Tuesday, June 28, 2022

On the 53rd anniversary of Stonewall

 


Fifty-three years ago tonight, a motley group of queer people shoved back when the police raided the Stonewall Inn in New York City. Writing this, it strikes me that the word "queer" is one that many of use today as an inclusive, positive descriptive, but to the people at the other end of the police batons on that night in 1969, it was a brutal, wounding slur that carried deep censure and opprobrium, and was often a verbal precursor to physical violence.
This year, I feel a bit solemn about the Stonewall anniversary. This seems like the year when it should be a little less self-congratulatory, a little less breezy, a little more thoughtful.
Too, this strikes me as the year when the usual arguments about who threw the first rock, or who the denizens of Stonewall bar "really" were, or which group among us has the "right" to claim them as antecedents seems a bit self-indulgent and fatuous.
The reason for that is, to the police who were swinging fists and batons and manhandling them into police vans, broken and bleeding, they were all "queers"—and in the vilest, pre-reclamation sense.
There is a cache of other ugly words that matched the rhetoric of the occasion from the perspective of the police, and mainstream society. It seems besides the point to list them all now. We all know what those words are, and in 2022 we all acknowledge that those words, in that context, have only one purpose—to wound, to demean, and to reduce.
Last week, the Supreme Court turned 170 million American women into second-class citizens.
While Americans, both male and female, reckon with this unprecedented desecration of women's dignity, the rest of the civilized world is looking on, aghast. For my part, my heart is broken for a country that I've loved my whole life, filled with some of the people I love the most in the world, particularly the women.
There's a Stonewall-related lesson here, and that's the one I'm thinking of tonight, on this fifty-third anniversary of what my people consider the "official" kickoff of what we would now call LGBTQ liberation.
While some of my peers complain about acronyms, I would point out that one of the biggest enemies of queer freedom has been a dearth of dignifying language, the decades-long absence of which has been weaponized against us. The fact that we can now name ourselves, and take pride in our identities can only be a strength, and there's something embarrassing and dinosaur-like about complaining about it.
On June 28th, 2022, I am haunted by the reality that hundreds of millions of us are once again "queers" in the old-fashioned, unflattering sense. The people who hate us—gays, lesbians, transgender people, bisexuals, women, POC, immigrants, refugees, and many more—hate us for the same reason. We challenge their sense of order. We're like the index finger smearing the surface of their perfectly-frosted cake made of poison and sugar, and it makes them very, very, very angry.
We forget and/or refuse to acknowledge this at our peril, and it's time to take our heads out of the sand and acknowledge it.
In the years since I came out in 1981, I've watched groups and sub-groups of minorities, including the ones to which I belong, separate themselves from the others. They tell themselves that their group has nothing in common with the others; that the others bring them down, or detract from their own struggle.
Some gay men dismiss trans people as alien and entirely "other," as though they haven't been been baseline members of the vanguard of queer liberation since the beginning. Some trans folks talk about gay people as though they are members of another species, one with which they have nothing in common in spite of decades of evidence to the contrary. Some men act as though the struggle for women's liberation is women's work, something that has nothing to do with them, and that it's being "taken care of" by women in the same way women have always taken care of men. Some women act as though no man could possibly have any natural insight, or empathy, into their struggle, and write all of them off under the catch-all rubric of oppressor. As Leo Herrera wrote, "queerness is not an immunity to white supremacy, if anything it's a blind spot." And homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny cuts across all demographics, leaving bleeding, broken lives in its wake. 

And on, and on, and on. 

Eventually, uncrossable battle lines are drawn among groups who should be joining forces with each other, with love and in solidarity. And while we're fighting each other instead of them, the other side is working to return all of us to our 1969, pre-Stonewall status, and they're doing it with the inexorable destructive determination of a tumour.
This summer, as in no other summer of my life, I'm acutely aware of human vulnerability, and how in spite of all the ways in which we tell ourselves we're different, we are all terribly, terribly the same. The lives we tell ourselves we control can be yanked out of our control in a nanosecond, be it by cancer or by the Supreme Court.
My own long life has been fraught with errors, but without those errors I would never have been able to grow, and I can't help but be grateful for that, as painful as growth has occasionally been.
What happened on June 24th is, or should be, a clarion call. The 170 million women stripped of their right to bodily autonomy are my sisters. The realization of the scope of the contempt their oppressors have, not only for them but for all of us, should be the very last wakeup call we need to realize that we need to care for each other, to support each other, to demand "we" in a mob of "I." 

