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.

 

I Call BS

Every time there is a national crisis of some sort people turn out in droves loudly proclaiming their love and concern for the population effected by the tragedy. Hurricane Harvey is just the latest.  Hurricane Sandy, the Sandy Hook massacre, the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11. The list goes on and on, and in each instance people donate money, they send relief supplies, they cry what they profess to be real tears for people who are hurting and in desperate need of help.  I CALL BS

Today is the first news cycle that was not lead by videos of Hurricane Harvey.  What was the first video? The president of the united states claiming “we love the dreamers, we love everybody” all while making the decision to end protections for young people protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival – DACA – act.

Let me get this straight.  You love them but you want them to go “back” to countries they do not remember, where they have no family, they do not speak the language, and have no means to support themselves.  That doesn’t sound like any love I’ve ever experienced and it’s certainly not coming from a place of compassion or concern.  How many DACA kids do you suppose are helping rescue hurricane victims? How many DACA kids do you suppose are up to their necks in debris and devastation left from the storm, but they’re at their neighbor’s houses helping with the clean up? These kids are allowed to work and required to pay taxes, but they get nothing in return.  They don’t qualify for any social services, they don’t get “hand outs” from the American people.  They give far more to this country than what we give them in return.

Thanks for helping.  We love you, now go away.

How about that ban on transgender people serving in the military?  The administration and a lot of flag-waving Americans claim to be “friends of the gays” using the phrase “the gays” as a catch-all for the entire LGBTQ+ community, but transgender people are clearly too much of a drain on military so they must go.

What a load of crap. I won’t even attempt to lay out the real cost of being transgender on the military, or compare it to the waste, fraud, and abuse that is rampant in this administration.  Others have done that already.  It doesn’t seem to matter to those making the decisions that the cost of caring for transgender servicemembers is astonishingly miniscule in the grand scheme of budgetary expenses.  This ban is borne of pure hate.  There is no way to spin it to make it sound remotely responsible or compassionate.

My transgender wife honorably served in the United States Air Force for 20 years.  She did not have the option to live authentically at that time. It’s speculation, but I believe those 20 years would have been so much easier for her had she been allowed to serve openly.  Haven’t we learned this lesson by allowing people to serve regardless of their sexual orientation?  Here is something to consider, United States of America……….there will soon be NO eligible young people willing to serve in the military. If we don’t wake up and accept that our young people have the expectation of being accepted for who they are, our military ranks will continue to dwindle to dangerously low levels of operational readiness.  Good luck dealing with the crazy loon in North Korea!

Let’s talk about what it means when our police take the oath to “protect and serve.”  What does that look like for the citizens who rely on law enforcement?  It looks very different for me as a 50 year old white woman than it does for a 25 year old black man. White men taking oaths to protect and serve making jokes about “only killing black people” when making a traffic stop.  Jokes like that are never innocent and certainly not funny.  That statement tells a lot about the person’s true character and judgement.

Are we a country that truly believes in civil rights?  Well of course we are, right? We settled that a long time ago when we let Black people drink out of our water fountains and sit next to us on the bus.  We white people have done our part.  It’s all good.

Nope.  Not even close to being a country that actually CARES ABOUT ALL PEOPLE.  People who enjoy their civil rights are still actively trying to steal them from others.  My civil rights are far more important than your civil rights.  If you get more rights, mine will be diminished.  You will steal mine so I’ll make sure you just don’t have any in the first place.

BS BS BS!!!  Civil rights don’t run out like milk and bread the day before a snowstorm.

I could go on forever, but I have to end soon or you will stop reading.  One final thought, knowing this last paragraph is directed mostly at people outside my community of  truly compassionate friends, so share widely if you would……

Keep your teddy bears, keep your canned goods and diapers, keep your cash and blankets and clothes you’ve dug out of your closet.  Don’t fly the flag in your yard.  Don’t bother placing your hand over your heart during the National Anthem or singing the hymns in church on Sunday. Don’t bother “giving until it hurts” unless you have searched your heart and find compassion for ALL human beings, love them for who they are rather than who you want them to be, are more concerned about their well-being than what you can get from them.  Keep all your gifts given out of some false sense of patriotism and compassion because it’s been proven time and time again that none of that compassion, concern, and love for your fellow man lasts for long.  It’s temporary to make yourself feel better.  It flies out the window the next time somebody refuses to serve a gay couple because of deeply held beliefs, or an unarmed black man is shot for walking down the sidewalk at the wrong time of day, or a statue of slave owner is moved out of a place of reverence.

I hope some day I can stop calling BS.

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.

 

Six in 48 Days

Take a good look at these two beautiful, brave women. They are two of the six transgender women of color murdered in the first 48 days of 2017.  Two of the murdered women we know of at least. Transwomen are so often misgendered by police and other officials the crimes against them are not accurately reported for what they are; hate crimes motivated not only by racism but by unadulterated transphobia.

