Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Seventh birthday

Last Friday was my 7th birthday. For the first time, I didn't really do anything this year to celebrate it, but it's as much because I had so many other things to do as it is because Puck isn't here and any celebration for me would be incomplete without them. So I didn't bother to try.

Friday night I went out with my TNG kinky friends to our usual diner for a pre-party munch before going to the Xcess party. At the munch I met a total newbie named Leah and introduced her to the concept of polyamory. She's almost 23 and new to the scene and to the city, and works in the publishing industry. She also recommended some new mashup music for me to check out, so I thought we made a nice connection.

Bellatrix joined the group on the way to the party, but she didn't feel like playing at the party because it wasn't really a good space to do so with any privacy. It was also really loud and quite brightly lit. So I just spent the evening watching people do rope suspensions and body painting, and talking to friends Dave, Beth, Cassie and others before leaving around 1 am.

Saturday I rode my bike up to meet Lori, her sister Robin and a bunch of her friends in Central Park to celebrate her 35th birthday. We played frisbee and threw a softball around, but I couldn't get anyone interested in playing a game of cricket - not that there was any room for that anyway. Once again, the rainbow umbrella provided some welcome shade!


Saturday evening I went to Piper and Jet's house in Astoria for their roommate Elisa's 27th birthday party. It was just them, James and me, so it was a very small gathering, but I got to know Elisa much better because we had a chance to talk before everyone got home (I'm usually on time for things, unlike typical New Yorkers). We all talked and played a get-to-know-you dice game called "What the F**k?" that is usually a drinking game, but we didn't drink, until I left at 11:30 to get home. At least now I know exactly how to get there using mass transit because last time Puck and I got lost trying to get there and had to take a cab.

Sunday I went down to Brooklyn to see Diana and her extended family of friends at their backyard barbecue. I made my spicy peanut noodles and brought the $500 donation check from Folsom Street East to take a photo with Diana:


I met several people I knew from Diana's last birthday party - Jenny, Liz, Mark - plus my friends Kerry and Ardella showed up later as I was getting ready to go, but it was nice chatting briefly with them.

When I got home, I tackled a job I've been planning for a while - I took out all my single DVD movies with plain cases (those without no flyers or any kind of unique packaging), logged them in an Excel inventory, put them in a binder and threw out the cases (about 50-60 of them). I am amazed how much 50 empty DVD cases weighs! This frees up a lot of space for future additions to my library, which is slowly turning toward Blu-ray discs.

Speaking of organizing projects, I wanted to show everyone how Puck's bookshelf organizing project came out, which was completed over the Fourth of July ("2011 Pride Parade" - June 30, 2011) What an improvement!


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Random rambling

Random blog post on my one night this week home, before the rest of the week gets too busy.

I just got finished reading the last few years of Bug's blog, which, like mine, has over 1,000 posts. We weren't kidding about being twins separated at birth (we share the same legal birthday). Read about the death of Tara's kitty - so very sad. Also found a lot of cool pictures and web links that I'll check out later.

I do miss my family sometimes, but not in a way that makes me think I belong with them. I miss Bonnie too (I was walking around her neighborhood in Elmhurst, Queens on Saturday with my friend Barbara) but not in respect to being in a relationship together. Not surprisingly, I don't miss my birth family in Houston, because those memories truly do feel alien to me. They belong to another person, the person I used to be. There's not enough of "me" in those memories to feel connected in any way to that old life anymore.

Monday was Poly Cocktails, and I was playing hostess with my brightly lit nametag, greeting new guests and keeping an eye on things. I had to reprimand one guy with a warning for non-consensual touching (he put his hands on my friend Adele's shoulders and she complained loudly). It's hard playing the cop at these shindigs, but someone has to. I told everyone that I would commit to one more year of being President, but I would not seek a third term in 2012.

Things would go a lot more smoothly if everyone would just default to handshakes all around, but somehow once you get to the hugging stage, people tend to take liberties. I get kissed on the cheek a lot more than I actually consent to. I'm going to have to do better in establishing my own space and rules about physical contact.

Puck called me Sunday night from Russia to let me know they got in okay. It was nice to hear their voice. They're having trouble sleeping, due to a combination of noisy seagulls, Russian white nights and jet lag, probably. I appreciate, as always, the effort they put into staying in touch while we are separated by great distances.

I've been thinking about the use of the gender-neutral pronoun, and how comfortable it is becoming for me to use it. And it occurs to me that every time you use a gendered pronoun (she/he, him/her) to refer to someone, you are making an assumption about their internal gender that might not match the gender you think they are because of your judgement about the way they look and sound. It's much more respectful to allow them to choose their preferred pronoun rather than assume. Because this is one assumption that can really hurt if you get it wrong.

I was watching all my Harry Potter movies in preparation for my double feature Thursday night - I'm so excited! It's part of a whole pile of events I have every night this week (besides tonight). Tomorrow is the Poly Women's Group, Thursday night is Part 1 and 2 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Friday night I'm going to a kink play party with Bellatrix, Saturday is Lori's birthday during the day and Elisa's (Jet and Piper's roommate) birthday in the evening, and Sunday, Diana is throwing a backyard barbecue party.

