Posts Tagged ‘friends’

The storms this past week have been hard on my peach tree. I watched all through the spring as the hard, fuzzy golfballs grew, blushed, developed an ever-so-slightly detectable give. They all come into peak at the same time so there’s one week each summer that is dedicated to collecting and processing, and the Ball jar collection on my shelves and in my freezer starts to increase.  One of my best recipes is my own creation—Uncle Nando’s Pee-Wee Jam. It’s a peach kiwi combination, and totally worth the effort of homemade.

I don’t really fancy myself a farmer. I adore the idea of homesteading but my job reality is that I also appreciate the convenience of running to the store for goat cheese because my only contact with goats is on Facebook when friends leave them on my page. There’s a definite leaning toward goats in pajamas, but that’s never a deal breaker.

So I was looking forward to this week of collecting and processing and my expanding family of canning jars. I waited for the first round of storms to pass to venture out in the yard. Once the rain cleared, it immediately became beastly hot again, so all of the outdoor entomos were present in full force.

I practice organic gardening. I say I practice because it always seems to be a learning curve and is sometimes more successful than others. I guess that means I practice organic peaches and cherries too.  The peaches can get a tad sunburned, making their little shoulders a little rough (and who can’t relate to that after a certain age?), and just as they reach peak, I have to wave off the gnats and the ants and sometimes the bees.

Did I mention that I’m not so much of a farmer?  The idea makes me chuckle. I wouldn’t know most large bugs from a new Fiat. Does it walk? Does it fly? Does it have a stick shift?  As long as it doesn’t bother me, I don’t mind sharing.

This week, when I made my trek to the back yard for picking day, it was already way too warm for a  post storm day. I took my handy green bin and stood beneath the weighted branches, looking my favorite tree up and down. Most of the ready-to-be-picked fruit lay in the mulch and grass, knocked free of their stems by the previous night’s torrential downpour and winds.  A few remained stubbornly attached and I reached for those, confidently waving off the gnats that joined me for the adventure.

It wasn’t a huge surprise they’d been knocked down, since earlier in the day, I noted that all of the portajohns in the construction zone on the tollway had blown over sideways.  Peaches are somewhat lighter and less intimidating than your average portajohn.

On the first reach, I noted new winged friends. Oh….they were pretty. I hadn’t seen such critters before. They were black and white striped, hovering over some of the damaged peaches. I wondered what kind of fruit fly they were. There were dozens of them. Maybe hundreds.  I shooed a few off the peach I wanted to put in my bin. They moved amiably over to the next available fruit or settled on ones on the ground. I shooed again. They moved again, yielding territory and their food to me.  I thanked them. I also complimented them on their snappy white and black striped rugby shirts. I told them they were very dashing. They buzzed happily and we worked together for a little while longer.

Later that afternoon, with the remaining peaches reclining comfortably in the kitchen, I popped onto Facebook for a minute. The first thing I ran across was a meme about Yellow Striped Stingy Things, depicting all kinds of bees.  Curious, I opened a new screen and did a quick search for black and white flies.

Rut ro. Did I mention that I’m not a farmer?  Yyyyyeaah.  I’m quick like that. They weren’t flies.  Not even close. They’re bald faced hornets, and they can be aggressive when their food source is at risk. Like…you know…when you’re standing under their peach tree, competing with dozens of  them for fruit and trying to shoo them away.

Why would they have been so reasonable?  Then I started to laugh. There was fermenting fruit on the ground under the tree.  Fermenting fruit. Wine, dammit. They were drinking and eating peach wine. The little bastards were so happy because they were drunk!

THAT’s why I recognized them! They were like a group of rowdy, winged, drunk Irishmen who just want to buy you a pint and sing with you!  “Heeeeyyyyyy, mate! Pull up a peach tree! Sit on that rock and have a nip!” I know those guys! Oh hell, I grew up with those guys!

Not too much survived the storms this week. We won’t have any Uncle Nando’s Pee-Wee Jam.  I waited all year for what I would make this week and got blindsided by an enormous, unexpected storm that wiped out most of what I’d been waiting for. It happens. It is a good thing I’m not doing the serious homestead thing. I’d be sunk. But I did make some new friends who were wearing very snappy black and white rugby shirts and got a good laugh in the process, which beats the hell out of a trip to the ER any day!

Have a day of silliness, friends!


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. ( 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.


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’m an absolute asshole.

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