I love this month not only because June is when I finish the school year and can focus on novel-writing for the summer, but also because it’s the only month out of the year when the struggles and triumphs of the LGBTQ community receive the attention and thoughtful contemplation they deserve.
Unfortunately, it’s also the time when some straight people, frustrated with the myriad minutia of their over-burdened straight lives, seize this opportunity to point out that if we want equality so bad, why do we want/get our own month of parades and special attention? Well, the simple answer is, and please pay attention, we don’t have equality yet. As long as our elected republican members of Congress fail to pass the Equality Act, America will always have states in which the LGBTQ community is most definitely not considered equal. And frankly, that’s all I’m going to say to heterosexuals about this asinine complaint they’ve sifted out of the cesspool of social media.
Now to the other “but” in my blog… and no, it’s not one of those tight, cute ones you see on boys marching in their spandex shorty-shorts in Pride parades all over the world. This “but” has to do with all the fabulous corporations in America that temporarily change their logos to rainbow, have “Pride” days at amusement parks or sporting events, or just give us a happy, rainbowy 2-thumbs up in whatever product they’re selling. We love this–don’t get me wrong. But you know what we would love more than anything else? STOP voting for politicians at the city, state, and federal level who REFUSE to support LGBTQ equality as evidenced by their shameless public sentiments and voting records.
Yes, this is a big, bold request. It asks a lot of republicans–going against your family, your spouse, and your financial self-interests to take a stand for the most important and fundamental promise this country makes: “liberty and justice for all.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? (I mean the quote, not the part where you have to go against your own self-interests. But hey, every movement has its martyrs, right?) Think of what we can accomplish with this powerful statement. If we make it through one election cycle where every anti-gay politician loses, you can bet that future GOP candidates will think twice before trading on the Constitutional rights and emotional well-being of LGBTQ Americans for re-election.
But hey, enough of this heavy realism. It’s Pride month! Whether you’re an LGBTQ or a straight ally, let’s all dig out our leather, spandex, and all things rainbow and have a blast dancing in the streets with the same relief, exhilaration, and faith in humanity we’d have if the Equality Act has more than a Progressive’s chance in Mississippi during the Trump administration!
If you’re like me, you’re thoroughly sick of seeing the sweet, pubescent face of Nicholas Sandmann as he stoically exercises his “right” to encroach on the personal space of Vietnam vet and Native American elder, Nathan Phillips, and smirk in his face.
You’re probably also emotionally spent from indignation over this Catholic boy’s brazen display of disrespect for his elders, especially one who served our country during a war, and that it seems his parents didn’t teach him the virtue of humility. But what’s been overshadowed by this MAGA-hat(e) incident is the actual reason why Sandmann and his classmates were in Washington DC: to protest abortion rights. This begs the question of all religion-based high schools: What lessons are they really teaching our impressionable adolescent males?
I find it disturbing, in a Handmaid’s Tale kind of way, that schools like Covington Catholic are teaching teenage boys that they have the right, even the responsibility, to tell grown women what they can and can’t do with their own bodies and their own futures. And that this particular school sponsored a field trip so that the boys, our future leaders, can practice applying the theory of this “right” in a real-life setting.
I can’t help but wonder does the imparting of knowledge like this lay the groundwork for these teenage boys to grow up believing that they inherently have some level of power or authority of over women? That perhaps if they can influence something as critical as a woman’s choice about her reproductive health, they may also have the right to arbitrate other important things like when a woman is choosing to have to sex with them versus when she just needs a little coaxing? Is that the lesson men like Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton, and Brett Kavanaugh somehow learned in their formative years that paved the way for adult behaviors like the sexual assaults they’ve been credibly accused of?
We teach boys not to cry because it shows weakness; we teach them in grammar school not to hit girls because they are weaker than they are; we teach them that aggression in sports brings victory and in life brings the spoils of success. But what are the specific examples we, as a society, are setting to ingrain in them the belief that women are thinking, feeling, intelligent beings who are their equals? Aside from Gillette’s flaccid attempt to shame men out of their lifelong inclinations toward toxic masculinity in an ad for their products, what values are we really instilling in our boys? While everyone has the right to his or her opinion on abortion, the question of whether or not someone has the right to intimidate or force a woman out of choosing one is a matter of law. And that answer, in most places in the US, is an unequivocal no.
While we’re talking to our boys about respecting their elders and not pulling little Sally’s hair in homeroom, let’s make sure we’re also teaching them the difference between having an opinion about women and respecting women’s legal and human rights.
Now that the SCOTUS has its newest credibly-accused sexual predator firmly in place thanks, in part, to credibly-accused sexual predator, Donald Trump, it’s clear who’s the undisputed winner of the GOP scapegoat award: Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, for her surprising YES vote on the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, our latest exemplar of Teflon-coated, whiny, white male privilege.
