I make lots of references to the folks I work with on both my personal and my work Facebook pages, often talking about them in terms of being “the dream team” and how proud I am of them and of our work together. I make jokes about how we’re never the team where the boss is trying to catch someone doing something wrong, because I know as sure as I’m standing here that when I see them, I will catch them all doing something right. Being the team leader, I appreciate some moments to consider how I can better do my job, to make them as proud of being involved in our work as I am.

As I pondered approaching holidays last month, I was feeling particularly pleased to be associated with our team. I’m sure some holiday sentimentality figured in there, but I wanted them to know they aren’t JUST the Youth Outlook senior staff. They are unique individuals who bring their own talents and interests to our table, building a powerful team with diverse skills. So…in good Brene Brown and John Maxwell fashion, I decided to let my appreciation of them as people, not employees, show and I shared my thoughts, putting Vulnerable Boss right out there on the line.

I don’t know if you’ll ever meet all of the team. Some of my blog readers live on other continents. But maybe after you read, you’ll know them just a little bit better the next time I talk about them.

A Christmas Note to Youth Outlook Dream Team

Do you know the story about “You were always my favorite?”

The way it was told to me, a mom leaves her children a note to read after she dies. Each note starts with the line, “You were always my favorite because…” and she goes on to tell them why each was her favorite. At the end, the note specifies that they should not tell their siblings what they just read, thereby ensuring that each child went through life believing that they were their mom’s favorite.

On the way back from Orlando, I started thinking about our dream team and how important the role is that each of you plays in elevating Youth Outlook (youth-outlook.org) to being this exceptional organization. I think I was reading something about how, in some organizations, ridicule is used to control people and keep them in line. And I thought, wow, how horrible…how do people live with that? And I was feeling most fortunate to have our dream team. I was going to send you all a Christmas card but then the story about “You’re always my favorite because…” occurred to me. As I reflected on it, here’s what it turned into.

Yes, of course you’re my favorite.

Andrea, you’re my favorite because you embody self-care. What you have done in your commitment to derby right down to the leg you broke in what…97 places???… and the demands that I know your Big Girl job has tossed your way, our new vision for youth leadership, and your more recent adventures in getting into kick-boxing inspire me every time we talk and make me want to take care of myself too.

​Carolyn, you’re my favorite because you embody welcoming change and challenges in both your professional and your personal world. You are shaking up structures and systems across the state, and I predict that soon it will be across the country. Your welcoming change and challenge is rivaled only by your ability to make those around you feel incredibly cared about. I admire your courage and your willingness to think and then rethink and then think some more, and then act on those convictions with kindness.

Kim, you’re my favorite because you embody diplomacy and objectivity, approaching all situations with a calmness and a thoughtfulness that is uplifting. I’ve seen you reframe questions and concerns in staff meetings and trainings to introduce new possibilities without judgment, and when at all possible, with a mix of humor that often leaves me in a heap on the floor. Sometimes, even when you don’t mean to. Sometimes, because you don’t mean to.  That I can say to you, “Oh my—we’re having a Brene Brown conversation!” and you know exactly what I mean and both us dissolve into laughter, that’s an awesome connection.

Carrie, you’re my favorite because you embody fearlessness. You walked into a brand new job with a brand new agency in a strange city, then carried the main role for an event you’d never attended, and then led our charge into our new model without hesitation.  Your adventures in running, your role play persona at volunteer training and your “mom stories” about your boys further prove it—there is nothing you won’t challenge yourself with, no job too tough.  Your ability to dream goes hand in hand with your ability to risk wisely and you are a leader in every sense of the word.

Peter, you’re my favorite because you embody creativity. You bring color and energy to your work and apparently even when we’re talking about life handing us lemons, they’re fabulous lemons and we should all keep that in mind. I look forward to your posts about which project happened at group, or over the weekend, or at the summer art shows because your work just brightens our Youth Outlook world in so many ways.

Karol, you’re my favorite because you embody survival. You served in our military at a time it could not have been easy to be yourself. You started a drop in center in the middle of a cornfield where it also could not—and at times is STILL not—easy. You put yourself way out there in places and times where it might be more convenient and (perhaps?) less hurtful to do something else—but you don’t let yourself be ruled by that. You share yourself not just through Youth Outlook but other LGBT arenas too, and you never speak of yourself as a role model for survivors but you are and I want you to know I think of you that way.

