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When The Night Falls, My Lonely Heart Calls

There are some days where I don’t care about eating. I don’t drink water, I just drink enough coffee to get through the day. There are some nights, when I get home, I take care of Lucy, I take care of Ella; I don’t feel like taking care of myself.

Tonight I sit on the back steps, letting the tears roll slowly down my cheeks. I want to lay down in the cool grass like Lucy in her crib; face pressed down, knees tucked up tight underneath me. Child pose. I want to find comfort in the grounding of my body to the earth.

But some nights, there is no comfort to be found.

It’s not enough or correct to say I am lonely tonight. 

The open windows of passing cars send me snippets of songs, memories that fade in and out in rapid cadence; the traffic is my radio set to scan. The images it brings are washed out, color leaching away slowly. I can’t remember what we did to celebrate our last anniversary. Of course, we didn’t know it was going to be our last. What would we have done differently? 

We were married on Flag Day during Pride month. We had most of our closest friends and family around, and an art festival outside the walls. Music from our reception and from the festival comingled in the street, the soundtrack for the smokers in the group. It was an amazing day, worth every moment of stress in the planning, and every penny we spent. 

As I ignore the heartbreak hell of July bearing down on me, I take the time to slow down and appreciate June. I love Pride. I let myself enjoy the rainbows hanging from banks and businesses, even as they are crammed into logos and shared as swag to support this product, buy this commodity. Are corporations capitalizing on Pride to draw in more money? Absolutely. And still, a rainbow is a happy thing to see. 

I had a friend tell me that Pride me is their favorite season of me, not just this year, but always. And I can see that. Not that I’m a different person, but June just calls me to celebration the way Christmas does for some. This is definitely the most wonderful time of the year. The weather is better, especially here in New England. The Earth is in her summer glory, colors spilling over green like spilled pots of finger paint. I feel myself bloom; there is no point in the year where I feel the need to hide myself, but Pride is a call to indulge in being relentlessly gay. I’m the one yelling “Happy Pride!” first thing in the morning on June 1st, and from my porch at midnight on June 30th

It is aptly named. I feel a tremendous swell of pride when I think about the origins of the gay rights movement, fifty-two years ago on the streets of New York. The Stonewall Inn wasn’t the first bar, full of black and brown and white drag queens and queer folk, to be raided, and certainly wasn’t the last; but it was the night that the community decided that this would no longer be tolerated. When Storme DeLarverie fought back against the handcuffs and the cops and demanded to know if the onlookers, “Why don’t you guys do something?,” when Marsha P. Johnson made weapons out of bricks, it sparked a revolution. That inaugural blaze lit from within one of the few safe places (safe being a relative term) burned for three days, lighting the way forward. Pride itself was forged in fire; we carry that torch, lit fifty-two years ago, today. 

This pandemic wreaking havoc the world over has brought memories of the AIDS onslaught bubbling up from the traumatic mire. A conservative (and ill-equipped) government who blamed a specific classification of people out of one side of their mouth, and failed to take the threat seriously and maligned those who did out of the other. Fear and misinformation spreading like wildfire, suspicion and conspiracy theory planted like seeds in the ashes. Whole communities under siege for circumstances beyond their control, fighting off two enemies at once; the disease, and the hatred. One tiny light shines in this mirrored dark: Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Pride is a time not just for parades and floats, for glitter and club music. It’s a time to remember our roots, our history; like so many other movements, one borne from the blood shed by black bodies in the streets at the hands of police, “sworn to protect.” It’s a time to remember those who have died, simply for living their truth. Five years ago, more blood spilled; not by police this time, but terrorism. The massacre at Pulse took 49 lives, mostly Latinx and people of color. They were just living, just dancing and drinking and talking and flirting. 

For me, Pride is also a time to remember, and to celebrate, my own. My wife, my beloved, my Hawthorne. They kept the paper signs that were ziptied to the parking meters for the dyke marches in Buffalo, as far back as 2007. We joined the march ourselves as an integral part of our bachelor/bachelorette celebration. We had swag tucked everywhere; a pen, a tiny flag, a stress ball. Every time we moved, each would be rediscovered, memories revisited. We went to Pride in Boston, Buffalo, Northampton, and even the driving pride in Rutland during Covid. They were incredibly proud to be queer and butch and, later, queer and genderqueer and masculine presenting. They were growing a beard when they died; they couldn’t wait for it to come in thick like it did for the other men in the family – so they could glitter it. They couldn’t wait to smoke their pipe underneath a handlebar mustache. They had suffered so much intolerance, bullying, and ostracization because of who they were. I am grateful, every single day, that they had a chance to live as shirtlessly and authentically as they did in their last year. 

