Diminished But Not Lost

A consistent theme in my adult life has been my fascination with the history of 20th century queer movements. In case you haven’t noticed, in just more than half a century we’ve gone from completely hidden and isolated (visible only in police raids, pantomimes, paddy wagons, and lurid news briefs) to developing politically powerful urban strongholds as well as greater visibility in rural and suburban communities. People have made homes for themselves, both in places where support previously hadn’t existed and in neighborhoods where visibility brought strength in numbers, long-term stability, and eventually generational dispersion as well. My generation (proud Gen Xers) have been inheritors of a rich past and legacy—one that we are just seeing younger queer kids embrace as they blow past college activism and gay-straight alliances to make themselves heard in social media and beyond. That’s a lot of change – dramatic change– in a comparatively short span of our history.

For me, coming out as a teen in the early to mid-90s brought this fascinating mixture of exhilaration and fear, not only because of the homophobia still running through society (DOMA, Matthew Shepard, Jessie Helms ring any bells?) but because I consistently remember feeling like my friends and I—these noisy youth at the gay coffee shop and men’s groups and anywhere else that let us in—were just a nuisance to the older men we encountered. Sometimes a sexual interest, but mainly a nuisance. Gay men over 30 looked tired, worn down, world-weary, and not all that patient with our flighty drama. In those years I came to understand why as I learned about how so many had lost their friends and lovers, and few in the larger world seemed to care. For the most part, our generational social spheres diverged even though I was fascinated by what they must have experienced—not just the horrors of the early AIDS epidemic, but what many of that cohort had tried to build prior to those years in big cities, namely a community with spaces where the dimensions of human sexuality could be more fully explored with other curious, consenting men. My first “coming out” novels were the Tales of the City series by Armistead Maupin, still a favorite and still just as alluring to re-read or re-watch as mini-series. The images of San Francisco in the mid-1970s that period captivated me, both for the major historical events that occurred and also the depictions of how gay people were living their everyday lives, exploring their queerness out in the open and laying claim to neighborhoods that are still recognized as “home” today. I know I romanticize it a bit. But, at the same time I’ve felt over the years that only select parts of that history have been written, much of which pertains to epic circumstances rather than asking simpler questions such as, “Who lived here?” “What kind of neighbors were they to each other?” “How did they take care of new guys who showed up from other parts of the country?”

When I started this blog, I gave it the subtitle, “Where the conversation continues.” A big reason I went with that theme was, in many cases I feel like when friends and I reconnect, we seem to be continuing the same dialogues, building on the same themes we started talking about many years ago. This was true yesterday when I had lunch with an old friend/colleague I had met when I first moved here nine years ago to work in HIV/AIDS services. My friend is someone who looks like a high school biology teacher, yet can talk about queer radicalism like a seasoned pro, which ranks high on my list of people to get to know. Across years of lost contact it felt like we picked up the same chats we had when I was still a new kid on the block in the local service provider circles. When I mentioned some of my writing interests, particularly exploring the history of these earlier times and circumstances, he cut through some of my romanticism in a blunt but helpful way: “Next time you’re in San Francisco, go to this bar and ask if anyone knew Randy.” “Get in touch with this author—I hear he’s actually accessible and probably knew everyone you’re interested in.” It may be a slight conceit for me to think that so much of queer men’s history is lost, when in fact it’s sitting right there, still alive and kicking. It’s maybe slightly more humbling, but also inspiring to realize that what I view as “history” (because I was born while it was taking place) is actually still the collective life story of a living generation, diminished but not wiped out, doing one of the most radical things that LGBT people can do in the face of a history that has mainly recorded our isolation and insignificance: survive.

Advertisements

Classic Holiday Movie Post #1

Jaxon and I have a collection of old movies (mostly VHS) that we always dust off and watch during the holiday season. So far we’ve made it through two of them. I’ll post a classic clip each time we see another one. Got any seasonal favorites of your own? Feel free to make suggestions!

 

Classic Holiday Movie #1: Grumpy Old Men (1993)

We watched this the weekend before Thanksgiving. Is this what Hollywood thinks of Minnesota??? (Pretty accurate in some ways.) It starts around Thanksgiving and finishes shortly after Christmas. Burgess Meredith damn near steals the movie, but it’s Mathau and Lemmon late in their careers and still pitch-perfect as a combo. I saw it in the theater on Christmas Day, 1993, outside of Toledo, OH, with my sister and cousin. It still reminds us of our relatives. (I know the clip is labeled for “Grumpier Old Men” but it’s actually the first movie, not the second.)

 

Classic Holiday Movie #2: Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

I looked for this on TV on Thanksgiving  Day– didn’t NBC used to show it in the afternoon? Another one that starts at Thanksgiving and ends at Christmas. Super fun to see the mid-century architecture and decor in New York City, and the plot is endearing as well.

Notes From the Holiday Weekend

My parents have been visiting this week, which has kept me from writing but given me time to reflect on a few things over the course of several days.