Nancy Carlson, you’re my favorite because you embody lifelong commitment to social justice and the spirit of giving. When I think of the thousands of people whose lives you have changed by your work through Rape Crisis and now through Youth Outlook…many of those people who will never meet you in person but whose lives are changed because of you…I marvel at being able to work with such a powerful activist.

Heather, you’re my favorite because you embody the spirit of adventure. From stripping paint to tie dying tee shirts to recruiting new volunteers, you approach everything as if it is the most magical thing ever, and we’re all going to have a good time doing it. I know that a year ago you couldn’t have imagined what 2017 would bring, and I hope it has impacted your life as wonderfully as you’ve impacted mine and Youth Outlook’s.

Denise, you’re my favorite because you embody persistence. It is never easy to get a new suburban program up off the ground. You’ve already determined that whatever it takes, you’re going to give and that shows through every time we talk. You’re always looking for the next opportunity to share us, the next place to get word about Youth Outlook out, the kid who just needs a friendly shoulder. Your heart is huge and I’m glad it’s on the dream team.

Marcus, you’re my favorite because you embody living authentically. From your stories about being a minister’s kid to your flip-flops in February to walking into the Sikh temple last year and saying out loud, “I needed to see you, can I hug you?”, you show us every day how to be the best versions of ourselves by being real, open, and loving and I so appreciate you.

I am surrounded by heroes every day because you’re here doing this job with me. As I said, I thought about sending you Christmas cards, but it’s my 20th Christmas at Youth Outlook so I thought something a little different was in order.

Just so you know, you’ve always been my favorite.

With warmest regard and gratitude,

Nando

PS  Don’t tell the others.

PPS  I wish you amazing holidays. As I signed off a recent blog post:  whatever your holiday, whatever your traditions, whatever your holiday traditions, may you celebrate in peace and kindness and may the people whom you love light up your path for our coming new year.

creative-desk-pens-school

 

I just watched a very poignant clip of Ellen interviewing Oprah about the 1997 coming out episode (The Puppy) on the Ellen Show. That episode aired in April 1997 and I started work at Youth Outlook in October 1998. I found it difficult not to tear up while Ellen and Oprah talked about both the episode and the backlash following. Ellen’s show was canceled. Laura Dern couldn’t get work for a year after playing her role. Oprah got hundreds of messages telling her to go back to Africa.

As a community, our fight is far from over and some of these messages have made an ugly reappearance recently. While listening to Ellen and Oprah, though, I was reminded of one thing—one primary feeling—of “the old days” that I rarely speak about to anyone, and at THAT time, I never spoke of.

I was afraid. I had reason to be.

When I moved to IL in 1998, I had been out for several years, sported a crew cut and Harry Potter glasses, and had a rainbow in the back window of my car. I was settling into my gender neutrality, having fun with my “boi” playfulness, and I was accustomed to a different atmosphere after living for twelve years in Seneca Falls, the birthplace of the Women’s Rights Movement, and around Syracuse, hovering in or near academic circles of radical feminism. It was a great place to live and a great place to come out.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from IL. I hoped for Chicago overflow, similar to NY overflow, to which I attributed much of the free thinking I encountered in Syracuse. That’s not what I found.

In past blogs, I have mentioned the resistance I met in my efforts to form connections to some of the high schools.  That was rough. I was both irritated and embarrassed to meet other social workers who denied the existence of LGBT kids.  Countering the belief that kids were too young to know who they were (although most of the folks who maintained that could handily tell me at what age they’d had their first heterosexual crush or when they knew for sure that they were cisgender) was an uphill challenge, but it did not compare to the covert and cowardly threats I endured as the first employee of the first not for profit that specialized in working with queerlings in the western suburbs.

The timing of this was important. By 1998, services had existed within the Chicago city limits for years. There were potlucks, a sports association, bars, youth groups, churches, and medical clinics specific to LGBT people in Chicago. In the western suburbs, there were only the daring PFLAG groups.

Then I arrived. It was my job to make connections within our communities, to be a visible face of this new agency. To be publicly queer.

That part I had no problem with. I’d been publicly queer for a while.

Just pause for moment and think about the things Ellen describes and picture how that would have gone in towns and cities in DuPage County, IL.  Name calling? I certainly got the name calling. I got the slurs hurled from passing cars, most often “Faggot” which I have always found odd. I usually want to refer people to Urban Dictionary for the correct slur to hurl, if one is going to hurl slurs at all. Female bodied queer people are not generally called faggots, but I may have to re-evaluate that based on the frequency with which it was used at that time.