June was and is a time of unbridled celebration, of throwing glitter bombs in the face of all those who have wounded our community. The flowers we threw grew from sacred ground, soaked in blood, raised with hope. Pride was, and is, defiant in the name of injustice and intolerance. This year, by day, I see that rainbow, I spread that love, I live my truth. Come nightfall, I am weighed down by the collective grief – of a movement sparked at Stonewall, devastated by disease, attacked by terrorists, denigrated by neighbors – and my own personal heartbreak. 

I will never again get to dance at Pride with my wife; never again get to enjoy the ponies and the good pups together, the drag queens and kings in their finery, cry tears of joy with the sheer amount of young people who are living their lives out loud, gripping our hands together so tight they hurt. There will forever be an empty spot beside me on the sidewalk; but then, the crowd is full of ghosts. 

And as far as the corporate plot to make money off Pride, well, you can kiss my queer ass. 

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I’m Drawn to the Ones That Ain’t Afraid

This is the first time I have sat down to write in a while. These June days are long and tumultuous; the nights are broken into chapters of sleep, interrupted by pain. I have found myself startled awake by the cries of both my beloved and my baby only to find salt on my own cheeks. I look at this tiny, wondrous creature and despair at the world we have brought her into. I look at my beloved, with a strength and resilience I have yet to see matched, and my heart wrenches with silent sobs.

Today is our wedding anniversary. We married in Pride month, during an art festival under an administration elected on a platform of hope and change. We were married legally as two women, in a church, with 8 people fit into a limo, not a thought to sharing the close quarters with each other’s laughter and singing.

The then-and-now picture that emerges next to that happy day is in negative, a strip of film that had fluttered away when the photographs were last handled. The sun is shining still, but the golden light has never felt more temporary. June is still Pride month, and we are still married; but the rainbow that shone so brightly has wavered and dimmed. 

The art festival, shared limousines, and singing in enclosed spaces have all been paused by the coronavirus. Infections are rising as restrictions lift across the country. Pride month has given way, rightly, to gay wrath month. We hold our platform steady and try to use our voices to amplify those of the black community, who have been disproportionally killed by the police. We remember who stood for their rights in 1969 so that we may stand together today. We have lost a son, and felt his spirit when our daughter touched down earthside on Dia de los Angelitos. And my partner-in-crime, by beloved, is no longer a woman. 

Simone de Beauvoir said that “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” To me it makes sense, then, that a woman can continue to become – even if it means that “woman” is not inclusive enough of a term, it can be a resting stop on a person’s journey of identity.    

Hawthorne is the not the first first name of my love. She/her pronouns do not encompass the wonder that is this person. The love of my life transcends the binary, genderqueer and proud. They have never been one for conformity, so why should their gender be any different? 

Two days ago, the Trump administration rolled back healthcare protections for trans* folks as defined by the Affordable Care Act. I was immediately incensed. It felt like a tipping point; I felt like the world was exploding around me as I stood, screaming, hands clamped over my ears so I could not hear the impacts of the shrapnel on the disenfranchised. How much more can I take, I wondered, rage pulsing through me. I can feel the echo of it in my blood still. 

We had fought so hard for marriage equality, which was passed and the most prominent house in the land was lit with rainbows. We were acknowledged, we were validated as a community. Congratulations, you are people too! Enjoy it while you can! is what the cake should have read. Hawthorne saw that then; I foolishly held more hope. 

Hawthorne is due to have surgery on their back in 9 days. This new injury occurred over 5 months ago; this is not their first tangle with the healthcare system, but it is the biggest one since they have advanced on their identity discovery journey. We live in a progressive state – at least one that is progressive in their practice, even if it takes some time for the laws to catch up. There seems to be an air of, “oh, we have to spell that out for people?” in our legislature. The majority of the time, it is an accepting place. And when it isn’t, people take action. I know that this move by the administration to redefine sex-based discrimination as based on biological sex (as well as decrease abortion access and decrease translation resources for non-English speakers) will not fly here, nor will it impact Hawthorne’s long and desperately-awaited surgery next week. But I worry. 

