Veterans Day in Indian Country

Tulalip veterans, Vietnam and forward

Tulalip veterans, Vietnam and forward

Since moving back to Seattle, I have meant to get up to the Tulalip Tribes reservation, to check out the major developments since I last visited for work and to visit friends there. One huge change is economic. Fifteen years ago, there was a bingo hall right off an exit from I-5. Now there is the Tulalip Casino Resort, which offers an upscale hotel, spa, concerts and other live shows, and several cafes and restaurants in addition to the full gaming spectrum. We started our visit at the casino both to enjoy a good lunch and because money spent there supports local and tribal employment, education, healthcare, and cultural preservation.

But the highlight of the day was the Hibulb Cultural Center, also owned and operated by the Tribes. Earlier in the day, several events for veterans and their families had been held. Military service has been a matter of pride for Native American communities since before the US even recognized tribal members as American citizens (in 1924).  This aspect of the Tulalip Tribes’ history and culture is well-represented at Hibulb.

The Center also does an excellent job of acquainting visitors with the people who lived in this part (hundreds of thousands of acres) of the Pacific NW for over 10,000 years before Europeans ever visited or citizens of the nascent United States attempted to stake their own claim on the land. Who wouldn’t defend such a beautiful and abundant home, and the communities in which they lived, from invaders who threatened to take the natural resources on which their lives depended?

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In the history of the Tulalip Tribes, told by the Tribes, it is clear what it means to have a warrior spirit. As one quote in the display area about preservation of the Lushootsheed language said, “We have always been here, we are still here, we will always be here.” The story of resistance to three kinds of violence (physical, economic, and cultural) is not unique to the Tulalip, but the particular ways in which they resisted are instructive.

How do you hold fast to your identity and beliefs in the face of a decimated population, crushing poverty, and attempts to force assimilation of your children into a culture hostile to your values and very existence? The board (photo on left) describing the link between the warrior spirit and military service states that, “Warriors were expected to live an honest, healthy and balanced life. In time of war they risked everything and many gave their lives to fulfill their role to protect the people.”

For tribal members, who are citizens both of a sovereign nation within US borders as well as of the US, military service is one recognized way to be a warrior. In addition, however, there is a lifetime’s work in the pursuit of peace. While the Dakota Access Pipeline resistance has shone a light on the issue of ongoing encroachment of treaty rights, it is by no means the only example of contemporary struggles for natural and cultural preservation.

The work that tribal governments, communities, and individuals do to safeguard public lands and natural resources, while at the same time pursuing sustainable economic development and cultural preservation, benefits all Americans. Like the tribal members who serve in uniform through the Armed Forces, they are warriors. And we owe them our thanks as well – for all of America is Indian Country.*

*Under federal law, Indian Country is defined as “reservations, trust lands and dependent communities, where tribal sovereignty applies and state powers are limited.” While the definition is useful for clarifying where various contemporary governments have legal jurisdiction, it does not accurately reflect the history of a continent fully populated by the members of First Nations prior to 1492.

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Intersex Awareness Day

Happy Intersex Awareness Day!

Did you know that Intersex people comprise approximately 1.7% of the population? (If you want to grock the numbers, there is an excellent discussion on OII Australia’s website.)

Next time you hear someone ask an expectant parent, “Is it a boy, or a girl?” you can point out that there is 98% chance that the answer is, “yes.” And then, perhaps have an

Hida Viloria's memoir, coming March 2017

Hida Viloria’s memoir, coming March 2017

interesting discussion about sex vs. gender, socially constructed binaries vs. the actual diversity of the natural world (including humans). How interesting is up to you and the person who defaults to such an old-fashioned question…

In checking out the history of this day, my biggest surprise was finding the US State Department’s statement of recognition. A snippet:

We recognize that intersex persons face violence, discrimination, stigma, harassment, and persecution on account of their sex characteristics, which do not fit binary notions of typical male or female bodies.