As the agency’s single employee and being who I was, I was particularly aware of the hostile environment. It’s a safe assessment that the early board members were also aware and to some extent, felt compelled to keep the kids hidden for their protection (except the kids weren’t interested in being hidden).  Many of them had lived here for years. They knew what to expect.

It was a bit of a surprise on the day a board member asked me to attend a county meeting and afterward, she called me to ask one question. “Do you have to look so….butch?”

At first, I was confused. I had sat next to her in the meeting. I had worn a blue silk shirt and black pants. She had also been wearing a shirt and black pants. I cast around for an answer, feeling vaguely insulted, when I realized she was referring less to WHAT I was wearing and more to HOW I was wearing it. My clothing was not that much different from hers. But I have a stance, a presence, that leaves little to imagination about what my orientation might be.  She had already told me that she could not come out.

We ironed out that she didn’t actually have a problem with the clothing I’d been wearing. She had a bigger issue with the fact that it was 1998 in suburban Illinois and I was identifiable as queer. When I pointed out that being identifiable as queer wasn’t really a bad thing for someone who was running an LGBT focused agency, the conversation came to an awkward stop and never arose again.

I could manage the questions about being out. On the other hand, the death threats put me on edge. It was the anonymous voicemails left about how the building we were using would be set fire to because we were all going to hell anyway. It was the creepy demands to “make sure you tell all those kids the truth—that they’re all going to hell for being disgusting little perverts” and the parents who cried and shouted at me that I could not tell their kids that they were good human beings that  left my sleep ragged.

Those were the days of Westboro Baptist Church and Fred Phelps picketing churches that were becoming open and affirming and the funeral of Matthew Shepard, carrying signs that declared “Matt Shepard Burns in Hell” in front of his already traumatized and horrified family. As an agency, we had to be ready for anything that might be leveled at us, any day of any week. We learned to live with the fear. We wrote guidelines for how we’d handle if we ever needed to evacuate our borrowed spaces on short notice and we coached the kids on what to do if they ever found themselves confronted with a line of protestors carrying vile signs.

Verbal harassment. Death threats. Protestors. I was afraid. I had reason to be.

I did my job anyway, sometimes watching over my shoulder in dark parking lots and often enduring strangers’ comments that if I would just be open (to people of the opposite sex, to someone’s god, to psychiatric help, etc.), that perhaps someday I, too, could be as normal as they were. Oh, and by the way, which church did I belong to? I learned to fend off married women’s passes in public restrooms and to allow the slurs from passing cars and people in crowds to roll off me like water off a duck’s back.

I couldn’t exactly reach out to Ellen in those early days but I do owe many thanks to the Chicago women who supported me, those who understood that you live with the fear and you do it anyway. I just entered year 20 of my job and some of those early memories don’t get trotted out into sunlight very often. The Ellen interview sparked quite a few of them. (http://www.upworthy.com/in-1997-being-gay-on-tv-was-not-ok-ellen-and-oprah-look-back-in-this-emotional-clip?c=ufb3) These days, I’m more likely to be focused on what’s coming next week or next month, and less on what it was like to be a public queer in 1998.  Wow. We really have made history.

And yes, thank you for asking–I did have to look this…butch…while I was doing it. (And can you believe it–she hadn’t even seen me wearing a tux!)

Dedicated to my colleague and friend, Jessica Halem, who will probably never know how much of a sanity saver she was.

Nance

There is no time of the year that I am as aware of my shortage of family of origin as I am at the holidays. This is what some of us were raised with, right? Holidays are about family. Old songs extoll traveling long miles over snowy roads to be with family for that special holiday dinner and go to great lengths to depict our innate drive to avoid going back out on those snowy roads and sit with the love of our lives in front of a roaring fire.  Churches plan elaborate services at different times to celebrate with congregation members. This is the message repeated through the years. This is how we handle holidays.

This expectation has evolved a bit since my coming out days. At that time, family of choice was key. It had to be. Many of us had been thrown out of our homes, cut off from the families that brought us into the world. We survived by creating other family structures of mentors and dear friends, those people who could and would nurture us, gentle us, soothe the scorching loss so many of us experienced while parents and siblings wrestled with their own demons related to our orientation or gender identity.

Evolved, yes, but certainly not gone. And unfortunately, seeming to ramp up in ways I haven’t seen in twenty years, making me question what our new generation of young queerlings will do to build in their own structures of support.

