Wednesday, November 26, 2008

And thus a feminist was born of Thanksgiving

When I was growing up, I lived with my family in a smallish apartment on Santa Rosalia in Los Angeles. Bouganvilla climbed the white stucco walls of the apartment building, there were hardwood floors in most rooms and linoleum in the tiny white kitchen, and when the windows were open we could either hear the constant zhoosh of Los Angeles traffic or the drunk single mother across the courtyard yelling at her sons.

Mrs. C-, a tiny, shrunken apple of a woman, lived across the hall from us. She was proudly southern, kept an apartment that was full of old lady smells and hard candy and looked harder at the tiny Oriental woman living with the Negro man across the hall from her. Family lore has it that one day she knocked on our apartment door and told my mother that my father was leaving the house every morning looking too thin and if she wanted to keep her black husband happy, she'd better learn how to cook soul food.

So Mrs. C- would put on her apron, come on over and watch soap operas with my mother while teaching her how to cook greens, black eyed peas, corn bread, southern fried chicken, and whatever else you'd find on a Baptist church dinner buffet. (The only thing my mother refused to cook was chit'lins. She knew we could barely stand her balut. There was no way in hell we'd eat chit'lins.) Mrs. C- (and her extended family) became a fast friend of our family and when she passed my mother cried the hardest, mourning her like a daughter.

All of this is to say that most of my holiday memories are of my 4'11" mother waking up at the ass crack of dawn to soak greens and prepare for a dinner Mrs. C- would have been proud of. Like her mother and stepmother before her, and maybe like all the Filipina village-raised mothers ever, she'd quietly begin the labor intensive process of feeding her family and their friends. (At the ass crack of dawn.) And like other Filipina mothers, she'd wake her oldest daughter to help her. (At the ass crack of dawn!)

I hated it. I hated the Sisyphean task of cleaning greens. I hated pulling the bag of giblets out of a thawed, cold white turkey corpse. I hated having to stand on a chair to lift a turkey that was half my size to put it into the sink and clean it. I hated deciphering pie recipes (my mother assigned me baking) and measuring and flouring and rolling out dough and I especially hated that my little sister was still in bed and I was getting turkey junk all over my pajamas and I smelled like raw turkey innards.

But as I grew older and realized that my mother was the only one cooking in the house during these holidays, I swallowed my anti-domestic hatred and helped her. (I still hated the fact that she'd wake me first and let my sister sleep an extra 2 hours.) Eventually, I grew to enjoy this part of the holidays - spending time with my mother in the dark morning hours, listening to her chide me over my inattention to the size of my chopping, how I forgot to put the fatback in the greens or left some grit on a leaf or 'forgot' to boil and cube the giblets. (I really think giblets are disgusting though they made all the difference in my mother's dressing.) She'd tell me stories of how good I had it; if I lived in the Philippines, I'd have to cook like this every day. I'd have to raise and kill my own chickens and pigs - and I'd have had to learn this at the age of seven.

I'd say to her, "And that's why I live in an American city, mom. So I will never have to learn that." And she'd slap my arm and we'd keep cooking.

But then her mood would change, especially as the morning stretched into afternoon and we were still in the kitchen (all three of us by now, my sister having joined us) smelling like butter or whatever we were cooking at the time - pies, rolls, green beans with bacon, black eyed peas (which takes frakking forever), corn casserole, ham, yams and sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, or the base for the punch later on.

And her mood would worsen as the sounds of dad and his friends watching football would increase.

By the time dinner was ready and the dining table was set with the good china and crystal, my mother was a tiny red ball of Asian fury and her target was often the men in the house who did nothing very labor intensive at all that day. My sister and I would instantly go into 'buffer' mode: running interference between mom and dad and hoping that post-turkey food coma would come so rapidly, the anger of laboring alone would be forgotten.

Sure enough, later in the evening my dad would put on his headset and sing loudly to contemporary Christian pop (don't ask) and wash all the dishes that had piled in the sink while my mother would finally rest, her earlier anger perhaps not forgotten but certainly repressed and swallowed. And I would go to my bedroom, write all of it down and vow NEVER to spend my holidays sweating over two ovens and a stove while my husband sits on his butt watching football.