I guess I'm trying to keep myself busy so I'm not moping around while Puck is away, but maybe I'm overdoing it. After all, I am going to Ireland and London for 10 days starting July 24th with Agnieszka. But they are all good things, and I'm happy to be spending time with different people, renewing old connections and making new ones.

Life is made to be lived, after all.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Rewriting the rules

Recently I was writing a communication for Open Love NY where we were trying to write a rule about safe space. Safe space, as it applies to minority communities and support groups such as ours, means creating an environment where everybody feels welcome and accepted, and not like they are a minority infringing on a group where they don’t belong.

For example, if someone refers to “families consisting of a husband, wife and children” that would be violating safe space for most non-heterosexual and poly people. Making a statement like, “we’re all poly here” (as was done by one presenter recently at Open Love NY) does the same for monogamous people (I corrected that speaker immediately).

In the process of making up the rule, I defined safe space as follows:

"Safe space" means using inclusive language that acknowledges the diversity of this group, including diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities. Statements and language that marginalize or assume homogeneity in our audience (such as language that assumes people in this group are heterosexual or cisgender), or that are offensive toward any particular group of individuals will not be tolerated.

There was disagreement on the use of the word “cisgender.” It’s not a word that is commonly used, and some people thought it would confuse readers or cause them to tune out. It basically refers to someone who has always considered their internal gender role to be in alignment with the gender role they were assigned at birth.

At first, the obvious solution was to post a definition as a link to the word (as I’ve done in this blog). But my problem was that, to me, this itself was a violation of safe space for transgender people, as I explained in an email:

I am against providing a definition for cisgender because it perpetuates the idea that transgender is such a small minority that "of course nobody knows what that means so we must provide a definition, yet one is not needed for obvious states of being like gay or heterosexual". It's another form of privilege that GLBs don't have to worry about the world understanding what they are and trans people must constantly "help" people understand.

If people don't understand, I want them to take the initiative and look it up themselves on whatever their online source of choice may be (Google, Wiki, whatever). But I don't want to ASSUME they don't know what cisgender means. I know this is against good rules of communication, but I'm tired of coddling people when it comes to being transgender, and I know there are others out there who feel the same.

There is no excuse these days for not looking up something if you don't understand it - assuming you want to follow the rules of a group you are a member of.

A major part of our group's mission is to educate (not just about poly) and we should not avoid an opportunity to introduce an important new concept to our audience that (gasp!) not being transgender is simply being cis-identified. Not being trans does not mean you are NORMAL.

No one in this group more strongly committed to clear communications than I am. But as I continue to spend time in queer communities and get to know the next generation of trans and queer people, we must let them (and everyone else) know that we speak their language fluently.

Gender identity is not "trendy" - and if we treat it as such, we get lumped in with the larger gay movement that seeks to leave the "T" off of GLBT, advancing the rights and privileges of straight-acting and looking gays, lesbians and bi's while throwing trans people under the bus with promises to "come back for them later." If this message is going to say we're inclusive regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, there should not be any more problem using "cisgender" than using "heterosexual" to describe the majority identity.

As a lifelong professional communicator but only a recent queer activist, I finally have come to realize that the "correct" way to communicate something isn't necessarily the "right" way to do it.

The return argument was that many in our audience may be only at the beginning of their explorations outside the mainstream and we needed to make them feel safe and accepted as well. While my first reaction is to err on the side of the minority in terms of feeling safe, Open Love NY was founded on the precept that ALL people should be welcome, not just LGBTQ and certainly not just hetero-normative people. There continued to be a concern that there are people who are not academically inclined, or are too lazy or uneducated to look the word up for themselves, so we should look it up for them.

I admit I was pretty outraged that people thought we needed to cater to those who couldn’t do something as simple as looking up a word or reading and understanding our rules in order to join the community that we’ve built:

I'm actually hesitant to say I want our group to be inclusive to people who are not willing to look up a word on the internet in order to achieve safe space. If someone is not willing to educate themselves in order to abide by our rules, then maybe we don't want them as a member. If they aren't going to educate themselves on treating trans people with respect, then can we really expect them to educate themselves about polyamory?

While I agree the word is obscure, it's a necessary way to describe hetero-normative privilege. If everyone avoids using new words needed to describe inequity, injustice will never become visible and it will never be overcome.

Speaking for myself, I am not willing to compromise safe space in order to appeal to the largest possible audience. As leaders of the community, we should be setting the example for others to follow, not just appealing to the lowest common denominator of the mainstream.

But sometimes as a leader, I need to step back and find an alternate solution instead of being continually frustrated that people aren’t as smart as I’d like them to be. So I ended up rewriting the rule to not include the word at all:

Open Love NY practices safe space for all sexual orientations, gender and kink identities, as well as those who identify as monogamous. "Safe space" means using inclusive language that acknowledges the diversity of this group, including diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities. Statements and language that marginalize or assume homogeneity in our audience (such as language that assumes there are no lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer people in this group), or that are offensive toward any particular group of individuals will not be tolerated.