We need to make common cause. We need to put aside our own self-serving prejudices and to think in terms of "family" instead of telling ourselves that our very own struggles are the most important challenge facing us, and that as long as we're getting ours, that's the last battle we need to fight.
Drops of water make surfaces wet, but a tidal wave will flatten everything in its wake. The minute we unite instead of carving out our own political fiefdoms and chastising the people who don't meet our purity, we will become an insurmountable force, and the people who hate us, who want to drag us back to a time most of them barely remember, but which they still fetishize in the ghastliest possible way, will feel the full force of us.
Tonight, on the 53rd anniversary of Stonewall, I commit myself to unity and full solidarity with every other marginalized group that, like me, finds itself in the crosshairs of an implacable enemy with a terrifying vision of our future; an enemy that hates us not for what we do, but for what we are.
We are brothers and sisters, whether we see ourselves that way or not. We can tell ourselves every comforting story we like about what makes us different, but to the people who hate us, we are "them," and "other," and they will throw their entire hateful armada of laws, policy, rhetoric, slander, and violence against us, in service of that hatred.
Instead of fighting each other, we need to fight them, as one army. It's way past time.
It's also time for all of us—and no one more than me—to open our arms wide instead of crossing them in front of our chests and demanding that everyone come to us. We need to come to each other, or, at the very least, meet each other halfway. We need to be able to say "I am you" and "your struggle is my struggle," confident that the person to whom we are speaking is saying the same thing to, and about, us.
If we turn the anniversary of Stonewall into a fetish object instead of a vibrant, living event that has resonated across five decades, we, as queer people (and "queer" people) run the risk of being no better than the right-wingers who fetishize a document written over two hundred years ago by white slave-owning men, a document that doesn't even mention women, let alone POC or queer people, and consider it inviolable holy writ
In the same way the Constitution was intended to be a living document that would adapt itself to an evolving society over centuries, my sense of Stonewall is that it, too, should be seen as a living thing. The bricks that flew that night were never meant to stop flying, and we ignore the ever expanding sea of people behind that long-ago police barricade at our peril.
We've changed. We've grown. We've expanded.
The "us-ness" of us is now greater than it ever has been. It encompasses multitudes, and that's a good thing. It's a great thing. It's life and progress as it should be. The warriors of Stonewall are the spiritual ancestors of us all. Anyone with the hunger for true liberation in their hearts are their children.
You know what hasn't changed or grown? The rage and cruel indifference of the people who hate us. It's time for all of us to say we as natural as we've always said I and to send them scuttling back to whatever polyester hell they're from, and see to it that they stay there forever. Happy Stonewall Anniversary. 

Happy π‘ƒπ‘Ÿπ‘–π‘‘π‘’, in the truest sense of the word.


Saturday, June 25, 2022

One perfect morning

 