These days, my sister has assumed the mantle of the Domestic Angry Goddess, though her husband is a little bit more tuned in than my father ever was (bless his clueless heart.) My brother-in-law wrangles the kids, clears the kitchen and preps the dining room, cleans the house and runs errands for my sister while she and I stand in her very small retro kitchen that reminds me of the apartment on Santa Rosalia and fight over counter space. And, true to form, my father saunters in 45 minutes before dinner is served and wonders when it'll be time to eat.

My sister's dinners are reminiscent of our mother's but with more Mexican dishes added to them and I wonder 'How the hell does Leslie do this without going frakking insane?' and I send up a little prayer of thanks that my kitchen back home in Chicago remains virginal and pristine.

My non-guilt at not cooking prompts me sometimes to tell my sister that the next day, on the biggest shopping day of the year, she can leave the kids with her husband while we make a day of manicures and pedicures at some spa, a movie and maybe some cocktails in the middle of the bright afternoon in a hotel. This is my Single Anti-Domestic Sister gift to her and I only wish that our mom was still here to join us. If anyone needed a day of complete self-indulgence and alcohol, it was my little mother.

So to all you Domestic Divas/Gentlemen out there, trapped in the Whole Foods or Vons or Dominick's or Byerly's of the nation, gritting your teeth over your turkey or your tofurkey or gnashing your teeth over head count and wondering why it's your turn to host again this year, have a wonderful holiday.

And book your spa appointment now.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Vote for the YWCA!

Click here and vote for the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago; the organization with the most votes wins $15,000. We help women, girls, children and rape victims, for jeebus' sake! We help eliminate racism!

What to do:
1- Pick Chicago, IL
2- Click on YWCA Metropolitan Chicago
And that's it but you can only vote 1/day - so vote every day until December 10!

Frakking kids. We were kicking their butts until yesterday!

(yeah, conflict of interest. whatever. it's my blog and i can do what i want.)
(link now fixed.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Prop 8: the legal challenge begins

And so it begins, the legal arguments and decisions that will impact the everyday lives of gay and lesbian Californians.

A brief digression: in my day job, I'm the government relations officer for a non profit and I basically see that role as one that explains to interested (or apathetic) parties why my organization matters and why the work we do is meaningful and how others can contribute to that meaning.

The other day I was reading a messaging document about the way to frame a particularly complicated campaign we're about to launch in coalition with other orgs in the state and it presented a novel (to me) idea - that when advocating for a social cause, it might be better to promote materialist thinking, rather than mentalist thinking.

Using a materialist approach in social justice communications concentrates on the concrete advantages of better policy decisions rather than factors that are outside the public sphere of interest, like character, choices or individual motivation.

It's kind of confusing but it works like this: you have to give folks a reason to discard their binary thinking, largely based in fear or ignorance. "Gay marriage will mean the end of heterosexual marriage" or "Gay marriage is unnatural" (because being gay is unnatural.)

A mentalist approach (something I do all the time because I get so easily pissed off) says that 'Gay marriage is good because gays are people too and it's just fair to legally recognize their relationships, too! You're such a bigoted asshole!'

This is one effective way of communicating the issue.

Might there be a more effective way to communicate the issue?

Perhaps. (And I'm working this out as I'm writing here, so bear with me.)

A materialist approach might say this (and the RHR piece references messaging like this):
"The right to form a family without the interference of state or federal government is a core American value, along with fairness, equality and freedom. To deny gay marriage, or other legal arrangements that replicate (though aren't the same as) marriage rights, is to deny them a basic human need and separates them from a national identity that is rightfully theirs."

Or something like that.

The advantage of this kind of framing:
It neutralizes the kerfuffle about 'protecting' families and maintains the importance of families to an intact social fabric. You are correct, sir. Families are the foundation of society and gays and lesbians would like to have families of our own.

It allows a conversation about how gay families support society. Gay families provide parenting, support children and each other, are invested in and contribute to the various structures/institutions that are involved in raising a family.

It connects the narrative of gay and lesbian equality to a national narrative of liberation. It's not just about one community, it's about the connection to a big ol' community. The struggle of other people and other communities to live lives of independence and freedom, away from social and religious oppression, is no different from this struggle.

It erases the binary Us/Them. Family is family, no matter who's in it.

And it doesn't waste time pleading for reluctant hetero acceptance of a gay 'lifestyle,' whatever that is. Homophobia will probably never go away; but with family, there's strength.

Anyway, these are just some thoughts off the top of my head, if anyone was wondering how to communicate this kind of stuff.