Covid-19 put off one particularly important thing. Hawthorne was in the process of changing their name before non-essential work stopped and travel was restricted in March. Here, it’s not a terribly hard process, but it does require certain government offices to be open. We are now looking at how to relaunch that process; it’s difficult for people who operate outside the gender binary to constantly hear their former name in the already fraught setting of healthcare. Electronic medical records are also notoriously slow to update with changes to the capture of demographic data. All this coalesces with the injury itself and the excruciating nerve pain to make every healthcare appointment a daunting endeavor. 

Right now, Hawthorne cannot carry our child easily or safely; walking is manageable, but stairs and sitting upright for any length of time is difficult. The nerve medication is a time-thief that steals the words and slows the speech of my favorite conversationalist. I miss seeing their ocean eyes unclouded by constant and debilitating pain. I wish I could alleviate that pain, even for a minute, and give them just a moment of sweet relief. I don’t know how they find the strength to carry it day after day. 

The amount of pain they have been left to languish in is inhumane. To add the constant need to correct their name as others speak it adds emotional overtime; then, for this embroiled country to put such hard-won progress in reverse and reclaim the ability to deny rights to trans* people removes even the vestige of respect. And still they rise: they make the calls and complete the paperwork and attend the appointments. The definition of insanity is not repeating the same action and expecting the result to change; that is tenacity, that is perseverance in the face of the storm. Hawthorne stands against the winds that buffet them with inadequate pain relief, with judgments about weight, mental health, and addiction thinly disguised as medical concern, and tangles of red tape. 

And here’s the kicker: they are afraid. Of the surgery, of the disregard for black and brown lives in this country, of the Republican National Convention now announcing their platform will still oppose marriage equality and support conversion therapy. They are afraid as I am, and that fear crowds out their anger while it elevates mine. But still, they stand and make their progress, inch by excruciating inch, intent on clawing back to their true self. They do it afraid. Their courage is nothing short of astounding.

They are my Pride. And whenever need be, I’ll be their Wrath. 

I thought I was going to write about anger today. Instead, the love came pouring out of me. If blog posts have dedications, then this one goes out to you, my love. I’ll be by your side through all that is to come, as I have all we have been through. You have stood by me, strong and indominatable, fluffy and dented, maybe bent but never broken. We have had ten years together, six married; two births, what feels like countless deaths; joy personified and vast rolling oceans of pain; a hundred storms, a thousand rains. Let’s get back to the garden, there are new greens to tend. Here’s to the next step in our forever. 

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Everybody’s Safe and It Can’t Happen Here

A couple years ago, the internet discovered the Japanese word tsundoku – the universal habit of collecting of so many books that there is little hope of ever reading them all. Like millions of others on Pinterest, I looked at the listing towers tucked around me and thought, same. There are stacks and piles in every room – on shelves, on counters, behind toilets. Our clutter is made up of our bursts of creative energy, pretty rocks, and books. There is one on a shelf upstairs that has been on my mind this week that has just cut to the front of the line – David France’s How to Survive a Plague

As I have been researching past coronavirus pandemics (SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2012), my mind keeps wandering to other infectious disease outbreaks. Zika and Ebola are two of the more recent diseases to leave their mark on humankind – that we like to talk about. The havoc these diseases wreak on the human body is gruesome and for the most part, happens elsewhere. We sit safely in our homes, watching as other parts of the world deal with these emerging pathogens. It was not our mothers and sisters bleeding through old army cots to stain the earth; it was not our babies born with microcephaly. It was not our friends, our favorite waitresses, our pediatricians who were dying from just doing their jobs. It was not our nieces and nephews unable to prevent mosquitos from taking blood and leaving the virus. We watched as black skin bled and brown mothers cried, greedily eating up the images. It was proof that it wasn’t happening to us. They ate weird animals, bush meat, we said, as we sucked the ketchup from our quarter pounders off our fingers. No wonder they have crazy bugs, look at their garbage problems, we said, as we packed 13-gallon trash bags with plastic and wasted food.

And those were the diseases we cared about; the shock value of the footage of these ravaging viruses made us feel like infectious disease is a rarity. We felt safe. Even when Ebola made its way to American shores, we didn’t feel like it would affect us, it wouldn’t reach our families. And for the most part, it didn’t. 

Most infectious disease transmissions never make a blip. There is no BREAKING NEWS ticker for cholera. Tuberculosis doesn’t ping on our radar. Swaths of people have the privilege to ignore the history of medicine, declining to vaccinate children from things like measles, so sure that the risks of adverse effects of the vaccine are so much worse than the disease itself. We blow off the flu vaccine as if 35.5 million people didn’t contract it in the 2018-2019 season, as if 34,200 people didn’t die from it. 