My beautiful, white, 51 year old trans wife has secure employment in a safe environment, a nice home, access to quality transgender sensitive health care, and very good health insurance. She has never experienced the loss of employment or housing because she is transgender. She has never been harassed or beaten because of the color of her skin or gender.  I do not lay awake at night wondering if she will make it home safely. We have absolutely no frame of reference here.  We are incredibly privileged, we know, and we don’t take one single second for granted. No one has a choice as to their circumstances of birth, not these women, and not us. We didn’t have a choice, we were born white.  We didn’t have a choice, Carli and I were raised in families and communities free from the social strife and challenges faced by so many families of color.  Not once did we have to go to bed hungry, cold, alone, or in danger.  She will NEVER know what it is like to be a transgender woman of color and I will never know what it is like to be married to a transgender woman of color.

But I can be angry, frustrated, heartbroken, sad, stunned, confused, scared, disappointed, ANGRY…… We don’t know what to do, but we will keep working to figure it out. We will use our privilege as best we can to advocate for positive change, be visible because we aren’t as big a target as transwomen of color, speak out as often and loudly as possible.  But how do we know where to direct our efforts when we can’t pinpoint the origin of the problem?

What on Earth is going on here?! Do we blame this on an administration that emboldens hateful behavior? In part, maybe. Is this happening because we aren’t teaching religion in schools? I don’t think so.  Or are we experiencing the death throws at the end of an evolutionary cycle, making way for a dramatic shift in our culture? I sincerely hope this is it.

I hope Carli and I live long enough to see a dramatic cultural shift.  A shift that sways the heart towards empathy and the mind towards logic. A shift that allows for peaceful coexistence of freedom and equality. A shift towards critical thinking, common sense, loving your neighbor, and level reason. A shift towards an actual representative government.

I started writing this post at 7:00am and I’m finishing at 9:00pm.  Two important things happened during those few hours.

The Indiana state legislature defeated hate crimes legislation, leaving this state one of just five in the country with no additional provisions written into law for crimes motivated by race, religious, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

A seventh transgender woman of color was murdered.

 

Laughter

carli-and-dogs-laughting

Few things are more universally adorable than a baby in a full-blown belly laugh.  You know the kind, when the baby’s entire body seems to be laughing. And it doesn’t take much to elicit the delightful reaction, quite often it’s completely accidental.  A new sound, a funny face made by Uncle Craig, the puppy licking their toes.  It’s contagious, too.  You must be in a pretty foul mood not to crack a smile at the very least.  Dog lovers know that happiness and joy are not exclusive to humans either.  Your dog’s face when you come home, her whole-body-tail-wag is pure excitement, a joy-filled heart at the site of the person she loves more than anything in the world. 

When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried? For me it was about 20 minutes ago, when Carli was trying to get the maps to work on her phone but wasn’t having much success.  Feeling a little frustrated she said “damn it”, to which her phone replied “I’m sorry, I can’t help you with damn it.” An unexpected moment of hilarious silliness from a cell phone……fantastic! A few nights ago, Carli and I were watching a movie and near the end she was laughing so hard she was brought to tears.  I was laughing at the movie, too.  It was sweet and funny; the humor came at the expense of no one.  While I was laughing right along with Carli, I searched 30 years of memories for a time before she transitioned when she laughed so hard and with such unabashed emotion and pleasure. I simply could not find one.

I remember times when Carli was happy, joyful, amused, of course.  The typical life events that produce intense emotions did elicit pride, fear, joy, sadness in Carli.  But what I do not recall are the outward, public expressions of these emotions, like laughing so hard she cried.  Her emotions were always tempered, always measured and reserved. I chalked it up to her military bearing and never questioned it.  Being stoic was simply expected and anything less was often considered a sign of weakness.  Now we know much of this was self-preservation, a coping mechanism employed to avoid feelings she couldn’t understand and certainly didn’t think she could share.

People used to ask me why Carli was always angry.  I assured them she wasn’t angry, she just didn’t smile a lot. She rarely let anyone take her picture, and never smiled if someone was lucky enough to snap a shot.  She wasn’t much for conversation, either.  A good friend recently said the longest sentence he ever heard Carli say was about six words long and the topic was usually a tractor.  It wasn’t until she came out that her smile was spotted more often and she started to enjoy long talks.  It happened slowly over time, but the change is dramatic. She wears her emotions well, is unafraid to be expressive, and the feeling of freedom that surrounds her is palpable.

What breaks my heart are the years she spent burying her emotions instead of feeling connected to the people around her.  How hard must that be, to constantly hide behind a façade of stoicism, stifling the very emotions that make a human being feel human? And for what purpose? From my vantage point Carli had years of feeling human stolen from her because other people are uncomfortable or unaccepting or hateful or hurtful or bigoted or violent.  Because they deny the existence of the transgender person. Because their version of religion says God doesn’t make mistakes.

 I wish there was a way I could get all those years back for Carli. Can we get a do-over, please? Carli deserves to feel and express emotions just like everyone else, and I deserve to witness all the joy, bliss, grief, surprise, admiration, love, serenity……

She deserves to laugh until she cries.