Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Imagine the mental gymnastics of the folks who have worked their entire lives and are now at risk of becoming homeless. A repost, 34 days into a shutdown pushing federal workers to the edge of catastrophe.

Urban Tidepool

Are you ready? It’s Tuesday. Let’s do some myth busting just for fun. In my Facebook feed this morning, just in the first couple of minutes that I was looking, I saw articles on poor people, and working people, and poor people who work but can’t afford basic needs, and homeless people. Oh yeah, and comments about health insurance and who should have what and the inevitable comments from people who are tired of supporting health insurance for other people. Don’t forget those.

If I’m completely honest, it wasn’t a pleasant way to wake up this morning. Then beyond finding it irritating, it actually made me angry.

Yes, by all means, let’s talk about poor people and poor people who work and people who are homeless and what they all deserve. Here’s my angle on this, for anyone reading who has not met me in person. I’m probably as middle…

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A post from the archives for National Coming Out Day! Celebrate YOU today!

Urban Tidepool

National Coming Out Day is always a great day for reflection, given that I run an agency for LGBT kids for my job. This week found me wandering memory lane, taking a moment for my own coming out, which (if you’ve caught my previous comments) is always a big question for people who start to read Urban Tidepool and expect it to be a coming out story.

I was 25 when I came out, long past the ending point that is written for the current draft of Urban Tidepool. I had come out to a few very close friends but coming out to my family felt different, bigger, more ominous. Not that it should have, as I was already an adult, living in another state from my remaining family members, but I can still recall the sense of dread as I contemplated what words I might use to make…

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Creating Community

Posted: September 11, 2018 in Uncategorized

From the archives, in honor of those we lost and in honor of those who lost.

Urban Tidepool

The goal of my work at Youth Outlook is to create safe space for LGBT youth. Presently, we do that in a number of ways, primarily through running drop-in centers in various communities, and also through our community education and youth leadership development work. But in 2001, our community education and youth leadership were just getting started and our focus went into the drop-in centers. Our Tuesday night in Naperville has been our biggest and busiest group since 2000. Again for comparison, in 2001 Gay Straight Alliances were few and far between and the Naperville group provided a “home base” for the thirty-plus kids who came in every week, most seeking refuge from still-hostile high schools. Coming to group in our borrowed church space meant family. It meant comfort. It meant, for the first time for many of them, safety.

By the time the chilling silence filled the skies over…

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Of Superhero Capes and Chemo

Posted: April 9, 2018 in Uncategorized

From the archives, in honor of Lorrie’s birthday and her battle.

Urban Tidepool

I met one of my favorite people when she was just finishing up chemo for breast cancer. She was interested in volunteering at the agency where I work, and we met to talk about the jobs that volunteers were doing and the time commitment that might be involved.

I’ve mentioned this before in other blog posts. Some people throw light. It’s a warm, peaceful feeling to be in the presence of that light. My new friend Lorrie threw light like that. She led with it. I noticed it the first time we sat together over coffee, talking about LGBT kids. She was magnetic.

When she asked if it would make a difference to the kids that she came to a drop-in center wearing a headscarf, I told her I thought the kids would place more value on the fact that she was showing up to be supportive of them—they were…

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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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A Group Effort

Posted: May 10, 2017 in Uncategorized

I’m seeing lots of comments about Mother’s Day approaching, and it may inspire another blog post later this week, but for right now, I was inspired to share an older post about all the women who helped me become me, even when there was no Mom-of-a-sort left.

Urban Tidepool

The title of Hillary Clinton’s book, It Takes  a Village, has always appealed to me.   I imagined using a take-off on that title if I were ever to write a memoir. (Little did I know!) Given some of my Catholic school adventures after the parents crossed over while I was running around the world as a 17 year old on my own, I figured if I went with something along the lines of It Takes  a Village to Raise a Child, but It Only Takes One of Me to Raze an Entire Village, we’d be somewhere close to the truth.