Intersex persons routinely face forced medical surgeries that are conducted at a young age without free or informed consent. These interventions jeopardize their physical integrity and ability to live free.

If you want to learn more about how to be an ally, there is time before Intersex Solidarity Day, November 8th. You can find out more about what’s happening in your country by visiting the Organization Intersex International‘s website.

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Dreaming the Happily Ever After

RIchard Compson Sater

RCS pauses for applause at mention of Rank’s imminent publication.

In his keynote address at the 2016 Gay Romance Northwest conference, Richard Compson Sater touched on a motivation that drives many writers to persevere through the process of completing their first novel. He described the experience so many of us share, of reading widely and still rarely finding himself on the page. Or worse – finding only representations that cast the characters he could relate to as “objects of pity or ridicule.”

Although stories with gay men improved over time, he was still frustrated in the search for “an actual romantic novel with no excess baggage, just two men conquering all for love, a book where the hero could be an average guy like me, and the other hero could be Sam Elliott, and we could live happily ever after.”

Richard’s first novel, Rank, currently on pre-sale for its official launch on November 1st, is the fortunate result of his dissatisfaction. Rank takes us on the rollercoaster ride of a First  Lieutenant (the lowest-ranked officer) in the US Air Force who falls in love with a General – his boss. I bought my ticket to ride based on the beautifully written excerpt, available on the publisher’s site. Already the characters are so real to me, despite my never having served in the military, that I am rooting for their happily ever after. And I can’t wait to find out how they get there.

To read Richard’s full keynote talk, visit his all-sorts page.

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Safe at Home

For those of us who were adults on 9/11/2001,one of the most urgent tasks that day was checking on family. Were they alive in NY? Safe on the East Coast or anyplace with potential targets? That task stretched on for weeks, as we learned who was missing, who was displaced, who was grounded in Canada (in the hands of loving strangers who became like family), who was struggling to make their way home despite being called out in airports, train stations and bus depots for looking too much Like Them.

As we followed Mr. Rogers advice to “look for the helpers,” we claimed more members of our family. We claimed the first responders, and the relief workers and volunteers who followed. We claimed the heartbroken Muslim-Americans, and those who stood guard outside mosques and Islamic schools to protect them. At least, our side of the family did.

Some of us claimed Mark Bingham as a brother, or a son. And we understood that President Bush would not claim him for the American Family. We’d seen his side of the family disown and disregard its queer offspring for generations. So we swallowed that sadness, and hung onto our pride.

Fifteen years later, we’ve had no more major attacks on US soil from foreign terrorists. We have seen an increase in mass shootings, anti-Muslim hate crimes, and deadly force against people of color. Our terrorism, in keeping with American history, has been domestic – violence within the family, inside our shared home.

After the Orlando vigil in Seattle, I looked at the crowd of mostly young people, and felt old. When I was their age, I came to the gayborhood not to hit the clubs but to post up with a team of volunteers at closing time, to make sure everyone got home safe. We patrolled our own backyard, with no weapons but teamwork and training, because we did not trust the police to protect our family against the skinheads and others who came into our home to attack us.

I felt indebted to this Millenial crowd, too. Their generation has embraced the whole QUILTBAG community as no other before them has. As much as I owe to the generations before me, who kicked down doors, ACT-ed Up, lobbied, educated, and organized, these kids have a special place in my heart. They longed to dance at our weddings, wanting our happiness as much as their own. And that made us family.

Robyn Ochs at White House, 2009

Robyn Ochs at White House, 2009 

Looking at the lost and wounded faces around me, I ached to protect them, to suit up and stand between them and this endemic violence. The voice of a fictional Sheriff, Reese Conlon of the Provincetown series, spoke in my head. Explaining to her partner why she had to go out, injured and on official leave, to search the streets for the men stalking and bashing her town’s queer youth, she said, “They’re after our kids.”