First, the way we do holidays here—staying put and focusing on good food, wine, and friendships—was validated in a really nice way. Several years ago we decided not to travel on Thanksgiving or Christmas, but instead to host “orphans” get-togethers with friends who were either away from, avoiding, or recovering from their families. We’ve intentionally kept the gatherings small—the number fluctuates every year but generally stays between 4 – 8 people. This year we invited my parents to come because Thanksgiving coincided with the Michigan State – Minnesota football game, and they needed a break from their usual holiday routine. Having my folks here to dine with my “orphan” friends proved to be quite delightful, as the day stayed very relaxed and everyone contributed to the efforts for making and serving the evening meal. I’ve reached the stage where I can’t imagine wanting to fall back into the same holiday routines that used to drive and exhaust us, so having our approach affirmed and enjoyed by my mom and dad felt good.

Second, I made an interesting observation while watching the new James Bond film. While the villain maintains the upper hand by keeping people situated on his turf, i.e. cyberspace, Bond draws him out into the barren wilderness where ultimately the winner will be decided by skill, mastery of the surrounding environment and its elements, and luck. Defeat comes ultimately at the end of a dagger, not the execution of a complex sequence of numeric equations. To me that’s an intriguing epiphany (albeit one drawn from a fictional action/drama/fantasy world)— the idea that in our efforts to control the elements around us, to harness industry, technology, and nature to accumulate wealth, comfort, and recgonition, the ultimate arbiter of our influence on (and value to) each other might still come from how we navigate our face to face encounters.  As someone who’s naturally talkative and who throws a lot of energy into my in-person encounters, I’ve been a hesitant user of social media, in part because I always saw it as a tool of my past jobs, which might blur the boundaries of social and professional relationships. But, more and more I’ve had to think through and reckon with the ways that some form of interface—whether through this blog or other online channel—is necessary to cut through the vast amounts of social traffic out there in order to connect with others who resonate with these ideas.

Related to that, for a good chunk of last week I found myself stressed out over a random financial aid hiccup and uncertainty over whether I’ll have a teaching assignment next semester. Over the past few months I’ve been debating whether or not to start searching for more long-term work, to give us some financial stability while I finish the Ph.D. It’s tough to figure out—keep juggling paychecks from semester to semester, or risk falling away from my trajectory right now to make sure the bills can get paid over the intermediate to long term. I had some good advice from a confidante last week though. This was key– reflecting on my recent panic and the less than empathetic response I felt I’d received from the administrative systems involved, she said, “You needed someone to care for you, and they didn’t.” It’s so striking when someone can boil down a nerve-wracking situation to something so simple, but it was true. On top of that, echoing the thoughts above, sometimes it seems like in the name of creating more efficient and responsive systems, we risk divorcing our responses from the humans involved, who have real stakes and concerns riding on the outcome. It really astonishes me (going back to my nonprofit days as well) when people managing administrative functions would distance themselves from some truly putrid decisions by saying, “It’s not me- it’s the system!” as if humans don’t ultimately influence the way systematic decisions are made.

So, to circle back to my wariness toward certain “created” environments as channels for connecting with each other, isn’t it interesting how we seem to develop these complex systems for establishing contact—whether it be for social affirmation, material support, administrative responsiveness, or whatever—yet the key ingredient is still the human on each side of the interface? Humans who are imperfect, insecure, emotionally vulnerable, and ultimately limited yet deeply interesting, talented, and capable beings in our own right?

In person and in direct contact with others, I trust myself to know where I stand. In direct contact with others, my strength has been helping people see the skills/powers they have in their own hands, guiding their actualization in a way that invites participation and shared ownership of the achievement. Although I haven’t been a Bond fan until recently thanks to Jaxon, the final climactic moments of the new movie left me resonating more with “his” environment—the barren, naked spaces where ultimately the extent of our survival depends on how well we know ourselves and our immediate, visceral connections—than the manipulations of the virtual world his nemesis has mastered. And the reason why I think I feel this way is the certainty that a visceral connection provides, no matter what the outcome I end up having to endure.

The Unique Point of View

I had the pleasure of watching my partner introduce himself to a shop owner yesterday, in the hopes of finding a place to sell the beautiful, handcrafted chair he restored earlier this fall. Typically, at home I get to witness the inner part of his creative process, where he really dives in and puts his hands to work on a design vision, many of which have benefited this lovely old house that we share. But, I seldom have gotten to see him meet a total stranger and, within the frame of a few brief minutes capture their interest and imagination. Sometimes it’s not such a satisfying process for him, but in this instance the shop owner—who seems to have a passion of her own for thrift and salvage—really connected with his vision and intentions. The word that she kept using—“unique”—stayed with me as together they pored over the several fine details he put into the chair. There are no two pieces like it—which is both a selling point and a potential barrier to quick sales, as the right person has to see it, resonate with it, and be able to pay enough to make Jaxon’s efforts worthwhile.

Here’s a link to his newest work, including the chair. I’m sort of envious that his unique voice is so visual—he brings so many keen, nuanced, and emotionally stimulating details to his vision for design that I’m often amazed at how much lived experience he can capture in a piece of furniture, a faux finish, or one of his paintings. When arranged in one space, which he carefully and obsessively arranges to make sure that the energy feels just right, the assemblage of elements leads people to just relax—physically, emotionally, and intellectually. I’ve seen it multiple times in this house and our old apartment: people sort of sink into the furniture, gaze around, and in a brief while become completely and utterly disarmed.