It’s true…I come up a bit short handed in the parent arena. Handling that as a kid required some amount of creativity and resourcefulness and I got rather skilled at negotiating around that spot where a mom-of-a-sort was supposed to be. It was an early understanding of family…

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Finding Gratitude

Posted: March 30, 2017 in Uncategorized

On the 15th anniversary of my brother’s death, I find myself wishing the Major lots of love and laughter, less pain, and a better ticker next time, as well as another smart ass little gender neutral sibling who will paint his toenails pink when he dozes off in the living room.

I had a brother once. For that, I am, and always will be, grateful.

Urban Tidepool

A yahrzeit candle burns in the kitchen and throughout the day, I’ve pondered the intimacy of sharing the experience of someone’s death. Intimacy seems an odd word and yet nothing more suitable comes to mind. This sharing shapes me. It might shape any of us, I think…the piercing loss that dulls over time to add layers to who we are as people, to become, hopefully, a reason to be grateful.

I had a brother once. For that, I am grateful. He took me fishing when I was a kid and he taught me how to bait hooks and tie leaders. For that, I am grateful. He told me one day that my parents would be very proud of me and that they would have loved me, no matter the whole gay thing.  For that, I am grateful. At the end of his life, he asked me to be part of making the…

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Dear School Administrators,

I’m about to share with you an idea that is so radical, it might make your hair catch fire when you read it. Ready?  Here goes.

It is not the responsibility of the teenagers with whom you cross paths  to educate you about their gender identity. I know this is a crazy idea, but there are adults in the world who would be glad to have those conversations with you–other real adults who are also school administrators, lawyers and docs, who have spent a great deal of time learning about sexual orientation and gender identify development. Some of the Youth Outlook kids like speaking up but (and I know you’ll find this hard to believe) there are some 13 and 14 year old kids who feel sorta….you know…put on the spot when called upon to educate grown people whose motivations and goals are not quite clear and the kids don’t feel quite supported.

Okay, now put out the fire on your head and consider this. There are agencies that focus their work on supporting LGBT children and youth. They have attorneys on staff that have tracked the legal issues across the country and can give you the most up to date information available.  First, check in with Illinois Safe Schools Alliance (www.illinoissafeschools.org).  They do amazing work with school policy and gender issues.

I know this hard work. Here. Put a little aloe on that burn. Now consider this. There is a growing number of school administrators who have already undertaken some education on the topic of gender identity, bathroom and locker room issues and have arranged for training for all of their staff. At this point, schools are even arranging education for parents who want to understand more. How do I know this? Because I’ve met them in person. They’ve come to trainings offered by Youth Outlook (www.youth-outlook.org), or they’ve scheduled Youth Outlook to come to their school for a presentation. Talk to them. They are a wealth of information about how they did policy changes, guidelines and training.

Back in the late 90s when Youth Outlook was just getting launched, school representatives told me ALL THE TIME that there were no gay kids in the suburban schools. I half expected it from the admin folks but I’ll admit I found it embarrassing from other social workers. Then, time went by and I kept bringing the topic up and more kids came out and GSAs took root. High school representatives stopped arguing about whether or not they had gay kids. They KNEW they had them. Those wild and rascally gay kids were everywhere!

About 5 years ago, I started pointing out that we weren’t talking about only gay kids any more and we weren’t talking about just high schools. By then, we were talking about middle school kids coming out and many, many more issues related to gender identity. And over the last few years, trans, non-binary and gender fluid kids have been coming out in droves.

Guess what our next challenge is going to be?  Can you connect the dots? Right.  Here. You need a little more aloe on that. The next trend is going to be elementary aged kids coming out as the whole range of L, G, B, P and T/non-binary.  The middle schools are still doing what the high schools did back in the 90s. “Oh, we don’t have kids like that here!” Imagine, if you will, what the response is going to be when the elementary aged kids start coming out in the same droves that the middle schoolers are right now.