What wouldn’t we do to protect our children from violence and hate? From racism and homophobia, and rape culture? Since we cannot shelter them, we must teach them to defend themselves. To have courage, and to not give in to despair even as they grieve. To dance in the eye of the hurricane. And we can do that, because we have been there. We cannot promise peace in their lifetimes, but we can offer them this:

You are all our kids, wherever you come from and whoever you aspire to be. Take heart in knowing that you come from good people, strong people. Our side of the family fights for peace, for justice, for equality. Our family begins too many generations back to recall, with ancestors who came here from every continent as well as the first peoples on this continent. We count among our grandparents and great-grands the likes of ML King, Jr, Ceasar Chavez, Chief Sealth, Bayard Rustin, Frances Perkins, Elizabeth Peratrovich, Harriet Tubman, and John Brown. We celebrate our cool aunts and uncles – Vi Hilbert, Audrey Lorde, Vandana Shiva, Harvey Milk, and so many more. We stand up (and sometimes party with) our favorite cousins – Robyn Ochs, CeCe McDonald, Hida Viloria, and others too numerous to count. All of their stories are your stories.

You are not alone in this violence-riddled, hate-speech stained world. We may be older now, and weary. But you remind us who we are, where we come from, and why we fight for what matters. So we will keep working to make this house a safe home. Because you are all our family, and we want your happiness as much as our own. We will not stop until everyone is safe at home.

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Victoria Avilan Interview

Before I left home for the Golden Crown Literary Society annual conference in July, I got an invitation to submit work for the Fall 2016 issue of BiWomen Quarterly. The issue’s theme would be “does gender matter”. As I have no shortage of opinions on that issue, I hoped to come up with something worthwhile to submit.

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Victoria Avilan

Then I immersed myself for four wonderful days in workshops, panels and fun with writers and readers for whom gender matters very much – they want stories of any genre featuring women who love women. One of the women I met on the first day was the Israeli-American author Victoria Avilan. I watched her walk across a room, listened to her  introduce herself, and immediately texted my wife. A very important character from my work-in-progress was in the room! (Not aware of her own double identity, of course.)

When I saw Victoria and her wife and two friends sharing drinks in the hotel lounge later, they graciously let me crash their party. We talked about writing, Victoria’s two published books, and other things. I promised to get myself a print copy of each book, from the vendor room, but not read them until the plane ride home. It was reassuring to be in the company of people who understand why starting a good read on the wrong day can imperil sleep, making it to work and other mandatory appointments, etc.

On the last evening of the con, A Small Country About to Vanish won a Goldie in its category; and I was very pleased to have my copy packed in my carryon bag. Once on the flight, though, I handed it to my wife and started The Art of Peeling an Orange first, instead. I finished that wild ride the following day, glad to have taken the day off work for laundry, sleep and general travel recovery. And then I started right into the second novel.

Orange coverAfter a brief chance to absorb the two very different works, I remembered the call for submissions, and thought how well a review might fit the theme. But these days, anyone can post a review to Goodreads, Amazon, Smashwords, etc (and should, if you want an indie author to be found by other readers there – reviews are key, and can be brief). So I asked Victoria to do an interview, and explained what I had in mind. She accepted, and we worked together by phone and email.

The interview begins on page 12 of the Quarterly, and can be read online if you aren’t a mail subscriber. Since they could not include links to the books or all of the photos Victoria supplied, I have included those here.

The process was easy, not too time-consuming, and an enjoyable way to collaborate with and support another author. If you are a writer I know, and have a publication (with open submissions coming up) in mind, let me know. My email and FB link are on the Connect page.

 

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Gender Irrelevant

gender-neutral-restroom-signThe GCLS annual conference took over a whole floor of the Alexandria Mark Hilton hotel. And since 99% of the attendees were going to sit down to pee, it made sense to also take over both restrooms. Fortunately, the organizers also opted for an inclusive approach.

