Friday, June 26, 2015

Amazing Grace.

Last week, I watched a documentary called Limited Partnership. It told the tale of Richard Adams and Tony Sullivan, two homos who fell in love in LA over forty years ago. The one kink in their love story was that Tony was actually Australian, just visiting the US when he first met Richard. In order to stay--his childhood in Australia being extremely abusive, he had extra reason to not want to return--they thought getting married was the one solution. An extremely kind and adorable feminist behind a clerk's counter in Boulder, Colorado granted them their wish. 


As you would expect, the federal government did not deem this marriage certificate from Boulder in 1975 valid. In fact, Tony received an official response from the INS that stated: 
"You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots."
This quote became an integral part of Tony and Richard's story, but I knew nothing about their story before watching this movie, and my mouth dropped open when the end of that sentence was read. An official of my government sent that out. If there were any superiors at the INS that reviewed that letter, they didn't find anything wrong with it, either.

After many failed lawsuits, Tony was deported, but eventually sneaked back into the US. He continued living with Richard illegally for decades, not being able to work or receive benefits, not being able to live openly as a US citizen--not that he exactly hid. I think the INS gave up the fight of chasing Tony out of the country eventually, but of course, that doesn't mean he actually won.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking part of the documentary was a section that took place during the '80s, I think, where, after continually losing legal battles, they thought public opinion could help sway power to their plight. They went on Donahue, where a bitter woman, among other guests, spewed the most vile hatred at them, shouting from the audience in her shoulder-padded power suit, while they both sat quietly, placidly on stage--not angry, just hurt, vulnerable, and sad.

In the end--bit of a spoiler alert here--Richard's health declines; he gets cancer. Their lawyer strongly urges them to renew their vows in a state where marriage is now legal, something they've never done, to make sure that their old Boulder marriage holds up federally if Richard dies. In the last recorded interview with both of them on screen, planning this trip to get married again, Richard says, in his weak, strained words, that he loves Tony more than ever. He dies the next day.

I spent a lot of time during this documentary feeling humbled with my own gay privilege, and thinking about how often you hear that gay rights have swept the country so quickly. I married the love of my life in the first state to ever legalize gay marriage; filing for our license was easy and never questioned. We've filed joint federal tax forms for two years now. I have a lot of guilt and conflict in my heart about the fact that I've stayed mostly closeted at my new job for the past year. But when I cross the bridge over the Columbia River and come home again each day, I breathe freely; my muscles relax; I know I can be who I truly am, without complete fear of violence. I have lived in liberal cities for the last decade, taken the easy road. I work in a conservative town, but I was still able to walk into my HR office and ask if I could add my wife onto my insurance benefits and they didn't blink an eye, because they were legally bound not to. 

Yet Tony and Richard--and so many others--fought for decades; hid for decades. Tony kept saying, "Those were hard years," in reference to being deported, in reference to all their friends dying from AIDS and being blamed for their own deaths; in reference to being publicly humiliated and harassed on the Donahue show. "Those were hard times," he kept having to say, over and over and over.

When the words came on the screen that Richard died, before they could renew their marriage vows, before they could hear the Supreme Court normalize their life, I actually said "No," out loud and broke out into sobs. It was so unfair. One of the last scenes is Tony watching the news about the fall of DOMA, alone in his pajamas. He calls Richard's sister, happy, but sad, wishing Richard was there to see it. The last update to hit the screen before the credits roll is that Tony is again petitioning for citizenship, as the widower of an American citizen. He is still, in 2015, fighting.

I've read a decent amount of LGBT history--most LGBT people have. But even as a lesbo, I had never heard of Richard and Tony, even though their story seemed pretty important, pretty pioneering. I thought about how much of my own history I still need to learn, how much more meaningful knowing this history makes current events.

-

Yesterday, I watched a documentary called Love Free or Die, about now infamously out Anglican Bishop Gene Robinson from New Hampshire. Yes, watching documentaries that make me cry is a nasty habit of mine, and no, they're not always about gay people. PBS has just really been gaying up my DVR recently, completely out of my control.

Anyway, most of this one wasn't news to me, as I'm already familiar with Robinson. But there was a section at the end that just had me crying and crying and crying, for the same reason that I always cry at the Gay Pride Parade, as I did here in Portland a couple weekends ago. He was speaking at a church in NYC before their Pride Parade, and his plan for the day that he implored his parishioners to join him in was to pass out cups of water to the parade participants. It was such a simple act, this passing out of water, just like it's a relatively simple act for all the churches and synagogues and mosques to march in Pride Parades, as so many now do. But sometimes simple acts of kindness really do just knock you flat on your ass. Especially when there's emotional instrumental music flowing in the background.