Ok, I really should get on the phone now and do some work.

CA Court Case Challenges Prop 8, Anti-Gay Rights Measure |

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

the view from the other side: why civil unions aren't enough

From an Andrew Sullivan post:

We are so often told by opponents of marriage equality that they do not oppose our right to have basic legal protections. What they do not understand, because they have never had to understand, is that without legal marriage, gay couples are always subject to the veto of family members who have more say over our spouses under the law than we do.

and this:

Until you have been treated as sub-human, it's hard to appreciate how it feels. We will not give up. And we will win in part for the sake of those who never made it to see this day.

This is what my faith teaches me, whatever the Vatican insists. Our love really is stronger than their fear.

so to those who offer the mealy-mouthed 'i'm ok with their civil unions but, euww, i don't want them to be married because marriage is for straight people' i say that this is a civil rights issue and one's homophobia is irrelevant.

you're either for equal rights because you believe in liberty for ALL and that all men were created equal - and thus how the world works for one set of the citizenry is how it should work for ALL - or you're against equal rights and think that our Constitution is only for straight people.

pick one.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

it's about love

Thursday, November 06, 2008

party over: a primer on equality and Prop 8

We'll take a brief break from the longest post-election party ever to turn a quiet, sober eye to California, my home state. There, among the raisins, peaches and lettuce, the people of California voted overwhelmingly to deny their fellow Californians basic equal rights while, at the same time, making it possible for Barack Obama to become President. Ironic, isn't it?

Basically, Prop 8 tells every gay person in California to suck it up and accept it: you will never have the same right or access to the same things to which I, my straight sister and straight brother in law have rights and access.

There. That's the Proposition in a nutshell.
(Come at me with your counter arguments trying to explain to the 'danger' of gay rights and not only will I call bullshit on all of that, I will ask you what made you hate gay people.)

Now there's been some talk about who's to blame for this vote. Was it black people? Was it Latinos? Was it black and/or Latino church folk? (We'll come back to that.)

Let's cut to the chase: it was straight people who tanked equal rights for gays in California. (Let that sink in a bit. We'll come back to that, too.)

Here's the thing about equal rights - they actually supercede religion and race and they do so because the idea behind equality and civil rights is quite simple:


I will repeat this often and loudly at whoever is puffing themselves into a self-righteous ball about why they voted for Prop 8:

Religion: you voted for Prop 8 because the Bible said so. Well, so what? We don't live in a theocracy and it's wrong for a portion of the population to be subjected to your narrow interpretation of the bible which should actually have no bearing on civic life. God will not send you to hell because you voted for something that gives Tony and Miguel the right to spousal healthcare benefits or visit one another in the hospital should Tony get hit by the RTD.

The 'Ick' Factor: you voted for Prop 8 because the idea of two women loving one another and exchanging vows in front of a judge skeeves you out. Again, so the frak what? Your personal, outdated and irrelevant homophobia just legally stripped an entire community of their basic civil rights which they should have because they're, you know - basic frakking human beings living in America.

The Race Thing: you're quite willing to vote for Obama but, lawd, that gay thing is what white folks do. Are you kidding me?? You are surrounded by gay people.

You sit in church, look up into the choir and know that Donny the pianist has been 'that way' for years. (Quiet as kept, you know big ol' flashy, stentorian Bishop So-And-So has been having liaisons with black men for years.)
You have a cousin who always brings her slightly butchy 'roommate' to every family reunion and you know they're not just sharing an apartment to save on rent.
You have heard stories of folks in your family who've never married or, after a spouse has died, have never remarried but suddenly get quite comfortable moving in with their life-long same sex best friend - and you KNOW it's not just about companionship.
You go to the fests in Leimert Park and you see the all the gay men with their babies and their 'girlfriends' and you STILL think those men are straight.

And you know what? Luther - gay! Langston - gay! Snoop (on The Wire) - gaaay! My aunt Diane - totally gay!

What the hell, my people?!
Y'all had best get off your high horses about civil rights and demanding to hear bullshit arguments to 'convince' you that gay people need the same rights as you. Who do we think we are? We do not own the patent on civil rights. Ol' Miss Sally mighta marched with Dr. King but Ol' Miss Sally has NO right to use Dr. King's fight to emancipate black folk to justify keeping gay people in a cage built by her misunderstanding of what 'the gays' do, are like or really want.