I woke up early this morning, around six, and lay in bed in a very pleasant semi-daze while the Hero MD slept beside me.
In spite of yesterday's horrific seismic events courtesy of SCOTUS, and the fact that they continue to haunt me today in a way that Trump's election in 2016 did, I had a good sleep. I've been pounding back water—two litres at a time—to remain hydrated and flush the chemicals out of my body. It seems to be working. While yesterday I couldn't remember the word "hibiscus" at the health food store, I felt clear-headed and rested this morning.
After awhile, I realized I wasn't going back to sleep, and I decided to get up and take Beckett to the park. I got dressed and went downstairs. He looked at me from his dog bed as if to say, "What are YOU doing up at this hour...?" I told him to get his leash, and that we were going for a walk. Wryly he lumbered over to the where his leash was kept and brought it to me, still with that "Seriously? Is this actually going to happen?" look on his face. I sighed, because I hadn't had any coffee yet at the Labrador was shedding attitude.
I always forget how graceful early morning in summer is, particularly in our neighbourhood. The trick is getting that sweet-spot hour before the sun starts baking everything. This was that hour. I could smell flowers everywhere. There were birds in the trees speaking their own morning thoughts to each other, and everything was very, very green.
At his age, Beckett is no fan of the heat—any heat—to we didn't get very far. He did his business and smelled the tree trunks and fences and flowerbeds, but when he was done, he was done, and he trotted home at a much quicker pace than he'd set out. But it was lovely nonetheless to be just another early-morning Cabbagetown dog walker, nodding at other dog walkers whose names we never know, even if we know their dogs' names.
After I fed him and gave him some fresh water, I decided to treat myself to a muffin and a cup of coffee from the Epicure deli on Parliament Street, one of my favourite go-to spots in the neighbourhood. It's run by a wonderful family with a knack for hiring really lovely young staff, and the food is superb.
For the first time in my life, I was the first person in the shop as they were opening up. The AC felt wonderful on my face, and the shop had the same fresh, rested feeling that I did. I selected a blueberry muffin and a small coffee with cream and sugar, because, literally and metaphorically, I've felt deprived of cream and sugar for the past month.
On the way home, I was remembering that the Hero MD and I first moved to Cabagetown in the fall of 1984. We had just met that summer and we fell in love, hard. We got engaged that Christmas Eve, and started this whole marvellous travelling circus of life.
We've lived in other houses, in other places, but this neighbourhood always felt like home, and never more so than this morning, for some reason. Maybe it was the early morning warmth, maybe it was the silence, maybe it was the sweet anonymity of being just another anonymous person walking down familiar streets without wearing my history, but remembering everything.
From the moment I was diagnosed with cancer this spring, I made a promise to myself to not build up any false hopes, or create fantasies. I promised myself that I would deal in facts, and build on those, and work with them, and make them work with me. Reality has always been my most reliable friend. If I can "own" the difficult parts, then I've paid for my right to celebrate the joys.
Still, this morning, I allowed myself to just revel in my sense of bien-Γͺtre and to take it heart. To feel good, and to feel OK about feeling good; to feel optimistic about feeling good, and to run with that. God knows what the future will hold—success, I hope, but I know that harder days are coming.
That said, I felt an impossible-to-ignore spark in me this morning, in all that early-summer beauty, and it spoke to me. It put me back in my body, and it turned up the light in my soul. I feel good, and I feel optimistic. Even if it's just a chimera, I'll take it. It's good to be alive on a morning as beautiful as this one.
And Beckett is awake again, and he wants a bite of my blueberry muffin.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Wind-sprints

 


This afternoon I stopped by the Rosedale United Church office to pick up a pair of sunglasses I'd left there when I did a "Christmas memory" reading last December. It's the furthest from home I've ventured since getting home from the hospital last week.
On the way out, I stopped by the chapel, a place I utterly adore in its pristine Protestant simplicity. The nave was dark, except for the light streaming through the brilliant stained-glass windows.
The church dates from 1914. In the warm months, it smells wonderfully of age—the olfactory patina of a century of summer sunlight gently baking into the wood. It's a sweet, nutty scent I associate with the old Canadian churches of my childhood and, therefore, in part, with childhood itself.
I'm used to Rosedale being full of light and music, full of people, including people I love, but there was something beautiful and holy about the embracing silence and the dimness. I was suddenly awash in memories, and I put them in a good place in my heart. They'll come in handy in the coming months.
Outside, waiting for my Uber, I watched a sixteen-year old boy in a green t-shirt and black shorts do wind-sprints from one end of Whitney Park to the other. Back and forth he raced, almost flying.
He could have no way of knowing how beautiful he was in that moment, in his youth and strength and unselfconscious disavowal of barriers.
He pumped his knees higher and higher with every stride, effortlessly gathering speed. At one point it seemed as though gravity was deferring to him, releasing him into the air, more than that he was merely running.
He shouldn't know any of those things. Part of the beauty of being sixteen is the not knowing.
I smell Toronto summer in the air this afternoon, even if only traces of it on such a cool, misty afternoon. But it's coming. I have been loving this moment since 1982, my first summer in the city.
Watching the boy, I was remembering the summer of 1983 when I trained for the Toronto Marathon, racing myself through impossibly green neighbourhoods just like this one, and in endless circles around the track at the athletic centre at the University of Toronto. I felt immortal, and the future just rolled in front of me like a flat highway with no traffic.
I hope the boy in the green t-shirt felt a bit like that sprinting through Whitney Park this afternoon. That would be as it should be, and all would be right in the world.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Venerating the Sacred Labrador


