“. . . When our grand passion had not yet become familial. . .” (Thom Gunn)

Boston, 1991

Boston, 1991

Somewhere in a box or pile or a file or a stack is a musical creation of mine (or not―it most likely met the same fate as most of my compositions), a small song cycle, a setting of three poems by Thom Gunn from his 1966 collection, Positives. I wrote the cycle in about 1970.

I don’t remember the poems or the music. I wrote the music as part of the work for my MA degree in music composition at what was then California State University at Los Angeles. I chose Gunn’s poetry because I found his book at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, and it was the first collection I owned by a poet I knew was gay.

Yesterday I wore an old lavender T-shirt, shapeless and faded―like me―from the Boston Gay Pride Parade in 1991. My first Gay Pride Parade was the 20th in Boston—1990. For it I had a T-shirt that proclaimed in black letters nearly covering the front, “Nobody knows I’m gay!” In 1992 I had a T-shirt with the logo of the Boston Aids Hospice as I marched with the other volunteers from the Hospice (it closed in 1997, after I had moved to Dallas).

A member of the AA group I most often attended in 1991 had been present at the Stonewall Riots in 1969. I used to own a book about the riots which contained a picture of her (yes, women were involved in the riots). She was uncomfortable with what she saw as the flippant use by the gay community of Stonewall as a rallying point. She remembered that night only with horror and fear. She could not bring herself to march in Pride Parades.

I was married at the time of Stonewall, but I remember watching the coverage on the national TV news and thinking I should have been there. My wife knew I was gay. Those were the days when many of us―my wife and I included―thought that getting married would somehow end my being gay. (Or, more likely, I thought it would provide “cover” for being who I knew I was.)

I wore my “Together in Pride, June 8th, 1991, Lesbian and Gay Pride” T-shirt yesterday to attend the celebration at the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas of the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states. I’m not sure why I didn’t take a selfie wearing it at the event.

Trying to sort out for myself, much less for anyone else, the complexity of my feelings throughout the day yesterday, and especially at the celebration, is seeming to be impossible.

First observation. I was (as I have become accustomed to being) one of the oldest people in the group of 2,000. My guess is there were fewer than 50 of us 70 or older.

Second observation. I was alone.

Third observation. It all seemed too easy.

Fourth observation. My tears over and over again yesterday were of joy, relief, fulfillment, jealousy, longing, and grief simultaneously and progressively, impossible to sort out.

Of course I am elated, overjoyed, and ecstatic at the Supreme Court decision, relieved that that step on the journey to civil rights is taken (I wonder if the LGBTQ community ready now to tackle racism, poverty, and xenophobia in this country).

The only man I have ever wanted to marry died in 2003 after we had been together 12 years. I sometimes long to be with him, and I grieve that we were never able to have a legally recognized relationship.

I grieve—yes, that’s the correct word—for the relationships I have had, beginning with my marriage to Ann. I grieve also that I am alone, that meeting a man I would want to marry, now that I could, seems improbable, if not impossible.

Hugged by the man I would have married

Hugged by the man I would have married (taken 1993)

Most of the crowd of people younger than I that gathered at the Cathedral of Hope yesterday—this is not sour grapes but a statement of fact—cannot know how much I treasure that 24-year-old lavender T-shirt (many of those wonderful folks were not even born in 1991). Or the pictures of my second partner and me taken in about 1985.

Or the memory of my “coming out” in my university newspaper in 1965—4 years before Stonewall.

I have never done anything “important.” Other than be something of a role model for (sometimes frightened and depressed) gay college students for 30 years. And volunteer at the AIDS Hospice. And march in parades. And write some pieces that have been published over the years. And try to be a good partner. And maintain a career viable enough to take care of myself.

One of the men I love and admire most these days was part of the Lambda Legal team that brought Lawrence v. Texas to the Supreme Court. One of my closest friends was a leader in ACT-Up in Boston in the ‘80s. A friend was the founder of the Gay group that still exists in the American Baptist Convention.

I’ve never done anything publicly important for the cause of LGBTQ rights. I’m not one of those the speakers last night acknowledged they were “standing on the shoulders of.”

Except I’ve persevered. I’ve lived a life of quiet (sometimes) desperation, desperation that may or may not have had anything to do with being a gay man (that’s a topic so complicated seven psychiatrists and three neurologists have never been able to untangle).

And now I am alone.

I’m not asking for anyone’s pity. Only some acknowledgement and understanding that my feelings yesterday were justifiably complex and contradictory. Which means they were (are) like my feelings my whole life long. My passions were my passions when they “had not yet become familial.” Could not become familial in the most basic sense.

“THE HUG,” BY THOM GUNN (1929-2004)
It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined
Half of the night with our old friend
Who’d showed us in the end
To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.
Already I lay snug,
And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.