One argument that struck me is that someone said that being college educated is a privileged class as well. While that’s true, it’s different from cisgender or heterosexual privilege in one respect – you have to earn a college education. The others are unearned privileges. You sacrifice nothing to be heterosexual or cisgender - you just are. That’s a distinction that I wish I’d made at the time we were discussing it, but it could get really meta if we started talking about poor people having no choice about being born into a family that can’t afford schooling and higher education, etc. etc.

This whole episode is a microcosm of why I’m so apolitical. It’s a never-ending discussion, there is no right or wrong, and it’s completely enervating to me. Some people thrive on it - I don’t. I know it’s impossible for anyone to understand another person’s viewpoint without engaging in the process, but this takes my focus away from things that are really more important and more immediate to me, both as a person and as president of this group. I have to pick and choose my battles and hope to have made a difference when the dust settles.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Sherlock, Potter and pen pals

I had a relaxing Fourth of July weekend with Puck and their family in Staten Island. For the second year in a row, we missed the big fireworks show, but at least we got to view the movie 1776, based on the Broadway musical play, which Puck considers to be the second-best musical they’ve ever seen (Les Miz being the first – they have a thing for revolutions).

The family entertained various guests throughout the weekend, and I helped Puck clean up their room, in between watching episodes of Dr. Who, a Russian-language version of the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and the BBC’s modern take titled Sherlock. We’ve both been a bit consumed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s celebrated detective – I loaned them my volume of Doyle’s original stories (an extra volume I had on hand in addition to my three-volume annotated version) and I’m reading a modern take called Dust and Shadow, which has been thoroughly engrossing and promises to be a worthy competitor to Edward Hanna’s The Whitechapel Horrors that I read many years ago. I’m also watching the Johnny Depp movie From Hell on my laptop, loosely based on Alan Moore’s graphic novel of the same name. That’s next on my reading list after I finish Dust.

As Puck’s family does every year, we had toasts celebrating the birth of this great nation, and I was gladdened by their mom’s toast that alluded to my relationship with Puck. She talked about how they immigrated here to have the freedom to live how they wanted to live, and to also give their children that same freedom, and looking at her children now (Puck was the only one in attendance) she could see that they are doing just that.

Prior to this weekend, I will also say that last week was also notable from a socializing standpoint. Open Love NY was on Tuesday, and a rare opportunity for Puck to attend. I was not in the best of moods that night, so I can’t say I really enjoyed it as much as I would have normally when they are there with me. Wednesday was the Poly Women’s Group, held back at the Whole Foods Market on Houston. We had a nice group of five including me, Sylwia, Katie and two new women, and we had a good share of our stories.

In a rare third night in a row being out for me, I met up with a new friend named Kacey on Thursday night to walk the High Line Park and explore some art galleries in Chelsea. I first met Kacey at Storm’s party (“Easter egg party” – April 24, 2011) and this is the first time we’ve spent time together since then. Another of her friends was going to come, but had to back out because of a housing emergency, so we were on our own. We saw the beautiful sunset from the High Line and walked from 14th Street to the 20s before coming down and looking for galleries, but they were all closed. We went back up to the park and walked to the termination at 33rd Street and talked on a bench there until they kicked us out at 11 p.m.

I invited Kacey to come see the Harry Potter double-feature finale with me on July 14 (the day before my 7th birthday) and hopefully she will come. This birthday has some significance to me because it will be my first without a sweetie of mine present (since Puck will be in St. Petersburg, Russia). That I chose to celebrate it in this manner is my version of a do-over from my 5th birthday, as this account from one of my private communications explains:

I’m particularly sensitive about my birthday being ruined by drama, because that’s all I remember about last year, my 5th birthday and the last one with my family. Tara and I got into a huge fight while waiting in line for opening night of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It’s probably the only time we fought in front of Bee and Bug, because they had to stay in line and couldn’t leave – plus we were in public so that was embarrassing beyond measure. It was extremely traumatic for me, and I don’t ever want that to happen again.

So hopefully, this 7th birthday will go off peacefully and smoothly, and give me one last positive memory of seeing a Harry Potter premiere.

Friday night I was ready to spend a quiet evening at home, but was pleasantly surprised to hear from my best friend Lori, who is newly single. We went out for dinner and ice cream, and came back to my place to have a long catch-up talk. I am gratified that nearly four years after we first met through a personal ad, we still have the ability to be close friends.

I’ve been thinking about so many people from my past today, especially ex-pen pals that I’ve lost touch with. Some former pen pals like Lori and Agnieszka (with whom I’m planning a trip to Ireland this month) made the jump to becoming real-life best friends. But many other people I thought I had a strong connection with online (a Miss Catherine Newton, another woman named Cara, Danielle, who I see occasionally at Poly Cocktails) either lost touch with me or we didn’t connect in real life.

My friend Linda in Texas is my closest confidant online, and I write occasionally to someone named Destiny in New Jersey, but we’ve never met. Linda occupies the singular position of being the only person to whom I maintain a regular, current connection and has met me in both my previous and present incarnations. It’s likely she may be the only person to ever achieve this distinction in the foreseeable future. I just wanted to articulate the very obscure, yet simple reason why our relationship is so special to me.