Monday, February 25, 2008


Last week, I was on a research trip in Minnesota. It is, of course, absurd to travel to Minnesota in February. But when you're sitting in the archives, the weather outside matters less. It does matter, though, and the way I could tell this was that I couldn't default to walking everywhere, which is my preferred method of getting around in a new city. You learn a city faster that way. But instead, I was forced to take the bus, and learning the buses in a visited city where you could walk always feels like learning a foreign language just so you could watch a movie that has subtitles. It's a lot of deciphering for very little pay off.

Still, I managed to get a bus right outside of my hotel and take it directly to the library that would suck me in for eight hours. After my first day, I went outside, crossed the street (I needed to go the opposite direction, see, so I figured I'd have to stand on the opposite side of the street.) and got on the appropriately labeled bus. 30 minutes later, that bus pulled up outside of the library again with me still on it. So I walked to the front and had this irritating conversation with the bus driver:

"Which bus goes to Street With The Hotel?"
"We aren't on Street With The Hotel."
"Yes. Which bus goes there?"
"We don't have a bus that goes there."
"But I'm staying at This Hotel, and I got on a bus there this morning."
"But we don't have a bus that goes there."
"But I got on there this morning."
"We don't go there."

We had, obviously, reached a conversational impasse. Nothing I could say would convince her that I'd gotten on a bus at my hotel. (Really, I had!) And nothing she could say was going to convince me that I hadn't, in fact, taken a bus to campus that morning. So I got off the bus, crossed the street, got on an identical bus (or so it seemed to me) and arrived at my hotel five minutes later.

Now, it turns out that two things had happened. The first is that there are two buses that each do a half loop of campus over and over, and so by crossing the street to get on the bus that was going the other way, I crossed over into a different half of the loop. Ok, whatever. Seems like a dumb way to do it, but it obviously works for them. The second thing that happened was that when I mentioned the street my hotel was on, I actually gave the name of the street outside one door when I'd actually gotten on the bus on the street outside a different door. Totally my fault. I still think that, given that it was a giant, six story, white hotel building sandwiched between restaurants and some construction, the bus driver could have extrapolated from the name of my hotel to the bus I needed, but fine. That's my problem, too. I'll avoid making additional snarky remarks about her reasoning skills.

The point of this too-long story, though, is that I've been thinking about this conversational impasse all week long. Because I'm pretty sure I've reached a similar impasse with my own brain. Usually, the things at war in my head have civil conversation and negotiating sessions. The things I'm afraid of and the things I'm resisting push and push, and the tools I have for dealing and the things I want to achieve push back, and I eventually get to a very nice place in which I see that these fears over here are right and should be listened to and those over there are trouble-makers and have to sit in the corner and shut up. I come up with a few decent metaphors and I understand and all is well.

Yeah, not this time. Right now, my brain is just playing an on-going game of conversational Pong. "How do I get there?" "We don't go there." "How do I get there?" "We don't go there." Over and over. I'm pretty sure that the impasse is caused by something really stupid, like my inability to recognize the giant white building outside the bus window as a hotel. But I can't figure out what that piece is. I can't figure out what simple thing I cling to in the face of overwhelming evidence that it isn't working. Which has brought me to the following conclusion: I need someone else to enter the negotiations. I need a fucking therapist or something. And god, I think I'd rather get back on that bus.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

An Open Letter to Barack Obama

Senator Obama:

I am a Democratic voter who will soon go to the polls to cast my primary vote. I want to support you. I really do. But I can't. (Nor can I support your main opponent.) I've seen you speak, had chills from the power of your rhetoric, and responded to the power of your message. But as a citizen who is gay, I believe you take my vote for granted and count on self-hatred and the fear of a Republican government to get me to the polls. You leave me unable to give you full-throated support because I am one of the Americans who does not get that same support from you.

You say that you believe that gay couples in the United States are entitled to all the rights that heterosexual couples have, but that you believe that marriage is "between a man and woman." I have no idea what that means or how that makes sense to you. I don't know if you struggle with that or state it because you believe it's a political necessity to do so. But I do know that when you say it so unequivocally, it implies is that you believe that there are privileges awarded to some and beyond the reach of the few. It reinforces, for every gay-basher or homophobe who hears or reads your words, that they are right to think that gay couples are different, unworthy, separate.