In terms of my own structure of support, I’ve said numerous times over the past few years that I “family” differently than most people. I have found that a lot of folks don’t quite understand what that means.  Sadly, I’ve also found that a lot of folks whom I thought would understand because they’d come to know me well actually had no idea what it meant. That may end up being a post on another day.

I sat with a copy of Urban Tidepool on the table between a friend and myself this week and observed it again. “I family differently than most people.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

I tapped the cover of the coil bound book. “I don’t think it is possible to have these experiences and go on to family in a typical sense.”  I poked at the small child figure in the graphic.  “Look at this. I was this big when my mother died. Like…two inches tall.”  I held my fingers two inches apart in front of my eye for emphasis and peeked at her between them.  “Speaking developmentally, because you know I love all that developmental stuff, it’s not possible that THAT person could understand the changes that were about to happen and what it would mean to how I relate to family.”

She nodded, taking my point. “No, a kid that young isn’t able to do that.”

“All that kid is capable of is missing their mommy.”

There. I’d said it.  I’ve never put it into that context. Even when I wrote the chapters about the mother’s death and the three ring circus that followed, I’ve never spoken in plain words about being that kid, especially being that kid who missed their mommy. As a family, we never acknowledged it to each other that I recall. The game plan was always to keep acting as if everything was fine.

I’ve known for decades that things were not really fine. How could they have been?  I’m aware of the void left by her death, and then his, and the gap that exists where most people have parents, even many people my own age (which is sometimes a surprise to me that people my age still have parents).  As I have aged, the gap has worn larger, what memories I do have have softened and blurred until eventually I realized I have difficulty producing an independent image of her. There is longing….the gap DID have someone standing in it at one time…but the longing is now associated with gap rather than with image.  It is an odd combination, this longing for a person I barely remember, one that leaves me less enthusiastic about holidays than the average bear. The dread of Christmas begins to build immediately after Thanksgiving. It is a dark, foot-dragging time that peaks on Christmas Eve when I am so miserable I am unfit for human companionship and breaks about 2 pm Christmas afternoon, when I realize it’s done for another year and I can just go about my life again without the intense pressure, without the constant reminder that holiday time is coming and here are the things other people are doing with their families.

In 1973, getting through the first Christmas after the mother’s loss was nothing short of surreal. In the days before Christmas, it felt like we were moving through some Twilight Zone universe, going through motions that we’d always done, but we were hollow. It was supposed to be the most joyful time of year—at least that’s what all the old songs told us.

Over the years, I’ve figured out how to manage the obligation of Christmas joy that I don’t feel without bringing down everyone around me. I keep things low key to soothe that two-inch tall, gender neutral kid who feels like they’re living through a Twilight Zone episode. This year, I will call my sister, and then the day will probably include Die Hard movies, Gremlins, and maybe some Harry Potter and popcorn.  Well, maybe some Harry Potter. Definitely some popcorn.

As an aside, is anyone else intrigued by the fact that the only two Christmas movies that speak to me are called Die Hard and Gremlins? I’m sure that can’t be coincidence!

Anyway…that gap does soften and blur memory of people but I haven’t found that it actually does anything to soothe the memory of being without them. That’s a curious thing to me.

An excerpt from Urban Tidepool, Downward Spiral:

On a dreary mid-December afternoon, Michael and I cleaned the living and dining room and dragged the Christmas decorations out of the old storage trunk in the cellar. The nativity scene with the clay figures that the mother had painted and glued into place was stationed at its post on top of the TV that I polished with lemon Pledge.  We tried to hang things where the mother would have put them. We went through a mountain of tape sticking things to the front windows, now streaked with half-circles precisely the length of my arms, like the mother would have done. Well, maybe she wouldn’t have left so many streaks, but I was proud of the way I hung backwards out the window ten feet above the ground to get the outside clean. Across the street in Mr. Aubrey’s cellar window, his annual miniature train scene whirred on tiny tracks through a festive tiny village, weaving from one pane to the next, then back again. Almost every house on the street blinked shades of red and green. Some things were the same. But nothing was the same.

 We all have some gaps. We will all reach those points where some things are the same but nothing will ever be the same again. It is a normal part of aging and families growing and changing. My goal this year is to be gentle with that gap and see if I can get through Christmas Eve while still being fit for human companionship. It will be a first for me. Just consider me the Un-Spirit of Christmas.  If you’re around the neighborhood, Die Hard starts at 2 and the popcorn will be on and I’ll be hanging out with the dogs and my gap. Maybe I’ll even put the old manger out. Dress code, comfy. Bring your own gaps if you wish. We’ll be gentle with all of them.