So, back to my original point.  It’s not the responsibility of those kids to educate you, no more than it is the responsibility of trans teenagers to educate their doctors about trans health needs. There are trainings all over the country now. There are local organizations specializing in supporting LGBT+ kids. I encourage you to find us. We can help you, because it’s our mission to help them. Inviting a 14 year old to meet with the school attorney to explain gender…strikes me as a power play and the first thought that comes to mind, “Hey, pick on someone your own size.”

Really? Is this the first time someone has said that to you?

I know, I know! But don’t worry, I think your eyebrows will grow back. Take this aloe plant with you.  We’ll talk again soon.

aloe-vera-plant

Pride 2016: Whiplash

Last week, I left home on a sunny Thursday morning to go to the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference. I got a little turned around near the airport with all of the construction and had a hard time finding the economy parking lot, which I thought was kind of funny given the number of times I’ve been to the airport. It was a nice day. I was looking forward to my trip—2 ½ days of conferencing and new ideas and meeting fun, new people, followed by 2 days visiting my sister, whom I have described in previous blog posts as “a colorful character”.

I finally figured out the entrance to the economy parking lot and ditched my car in favor of the railcar to the terminal.  American Airlines buzzed at noon. I went right to the little machine and plugged in my flight number.  The machine couldn’t find me. Rut ro, Raggy.  Just to my right, two American Airlines reps chatted at the counter and one glanced over and asked if she could help.

“The machine can’t seem to find me,” I said. “Here’s my reservation info.”

Dutifully, she began to plug the information into her computer. As she was typing, I happened to scroll down a bit on my phone screen and saw that my reservation was just fine—AND with another airline. I started to laugh and she looked up at me.

“Oh geez! My flight is actually on United! I’m in the wrong terminal.”  The more I thought about it, the harder I laughed. She joined me. Then her counter-mate joined us and we all giggled together.  They wished me a great flight and a nice day and I headed over to the correct terminal.

Lines. Identification. Shoes off. If you fly, you know the drill.

“Step in, feet on the marks, raise your hands.”

The scan machines are so much faster.

“You moved. Can you step back in and we’ll do it again? It’s blurry.”

I stepped back in, put my feet on the Arthur Murray footprints and raised my paws above my head. The machine whirred in a half-circle and they waved me out.

“Please wait here until the scan comes up.”

I waited, idly glancing sideways to see if my belongings were coming through the x-ray machine. Not that I fly a lot, but same old, same old.

An angular, hard-looking TSA agent leaned toward me. “Do you have anything in your pockets?”

I shook my head. I know the drill. Nothing in your pockets when you get scanned.  I voluntarily turned my pockets inside out for her.

She looked back at the screen. “Do you have something in your groin area?”

I didn’t think I’d heard her right.  “I’m sorry. What?”

“The scan is showing a suspicious bulge in your groin area. Do you have anything there?”

Confused, I stared at her for a moment. “No. There’s nothing there.”

“What about your right ankle?”

“What about it?”

“The scan shows something there too. Look.” She pointed at the monitor positioned behind me, over my left shoulder.  I turned around. The admirably gender neutral stick figure on the screen had a bright box drawn around both its right stick figure ankle and its y-shaped, stick figure groin area.

What the actual fuck?

“So do you have anything on your ankle?”

“My sock,” I offered dryly.

“I’m going to have to pat it down.”

“Of course,” I agreed, not putting the whole picture together yet.

She reached down, running her fingers around the cuff of my jeans.  As I’d said, there was nothing there but my sock. When she straightened up, she said, “We’re going to have to pat you down.” She started to rattle off the procedure which involved a female TSA agent searching my body, placing hands in some very private areas.

That’s when it clicked.

It flashed through my mind and was gone in a nanosecond. I wonder how many other trans and gender queer people have come through this airport in the last two days to get to this conference? Are you trying to make a point? See if I’m packing? See if I have a penis and my ID doesn’t match my body? Do you want to make sure I’m using the right bathroom?