You know what gay people want? What you and I have. Freedom. Autonomy. Dignity. The privilege to introduce the person they love to a room full of people as their spouse. They want to fulfill a human desire to create a family and have that family be protected just as your family is protected. They want what we have and we should give it to them.

Why? Because we took it away from them!

This brings me back to STRAIGHT PEOPLE tanking this thing for the gays. White, black, latino or asian - a majority of the heteros in California voted for this shit. Why? Because we are drowning in our straight privilege and are, deep down, unrepentant homophobes. We don't like gay people. Apparently, we hate them, despite working with gay people, socializing with gay people and having gay people in our family. We might as well have just pinned a great big pink triangle on them.

And until we share some of this burden and hold our fellow straight breeders accountable for their homophobia, gay people will never get what they deserve - what we have.

(Why I'm using 'we:' we, even as self-identified friends to the gays, are implicated in this travesty. Clearly, if we straight people who support gay rights because we know and love gay friends and family or because we know it's the right thing to do or because we are (gag) 'tolerant' - clearly we didn't do enough. Our gay-hating friends, neighbors and family voted for this shit because we didn't call them out on this crap long before this stupid Proposition even got on the ballot.

The burden to change the paradigm of hatred and bigotry shouldn't fall entirely on the community that's oppressed by it; it should be shared equally by the privileged who must sacrifice something in order to see the Promised Land of equal rights for all.)

So go on. Celebrate voting for Obama and 'change.'
Deep down we straight folks are oozing with the same old bullshit tar of hypocrisy.

[A Private Note to Richard:
Yes, I do think anal sex is healthy, especially when done with respect, with someone you trust and/or love, plenty of lube, and a condom. In fact, Lawrence v. Texas pretty much guarantees that any and all enjoyment of butt sex is private and outside of the reach of the law. In fact, beyond butt sex, Lawrence v. Texas also upholds that the liberty given to us in the Constitution pretty much covers gay folks' freedom to enter into relationships without fear of reprisal or criminal prosecution, whether or not such a relationship has legal recognition. Thanks for asking.]

Work to do - Ta-Nehisi Coates

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


I cannot say this with enough emphasis: Get in gear and go vote.

Stand in line for a long time; take a little stool and wear comfortable shoes; pee in a can or wear Depends, I don't care.

Double check your polling location.

Bring two forms of ID (one with a photo and one that verifies your current mailing address, just in case there's an issue)

Bring along the contact info for ACLU voter protection:
phone 1-877-523-2792/email at

Read directions carefully and take your time with the new electronic system.

[And now, a special messge to members of the youth vote:

I've already had to tell someone's undergraduate sister living in Mississippi, but wanting to vote absentee in Texas, that she can't vote today because she waited too long and missed her deadline for sending in her application as well as her ballot. Are you freaking kidding me??

If the undergraduate population's inability to plan ahead blows this for us I will be seriously pissed.

This goes for all the little old people down in Florida, too.]

Saturday, November 01, 2008

yesterday, i went to my pastor's funeral.

the church was coldly austere and beautiful; the service emotional and wrenching. somberly dressed, clearly fighting tears, members of the church streamed in from all over the city, forming a line that rivaled one on Easter Sunday. a letter from the Mayor's office was read.

i held it together through Barber's 'Adagio', through the opening prayers but then came Psalm 121, which has always been a favorite of mine.

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
Who made heaven and earth.

3 He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
4 Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The LORD is your keeper;
The LORD is your shade at your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.

7 The LORD shall preserve you from all evil;
He shall preserve your soul.
8 The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in
From this time forth, and even forevermore.

it made me think of her evident dedication to her calling, the joy and discipline she showed but also the strength she showed during her illness. it was almost too much to think of.

but there were moments of joy, too. laughter through the eulogy, the comfort of seeing all of us rise as one to sing the doxology, to recite the Apostles Creed, all of us praying together and reciting the 23rd Psalm (another of my favorites.)

and then, after the wrenching recessional as her casket was slowly wheeled down the long, straight center aisle led by a bagpiper and followed by the pastoral staff and her surviving family, the Tower Brass doing a boozy, ragtime arrangement of 'Just A Closer Walk With Thee' that made us all erupt in bursts of giggles and clapping.

the lesson here? in the shadow of death and sadness there is joy and grace. this is the gift that Christ has given us and for which, despite my personal failings and struggles, i am eternally grateful.