The Nazis Would Have Hated Me (or How I Found a Connection in the Most Unlikely of Places)

The other day I visited an American wars museum.  Just a small, sad, strange place in downtown Cape Coral, filled with memorabilia and a musty smell. Our tour guide was odd yet informative, making jokes that weren’t funny and trying his best to make us love the place as much as he does. Run by Vets, free to enter, it’s a place where local Vets gather for coffee or a meal while surrounded by uniforms and weapons from every war America has ever been in.

For this peace-loving hippie chick, it was a little unnerving to be in the midst of so much actual, real-life war stuff.  The Japanese uniform with the hole in the back of the jacket from the wearer being stabbed freaked me out a bit, although the lock of George Washington’s hair didn’t bother me.   And then we arrived at the WWII display, and I went from unnerved to seriously disturbed.

The wall of pictures from Auschwitz and Dachau were horrific.  (I will not attempt to describe them here, but those images will be burned into my brain forever. Trust me, you do not want to know.)  The level of inhumanity was and is astounding.   And then, because I could not look anymore, my eyes slid to the right and landed on a small case containing armbands cut from concentration-camp uniforms.  Right there, prominently displayed at the top, was a scrap of gray and white striped material with a pink triangle sewn on.

It felt like I had been punched in the chest and my breath left me.  My eyes filled with tears as I realized that someone had actually worn that on their arm.  That they had been forced to do so.  That they probably had someone they were in love with, had made a life with, before they were rounded up, stripped of all rights and dignity, shipped to a place of horror and shoved naked and terrified into a concrete room to be murdered with hundreds of others by poison gas.   All of this became so very real to me as I looked at that little scrap of cloth.   That anonymous “they” that all this happened to? They became me, and I became them.  I wanted to take that little piece of material out of the case and cradle it and honor the person who wore it with my tears.   The person who went before me and suffered so much so that I could be out and proud and married today.

And then my wife touched my arm and pointed to another armband in the case.  This one had a brownish triangle patch on it, and the placard had the word “gypsy” printed on it.  And I began to cry in earnest.  I had no idea.  I am of Gypsy descent and I had no idea.  I did not know that the Nazis considered the Romany people to be unclean, immoral criminals.  I had no idea that tens of thousands were rounded up and murdered.  That in one camp, the gypsies armed themselves with the tools of their forced labor and fought back when the soldiers came to lead them to the ‘gas vans’ for extermination.  Or that the Nazis then relocated all of the able-bodied men from that camp and came back to kill the old, the sick, the women, and the children.

Our tour guide was eager to continue, so I wiped my eyes and tried to pull it together. I managed to finish  the tour and to participate in his questionable banter.   I don’t think he noticed, but I was not the same girl who began the tour.  I had been forever changed by a few moments in front of a small glass display case.  I had walked in to the strange little storefront museum with an air of disdain, confident that I would get nothing from the place, that it would be boring at best.  And I walked out humbled by a bone-deep connection that I didn’t know existed.  I will forever carry the suffering of my ancestors, both homosexual and Roma, within me.10478157_10206377337505270_6844409301612623166_n


Family Will Fuck You Up

Today is a tough day for me…  it’s Father’s Day and my brother’s wedding day.

Father’s Day has always been a little hard for me.  They don’t sell cards for dads who are often drunk and sexually inappropriate, but also taught you to love camping and how to tell a joke.   Picking out a Father’s Day card for me was always torturous, a reminder of all the things a father should be but mine wasn’t.  Except sometimes he was.

And that’s the hook.  The unpredictability of the bad times keeps you on constant alert during the good times. It keeps you trying to win approval, to be good enough, say the right thing, be better, so that the good times will last. So he will be your dad again, like the dads they make the cards for, instead of the scary drunk guy who may or may not try to fondle you on your way back to your room from the shower.

Quite a few years ago now, my dad ran himself over with the car.  He had forgotten to put it in park, and as it rolled down the driveway, he tried to get back in it but the door caught him and swept him under it.  From that point on, his health and his mind deteriorated.  There were falls that broke bones, confusion, fear, a nursing home, and eventually he died.  I was fortunate to have made peace with all that my dad was or wasn’t before that happened, and I was able to care for him with compassion and kindness, both physically and emotionally, whenever I went home to visit before his death.

Now that my dad is gone, Father’s Day is hard for me for a different reason.  I miss my dad.  I am surprised by how much. The “thank you for all that you’ve taught me” cards that used to fill me with bitterness now seem completely appropriate, and I wish he were here so that I could send him one.