"It's not enough to pull the people out of a raging stream who are drowning," Robinson says. "We have to walk back upstream and find out who's throwing them in in the first place."

-

I have been thinking a lot about religion lately. After spending every Sunday in church growing up, I stopped going when I went to college and obtained my own free will, perhaps for obvious reasons. Yet one of the most prickly topics for Kathy and I over the last ten years has been Catholicism--I still have this stubborn desire to defend it, even when I know the church has done so many wrongs, even though I still don't feel comfortable walking back into a Sunday mass again. My defense is often illogical to Kathy, because, well, it is illogical. Most deeply rooted emotions that we don't truly understand are. The election and continuing reign of Pope Francis has been raising my Catholicism defenses to all-new heights, almost making me want to be Catholic again. Almost.

And then this year, a student of mine that I find a particular affinity with stays after school sometimes just to talk and rant about life. One day, he begins complaining, loudly, about religion, a topic that he continues to talk about in other after-school chats, about how all the Christians at this school are hateful bigots, how all religion is stupid. And it's wrong to automatically tell him he's wrong, because some of these Christians have indeed said hateful things to him, supposedly in the name of God, and it's important to not erase that. But immediately I find myself protesting this bold, blanket statement of his, imploring him that he can't just say that all Christians are bad. If we did, we'd be doing the same exact thing as people who say that all gay people are bad. That there are a lot of religious people who do really good things and are in fact not hateful bigots.

For the record, I don't think he bought it, but it's often hard to buy what an adult's telling you when you're a teen and everything sucks.

-

This weekend, most of Melissa Harris-Perry's Sunday show was taken up with the live broadcast from Emanuel AME in Charleston, the first Sunday service since the terrorist massacre last Wednesday. The crowds spilled out onto the street. And I know I shouldn't have been surprised, but as a white formerly-Catholic girl, it was still shocking to me to witness how this church and community that had been brutalized to horrific lengths carried out their Sunday worship. There was hurt and anger and sorrow, of course, but the church choir that was on the front steps, singing to the people on the sidewalk and in the street, were singing upbeat, joyful sounding songs, swinging their hips back and forth. And when the preacher spoke inside, he kept making the congregants laugh. He kept making me laugh! The call and response of that church this Sunday was so powerful but also so normal: it was what black churches have done to lift their people up for centuries.

Today, after a joyful morning of absorbing myself in as much happy Internet pride as I could after the Supreme Court declared gay marriage the law of the land, I sat down and watched President Obama deliver the eulogy for the Reverend Clementa Pinckney at an arena in Charleston, one of the nine slain during bible study last week, a man that Obama and his family knew personally. The speech was unreal. It almost felt like I was having an out-of-body experience, it felt so spiritual and righteous and true. He talked about Pinckney and he talked about racism--the real, insidious racism that poisons our country, that has poisoned our country from the beginning. He talked about God, and grace, and he talked about them a lot. The call and response that I had witnessed on Sunday continued, but it was more charged this time, a deep electricity pulsing through it, because this was the president of the United States. And he was taking. us. to. church.

And while I believe fiercely in the separation of church and state, while I believe those lines are still far too blurred in too many of our public schools and institutions today, at that moment, I wanted to go to church. I needed to go to church, something I didn't know until I started listening to Obama's sermon. The talk of grace and hope and resolve felt so healing, such a release, after all the anger and fear I've been bottling up since last Wednesday. The anger and fear won't go away, and shouldn't, but man, did going to church feel good. When he started singing Amazing Grace, I felt weak in the knees. It was the most unreal moment of the whole speech, but it was only because of all the words he had said before he got to that hymn, all the truths he had spoken that we've been needing to hear him say. He had preached so intensely that by the time he started singing those words, we were all there. We were there with him, and I hate that we had to get there because of this atrocious act of hate, but it's moments like these when you are there that you truly feel that hate can never win. And without those moments, we are all lost.

It wasn't my church. I was just sitting in my living room in my pajamas. But I was awfully glad I was able to be there.

-

It was not surprising to me, when flipping through news stations this morning, that Fox News had guests on that started talking about how the Supreme Court ruling today sets up a future war on religious freedom. That people who believe in the sanctity of one man, one woman are now somehow going to be persecuted, that somehow, they are not going to be able to live their lives freely.