Leaving one restroom with its original “Women” signage and changing the other to “Gender Neutral” prevented the usual lines from forming at break times. And it gave me an opportunity to experience a men’s room from inside with none of my usual discomfort (not a fear of violence, actually, but that ‘lady-like’ fear of making others feel uncomfortable when you put your own needs first, eg. crashing the men’s room at rock concerts and ball games).

I was pleased to see that the space normally labelled for men only included a baby changing station.  And I got to indulge a point of curiousity about the urinals. As it turns out, what you see of a person using one is…his fully clothed back. Mr. Random Stranger didn’t even notice me walk by on my way to the stalls.

Sharing a public restroom with men (some trans, some not), women (some trans, some not), and genderqueer attendees and staff turned out to be a non-event. It was almost as if, in a utilitarian space shared by strangers acting with a modicum of respect and civility towards one another, gender was not relevant. The hotel’s plumbing didn’t seem to have any trouble getting its job done. And the guests’ plumbing didn’t suffer, either.

As one of the GCLS speakers pointed out in a plenary talk about inclusion, the only individuals known to have been called out, harassed, and/or arrested following the passage of state “bathroom bills” are butch-looking women. The specious arguments propping up these inane and offensive laws center on protecting girls and women from predators. But the impact of legislative transphobia falls tellingly on gender non-conformists.

Way back in the last century when I studied labor law, I read dozens of cases that zeroed in on the question of when sex or gender* are relevant in the workplace. And deconstructing the institutionalized boxes built to protect “men’s work” from the incursion of women required jurists to take a hard look at the persistent assumptions about gender and equality. In short, most cases called bullshit on the misogyny hiding under the various specious arguments propping up the employers’ discriminatory practices and policies.

As a woman who is sometimes “sir”‘d and sometimes “ma’am”‘d, who has gotten funny looks in restrooms and has defended myself from violence in a variety of locales, my first concern about these #@*! laws was not for myself. My gut response was, “Don’t you eff-ing dare take your fear and ignorance out on my friends and family.” I wanted to put that ugliness in a headlock, and walk it back across the street where it came from.

And most of the social media responses, gratifyingly enough, did that. Virtually, of course, and publicly, and with the built-in buffer of online communication. But, like the bumper stickers and yard signs I passed every day during the Prop 8 run-up, they also made it impossible to forget that we are not post- any of the -isms weighing down our society. Freedom of speech is still interpreted as the ability of some Americans to challenge and debate the civil rights of other Americans.

And while those arguments, whether cloaked in language about bathrooms or marriage, are annoying and draining, neither silence nor engagement feels effective. America, like much of the world, is still struggling to wrap its legal and cultural mind around the reality that gender is not a fact, either as a binary or a spectrum. It is a social construct with centuries of baggage about what it means to be a man or woman in this place and time.

As much as we’d like to, we cannot just quietly take care of our own business, flush and wash our hands. The simple acts of living, when done while not conforming to binary gender expectations, are still called out and challenged as transgressions. A woman with the audacity to love a woman, dress in ‘masculine’ fashion, play a ‘man’s’ sport or pursue an historically male-dominated career is still a threat to many. But some tolerance is offered, because who wouldn’t want the safety, comfort, adventure and security we ascribe to being a man? A man who rejects those privileges (for his daughters, or his lover, or just to be himself) is treated as a traitor, and at risk of verbal or physical (including economic) gay-bashing, regardless of his orientation.

And a person who dares to cross the gender binary, to move at will from one side to the other or consciously decides to reject the either/or? Well, they raise the central issue: what does our plumbing have to do with our humanity, with our potential to do good work or love well – to share joy, and be of value? What if it’s actually not relevant?

* Sex and gender are routinely conflated in public discourse. With discriminatory acts or policies, the effect is largely the same whether the difference is understood by the actors, or not.
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Big Gay Ice Cream

Really, who could resist?   Philly’s most fabulous soft-serve.

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Philly Pride and Patriotism

The Philadelphia fourth of July parade rocks! A true melting pot of contemporary and historic, the parade’s diversity of Americans -representing their cultural groups, countries of origin, historical interests, military and civic service – is stunning.