I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug,
Suddenly, from behind,
In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed:
Your instep to my heel,
My shoulder-blades against your chest.
It was not sex, but I could feel
The whole strength of your body set,
Or braced, to mine,
And locking me to you
As if we were still twenty-two
When our grand passion had not yet
Become familial.
My quick sleep had deleted all
Of intervening time and place.
I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.
―(From Selected Poems by Thom Gunn. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.)

The First Gay Pride Parade in Boston, 1970.

The First Gay Pride Parade in Boston, 1970.

“. . . in our brokenness thrives life, thrives light, thrives the essence of our strength. . .” (Jimmy Santiago Baca)

The Supremes

The Supremes

So. This was the big day. The day a certain portion of society has been awaiting for thousands of years (hyperbole, vanity, or fact?). The showdown between Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsberg. A moment of truth.

One more tempest in a teapot cooled.

In the year 2000, I predicted well in advance that Dick Cheney would somehow manage to steal the election for himself and George Bush. I had read the “Project for a New American Century.” Leading up to the election I emailed friends about it, and they all said, “Oh yadda, yadda, yadda. Don’t take stuff like that so seriously.”

Does anyone remember who was in charge of choosing Dick Cheney as W. Bush’s running-mate?

In July 2000, after serving as the head of then-Texas Governor George W. Bush’s vice presidential search committee, Dick Cheney was announced as the Republican vice presidential nominee. As the vice presidential vetter, Cheney required at least 11 potential candidates to fill out “an extraordinarily detailed, 83-question form” delving into their backgrounds.

Bush’s staff assured the press at the time that Cheney “subjected himself to the same kind of scrutiny” as the other contenders. But a new book by Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman reveals that Cheney “never filled out his own questionnaire.”

“Of the twenty-five people who signed the PNAC’s founding statement of principles, ten went on to serve in the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz.”

And then came Afghanistan and Iraq and all manner of other disasters.

While researching something unrelated, I came across an article by Nilay Saiya, “Onward Christian Soldiers: American Dispensationalists, George W. Bush and the Middle East.” Holy Land Studies: A Multidisciplinary Journal (Edinburgh University Press) 11.2 (2012): 175-204.

That led me (as only a committed researcher—remember, I’m a musicologist at the core—would be led) to an article by Frank Summers, “Violence in American Foreign Policy: A Psychoanalytic Approach.” International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies 6.4 (2009): 300-320.

And that led me to Maria Ryan’s article, ““Exporting Democracy”? Neoconservatism and the Limits of Military Intervention, 1989-2008.” Diplomacy & Statecraft 21.3 (2010): 491-515.

There are more. I’m going to figure out how to post all of them as an annotated bibliography of articles about how we got to where we are as a people (or are we a “people?”)..
Scalia and Wuerl

But back to the great cooling of the teapot today. In point of fact, I never wandered from the subject. It’s all of a piece. Those guys that Dick Cheney got into W. Bush’s cabinet were able to choose two members of the Supreme Court. Well, they didn’t, exactly. W. Bush himself did that, presumably. But if Dick Cheney appointed himself Vice-President, don’t you think he had some influence there?

Those two are Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. Together they cemented the most monolithic majority the Court has ever known: five conservative Roman Catholic men. They vote in lock-step as consistently as any Court majority ever has—way more than most.

And they’re going to decide, based on arguments they heard today, if marriage is a civil right or a religious privilege.

Guess.

I wonder if they’ve ever read any of Jimmy Santiago Baca’s poetry.

“What is Broken Is What God Blesses,” by Jimmy Santiago Baca (b.1952)

The lover’s footprint in the sand
the ten-year-old kid’s bare feet
in the mud picking chili for rich growers,
not those seeking cultural or ethnic roots,
but those whose roots
have been exposed, hacked, dug up and burned
and in those roots
do animals burrow for warmth;
what is broken is blessed,
not the knowledge and empty-shelled wisdom
paraphrased from textbooks,
not the mimicking nor plaques of distinction
nor the ribbons and medals
but after the privileged carriage has passed
the breeze blows traces of wheel ruts away
and on the dust will again be the people’s broken
footprints.
What is broken God blesses,
not the perfectly brick-on-brick prison
but the shattered wall
that announces freedom to the world,
proclaims the irascible spirit of the human
rebelling against lies, against betrayal,
against taking what is not deserved;
the human complaint is what God blesses,
our impoverished dirt roads filled with cripples,
what is broken is baptized,
the irreverent disbeliever,
the addict’s arm seamed with needle marks
is a thread line of a blanket
frayed and bare from keeping the man warm.
We are all broken ornaments,
glinting in our worn-out work gloves,
foreclosed homes, ruined marriages,
from which shimmer our lives in their deepest truths,
blood from the wound,
broken ornaments—
when we lost our perfection and honored our imperfect sentiments, we were
blessed.
Broken are the ghettos, barrios, trailer parks where gangs duel to death,
yet through the wretchedness a woman of sixty comes riding her rusty bicycle,
we embrace
we bury in our hearts,
broken ornaments, accused, hunted, finding solace and refuge
we work, we worry, we love
but always with compassion
reflecting our blessings—
in our brokenness
thrives life, thrives light, thrives
the essence of our strength,
each of us a warm fragment,
broken off from the greater
ornament of the unseen,
then rejoined as dust,
to all this is.