This week I also read a book called Audacity, a fictionalized novel-in-verse about teenage labor union fighter Clara Lemlich in the early 20th century in New York City. In one poem, she talks about how the garment shop owners hired men to come to the picket line and tell all the Italian girls that the union leaders hated them, and the only reason they were really on strike was to get rid of them. The Italian girls went back to their workstations.
It is a tactic as old 
as the stars,
the poem read. 
divide 
and conquer.
The divisiveness that Fox News tries to cultivate is so transparent, so boring, and most of all, so demeaning to people who truly see and hear their God, who are truly people of faith. By saying that gay marriage is going to lead to a war on religious freedom, one assumes that religion is automatically against gay marriage. This is such a disservice to so many faithful and loving Christians today, to so many Jews, to Muslims and Buddhists and WhateverReligionYouWant. 


There is this perceived division in America that either you respect the Bible or you don't; that you either love the gays or you hate Jesus; that you are either red or blue. And I think so much of it is such a lie. I think people, in general, are so much smarter, so much braver than you would believe. 

Because Gene Robinson may be one of the gayest people I have ever witnessed. He is so gay. But goodness, does he love God. So much. And I think a lot of people are just like him.

You don't have to love God, of course! You don't have to believe in anything! But the possibility that you could, while also being gay or lesbian or gender-binary-smashing, that you could contain multitudes--why is that so hard to accept? In what world does containing multitudes make us weaker, not stronger?

-

I kept thinking during Limited Partnership that if I had so much more to learn about LGBT history, imagine what the general populace could learn about LGBT history! 

And a second after that, I thought, imagine if every non-black person knew the history of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina? The hatred and the strength that had already vibrated through those walls over the decades before a terrorist stepped into it last week? That, as Obama said today, it is a phoenix? That it has already risen from the ashes and it will again?

Imagine if these stories were told in history books. Imagine if students across the nation knew the name Harvey Milk as well as they knew Abraham Lincoln. If students knew the name Clementa Pinckney as well as Martin Luther King. If they knew about the transwomen that sparked a movement at Stonewall Inn; if they knew about the number of trans people that have been killed in 2015. (According to Wikipedia, at least 14.) If we all knew each other's history a little bit better, imagine what the world could be.

-

I hadn't been thinking about the Supreme Court decision that much lately. I knew it was coming, and because of the way recent history's been leaning, I hoped and suspected it would be good news. But I live and work in states where my marriage is already recognized; the federal government recognized it, too. This decision, in a way, wouldn't affect me at all.

But then when it happened today, and I thought about all those people in states that never would have passed gay marriage on their own--all those queers in Mississippi, in Alabama, in Oklahoma, in Georgia--and I thought about all those people fighting immigration battles like Tony and Richard that can be hinged on marriage, and all the people who don't get to sit by their love's deathbeds. 

And I thought about all the people who never got to see this. The dykes and trans warriors of Stonewall, the queens of the New York balls that bravely vogued their way to dignity, the fallen activists of ACT UP. Richard Adams. Jonathan Larson. Leslie Feinberg. All the icons that would have declared marriage a patriarchal piece of bullshit anyway, god bless them. And I was overcome.

And a few hours later, I thought of all the slaves, the activists, the allies, the regular beautiful people that never got to see a black president sing, simply and movingly, Amazing Grace from the pulpit of a black church to the entire United States of America. How surreal it would have seemed to them that this black president was only singing from this pulpit because black people were slaughtered in their church--again--but what an overwhelming moment this would still seem, what a teetering precipice of hope.

How lucky are we. What a responsibility we have; what a future to protect.

-

Our president quoted Clementa Pinckney in his eulogy today, and all of my thoughts from the past week or so were crystallized, affirmed.
"Across the south, we have a deep appreciation of history. 
We haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history.”

Imagine if, even just for a few days a year, we could all go to each other's churches, whether they're in the heart of Charleston or on Christopher Street.

And imagine if we just listened.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Best: January 2015.

A lot of terror and hurt has been happening in the world lately. I've almost written about it here a hundred times, and I hope I still will, eventually, when I have adequate words, because if there's one thing I know it's that we have to talk about it. We have to talk about a lot of things.

But I still need to call out the good things in life that I like. To be able to do so at a time like this is definitely a privilege I have, but I'm going to push forward anyway at the same time that I own that privilege. And by 'push forward,' I actually mean rewinding to January.