We always think we are safe, that we won’t be touched by death’s ungloved hand. It’s always happening to someone else. 

The AIDS epidemic changed things, for a while. Young men started dying of pneumonia in Los Angeles. The first case report made sure to include in the very first line that all five cases were “active homosexuals.” After publication in June 1981, reports began to come in from major metropolitan areas with similar men dying of the same pneumonia. You can read the very clean Sparknotes version here. The CDC (disclaimer: an organization I would LOVE to work for someday) wants a pat on the back for having guidelines established in 18 months for the “prevention of sexual, drug-related, and occupational transmission based on these early epidemiologic studies and before the cause of the new, unexplained illness was known.” By then, over 1100 people – mostly gay men – had contracted the mysterious illness, and over 500 people – including over 20 children – had died. Before the virus responsible was found and named, the illness became known as “gay cancer.” In the years that followed, nearly 800,000 people have died from AIDS, and more than 1.1 million are living with HIV. These numbers are for the United States alone. Globally, there have been 75 million people infected with HIV and 32 million AIDS-related deaths since the start of the epidemic. 

AIDS hit home. The nightly news squawked about it, helping to spread false information, a trend that continues today. White families that lived in quiet suburban neighborhoods didn’t want to admit it. The government, which now glosses cleanly over its inaction, didn’t want to admit it

Sound familiar?

A generation of young men were lost. Thousands of people who society didn’t care about – sex workers, people using IV drugs, and poor people – died. Others with no “moral failing” died as well; those who had received blood transfusions that carried the virus, or babies born to mothers who were unaware of their status. And beloved icons like Freddie Mercury died. Most died alone, and afraid. 

And still it was not the government who stepped up. It was not treated as the public health crisis it was. 

If you are still reading this, I implore you to go and read Vito Russo’s speech from 1988. He said it best:

“living with AIDS is like living through a war which is happening only for those people who happen to be in the trenches. Every time a shell explodes, you look around and you discover that you’ve lost more of your friends, but nobody else notices. It isn’t happening to them. They’re walking the streets as though we weren’t living through some sort of nightmare. And only you can hear the screams of the people who are dying and their cries for help. No one else seems to be noticing.”

The situation today feels somwhat similar. Different, of course; only certain religious figures (including an advisor to the president) are blaming the gays this time, and it’s not just the unworthy who are dying. The coronavirus is reaching into homes across the world and leaving few families untouched in places like Italy and Spain. Only now, only the past ten days or so, has the majority of our country seemed to pick up on the fact that this is happening. All the talk about “flattening the curve” has given way to the grim realization that it will never be flat enough for our hospitals to not become overwhelmed and for our lives to go on as normal. There is no normal anymore; we will never return there. 

People in hospitals are dying alone, afraid. Extreme measures must be taken to keep others from the same fate, but at heartbreaking cost. Families are separated; I’m hearing of paramedics sleeping in their cars, I’m seeing my coworkers send their family members away while they work in Covid units. Field hospitals are going up across the country, and across our county. The deaths of doctors, nurses, and case managers only a few hundred miles away are shake the voices of their steady-handed counterparts. Watching in horror at the events unfolding in New York City, we begin to gird ourselves for battlefield triage and for the trickle of patients to become a deluge. We cannot stop it. 

The AIDS crisis took years to be taken seriously. The communities affected can never be made whole. For queer folk, healthcare has always been political. We need to remember our history and keep fighting to ensure something like that never happens again. When the surge fades, we need to keep acting, keep caring. There will be more waves; we need to make sure that no one gets left behind.

The coronavirus response has been delayed from the beginning, and we are still going to see unprecedented morbidity and mortality. But if there is any hope to be had, it is that we have learned from the AIDS epidemic that we are not safe from infectious diseases. They happen, not just elsewhere, but right here at home. If we don’t believe we are safe, maybe, just maybe, people will be willing to listen, and policies and behavior will change. How many HIV infections have been prevented since the advent of needle exchanges, condom use and availability, and PrEP? How many deaths prevented since blood has been screened for disease before transfusions (don’t get me started on the FDA restrictions right now)? 

How many infections and deaths can be prevented if we keep washing our hands and keeping our distance? 

We are not as safe as we want to think we are. This is happening here, to us, to everyone. We are not so special that we won’t be affected. 

Stay the fuck home, friends.