I didn’t look any different than I have and I wasn’t wearing anything I haven’t flown in for the last 20 years. I wear one kind of jeans. They’re my favorite. I wear one kind of underroos, also my favorite.  What an odd coincidence that we, as a country, are losing our collective minds over trans people and their right to dignity, not to mention bodily privacy, and the only person getting pulled out of line at that moment  was the only visible gender queer. Maybe it happened to people who weren’t gender queer. I don’t know that for a fact. What I do know for a fact was that I was on my way to work, and all of a sudden, I was required to allow a TSA agent to touch my groin.

I took a step back from her and sweat broke out on my forehead and the scruff of my neck. I felt my head jerk side to side convulsively, accompanied by a reaction of please don’t touch me. My breathing constricted and I couldn’t get a deep breath in.

The agent took a step closer to me. “Would you like to be screened in a private area?”

Yes.

NO! Please don’t take me somewhere and touch my body against my will!

I backed up another half step. Maybe I could just leave. I could collect my belongings and just go home. I could skip the conference. Another female TSA rep appeared at the first one’s elbow. Then a male agent called out something about needing a female to do a private screening and a third one appeared. All three of them faced me, as I stood with my back against the edge of the scan machine, sweat leaking down my temples.

“You’ll need to come with us.”

Could I? Couldn’t I just leave?  It wasn’t too far from the feeling of being with the father when he was arrested for DWI when I was eight and I was told I needed to get in the squad car with him, which was the equivalent of being arrested with him. I could have run then, too, but I had been concerned that I’d be the only fugitive in my third grade class. What if I turned around and walked out now?

A vision of being tackled and cuffed invaded my thoughts.  Was that what happened? Was declining a search and leaving ever an option? What were my rights in this situation? Cold, I realized I had no idea if they’d take me down or what my legal rights were.

The private screening area looked like an overgrown cubicle with a lid on it. I was directed in first, and the three agents followed me, lining up along the inside of the only door, barring my exit.

The young African American woman addressed me.  “Is there anything you want to tell us?”

What could I say? Please don’t touch me? I have nothing in my pants except myself? I don’t know why you’re doing this?  Except I did, because the machine told them there was something there…and this was their jobs.

What came out was, “I… I… this will be hard for me. I will try to stand still.”

Her eyebrows furrowed, then she nodded. “I understand. I’ll tell you everything I’m about to do.”  She held her arms out from her sides, palms up. “Please extend your arms like this.”

I stretched my paws out, also palms up. Cold helplessness sank to the bottom of my stomach like a heavy ball as I tensed all over. I realized my heart was racing.

“I’m going to start here with a pinching motion and work my way around.” She took hold of the band of my jeans.

Okay. Okay, I can do this. Just stand still. I can do this.

She finished searching the band of my jeans. “Please move your feet further apart. I’m going to move my hand up your legs. I have to touch your groin. I’ll use the back of my hand.”

My gag reflex caught. I closed my eyes, my entire body constricted now, and tears ran from corners of my closed eyes.

“Are you okay?” the first agent asked.  “Do you need a break?”

I shook my head.

“You want us to keep going and just get it over with?”

Yes. By all means. Please continue invading my body while I stand here with my arms out until you decide it’s “over with”. I have nothing on my being that you are going to find, so exactly how long is this going to take? The sound that came out was sort of a cracked croak which the agent, now kneeling on the floor, took to be an affirmation.

Hands. Stranger’s hands in places that no one gets to touch …except for those with consent or those who did not bother to get consent.

Focus. Focus. It’s almost done.

The agent on the floor finished running her hands between my legs and got up. “She doesn’t have anything.”

NO SHIT.

To me, she said, “You’re doing great. I just have to swab your hands and we’ll be done.”

When she stepped out of the room to get the swab, the first agent offered me a ragged paper towel and asked me quietly, “Are you traveling with someone?”

I shook my head, unable to look at her, tears still blinding me. Silly me. It hadn’t occurred to me to bring emotional support to get through having some stranger’s hands in my groin at the airport so I could get to work. I glanced around the overgrown cubicle, wondering how many other gender queer people had been rubbed down in this space over the past 24 hours. And how many other sexual assault survivors were systematically reduced to trembling idiots, blinded by their own tears?