Jimmy Santiago Baca was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on January 2, 1952. Abandoned by his parents at the age of two, he lived with one of his grandparents for several years before being placed in an orphanage. He wound up living on the streets, and at the age of twenty-one he was convicted on charges of drug possession and incarcerated. He served six years in prison, four of them in isolation. During this time, Baca taught himself to read and write, and he began to compose poetry. A fellow inmate convinced him to submit some of his poems to Mother Jones magazine, then edited by Denise Levertov. Levertov printed Baca’s poems and began corresponding with him, eventually finding a publisher for his first book. (More. . .)
GAY MARRIAGE OPPONENT HOLDS SIGN IN PROTEST OUTSIDE STATEHOUSE

“Life isn’t fair, but government absolutely must be.” (Ann Richards)

The Supremes

The Supremes

In a scene of the original stage musical Hair, three black women in identical pink sequined dresses stood together and sang “White boys are so pretty” as a parody of the Supremes (the song was too controversial to be in the film version). At the end of the song they stepped apart to reveal they were in one large dress with three neck holes.

Listen up, Texans. It’s time to take a stand.

This state’s election of smug, pseudo-conservative (read: “selfish”), old, (presumably) straight white men to all of the statewide offices is no reason to shirk our duty.

Everyone knows the Texas voter ID law is un-Constitutional. A court said so. And then Antonin Scalia and his old Catholic men friends on the Supreme Court essentially said, “So what?”

On October 9, 2014, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos held that

. . . [Texas] S.B. 14 creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose. . . . The Court further holds that SB 14 constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax.

On October 19, the Supremes—dancing in their one-dress-fits-five à la Hair—struck down her ruling. Every time the five old Catholic men on the Supreme Court hand down one of their rulings without benefit of female or Protestant points of view, that image from Hair comes to my mind, the five of them in one sequined dress singing, “White boys are delicious.”

OK. I know that’s disrespectful. And please don’t say I’m being anti-Catholic or something. I’m simply amazed that the Supreme Court has a 6-3 majority (all of the men and one of the women) representing one segment (and not the majority) of our population.

Of course, a ruling by a Hispanic woman judge could not stand. Especially one appointed by President Obama.

The Supremes

The Supremes

I’m not a Constitutional scholar and can’t explain details of the universal right to vote of Americans. Please go to this article for details (Douglas, Joshua A. “The Right to Vote Under State Constitutions.” Vanderbilt Law Review 67.1 [2014]: 89-149). The discussion of Federal Constitutional rights is pages 95-101. The rest of the article explains the rights guaranteed under the various state constitutions.

(Don’t be put off if you have never read a law review article. It’s clear and easy to read—and you’ll be surprised how knowledgeable you feel when you’ve finished. Read only the five pages I’ve suggested, and you will know all you need to know.)

Those of us who care about the Constitution and our rights guaranteed under it can and MUST make our voices heard.
In Texas that’s easy: When you go to vote and the election clerks ask you for more ID than is necessary, show your IDs, but tell them you want to file a protest. They will give you a form (if they don’t have one, that’s cause for another protest).

In my protest I said that being asked for more personal information than is necessary is a violation of my right to vote under the Federal Constitution, detailed in the 15th Amendment and made universal in the 14th Amendment.

Public announcement, Mineola, Texas, 1939

Public announcement, Mineola, Texas, 1939

Fill it out. Give it to them or take it home and mail it.

Spread the word. Let the state know through this legal protest what you think of the law.

My friend Rita Clark of Dallas, who was an election clerk at a polling place in the last election (the first to use the draconian law), sent me this email detailing the effect of the Jim Crow law. Notice particularly the last paragraph. Even a former election clerk needs investigation.