That powerful conflict of emotions that is my father’s legacy continues in my relationship with my brother.  I love my brother, but I don’t like him very much. Two years younger than me, he was my very first friend. We played Matchbox cars together as children and went to Dead shows together as young adults.  He was lost to me for years through an active addiction, but miraculously found sobriety and we reconnected when that happened.  I was so happy to have him back in my life, that unfortunately I ignored that fact that he is an emotional bully. Phone calls were just as likely to end with me in tears as smiling. He can be the sweetest guy you know, or the meanest, often without warning.

And that’s the hook.  The unpredictability of the bad times keeps you on constant alert during the good times. It keeps you trying to win approval, to be good enough, say the right thing, be better, so that the good times will last. So he will be your brother again, like the brothers they make the cards for, instead of the scary angry guy who may or may not bite your head off if you disagree with him.

Since my father’s death, my relationship with my brother has withered and died, too.  We haven’t spoken for years, sharing only two texts in as many years.   But he is still my little brother, and I love him very much.

And today is his wedding day.  I will not be there, as I was not invited.  That does not stop me from thinking of him today, and wishing him well in my heart.  I hope that he is happy, and that the marriage will be good and strong.  I hope that he is joyous and filled with love, and that his heart melts when his bride walks towards him today.

I hope also, that someday my brother and I will finally be able to crawl out from under my father’s legacy of emotional warfare and find peace with each other, before one of us runs ourselves over with the car.

Gay Hide?

With June being Pride month, Facebook is filling up with rainbow-themed pictures (my own profile included) and the news is full of stories about transgendered actresses and marriage equality.    I love this.  I love Pride month and Pride celebrations, I love that we LGBTQ people are making such great strides in our fight for acceptance and equality. (I could wax poetic here about the need for people to vote on us, but that’s another blog.)

Gay Pride celebrations exist because of the homophobia we face daily.  They are a chance for us to say to the world that we are just like you, there’s nothing wrong with us,  stop oppressing us, stop diminishing our value, stop bullying us, stop hating us.

I personally don’t understand the fear that ‘gay’ inspires in people, but that does not mean that I haven’t internalized it.  Every time I think about it before kiss my spouse or hold her hand in public, I am being homophobic.  Every time I don’t kiss her or hold her hand for fear of how others will react, I am being homophobic.  Every time I hesitate to clarify our relationship to someone’s parents’ friends because they might not understand, I am being homophobic.

Recently while visiting my in-laws, I was walking my dog with my father-in-law, and a friend/neighbor approached and introduced himself, saying he hadn’t seen me before.  I had a moment of panic about how to tell him who I was in relation to my in-laws.  Should this be a teachable moment?  Should I just say I’m visiting and leave it at that?  Do I say I’m ___________’s daughter-in-law?    All of this angst over a simple introduction.   Why did I care so much about this stranger’s, and ultimately my own, comfort level?  Homophobia.  Internal homophobia.

A seemingly small moment in time, an insignificant encounter, but this is what internal homophobia looks like.  It’s the disconnect between what we know in our heads and what we feel in our hearts.  It’s the deep-seated belief, nurtured by years of external homophobia, that we are less-than.  That we should hide who we are so that everything goes along smoothly.  We have been conditioned to believe that it is better for us if we don’t own our truth.  We won’t be judged, bullied, alienated if we don’t do or say anything that illuminates our differences.    It is a survival instinct.  And that, my friends, is sad.

When we got married last year in Iowa, people asked me if I felt any different.   Surprisingly,  I did.  Oh, I didn’t feel any differently towards my spouse; as far as I am concerned, we have been married since 2004 when we had our commitment ceremony.  What did change for me was that a level of internal homophobia that I didn’t even know existed was removed. It was one of those ‘didn’t know it was there until it was gone’ things.  I was amazed.   To be accepted and treated exactly the same as everyone else with regard to my relationship was a new and wonderful experience.  To know that we are accepted is not something I feel in my everyday life. In fact, since we’ve been home (in a state where gay people are not afforded equal rights) some of that euphoric ‘I am as good as everyone else and they know it’ feeling has faded.   When we travel and find ourselves in a state that has passed marriage equality, we always say to each other “hey, we’re legal here”.  There is a lightening of spirit, a lessening of fear, and we are quicker to hold hands and steal that kiss.