Especially heartwarming to me was the crowd’s enthusiastic response to the one LGBT float. As it moved down the street, I read part of the panel on back, giving the history of peaceful demonstrations in Philadelphia from 1965. Later I visited lgbt50.org for more details, and learned that:1660

  • In 1965, 40 activists picketed Independence Hall on July 4. It was the largest gay rights demonstration in world history.
  • Men and women from DC, Philadelphia and New York participated, choosing July 4 and Indepence Hall as an “Annual Reminder” of the right of all Americans to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness – and equality.
  • The Annual Reminder was suspended in 1970, in order to hold a march in NYC instead, commemorating the first anniversary of Stonewall.

What struck me as I thought of a few dozen people peacefully demonstrating in the mid to late 1960s was the courage it must have taken. The risks of being out publicly included assault, arrest, eviction, being fired, being disowned, and being involuntarily committed for “treatment.”  Without their willingness to take those risks, many Americans would not be able to fully participate in the rights and responsibilities as citizens. To me, that makes those activists real patriots.

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Pride and Patrol

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A small portion of Seattle Q Safety Patrol marching in Seattle LGBT Pride, late 1990’s. (I’m smiling at the camera, and wearing the radio.)

For two years – now almost 20 years ago – I volunteered with Q Safety Patrol (and concurrently, the Seattle chapter of the Guardian Angels). In later posts, I’ll discuss my own experiences, and provide interviews with other patrollers willing to share theirs.

For today, I’m borrowing the words that Joker [street name] sent out to the Patrol family a few days after Orlando:

“You have been on my mind for the last few days and there are few things I want to say to you. I remember you. I remember the heart, tears, and long hours you gave to your community to keep them safe. I remember the excitement you felt when you were at the right place at the right time and were able to stop violence. I remember the anguish you felt when you weren’t. I remember how hard you worked to train yourself to be able to physically put your body in harms way to save another. I remember how hard you trained yourself to be able to speak while the adrenaline was pulsing through you. I remember. I know that you are aching right now. Being the protectors that you are, I know that you wish you could have stopped this. That you, having your eyes and ears on the ground might have seen something and been able to prevent this. There are ways in which we mourn this tragedy and others targeting our community that your loved ones might not understand. I want you to know that I do. I love you. It has been over a decade since we closed our doors. You remain a part of who I am and how I move through the world. I see your faces in my dreams. I wonder about your life now and hope that you are happy and well. Thank you. For everything that you did and that you do every single day. I am honored to have a history with you, to have been the ones who stood up when we were needed and when we were asked. You are my brothers and sisters, my family. One last thing, please take care of yourselves. Ask for help when you need it. Share your grief. Let it move through you.”

Thank you, Joker. Though time and distance have separated most of us from each other, it helps to feel and remember the profound ways in which we will always be connected.

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Reading at SPL

Reading at the Seattle Public Library was fun, and scary – and fun. With a roomful of friends and supportive listeners, how could it not be at least a little fun?MB Austin reads at SPL

Almost all of us with winning entries to the Door to a Pink Universe contest read, including most of the honorable mention list. It was delightful and fascinating to hear the other selections – some scary, some funny, all quite different from one another and each excellent in its own right. I felt honored to be in such good company.

Speaking of which, I enjoyed getting to speak with Nisi Shawl briefly, and buy two of her books, the non-fiction Writing the Other and the short story collection Filter House. Now whenever I read her inscriptions, I will be reminded of what a lovely person she is, and appreciate the opportunity to learn from both her writing and generosity of spirit.

Another highlight was receiving a prize (surprise!) from one of the three sponsors of the contest (which were EMP, Norwescon, and Clarion West). In addition to its daunting (and I understand, life-changing) 6-week writer’s course, Clarion West holds a variety of one-day workshops in Seattle. And now I get to attend one!

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