Whatever your holiday, whatever your traditions, whatever your holiday traditions, may you celebrate in peace and kindness and may the people whom you love light up your path for our coming new year.

manger

 

 

 

 

New Traditions

Posted: November 9, 2017 in Uncategorized

This week, the brother I grew up with has been dead 20 years. I wonder who he might have become. I wonder who we might have become.

Urban Tidepool

Over the last ten years, I have picked up a few traditions from my fabulous spouse and our kids, who happen to be Jewish. A couple of years ago, I was so proud of myself that I could remember the words for lighting the Hanukkah candles in Hebrew, which I do not speak, that it took a moment to realize that my fabulous spouse was laughing at me. I paused and asked (in English) what the problem was. She informed me that I had my Hebrew words mixed up and I had just blessed the wine…that we were not having. Twice. But it’s not all that bad. Some of these, I do get right.

One of my other favorite borrowed traditions is lighting a yahrzeit candle on the anniversary of someone’s death as a way of celebrating their life and symbolizing lighting their way to peaceful afterlife. October often feels…

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This past Saturday was the day of our big agency fundraiser, Dare to Dream. I joke about it being the 9th time we were running an event that we meant to offer just once. I am asked each year to provide a “state of the agency” commentary to bring our donors up to speed on new and/or fun things that have happened in the past year since we last met. Our landscape for LGBT service provision has changed. Our expectations have changed. I’ve changed. Here’s why.

From Youth Outlook state of the agency, October 21, 2017:

I promised the board members I wouldn’t get sad and sappy while I was up here so let’s pick up where we left off last year. Last year at this event, four days after the election, we talked about community, hope, persistence and determination.

Eleven and a half months later, I can tell you that determination has only grown. I’d love to be able to say we’ve been unaffected by the changes but that wouldn’t be true. A few weeks ago, I even wrote an open letter to the Youth Outlook kids which you will hear in a few minutes. (https://urbantidepool.com/2017/10/05/an-open-letter-to-the-youth-outlook-youth/) While most of the responses to it were positive, one parent did tell me I was fear mongering and then told me I was living in a fantasy because the world has never been and will never be safe.

My first thought to that was –is it fear mongering when I tell you outright what I am afraid of or I repeat what kids have said they are afraid of? I’m not sure I understand your use of that word.

My next thought to that was Wow. We will always believe in safe space. I know what we’ve done in just this past year to create safe, brave space for kids who were struggling with assault, homelessness, rape, and thoughts of suicide.

It’s not like we’re wearing blinders. We know what we are up against. Any one of the staff team can quote Southern Poverty Law Center information that anti-LGBT hate crimes have increased across the country, moving us from the number 4 spot to the number 3 spot since November, outranked only by anti-Black and anti-immigration hate crimes. Anyone of them can tell you that according to GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Educators’ Network, we had seen national declines in verbal and physical harassment and sexual violence for several consecutive years, until 2015, when we saw an uptick in every one of those categories and we’re hearing stories that suggest we will probably see another increase in those stats when the 2017 report is released.

We know those things are out there. We’ve seen the Confederate flags flying in our neighborhoods and we’ve led conversations with our kids about white supremacy, privilege and violence.

You know what else is out there? One–A new, rural Youth Outlook drop in center. We put our heads together with a wonderful group of people from the Open Table United Church of Christ in Ottawa last spring and before I could blink twice, we had a drop in center running there that became the second biggest program that we offer.

So that’s out there.  Two– We’ve successfully launched about one new drop in center per year. In a big year, we’ve done two, but those are the exception. This year, we’re averaging about one new request per month to come into a different community and open a another site. The need is there and people are responding to it in ways we have not seen before.

Three–About a month ago, we called together the first meeting of the leadership of the countywide networks of professionals that work with LGBT kids. The network groups are responsible for planning professional development in each of their locations. We started with one in DuPage County, then added DeKalb, then Kane, then Suburban Cook created their own modeled after ours, and now three other counties are considering joining this effort to keep putting accurate, positive information about LGBT kids out into the conversation.

Four–Last June, Youth Outlook had the busiest Pride month we’ve had in the history of the agency, as more corporations than ever asked us to speak for their events. We said yes—to everything. It was Pride month. We weren’t going to do sad and sappy.

