was growing up, opening my eyes to people, concepts, and possibilities I couldn’t have imagined in any other way.  It all started with my first musical, South Pacific by Rogers and Hammerstein, when I was about 12. I played a Polynesian girl and all my lines were in French.  No, I did not then, nor do I now, speak French.  But that little part changed my life in so many ways.  There is a song in this play, You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught, that is sung by a young sailor struggling to reconcile his love for a Polynesian girl with his racist upbringing. Even at that age, living in a tiny, rural 99% white world I couldn’t understand why anyone would deliberately teach a child to hate and fear people who are different from them.  It didn’t make sense to me but I just wrote it off as something in a play, I wasn’t aware it was actually a thing.

Sadly, it is still a thing. Children continue to be indoctrinated with hate-filled rhetoric for whatever reason by the adults in their lives. These children will grow up believing differences of any kind are to be feared, hated, fought against, suppressed, wiped out. Their way is the only true/correct/legitimate way of being. The color of their skin is superior.  Their gender is better. Their religion is correct. My heart sinks every time I see a child at a protest holding a sign that promotes a hate-filled agenda, and my hope in the humanity of this country sinks as well.

And then one day a little white envelope appears on our table. Enter hope. A young person in Carli’s life wrote her a letter. It was a school assignment, to write to someone you admire. She wrote from her heart, saying she was very proud of Carli and she admired her for being brave enough to live her life authentically. She openly expressed her love for and support of Carli, and offered to talk or text anytime. She said she prays for Carli every day.  This child’s parents taught her carefully, just as surely as the parents of the child protester, but instead of teaching through fear, they taught through love.  They encouraged independent thinking, nurtured empathy, and modeled compassion.  They taught her to embrace differences rather than seek to destroy them.  Carli and I grateful for this child and her whole family, because they gave us back hope in our future.

There are plenty of signs that all is not lost, that people really can be decent if given the chance. One of our transgender friends told us about her successful coming out at work. The fear leading up to workplace coming out is intense, and people tend to play out various scenarios in their minds about how it will go. We try to categorize people by our expectations of their level of support and acceptance. Carli and I had many discussions about how she expected people would react when she came out, which ones were likely allies and which ones she expected to shun her.  As it turned out, she has been treated very well.  But she was very deliberate and gentle in her approach, and she had shared this approach with our friend who in turn used a similar tactic to come out.  We were thrilled and cried tears of joy when this friend told us how well it was going for her.  She thanked us for having shared Carli’s experience, it helped her make her plan and she was grateful.  She said she hadn’t given people enough credit and hadn’t expected them to be so decent to her.  This was a welcome, very pleasant surprise and another sign of hope in our future.

These glimmers of hope shine in my soul and keep me motivated to continue writing.  I want to share dozens, hundreds of stories about love, acceptance, compassion, empathy, and authenticity. Storytelling is education with a heart and soul.  It’s an important tool for adults to use when carefully teaching their children. Done correctly, it will result in generations of storytellers who will talk about the days when they helped wipe hate out of existence.

 

How Many People Make A March?

Overwhelming, peaceful, profound..
Overwhelming, peaceful, profound..

We didn’t attend the Women’s March in Indianapolis last Saturday, although we had every intention of attending when we woke up that day.  An unfortunate emergency home repair found my wife, Carli, in the crawl space for several hours instead. She can fix anything!

Attending the march would have been a challenge for us; neither of us are fond of large crowds, but we wanted to do this for all the reasons anyone else wanted to march.  Women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, underrepresented minority rights, basically ALL human and civil rights are legitimately being threatened by an administration we do not understand.

Living in Indiana we are acutely aware of what Vice President Pence believes and we’re frankly terrified of what might come in the next four years.  However, we decided early on that we would not let this fear overwhelm us or drive Carli back in the closet.  She is truly, deeply content for the first time in her life.  No one is going to take that away from her, or me!

We started to feel guilty about not attending the march, but it occurred to us that perhaps we might have been just two more faces in a crowd of friendly, like-minded individuals.  Was this going to do anything more than make a statement that might resonant for a couple of weeks and then be replaced in the media by the next argument over policies, legislation, or poorly worded tweets by the Commander in Chief? While we truly want to be part of the wave of social change, perhaps there was a way we could do this that would touch people other than the friendlies we would have mingled with at the march.  They already know us and our community after all, maybe this is equivalent to preaching to the choir.  We don’t care to have our faces on tv, we aren’t very creative when it comes to making signs, and megaphones are terrifying. So, what did we do?

We went to a food festival, of course! We spent 4 hours strolling from booth to booth, most of them staffed with people from right here in uber-conservative Trump/Pence loving Indiana. There were “make America great again” hats on several heads.  I wore my safety pin and #i’llgowithyou pin.  We tasted everything from rhubarb liqueur to gin, cherry chili beef jerky to corn chowder. We sat with a mother and her teenage son who were enjoying brownies and gumbo. We learned how tequila is made and were amused by the elderly couple who were sneaking extra little tastes during the demonstration. We chatted with dozens of people who may or may not have interacted with a transgender person before in their lives, that they are aware of at least.  Not once did Carli get misgendered.  Yes, there were some sideways looks thrown around and we really have no way of knowing if people guessed Carli is trans or not, but chances are pretty good that a 51-year-old trans woman who is in early transition is fairly easy to spot yet.  Overall, we were treated with civility and courtesy.  And we had a marvelous time! Every person we interacted with is another person who may have left that day thinking that trans people are A-okay.  They aren’t freaks of nature, or fanatics, and they can have spouses who love them more than life itself, the way I love Carli.

My question then becomes, how many people does it take for it to be a march? 500,000 in Washington, D.C. or 30 in Antarctica or 2 at the fairgrounds in Indianapolis?  Carli and I were kept from participating in the organized march but did we all accomplish something important, something with the potential to change the world even if it’s just one person at a time

?  I like to think we did.