The swab was clean, mostly because I so rarely need to handle physical explosives at my job as a social worker. Dealing with emotional explosion is much more our realm. Numbly, I wondered if I had somehow missed some headlines about a run of pudgy, middle aged queers smuggling explosives in their underroos.

The agent who had searched me opened the door. “Thank you,” she said softly, a 180 turn from her approach when she thought I had groin-related contraband.

I stumbled away, one sneaker still untied. Or untied again. I didn’t know. The gate seemed an inordinate distance away; the conference might well have been on the other side of the planet.  I could still feel echoes of strange hands. Someone bumped into me—or I bumped into someone—and I crawled further inside my skin seeking the off switch to my over-extended antennae. I fought the urge to keep repeating, “I’m sorry, please stop!”, as if that had been expected me the entire time and as if that might have had any effect.

I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be sorry about. Sorry for being at O’Hare? Sorry for having booked a flight that took me through THAT security gate with those particular TSA agents? Sorry for being comfortable in my gender queerness and having the nerve to show up at the airport that way? Sorry that I wasn’t actually packing and there was nothing between the agent’s hand and my groin except my clothing? Sorry that I had the gall to be looking forward to a 3 day conference of open queer-ity in a city celebrating Pride weekend? Sorry… just for being?

The fall from the high of looking forward to the conference ended with a tooth-rattling jolt in an overgrown cubicle with a lid. I’ve been a public queer for almost twenty years. I’ve been helping little queerlings celebrate who they are for almost half the time I’ve been alive. How dare I? How dare I show up at the airport wearing my favorite jeans and my favorite underroos, sporting my gender neutrality? As if this were Pride month… In 2016.

The conference was barely tolerable and I couldn’t wait to find quiet space. Focus. Breathe. Keep breathing. Find pride. I know it’s here somewhere.

My chest eventually opened up and I was able to start breathing deeply again until the news reports of Orlando and LA began. I hadn’t realized that my breathing space was merely the act of climbing the next incline, this time with a drop right off the edge as if the tracks simply ended. When the plunge began, and my antennae shot out so far I could no longer sense where they were in space or time, I had one comfort left.

I texted the Youth Outlook staff whose numbers I had with me. “Watching this story get worse and worse as the day goes one, thinking of my dream team and loving you guys from PA.”

Their responses to me and to each other lightened the day, lifted it, warmed the cold stone in my stomach. Love. Kindness. Support. Honor.

And pride.

Sometimes, our antennae shoot out. Sometimes, the bottom drops out or the tracks end and we drop several emotional stories. Sadly, maddeningly, it isn’t uncommon in queer worlds. It still gives us whiplash. But in the end, we have each other. There is love. Kindness. Support. Honor. And pride.

Grab a hand. We have such work to do in Orlando, in LA, in Chicago, across the country, in this Pride 2016 season, whiplash and all.

strength

 

 

“You can blow out the candle, but you can’t blow out the fire. Once the flames begin to catch, the wind will blow it higher.”  ~ Playing for Change, Biko, 2009

I spend my days with lightworkers. I think you might know the kinds of people I mean—those folks whose very presence brings your day up, makes you feel cared about, makes you want to be around them. It’s one of the reasons I love my job so much. The opportunity to share days with people whose existence makes the world a better place is a gift.

From my friend David, I am reminded of the role of being an advocate for people’s rights, especially culturally competent healthcare. I am reminded that not everyone has access to healthcare  (culturally competent or otherwise) and I have always admired his stance on that topic.  “I want everyone to feel safe here. They should know they can get what they need here.”

When the topic first came up, we were talking about people who are living with HIV. The next time the topic came up, we were talking about people who are LGBT+. The third time, it was in reference to people who are living with chronic mental illness, who may or may not have a home, who may or may not choose to be medicated for their mental illness. The answer didn’t change, though, which speaks to the underlying value driving his words. “I want everyone to feel safe here.”