In the background of those requests, I took a Friday afternoon off to plant some flowers in my back yard. Some of you have heard me reference my neighbors. They are a rough crowd. So here I am spending my Friday afternoon playing in the dirt, one of my favorite things, and I can hear the neighbors on the other side of my fence. It’s Dyke this, Dyke that, and hey how much fun is it to park that dyke next door into her driveway so she can’t get out past the fire hydrant and the end of my truck?  Yuk, yuk, yuk.

This is, unfortunately, not anything new. I’ve been listening to these people for several years. What was new this year was that it didn’t stop there. I did what I always do—I channeled my inner Michelle Obama and when they went low, I went high. I tuned them out. I tuned them out until one of them approached the fence near where I was working, unzipped his fly and urinated on the fence so that it splashed through on me.

It took two days for it to fully register with me what had happened. I am 52 years old. I have a master’s degree and I run an agency that helps kids. And that man called me a dyke and peed on me. I have to wonder—if it took me at 52, with my social network and my professional status, two days to be able to start processing that event, what about the 12 year olds whose families do not know who they are and they can’t dare say it? How are they managing these situations without support?

Later that week, Carrie, Carolyn and I all had Pride presentations to do. We had an agency to talk about and kids in six counties to support. We can skip the sad and the sappy. But by all means, let’s talk about determination. Let’s talk about defiance and standing up for ourselves and for our kids.

Let’s talk about looking around at what’s going on and saying not just no, but HELL no? This might have gone over in 1998 when I started working here. But now? This is not going to fly. We will not stop talking about what helps LGBT young people feel safe. Part of that is acknowledging what makes them feel unsafe. We will not stop talking about it, no matter how many times I am told that we’re living in a fantasy because we’ve already been told too many times that Youth Outlook IS the only safe space that some kids experience.

I believe we are in for some giant challenges in the coming year. That’s an opportunity for us to step up or step off.

Ask any one of us about this topic, determination. Stepping up is the only option.

boulder

This week I started my 20th year in my job running Youth Outlook where I (do my best to) support the drop-in centers and other services that we offer.  That’s a long stretch of time, especially when I stop to consider that when I started working here, most of you drop-in center kids weren’t even born yet. Matthew Shepard was murdered that week. We were looking forward to a new show called Will and Grace that actually had openly gay characters. Kids were wearing bell-bottom jeans and some cell phones still flipped. Can you believe it?

We’ve done a lot of work since that time. There has been an entire generation of young queerlings who came before you and paved the way, people whose courage and persistence was—and remains– nothing short of heroic. I feel like I need to speak up this week, though, because we’ve just been hit with several positively vile things, despite all of that hard work we’ve put in.

You are coming out at a time when we thought we had made the world a little bit better, a little bit safer for you. Now I wonder if it feels like we offered you a world with an illusion of safety and now that you’re coming out, these positively vile things are dropped on your heads. I wonder if it feels like the world offered you a place to sit and the last nine months have wrenched that chair out from under you.

It is unthinkable to me that we offered you a world where we said it’s okay if you want to serve your country and a few weeks ago, our elected officials announced a ban on transgender individuals serving. That is and will be argued, and I’m confident that in the end it will be dismissed, but it does not change the fact that we are going to argue your right to serve your country. Right in front of you. Again. It does not change the fact that trans people who are serving right now have been put on notice that they are not worth being allowed to wear that uniform.

It is unthinkable to me that we offered you a world where we said you’re safe at your job and no one can discriminate against you simply for being LGBT. I’ve said that very statement to a number of Youth Outlook kids over the years. “You’re safe. You have a right to ask for a job there. Go git ’em!” Then a couple of weeks ago, our elected officials announced that they think it’s okay to fire someone simply for being LGBT.  That is and will be argued, and I’m confident that in the end it will be dismissed, but it doesn’t change the fact that we’re going to argue your right to hold a job and not be discriminated against in hiring and termination practices and in benefits administration. Right in front of you. Again. It does not change the fact that people will be fired in the interim and they have been put on notice that their skills and talents are not welcome in certain settings.

It is unthinkable to me that we offered you a world where we said you have inherent value and you are important link in our interconnectedness. Then just a few days ago, our elected officials announced that the US voted against a United Nations resolution calling for a ban on executing LGBT individuals. Truly, truly unthinkable. We stood with countries who want to kill you. We did that. That is and will be argued, and even now the White House is attempting to “clarify” what it meant by voting NO, and I’m confident that in the end it will be dismissed. But it doesn’t change the fact that we just made a huge public statement about our representatives’ profound contempt for queer lives. We did that. Right in front of you. Again.