2015 started with a reading bang for me, one of those runs where every book you pick up seems awesome and perfect and written just for you. If only these runs lasted forever! Jacqueline Woodson has always been one of my faves, but brown girl dreaming truly felt like a gift. A memoir told in verse, this is supposedly for middle readers but is really just for humans. Following her childhood from the North to the South and back again, this book aches of family and belonging and identity and longing and all the things Jacqueline Woodson's poetry says that I can't. I was so grateful for it, and it was so deserving of all the awards it racked up.

Ready Player One was the exact opposite, but so damn fun, the most fun I've had reading a book in years and years. I stayed up way past my bed time several times reading it because I was so wrapped up in its world, something my old lady body can hardly do for any book these days! And I don't even care about video games, and video games take up pretty much this whole book! It is spectacular and deserving of exclamation points! Steven Spielberg is slated to make the movie and I know it's Spielberg and all but still, YOU BETTER DO IT REAL GOOD, STEVE.


I made a couple actually decent meals this month, both just served over rice, one easy, one kind of a pain in the ass, but both delish! One was chicken tikka masala, everyone's favorite not-actually-Indian Indian dish. I used a recipe from the sriracha cookbook Manda got me for Christmas, which involved some marinating of the chicken for a while, among other things. Marinating chicken always ends up being worth it but like, you have to plan? And take extra time? Anyway, I also happened to make the basmati rice pretty perfectly, if I do say so myself, and it was a wonderful combo of tangy and creamy and spice.

My other favorite meal of the month was the "Cheater" Korean Beef Bowl from Damn Delicious, and lesbe honest, I think those should actually be triple quotation marks, because I don't think this thing authentically resembles any dish related to Korea. It is basically ground beef with brown sugar and soy sauce. BUT MAN does ground beef with brown sugar and soy sauce taste good! I added peas and potatoes to the mix, so, HEALTHY.


This whole year thus far belongs to T. Swizzle, both on a personal level and in terms of world domination, but winter was really all 1989 all the time for me.

Jill's Top 5 1989 Tracks, A List That She May or May Not Have Spent Several Hours of Commuting Time Contemplating:
  1. How You Get the Girl (I WOULD WAIT FOREVER AND EVER!)
  2. Welcome to New York (BOYS AND BOYS AND GIRLS AND GIRLS!)
  3. Style (TIGHT LITTLE SKIRT!!)
  4. Bad Blood (BAND-AIDS DON'T FIX BULLET HOLES, YOU GUYS)
  5. Shake It Off (Dwayne The Rock Johnson helped put this one on the list because now I REALLY can't listen to this song without smiling!!!)


We attended the Portland Dog Show at the Expo Center for the first time ever this month and it was...weird. It was so weird. And okay, to be truthful, I got really tired and moody towards the end of it but the weirdness of it all, and the fact that I got to see so many Newfoundlands and Bernese Mountain Dogs and St. Bernards all at once--all while getting to drink beer and eat salty soft pretzels--definitely marks it as the best thing I did during the inaugural month of 2015.


I went to the movies a few times in January, and saw other really great movies, like The Theory of Everything, but no other thing stuck in my mind and heart this month as much as Selma, a movie that was released at a strangely, heartbreakingly appropriate time. The work of Ava DuVernay and all of the actors in this film is remarkable and important, and I wish every single American watched it, and had conversations with each other about the real messages its stories told, and not about how the President was portrayed, as the President was a relatively minor character in all of it. The fact that LBJ was what America wanted to talk about in relation to a movie about MLK is all too apropos of what we do and do not talk about in America in 2015, what we shine light on and what we hide. It doesn't have to do with truth, but with what we're afraid of.

Watch movies about our history, read things, have conversations, rename that godforsaken bridge, and for the love of all that is good in this world, take down that damn flag.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Best : May 2015.

Oh hello there, beautiful little blog! Didn't see you there! Probably because I haven't updated you for five months! And last time I did update you, it was to post a humongo list of EVERYTHING I DID IN 2014 THAT I LIKED (okay almost everything) and it was great but also long and took a week to compile which was satisfying in the end but also annoying.

But it's 2015 now! Summer is in the air and I can feel it in my bones! And I have plans for you, beautiful little blog. This go 'round, instead of blogging once a year in a mind-numbing burst, I'm setting a goal of writing at least once a month about the good things that have been filling my brain parts. The best things, even. I will call this series Best. That previous sentence was a bit of a spoiler, wasn't it?