From another good friend, Lorrie, I am reminded of the courage that it takes to overcome the shame that accompanies family violence. She helped run Youth Outlook’s healthy relationships program for over a decade, teaching youth how to speak up for themselves and how to hold themselves in a place of esteem from which they could make strong choices about how they would allow themselves to be treated. She would speak of strength and renewal with reverence, calling to mind that everyone has the chance to be reborn, to be loved, to be respected within the context of every relationship.

Such friends not only bring light, as I have mentioned in other posts, but they raise the vibration around them, inviting everyone who crosses paths with them to lift themselves to match that vibration. This is what I mean when I talk about leading with your light. Last summer, I went to a conference with David, and I am now struck by the images of him walking with me on the streets of Tulsa. He radiated joy at being there, at being with me, and the prospect of what we were attempting to do in a joint project. It was impossible to spend time with him and not feel the lift. I watched the employees at his work place respond. I watched wait staff respond as well as other conference attendees who were meeting him for the first time, surrounded and (probably inexplicably to some of them) elevated.

“David, I’ve heard that there are two kinds of people in relationships,” I have told him.  “Kites and rocks. Every relationship has one of each. You’re such a kite!”

On two occasions, he put his arm around my shoulders and squeezed me and said, “Good. You be the rock. We’re going to grow old together, you and me!”

When I told him I wanted my first tattoo to celebrate turning 50, he shared my excitement and asked me what I wanted for a design. So far, he has been the only person who knew without needing it explained what “Ohana” meant and what it meant to me.

“Oh my God, that’s beautiful!” He beamed.

Surrounded. Lifted.

I noticed early on that it wasn’t just me. Other people could feel it too, evidenced by smiles, gestures, shoulders that straightened and heads that tilted upward. Sometimes just by walking into a room, lightworkers shift the energy and it catches…and spreads. People do sense that joy and they want to be close to it.

I started 2016 with a text from David on New Year’s Eve telling me that he couldn’t wait to dig further into the project that we shared and he was ready for next steps. I reminded him that we would grow old together. I, too, wanted to be part of that joy.

I left a meeting with him a couple of weeks ago and realized in the parking lot, as I was pulling away, that I hadn’t told him something very important. I paused and dug my phone out.  “I love you, David!”

“I love you back!”

From cold October evenings in a park in Naperville for Take Back the Night rallies to warm, relaxed afternoons over coffee, Lorrie poured energy into her work with LGBT kids, with rape survivors, with new volunteers seeking to give back to their communities. She could sail into a volunteer training and bring the room up with her announcement, “Of all the places I volunteer, Youth Outlook is my favorite. I cannot wait to be here on Tuesday nights!”  Bodies would shift, heads raise, shoulders straighten.

Surrounded. Lifted.

Our texts shortened over the last few months from “Driving by your house and waving!” to simply, “Loving you!”, and her response, “Loving you too.”

Had you asked me twenty years ago if I’d ever tell a coworker or colleague that I loved him or her or them, I’d have thought the question pure madness. This is what lightworkers inspire. You can’t stop it. No one can. Energy can’t be destroyed, just transformed. And spread–through our friendships, and our engagement with consumers of our agency services, and in our intentions and our wishes and our dreams.

David died last Sunday. Lorrie died on Tuesday. As far as I know, they never met each other, but the light they both brought has illuminated the path for me for more than a decade. The challenge of last week, and of weeks to come, is to recall that their light has not been extinguished. I carry it. You carry it. It doesn’t go out. It transformed and it will continue to glow in the work we do and the passion we feel. “I love you, David,” and “Loving you” would be my final words to David and Lorrie. That, alone, stands as testament that their light will not fade. It merely flickered. Advocacy, safety, rebirth, love, respect…we all get to carry it from here.

“And the eyes of the world are watching us.” ~Playing for Change, Biko, 2009

flickering candle