Since my mobility has been excellent since my operations last week, I decided to try to take Beckett for a walk and see how far we got. Amusingly, his 12-year old arthritic Labrador's gait is the perfect step match for my own post-op ambulations, so we were in sync.

It was unseasonably cold all day after yesterday's terrible storm, but by 4:00 p.m. the light was gleaming, so out we went. The winds and rain yesterday had ravaged all but the hardiest foliage, but there were still traces of hardy lilacs and some apple blossoms on the tree, here or there. The air was damp and delicious and cool, almost autumnal, but floral instead of spicy.
On the way home, through Riverdale Park, we came upon a group of South Asian young people who were celebrating. Earlier, we had seen balloons in festive marigold colours of orange and yellow festooning their picnic table, and an arch they had constructed. The women were wearing beautiful long dresses, so it was obviously an important celebration. The table had been laid with a cloth, upon which were placed dishes of delcious looking Indian food.
One of the young women caught my eye and smiled, and asked if she could pet Beckett. Since Beckett loves to be petted by women—since he was a baby, he has loved the pitch of women's voices, and responds to it like it's a drug—I told her that of course she could pet him.
Her hand was painted with a beautiful, intricate lace of henna, and her nails were laquered pale pink, almost white, and were very long through Beckett's fur. He closed his eyes in ecstasy, and let her pet him. One of the young men took a picture.
Another young man told me that they were celebrating the baby shower of one of the couples there.
"I saw the decorations earlier," I said. "This was clearly the party to be at this afternoon." He laughed warmly, flashing beautiful white teeth. "Next time you must come one hour earlier, my friend!" he replied.
I told him I regretted not having done so, and was surprised to realize I actually meant it.
Six or seven more of the young people came over to meet Beckett, and he was in heaven, basking in the all the attention, and the rhythmic, gentle scrape of the young woman's nails in his fur.
A cloud moved away from the sun just then, and the entire park was bathed in glorious spring dusk sunlight, gold and orange like the marigold balloons. I caught a sudden whiff of exquisite jasmine perfume on the breeze from one of the women in the flowing dresses.
I remembered all the Victoria Day Sundays I'd spent with dogs in this park—Harper, Simba, and now Beckett— and for the life of me couldn't remember one as lovely as this one, or a scene as poignantly optimistic, full of life and possibility.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Cancer



A week ago, I received the news that I had colon cancer. I spent five nights at Toronto General and had three surgical procedures, one under general anaesthetic. I’m home now, and resting, and very happy to be back in my own bed. Next week, I will be referred to the oncology department at Princess Margaret Hospital, arguably the best cancer hospital in Canada, for further treatment, possibly chemotherapy and/or radiation. After that, it will be back to Toronto General for more surgery.