Harold – You are so right! I worked as an election clerk in the last election and I was so distressed by what I saw happen to authentically registered voters that I decided I’d never take that job again. At least (I didn’t make a precise count) 12 to 15 voters were sent away from our polling place due to some perceived discrepancy in their voting registration or other ridiculous “error.” Of that number, at least four of them were elderly, had problems walking, but somehow, on walkers, made their way to the front desk only to be told they could not vote that day – some said they had been registered at the same address for 50 years – some were just too distressed by the whole ordeal that they left promising never to try again.
I’ve been working on a couple of campaigns this year and when I encounter people out in the neighborhoods they often say they won’t be voting because of the “hassle” or (I suspect) because they “don’t look American.” I am so disappointed in our “democracy.” I’ll continue working on the campaigns this time but I don’t know if I can do it again.
I voted yesterday – and Yep! they had to call downtown to clear me – didn’t like my registration info – I’ve never had it happen before. I really don’t know how we got in such a deep hole with this. I think we’ll hear more stories as the election goes along. The heroes of this story are the people with “foreign-sounding” last names and those who have a certain look—and they still go to vote! God bless those brave folks!
Thanks for sending your suggestion. I’m going to see if I can file a protest today.
Rita Clarke

You can join the group I’ve started on Facebook. But whatever you do. . .

PLEASE ASK YOUR FRIENDS TO FILE PROTESTS WHEN THEY VOTE!

Who’s wearing the same dress?

supremesWhen I was in seminary (yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus), I took the course “Existential Theology.” I took it because the professor was too hot—a Methodist preacher/academic (at what back then was called STC—the School of Theology at Claremont, California). He must have been from Texas. He wore jeans (blue, of course, because that’s all there was then—either Levis or Wranglers) a tan corduroy sport coat with bolo tie, and expensive Western boots.

That was the semester STC gave me the boot because they found out I was gay, found out in a most unfortunate manner. My then-wife was none too pleased, either. Remember, this was 1968. Stonewall was still a gleam in some drag queen’s eye, and all us faggots who wanted anything like a career (especially in the church) were, if not closeted, at least married or putting up some kind of front.

That was not the beginning of the ruination of my life. That had already happened in a way that I will never write about. I do have some boundaries.

My life was disjointed—pun intended. My wife was a brilliantly successful high school English, journalism, and drama teacher—this was back in the day when teachers were expected to be creative and energetic rather than burdened with absurd Republican rules about giving tests and being “accountable”—so we had a steady income. I, on the other hand, was a part-time church organist (a job which saved my life and is yet the most creative and satisfying position I’ve had). After the Theological Boot, I had jobs I hated. Baldwin piano salesman. Printer in the in-house print shop at the now defunct Kaiser Steel plant in Fontana. Mind-numbing work I could pursue only by living in fantasies in my head while I was on the job. I had that Kaiser job because the husband of the secretary at my church was a supervisor there and put in a good word for me even though she knew I was a queer.

The secretary at Christ Church (Episcopal) in Ontario was one of a group of us who, shortly after I got the Theological Boot, trooped to Los Angeles together to see Hair, the musical. If you saw that original Broadway production, you may not remember it the way I do. (If I’m wrong, someone comment and put the record straight—pun intended—but that won’t change what I’m about to say.)

In the original production (not in the movie) the trio of black women singing about “white boys” in the best song in the show—IMHO—wearing pink spangled dresses mimicking The Supremes moved and sang together. They stood as close as their harmony, swaying and dancing. The gag—the almost too slapstick trick—was that at the end they stepped apart and revealed their dresses were one huge dress.

That, and the fact that the cast came up the aisles naked at the end of the show (or was it at the end of the first act?) and I was sitting on the end of a row goggle-eyed made me crazy. I wanted to be naked in front of two thousand people (I was young and skinny then) or at least to stop having to hide.

The Supremes

The Supremes

My life as a half-closeted, half-ostentatiously-out gay man was, in those days, untenable. I was miserable, my wife was miserable, and I made lots of other people miserable (including my Dutch Reformed psychiatrist from Chino—but that’s another story).

Today the Supreme Court (only peripherally not to be confused with The Supremes) will hear the case that should somehow make sense of, give meaning to, liberate the memory of my life at that time. (My musings must be taken with a grain of salt because I’m not only a Tired Old Queen, but diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder which, I’m sure most Fundamentalist Christians believe all LGBT persons are.)

In spite of Chief Justice Roberts’s lesbian cousin, I’m prepared to have hopes dashed yet again.

I know, I know, I know. Change is in the wind and all of that. But five of the Supremes have, for most of their careers, worn the same spangled dress. Five catholic men, all appointed by “Conservative” Republican Presidents, will make the decision. ‘Nuff said, I fear.

But here’s the real kicker. Even if they make the “right” decision, it will be so bitter-sweet for me that I will hardly be able to rejoice. Oh, I will rejoice!don’t get me wrong!—for my younger gay friends. But nothing can bring back the life I’ve not had, epitomized by the Theological Boot. I’m not a victim, a martyr, or an accuser, but I will have to learn to rejoice. I don’t regret my life, and I’m not a spoil sport. But let’s be honest.

The Theological Boot

The Theological Boot