This is my struggle, and while I know I am not alone in this,  I do not presume to say it is the struggle of all LGBTQ people.  But if it is something that you struggle with, then this year when you go to a Pride event put your focus on you.  Go to show yourself and not the world that you are as good as everyone else, that there is nothing wrong with you. Go to stop the self-oppression.   That’s what I’m going to do.

The Deadhead and The Rebel Flag

I had a debate the other day with a friend who was wearing a hat with a rebel flag patch on it.  I personally find the display of said flag offensive, and said so.   A lively discussion ensued, in which several points were made and countered.

Some highlights of the discussion included whether the rebel flag is still the flag of the south, or if because the Civil War has ended and we are no longer two nations, the American flag is the flag of the south; whether the rebel flag stands for oppression, instills fear in people, and indicates that the wearer is a racist, or if it’s just a misunderstood symbol of southern pride and has nothing to do with race; and whether wearing the rebel flag is just like wearing the rainbow flag, in that it is about pride, or if one is a symbol of oppression and the other a symbol of standing up to oppression.

One of the most interesting portions of the debate, for me at least, was when a story was related to illustrate that not all people of color are offended by the rebel flag.  It was the story of an African-American man who is a self-described redneck. He lives among, is married to, and is accepted and respected by other rednecks, all of whom display the rebel flag regularly.  This does not seem to bother him.  In fact, he is apparently so unaffected by the inherent racism around him that he goes by the unfortunate moniker of “N****r  Jim”.  By choice.   Seriously.  He introduces himself that way.  I can’t make this stuff up.  (It’s not really Jim, I changed it for privacy, but it really is the first part.)

Up until then, I had been feeling pretty confident in my argument.  I was self-righteously and assuredly making my points. But that derailed me.   I mean, what do you say to that?  I manged to get out something about the reclaiming of hateful words and suggested that perhaps it was defensive, as when the character in the movie Pitch Perfect refers to herself as Fat Amy so others won’t do it behind her back.   

OK, here’s where it gets good… I regrouped and tried a different approach:  I asked how my friend would feel if I were to display a swastika on my hat.  I was sure I had landed on the thing that would clinch the argument for me.  No one can be okay with that, right?  But after some discussion it was decided that I would have every right to do so, just as she has every right to wear the rebel flag.    And I realized she was correct: she does have the right to wear whatever she wants, just like I do.  And that realization led to the greater realization that I was being intolerant and oppressive and trying to sway someone over to my way of thinking, rather than respecting their right to their individuality.  I was being the very thing I was condemning!

Now this is not to say that I am suddenly okay with the rebel flag.  I still believe it is a symbol of oppression and it still offends me when I see it proudly displayed.   I still believe the wearing of it says something about the character of the wearer.   But while I am no more tolerant of the ideology of the rebel flag, I am more tolerant of the right to  display it.  I  will continue to speak my truth on this issue, because I believe it’s the right thing to do.  I’ll just be speaking more gently from now on.

And so I leave you with what this Deadhead learned from the rebel flag:  Beware of holding so tight to what you’re sure is right that you turn your truth into a weapon.  Do not bludgeon each other with your beliefs.  Defend the right of others to be, think, and say things that offend you, because that is what ensures your right to the same.  We do not have to agree, but we must respect.   And finally that as Jerry sings in Scarlet Begonias, once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places, if you look at it right.

Lesbian Husbandry

Why does the word “husband” equal male? I take exception to this.  My husband is a woman.  She fills the traditional role of the husband in our family.  She is the bread-winner, the handyman, the protector, and the controller of the remote. She does not want to be a man, but she does feel most comfortable doing what are traditionally male things.

I am the home-maker, the dog-mom, the doer of the laundry.  No one seems to have a problem when I am referred to as her wife, but when I refer to her as my husband, I am corrected.  People actually say to me “You mean your wife.” Not even as a question, like “You mean your wife?”  No, they are positive that I have gotten it wrong and that it is their duty to correct me.  Sometimes when this happens I refer to her as my “husbian”.  Then they chuckle, “ha ha, isn’t that cute?”,  and the awkwardness is smoothed over.  For them, at least.  I am left feeling like I have dishonored her a little bit.

I submit that  “husband” is a title that is awarded based on job performance and not gender.  It has nothing to do with gender, and everything to do with the role they fill. To deny someone of the honor of being called a husband just because they are female is to lessen the importance of the work they do, the life they live, and their position in the family.

 Legally, she is my spouse. But I shall refer to her as my husband from now on, as a way to honor the great job she does filling that role.  And if that confuses you, sorry.  Just don’t correct me or I’ll pull out my soap box.