Now, rather than inundating Mitch McConnell’s voicemail with angry rants about Kavanaugh’s confirmation, or even Democrat turncoat Joe Manchin’s, we’ve diverted our attention to Collins, the woman. It’s easy to see why she’s seen as a gender traitor by many if not most American women given that she was supposed to be a NO vote. What the hell happened? How was Sen. Lisa Murkowki of Sarah Palinville, Alaska the one to find the courage to push past the partisan bullying and bullshit, and say out loud that Kavanaugh is unfit to serve?
From what I’ve observed through some of my female friends’ social media posts and the female Twitter trolls I’ve encountered during my own protest posting, Collins represents a vibrant, vocal collective of women who choose to believe the hysterical denials of a man accused of sexual assault, whom they don’t even know, over the credible allegations from his multiple female accusers. I keep asking myself, how could this be? I could certainly try to understand it if Kavanaugh was their brother, ex-boyfriend, friend, or hell, even the guy they once lived down the street from. But the majority of Kavanaugh’s harem of avid supporters has never even met him. It’s utterly baffling.
As I struggle my way through trying to make sense of this travesty of an “investigation” and confirmation process, I’m reminded of one of my #metoo moments that happened 39 years ago. Yes, I said “one” of mine, and yes, 39 years is a long time, but I can assure you, like Christine Blasey Ford, I remember it with haunting clarity like it was yesterday and I’m still that scared, confused 10-year-old girl.
One summer evening, as I was walking home, the neighborhood pedophile, a friendly seventy-something husband and father, called me over to his front porch. Teddy had engaged me in a discussion of a sexual nature on at least two occasions. I thought it was funny and silly to hear a grownup talking like that, and while I can’t recall his exact words, I’ll never forget the offer he made that sent me running home and made me afraid to walk past his house for years after. He said, “Why don’t you come inside and I’ll let you feel my balls.” How generous of him. While it was almost 40 years ago, I’ve never forgotten him standing in the threshold holding open the screen door for me like the witch luring Hansel and Gretel into her shack. And not just because I could’ve been raped by a disgusting old man, but because of the way the adult women responded once the incident was discovered.
After I ran off, Teddy must’ve got nervous and in a preemptive move, told his wife, as I later learned from another neighbor, something to the effect that I was making advances or suggestions toward him. Yes, that’s right—a seventy-something-year-old man trying to convince his wife that a 10-year-old child attempted to seduce him. Perhaps even more shocking is that his wife believed him and apparently contacted my mother.
I’m not sure what the conversation was between them because my mother is 80 now and her memory does not serve her that well anymore. But I remember my mother asked me if I was hurt or if he touched me, and after I informed her that he hadn’t, she told me to stay away from him and not to tell my father, fearing he would get involved in the way all concerned fathers would. So essentially, the sexual assault attempt on me was swept under the rug, and we were all supposed to pretend it never happened.
Over the years, I’ve convinced myself that both my mother and the pedophile’s wife were products of a generation of submissive women who were brainwashed into believing that men’s bad behaviors were to be forever justified by shifting the scrutiny toward what the woman/girl did to provoke the behavior. I accepted that the man who sexually harassed me never paid for that crime since, like most child victims, I believed I was somehow responsible because when he called me to his porch, I went.
Sadly, however, that subservient, permissive attitude women were expected to have toward men isn’t some distant, distasteful memory from a bygone era. It has become abundantly clear over the last two years that this ideology that men can do no wrong and that women who accuse them of sexual misbehavior are somehow responsible for what happened to them, or are just plain lying, is alive and well in 2018. Somehow the GOP has managed to cultivate a new generation of women who believe unwelcome and/or violent sexual behavior and demeaning language directed at and about women is “no big deal,” especially if it happened in a man’s past. We shouldn’t, after all, ruin a prominent dude’s career and life now by holding him accountable for one or all of his misogynistic whims toward women in the past.
Many minds more intellectual than mine say the problem isn’t only men; it’s the rape culture that continues to undermine a woman’s truth in favor of a man’s right to “due process.” We should be able to accommodate both, but in an age where the balance of power clearly tips to the right; the gender breakdown of our Congress and lawmakers disproportionately favors men, and too many Republican female voters just don’t feel that women’s rights issues are their problems, it’s hard to see how we can change that culture.