Great news, though: there has been no metastasis, which is going to make it much easier to isolate and fight.
When you hear you have cancer, the floor drops out from under you. Suddenly, everyone and everything you love becomes even more precious. You can't know this exact, specific feeling until it happens to you.
The day after the diagnosis, I attended a children’s birthday party in the park hosted by dear friends, which was ridiculously joyful and lovely. After that, I took a leisurely walk through Cabbagetown and photographed the things I found most beautiful—flowering trees, blossoms, green grass, blue sky, Beckett, our house, our garden, my husband's face.
The radiance of those things was almost unbearable that day.
I’ve tried to analyze my feelings about this diagnosis, but one overwhelming feeling comes to the fore again and again: I feel gratitude.
I’m grateful for the sharp-eyed radiologist who caught this when she was looking for something else, and had the skill to ask, “What is this shadow on his colon?”
I’m grateful for the doctors, and especially the nurses, who looked after me all week. I’m in awe of the diverse, multicultural, multiracial makeup of the hospital staff, literally an amalgam of the best and brightest from all over the world who've come to Canada in a tributary, dedicating their youth, their strength, their intelligence, and their skill, to healing, especially my favourite nurse, Muuna, who has an angel's touch.
I’m grateful to live in a country where an essential five-day life-saving hospital stay is a matter of logistics, not bankruptcy. I’m grateful to those true friends and family who have generously shared colon cancer survivor stories with me, and sustained by with the bulwark of their love. They’ve boosted my morale beyond measure.
I'm grateful for the tidal wave of insight into what's truly important, and what couldn't be less important, that crashed over me from the moment of the diagnosis, and in the rich waters of which I am still borne aloft.
I’m grateful that I’m going to be mentioned in the community prayer at Rosedale United Church this Sunday, because they're wonderful people, and I’ll take all the help I can get, and gratefully.
I'm insanely blessed, no question about it.
I’m also under no illusion that the road ahead is going to be easy, or painless, but I’m also determined to fight this with everything I have and come out the other side.
If this page goes “radio silent” at certain points in the coming months, don’t assume the worst. It'll likely just mean I'm off fighting for the thing that means the most to me in the world: life, and the great privilege of living it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

On the 89th anniversary of the start of the Nazi book burnings in Berlin


 "Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings too."

—Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)

Today is the 89th anniversary of the start of the Nazi book burnings in Berlin that went on until October of 1933. Books were burned for being "un-German," "unpatriotic," and unwholesome by the standards of Nazi ideology and purity. Notably, "decadent" works by Jews, foreigners, and homosexuals were consigned to the flames.
Of particularly chilling significance in 2022 was the burning of 20,000 books on homosexuality, lesbianism, and transgender studies from Magnus Hirschfeld's Institut fΓΌr Sexualwissenschaft (Insitute for Sexology) which had been raided four days earlier on May 6th.
As we witness sweeping book banning in the United States, particularly books dealing with LGBT issues, themes on race, and feminism, as well as the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the banning of transgender-affirming healthcare for minors, it admittedly feels to some of us like howling into a storm with winds so strong we can barely hear ourselves anymore.
These screams are a notch higher, and more desperate, than the unheeded ones in 2016, when all of this was predicted in the final months of Donald Trump's presidential campaign.
This. Is. Actually. Happening.
For the love of God, folks, let's wake up. Burning books is the most symbolic of acts, and it's a bellwether of terrible things, whether the books being burned are literal or metaphorical. They knew that in 1933, and we know it in 2021.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

VE Day, 77 years later


On May 8th, 1945, Europe was liberated from the fascism that threatened not only Europe, but the world. By the end, untold suffering had been inflicted, and the number of the the Nazis victims' was so great that it could only be rounded off to the nearest six million, give or take. Why then, 77 years after VE Day, has fascism stirred back to life, this time in the countries that committed their militaries to defeat it? The easy answer is, people forget. And a lot of people enjoy hatred, especially hatred of difference. The irony of course is that the Nazis packaged and sold that hate as "patriotism" and "morality"—exactly how it's being sold today, right under the noses of people who would bristle at being called stupid, or oblivious. It's almost as though WW2 never happened, and the stories of horror and virtue that came out of it were nothing more than a late-night drunken rant in a bar, the name of which no one can remember. Please, please remember. This is how it occurs: one law change at a time, a scapegoating here or there, a culture war, the demonization of the press, and the recasting of history as "your opinion." You know whose opinion it was everything was going to be fine? Minorities in Germany in the early 1930s. Never forget how wrong they were.