And separate but equal is not a doctrine that has worked well for us in the past. Surely you can see the way that "marriage" holds a civil rights loophole: Housing available for "Married Couples Only." Rates for hotels and vacations just for "Married Couples." Businesses and Employers who don't discriminate based on sexual orientation—oh, no—they just have different policies that take into consideration the different needs of their married employees. By setting up marriage as something reserved for the heterosexual, you leave that privilege at the top of a mountain that only some can climb. You also make it possible for those at the top to kick rocks down on those who stand below.

Let me be clear: I, personally, have no real interest in marriage per se. It is not the civil rights hill I would have chosen to die on. But I do have an interest in public rhetoric that reinforces hierarchy and gives power to a majority at the expense of a minority. You want me to be grateful that you believe I'm equal while simultaneously proving that you do not think that is so. You want me to be so grateful that you will hand me something that I might not notice what you take away with the other hand. You want me to be so fearful that the other guy will be worse that I'll hand you my only bargaining chip, my vote. You want me to call on some hidden self-loathing, walk into a voting booth and pull the lever for the one who thinks it's ok to say I'm less. I can't do that. Not even for you and all your pretty speeches.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Down By The Water

Long ago, in my last blog post, I wrote that sometimes you're standing on a cliff, paralyzed by the fear of falling, and all you really can do is jump. It's true. Sometimes it's the only right thing to do, not because the ending is assured or the world at the top dangerous, but because you know there are places you have to go and there are no maps and in the end fear is the worst possible law to live by. So you jump.

And sometimes, it was the wrong cliff. You can't really know, sometimes, until you're lying broken and aching on some rocks you just know weren't there before. You can't really know until you've seen what's at the bottom up close. And so I find myself, lying here, wondering how such a pretty cliff could lead me to such a jagged place. These are the hardest things to blog about. This is one of the reasons why this blog has gone so quiet. It's very difficult for me to admit to pain and confusion, difficult to blog about the causes when I try to remain anonymous, even more difficult because, for all the truths I do not tell here, I am incapable of lying under the cloak of anonymity this space provides. And really, there's just no way to avoid feeling lame when you jump and the fall is not at all what you expected. Who wants to talk about being lame?

Not me. I don't enjoy talking about it, nor do I enjoy feeling it. And yet there it is. The fall is hard. I'm unsure of where I've landed. I am, in fact, lying here in pain and confusion, brought on by more than just the trauma of the fall. Somehow, when a jump leads you to an unexpected place, new fears arise. The fear of getting up, the fear of the climb back to the top, the fear of all the things that made the jump wrong. And so as I move through my days right now, I seem to be vascillating between two moods: A sort of horrible, clingy sadness and The West Wing.

As you can imagine, The West Wing is the mood of choice. God bless writer Aaron Sorkin, god bless TV on DVD, god bless my new MacBook and its happy, shiny screen that brings the show to me in technicolor. I've seen it all before, but that's ok. I need it right now.

The show, is of course, brilliant. Astounding in its cogent commentary and with characters so real you're sure that if they were in charge, we'd stand a fighting chance, the show is just engaging enough to let me cry without forcing sentiment. Aaron Sorkin isn't afraid of metaphor and poetry, and since metaphor is my favorite coping mechanism, he speaks my language. In a season one episode, one character tells the president that his demons are shouting down his better angels, and I suddenly can visualize it, too. It's a pitched battle with my better angels fighting fiercely, hair clinging to their grimy faces, robes torn and arms bloody. My demons are all fire and unsure footing. I imagine I have to get up and get dressed and eat breakfast so that my better angels have a fighting chance. (Though I admit that I occasionally feel bad for my demons, who are so damaged and seductive and mean-spirited that I am sure that they'd benefit from a nice bowl of soup.)

Right now, the war being waged is just loud enough that I can hear very little else. It makes dissertation writing next to impossible and blog-posting, as you can see, full of the sort of melodramatic and self-pitying emotion that makes even my better angels snarl in disgust. So I watch The West Wing. I watch episode after episode and try not to think about much at all. But things sneak in and I find myself relating to the drama and the struggle. I watch when a reporter asks the press secretary if there is water over her head. No, she says. The water, she says, is exactly at my head. I nod and nod and think yes. So I'm posting today to say that I haven't abandoned this half acre. I have not drowned. But I'm feeling battered, so I'm just going to lie here for a while on these rocks where the water is exactly at my head.