Like many women’s rights proponents, I’ve vented my anger toward Sen. Collins as it was her YES vote that ultimately put an “unfit” man who “lacks judicial temperament” on the Supreme Court. But Susan Collins isn’t the only responsible party—it’s every woman who continues to empower and enable condescending, male-dominated political and social ideologies by siding with accused men based on their party affiliation and diminishing the words and stories of female victims who find the courage to stand up to the “boys will be boys” club and speak their truths.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed for that blue wave that I’ve heard is coming in November. Let’s hope it hits, so that the next generation of women won’t be swept away in the mounting GOP red-tide that has us headed toward mandatory red dresses.
Recently, I was given some questions for an upcoming signing event for the September 12th release of my third novel, Summer Fling. While scanning my choices, I found one that seemed deceptively easy: Why do I write in the genre of lesbian romance fiction?
Well, of course it’s because I’m a lesbian who likes romance. But that answer didn’t quite satisfy me, and the question lingered. As I searched my soul at the crowded coffee house, sipping away at a cup of House Blend, a much deeper reason revealed itself like a breakthrough in a therapy session.
Turns out, my affinity for writing loud and proud about lesbian romance is a sort of literary retaliation against having lived decades of my life in the closet, afraid and ashamed of who I was. Even though I’d had girlfriends, I’d never felt entitled to experience my relationships the same way heterosexuals do, with pride and an eagerness to share them with others. The simple idea of walking down the street holding hands with a girl overwhelmed me with fear—not just of the possible immediate physical danger, but also the potential of some irreversible catastrophe like losing friends or my family’s approval once they’d discovered this part of me.
What a sad way to live. But in the pre-Will & Grace era, too many of us lived that way, convinced it was best to conceal and conform rather than assert our individuality and endure the fallout. It had a more profound impact on my life than the mere inconvenience of keeping a secret. Because both society and our government devalued the humanity of LGBT Americans, I lived for years with a devalued sense of self and the poor choices that usually accompany it.
“After all we are nothing more or less than we choose to reveal.”
I’ve finally forgiven the former me for bowing to societal expectations and allowing the opinions of others to dictate how much happiness and respect I felt entitled to. The process took longer than one might imagine, with a few relationships falling by the wayside as a consequence.
That’s where writing comes in. What better way to liberate myself from the tethers of a history of self-loathing than by freely writing about the freedoms I’d been deprived of for over two decades? Now, when I consider the criticisms of others about me as an out lesbian, especially those from the current presidential administration, I have to scour the kingdom far and wide for a fuck to give.
This naturally lends itself to the other reason I love writing lesbian romance: the absolute control I have over the characters and their circumstances. Yes, I admit that I like venturing to the dark side and letting absolute power corrupt me absolutely.
As readers, we enjoy watching characters plummet into desperate situations and then try to claw their way out. We commiserate with them through the real-life conflicts and complications we experience in our own lives and relationships. We feel we’re not alone in what we’re dealing with because even though the characters aren’t real, we may assume the author has also experienced them in a similar fashion. Ultimately, if the story is well-written and the characters well-developed, we draw hope from the notion that our heroine always comes out stronger in the end, whether she obtains what she initially desired or walks away with nothing more than a grain of precious wisdom.
A veteran of a few defunct relationships, I savor the momentary escape of a love affair I can experience from a safe emotional distance, knowing my fate isn’t in someone else’s hands. Through my characters, I reflect on mistakes I’ve made in real-life relationships, so hopefully, after knowing better, I’ll do better.
Kate Randall, the flawed and irritatingly guarded main character in Summer Fling, is definitely seasoned with a bit of Essence of Jean. I don’t know if it’s such a smart idea to admit that since at times she’s frustrating and rather unsympathetic in her vehemence to protect her fragile heart. But like all of us, she’s a product of her life experiences, for better or worse, and is trying to figure out how to navigate a new, unexpected romance with a much younger woman who’s rocked her off her stable emotional foundation. I suppose I should give Kate a break. I don’t know anyone who’s gone through a breakup and hasn’t been a little annoying and unsympathetic at times. We all either have that friend—or we are that friend. If we’re lucky, though, we also have friends like Didi and Viv, Kate’s unconditionally sassy and supportive besties who help her hold tight when she feels she’s losing her grip.
Whether you’re that friend or not, check out Summer Fling from Bold Strokes Books for a fun and funny foray into the complex, unpredictable, and love-affirming world of lesbian romance after forty.
9/16/17: Annie’s Bookstop of Worcester, Worcester, MA, 3-5:00 p.m.
You How I Got Over a Breakup by Getting Over Myself
I came home to an empty house that afternoon and walked into the bedroom to survey the wreckage. Everywhere mashed down carpet fibers in the shapes of dresser, cedar chest, and antique nightstand legs announced the finality of her absence—like the chalk outline left at a murder scene after the body has been removed, except there’s no body at this scene, just the ghost of a relationship that had long outlived its vigor.