In a year or four or six, you will leave your teenaged selves in the dust and go on with your lives in whatever is left of the world. You will be the next round of heroes because we will need you to clean this mess up. Since I’ve met you, I have no doubt you’ll do exactly that, as scarred as you will be from this viciousness.

It hardly seems fair, does it? It is a colossal universal joke. We told you the world was safe, then in almost the next breath, politicians advocated to take away your right to serve your country, to be free from discrimination, even to be a living, breathing being on the planet, while you listen to them debate your value—while you listen to them debate your right to exist. When this hateful bubble implodes, as we know it will, you’ll be here to take us to the next steps of our humanity, bearing your scars like badges.

It is unthinkable to me that we ask such a monumental task of you. If we could clap our hands over your ears or cover your spirits with our spirits, to keep you from having to absorb this vitriol, please know we would do that.

You will be the heroes. It is unthinkable to me that you wouldn’t be.

Until then, you have my hands and you have my heart~

Nancy

hands and heart jpeg

Wow, these online dating websites are quite popular. I used a couple of them, myself, in addition to some Meet Up groups in my effort to make new friends following my gay-divorce.  (When you get gay-married, you have to get gay-divorced.) Curious process, this. While I did meet a few folks who became friends, I also had some experiences where I doubted that I was speaking the same language as the person with whom I was in contact. Up was down, black was white. Or grey. Or green. Women who claimed not to want drama were expert at creating it. One of the first women who spoke to me asked if I’d like to be Facebook friends and when I declined, she prowled through not-for-profit website after not-for-profit website until she found a photo of me and proudly told me how she tracked me down. I was totally creeped out. No did not mean no? I hadn’t hesitated. I had said NO. I began to wonder if there was a secret decoder ring that would help me understand some of the conflicting messages and language barriers.

Calling Capt’n Crunch! Ovaltine? Anyone?

Alas, not finding a decoding system, I finally decided to write my own.

Mind you, it wasn’t all bad. I like my new friends. They’re kind, decent folks who really were okay with the fact that I was just looking for friends, who became bike ride companions, hiking companions, lunch or let’s-get-coffee companions. Sometimes we compare notes on their experiences on the dating sites and what I saw, and we have found some remarkable similarities. That could be because it seems like it’s the same 40 or 50 women on all of the sites over and over again, so there’s bound to be some similarities.

I suspect these findings are not limited to lesbian dating websites. I suspect cis-het folks get their share of comments like these, as well as people who try to convince them that up is down and black is white. Or grey. Or green. In fact, several of my straight friends howled with laughter when I read this to them and then said, “It’s not just the lesbians doing that, baby!”  I can’t speak to that, though, as it’s been a long time since I went in search of a maaa-yun, or as I sometimes called my housemate, “An XY.” So take these with a grain of salt. Or even a shaker full of it, depending on your own experiences.

For the record, I am open to the idea that I just suck at meeting new people but if that’s the case, it’s a fairly new phenomenon. Like since I turned 50. I mean, it’s entirely possible that my ability to make friends has gone by way of “What did I come in this room for?” that we 50+ folks tolerate of ourselves on a daily basis. I do, however, recall some coaching in grad school about how when you repeatedly walk out of a conversation scratching your head, genuinely puzzled, wondering, “What the hell just happened here?”, it’s also entirely possible that the issue is not yours.

So who knows for sure? Let’s keep the door open to the idea that when I am faced with potential new friends, I draw a blank and can’t remember what I came in this room for. Maybe it’s an ongoing cycle of walking back to my office with a Diet Coke when I really needed to go get some scissors, just with people, instead. I meant to go out and make a friend, but once I got out there, I forgot what I was doing and came back with a puppy, a new refrigerator and someone who really just wants to get married. These things are known to happen, right? While we’re at it, though, let’s also make room for the idea that quite a few of these conversations truly deserved a head scratch and a “What the hell just happened here?”

Here is a list of the comments I heard and saw most frequently, coupled with the things I believe to be the unspoken real statement behind what was said outwardly.

No drama! Translation:  I’m going to treat you poorly and then when you protest, I’m going to complain about the drama you’re creating. Do NOT call me on my shit.

No baggage! Translation:  I have no true desire to get to know you or share with you anything that makes me real, usually because I don’t know what that is. Let’s just figure out if I want to get in your underroos or not, and then we can be done.