You also might have heard this, but it is June now. I know! WTF! As this is my second post of the year, I am clearly a bit behind in my once-a-month ambitions. I'm about to unroll the Best of May 2015, but I do really want to catch up on the previous months, too. I have notes in my phone about what the Best Things were of all those previous months and everything--whatta nerd!--it's just taken me this long to actually fully write one of them down here.

So after today, I'll work on catching up retroactively, and then hopefully I'll get on track. This is an over-explanation. Which is not new for me. Things Jill Likes definitely needs an editor.


I loved Americanah from the first page. What a knockout, gut punch of a novel. The hardest parts for me to read were when Ifemelu first came to America--well, a lot of her time in America, really--and Obinze's time in London. An epic about race, immigration, Lagos, America, and love. And blogging. But mainly the other stuff.

I also want to note that May was the month that I set up my own pull box at a local comic store for the first time. Nerd achievement: unlocked! I'll write about the comics I've been reading in another post because they deserve their own undivided attention.


I don't know if it's the on-point '90s references or if it's just all Jessica, but Fresh Off the Boat, which I was introduced to way late in the game this month, makes me laugh out loud. I love Jessica more and more each episode. And when I say love I mean I. LOVE. HER. This and Blackish are so good and promising and I hope that they are signs of more things to come--even more complex and even more funny stories of people that have been ignored by mainstream media for too long--not just a brilliant but brief ABC experiment of 2015.


These are new shoes I bought this month. They make me feel super cute!


I have been generally boring with music lately and just *whisper* listen to the radio *un-whisper* but gosh darnit, that "Shut Up and Dance" song is my jam. I also really love "Renegades" by the X Ambassadors which is that "long live the pioneers" song from that Jeep commercial and yes that Jeep commercial was how I first heard it oh god I am so old and embarrassing. The new Brandi single is also smashing DUH but I still haven't listened to the full new album yet so MORE TO COME ON THAT probs. 

Also let's talk about Janelle Monae and her backup dancers when she performed "Yoga" on The Tonight Show:


How I wish yoga was actually just like this.

Man oh man was I bad at food this month. I made a couple new recipes that were OK, a few standby favorites that didn't even taste as awesome as remembered, and ate a whole lot of fast food. But! I did get to visit the Portland Mercado with Kathy and Manda at the end of the month and man oh man was it neat. 

While pretty much every other development in Portland and the Pacific Northwest as a whole appears to be goddamn awful and soul sucking lately, the Portland Mercado, down the street from us on Foster, is a diamond in the rough: a bursting-with-life, bursting-with-success authentic community project. It's described as "the first Latino public market in Portland" and has pretty much everything you need: coffee, alcohol, groceries, candy, and chorizo. AND eight colorful food carts out front that each tell their own story from different corners of the Latin American world. This is a mole bowl from the Mixteca cart and it was good but now I just want to go back and try EVERYTHING ELSE.


I'm going to try to narrow down a thing I did each month that was my favorite but there will often be multiple things, as there are this month. The first notable thing we did was an urban scavenger hunt, which I thought was going to involve alcohol but actually just involved hula hooping and jumping in water fountains and talking to strangers and pretending to dance at a make believe quinceanera. It was very silly but very fun and Manda made us all matching t-shirts that said Darryl's Lesbian Haircut, which is our trivia name, which is a Walking Dead reference. Do I watch The Walking Dead? Of course not, fool. 

This is us making a ring around the world's smallest public park. It's a thing; look it up.


Kathy, Manda, and I also went on a hike at Latourell Falls, my second time doing the loop, which is a near perfect little hiking loop: awesome upper falls, awesome lower falls, Columbia River Gorge overlooks, inclines and declines, walking under a gothic feeling bridge, and a memorably odd tree. JP went with and was so tired and adorable in the back seat on the way home that I just about died.


Friends Katie and Todd also got married this month, which included a karaoke bachelorette party that began at Chopsticks III and ended with me having a serious conversation with a pitbull named Mixie on Becky's kitchen floor. It also involved a weekend full of shopping for new clothes which was almost shockingly irresponsible but also WAY FUN. And then of course there was a wedding in a barn in the Willamette Valley where you could see three Cascade peaks and lots of horses and llamas and the ceremony involved some killer Bob Seger references and even though it was hot we did our best to make it a dance party.

That was fun. Just wait until you hear about all the best of JanuaryFebruaryMarchApril!