I rubbed the tip of my sneaker into a spot marking the former location of our (her) bed, trying to revive the flattened strands. I sighed deeply, wishing one room in the house was free of her imprint and wondering when I’d feel normal again. But first I’d have to figure out what normal was.
With no furniture delivery men to wait on at the moment, I embarked on a journey to the grocery store to restock my fridge and cabinets with food I liked. A delicious taste of liberation is found in shopping for meals and snacks that only have to please you.
I swung my cart with the stubborn wheel into line three. The teenage cashier finished her text tapping pink gel thumbnails on her phone and then dragged my items over the scanner.
“Oh, look how cute!” She indicated the dainty container of a half-dozen eggs and quart-size milk and OJ bottles as though they were toys meant for a little girl’s plastic kitchen set.
I forced a curt grin, miffed that even a quick trip to the grocery store stung me with reminders that life was different now. And if I wasn’t being paranoid, I could’ve sworn one of the older, regular cashiers observed that I was shopping alone.
In the days since I came home and found her set of house keys on the dining room table, I’d come to realize my sadness wasn’t from the notion that my happily-ever-after with her didn’t work out the way the fairy tales promised. It came from the massive upheaval to my life that I had not consented to. Even though it was a change that needed to happen so we could both be happy again, logic rarely stands a chance in that seemingly endless epoch following the demise of a long-term relationship.
Even then, I wasn’t angry at her for leaving. What I was feeling was a generic sadness, that grieving period self-pity at being “abandoned” that we need to allow ourselves in the early stages. In fact, in the weeks after she left and I began to regain my bearings, I grew to be grateful to her and the woman who inspired her departure.
My lingering anger had been directed at the universe for assuming agency over my mediocre, static life. The perspective I chose was that it stripped me of the privilege of growing up and growing old with the same person who would know me better than anyone else, not by genuine effort, but by default because we had grown up and grown old as a team. I felt gypped that I would never be half of one of those cute, elderly couples who take an Alaskan cruise to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary, regardless of the expense. After all, they’d earned it weathering the trials and tribulations of decades together. I was bitter that I’d never experience the poignant beauty of searching my partner’s wrinkled, age-spotted face and discovering traces of that youthful smoothness and shine I’d fallen in love with fifty years earlier.
It was a totally self-defeating way to view the situation, but prior to the breakup I was a self-defeatist. It came naturally to perceive things as happening to me rather than as simply happening. “The pain is in the resistance,” they say. I was forced to redefine everything I knew. I had to redefine myself as a whole person, not half of a couple, and I feared there wasn’t enough of me to accomplish the task.
At a friend’s suggestion, I immersed myself in Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth. It helped me recognize how much my ego was holding me back from achieving personal growth and how I’d never move forward until I accepted my present situation for what it was instead of fighting it for what I wanted it to be. Sometimes breakups are like taking shitty-tasting medicine as a kid. Your mother had to grab hold of you and force it down your throat as you gurgled out shrieks of protest, but then a few hours later you found yourself running around the house, eager to go outside and play. Think of how much more expedient recovery would be if we could’ve shifted our perspective to how much better we’d feel afterwards rather than on how horrible the medicine tasted going down.
A few weeks after moving out, my ex came by to pick of a few things she’d left behind in the initial move. As she was leaving, she asked, “Is your life better without me in it?”
It was the last question I’d expected, but my swift response sounded as though it had been rehearsed and queued up since the day she left.
“Yes,” I said, surprising us both.
I never inquired how my response or the zeal with which I’d blurted it made her feel. I’d only said it because it was the truth. By that point, it had felt wonderful to feel confident in something again.
It has been eight years since the breakup, and I’ve evolved into a far better person than I used to be. I understand that, in life, loss and gain work sporadically and mysteriously but always with purpose. I also take care of myself now and refuse to second-guess every decision I make; two things I’d either lost the ability to do or never knew I could do as a young woman in my first serious relationship. And most importantly, I don’t feel guilty about doing either.
I started this essay years ago after seeing, for about the hundredth time, those divots in the rug where her bed had dug in nine years earlier. But for some reason, I’d never finished writing it. As time went on, I just stopped noticing the dents when I’d walk in my room and had moved on to more exciting writing projects.
Then the other day, while vacuuming my bedroom, contemplating the many positives in my life, like my girlfriend, Jen, I noticed the carpet at the foot of my bed was flush with the rest. Those bedeviling divots had all but vanished. I’m sure if I’d got down on my knees and searched, I may have detected some lingering traces of them, but then why would I want to do that?
Talk about a sign for a writer on summer vacation wrestling with writer’s block.
DISCLAIMER: I’m not a relationship expert. I am but a humble writer of lesbian fiction and essay blogs.