No drama/no baggage! Translation:  I’ll be in the wind ten seconds after we say hello.

I’m all about living in the moment.  Translation: What? There are people who actually write about and speak on the topic of mindfulness and it doesn’t mean I really just wanna get laid tonight without complications??? People study this shit? Are you sure?

Feminine only. Translation:  I’m still married and my husband will be involved.

Femmes only.  Translation:  I’m still in the closet and you have to pass as my platonic girlfriend.

Must like to laugh. Translation:  I can’t think of anything else to say about myself because I have no idea who I am.

Sports fan.  Translation:  I can’t have a conversation longer than 4 or 5 sentences that doesn’t involve some sports reference.

Sure, we can be friends, Version 1. Translation: But only until I find someone to date, then I can’t be your friend anymore.

Sure, we can be friends, Version 2.  Translation:  But only until you confirm that you don’t really want to date me, then I won’t be interested in being friends anymore and I’ll blow you off until you get the point, although I’ll never actually admit this out loud.

Sure, we can be friends, Version 3.  Translation:  Whatever, I’m about to ghost you.

No, I don’t want to be in a relationship, either.  Translation: …Unless you want me to be.

I am looking for my soulmate.  Translation:  I can’t make a decision on my own and need someone else to fill in the gaps in my wounded psyche. Please take over the decision making in my life so that when things go wrong, I have someone else to blame and I can be bitter and angry at you forever.

I am looking for my other half.  Translation:  I’ve seen too many Nicholas Sparks movies OR I attempted to recreate a scene from a Harry Potter movie that involved flue powder or splinching and…ooops… (As an aside, this comment often confused me. Don’t people generally want to date and make friends with other people who are already whole all by themselves?)

I am looking for my best friend.  Translation:  I’ve somehow managed to make it to 50 without making any friends, so if we start hanging out together, you have to promise to be EVERYTHING to me because I have no other life.

Family is really important to me, Version 1.  Translation:  Saying I’m doing anything with my family is a good excuse for when I don’t feel like getting together with you.

Family is really important to me, Version 2.  Translation:  I am a single parent and have three kids under 10. Or my grown children all still live in my house. Or I’m the sole caretaker for my aging parent(s), so getting on my calendar to do ANYTHING is impossible, but thanks, it makes me feel really good that you were interested. No, we don’t need to meet in person. I just wanted to introduce myself to a bunch of strangers so they could all know that family is really important to me and that I am unavailable.

I’m spiritual.  Translation:  I don’t give much thought to spirituality at all or how it influences my life. I don’t have an affiliation with any faith community, but I believe in something—I just don’t think about it. But I believe in it. I just don’t think about it. Go ahead. Ask me. You want another beer?

I know we said we’d do something today but now…  Translation:  You’re not on the priority list. You’re not even close to the priority list. But I’d like you to be available the next time I don’t have anything going on, so please keep your calendar clear.

I’m sooooo busy.  Translation:  I didn’t really want to be connected to you, I just want you to chase me.

Sorry I have to break our plans (followed by no attempts to make new plans).  Translation:  A lack of time with you doesn’t mean anything to me…and frankly, neither did having time with you, I just didn’t know how to tell you.

I’m not even sure WHY I set up a profile on that website!  Translation:  Please don’t ask about the other four dating sites I’m also on, there’s no need to talk about THOSE. Nothing to see here, people, nothing to see!

I’m looking for a long term relationship.  Translation:  I want someone who is physically stunning, has a great job with an awesome paycheck, is an elite athlete but still exquisitely feminine, can prioritize me immediately, and lives two houses down because I don’t want to put any work into having to get to the same space she’s in. I don’t drive or own a car, I’m more interested in the size of her waistline than the size of her heart, my conversation skills are limited to, “You have a great smile,” but hey, I’m a find—just ask me how much!

Head scratching and puzzled looks aside, I do tend to be a bit of a smart ass. That needs no translation. I’ll just own that. If you’ve gone exploring in the wild world of online introductions and potential dating without being ghosted, benched, or zombied, I wish you nothing but the best. If you have been ghosted, benched, or zombied, I’m sorry. We’re all grown ups here and it’s a reasonable expectation that another grown up’s communication skills would be better than those three options. But if you find yourself scratching and puzzling, you might want to consider your own decoder system. (Well, after 25 years of working in HIV services, if you find yourself scratching, that might be a topic for another blog—get that to the nearest clinic!)

Until next time, decoding fans!

decoder ring