I, on the other hand, am not a terribly visual person. I am instead extremely verbal (hence the blog), with a strong ability to empathetically listen and extract the subtle details of people’s stories, emotions, and intentions. I like stories, but more importantly I love the way people present their stories, especially in the age of social media. Take “It Gets Better,” for example, which Dan Savage started as a way to reach out and extend empathy and encouragement to bullied queer youth. Part of why it took off beyond just the GLBT community, in my opinion, is the catharsis that good storytelling demonstrates—our ability to connect with each other’s struggles by absorbing not only what they tell, but how they tell it. While I think that the key question of “how” things get better is still being culled, just creating space where people can share how they have struggled, and what they did to overcome it, opens us to a whole different set of dialogues concerning who we collectively want to be, and what we need to do to achieve it.

That brings me back to my fascination with the word “unique,” which I think so aptly describes Jaxon’s work. On the one hand, there are so many media out there for establishing our uniqueness—social media, blogging, videos, photography, etc.—yet cutting through the noise is such an ongoing challenge. Earlier this week my alma mater’s alumni association hosted an event in Minneapolis on social media, and I realized that I probably break about fifteen rules on good “personal branding” by writing out these lengthier, more introspective meditations and keeping my exposure confined to a few intentional channels. I think, though, that good storytelling comes through when people use the medium that best highlights their vision, skills, and points of view.

I remember twelve years ago when I tried shopping a novel, at age 23, with no real connections outside of a Midwestern university town. Uniqueness on its own couldn’t cut it—the networking piece, which might have enabled me to get noticed by the right people in publishing, was a job all on its own. For now, certainly there are more options for reaching out and sharing unique stories or viewpoints. At the same time, I think it requires a more deliberative process to make sure that the material we create reaches and resonates with those who will most likely connect with it.

One Day Closer

Today brought me one day closer to finishing this Ph.D. Along with six of my classmates, I passed the written comprehensive exams and stayed on track for achieving candidacy (i.e. all but dissertation) by the end of the spring. Last week, a friend asked me if I feel any closer to knowing what I want to do than I was when we started, to which my honest reply was, “Nope.” I don’t think this sentiment is uncommon though—I get the sense that most of my cohort feels the same way.

It would be really easy right now to write about all the things I don’t want to do when I finish the degree—I’m trying not to take that approach. If my past experiences are any indication, I tend to take a position and reshape it into something that matches my personality, while still managing to effectively meet the job’s objectives. It worked when I managed volunteers, and it worked when I co-coordinated a health education project based on community building and organizing. Still, the challenges get a bit different after going through this kind of academic process. Although I’ve never viewed myself as a “traditional” academic, let along a “traditional” social worker, the temptation is certainly there to take the kind of academic job that would keep me gainfully employed for the next several years. I still don’t know, though, if I’d be happy—or doing everything that feeds my passions. So what do I think I want to do? Let me think this out and see where we end up.

Write. Without a doubt, one of the most satisfying pieces of going back to school and leaving the day to day work of nonprofits has been the ability to start writing in an in-depth, thought-provoking way about things that interest me. I lost years of creativity when I was immersed in my old agency job—too much of that creativity, not to mention the emotional and psychological “heft” of the work environment, was absorbed by other people, and in my free time it was all I could do to unpack those many complex feelings before heading back to work. Whatever I end up doing, it needs to include some creative element. Moreover, I have at least two book ideas that I want to develop—one for sure that will take me to San Francisco to research next year. Years ago I wrote a novel that was well-received by most people who read it, yet I never found a publisher. I might still try to get that book out, maybe online.

Build stuff. Not with my hands, but at least conceptually I like making things. I like building groups and communities around shared dreams and desires. I like helping people visualize a “big picture” goal, and then work backward to think about all the steps needed to reach that goal. Big surprise, I love logic modeling! In terms of managing what gets built? Not quite as interested. I do like evaluation and tailoring, but the homeostatic piece gets to me over time—inertia sets in and I need a new project.

Listen to people’s stories. I used to love—love—reading Studs Terkel’s oral histories when I was younger. In general I love seeing the narratives people put together when asked to share some meaningful story of their lives. When I led a creative team at Michigan State and started the university’s first queer magazine, we emphasized first-person stories of people’s experiences and tried to foster conversations both in its pages and in the residence halls and coffee shops where it was read. To some degree, online social media have assumed some of the role in facilitating people’s connections to each other’s stories. At the same time, I think we’re still learning the “emotional” geography of online spaces, and figuring out how and why certain online forums evoke certain types of emotional responses.

Help. It might seem odd to have a degree in social work, but hold little interest in working in social service agencies. But I think what has always interested me—especially coming from queer organizing—is understanding the ways in which groups outside the mainstream find ways to take care of each other, when systems don’t exist to adequately address or understand their needs. Queer history is rich with examples of this, dating back to well before Stonewall (hence my interest in writing certain books). And I am pretty certain that in the present day, many of these self-created systems of caring—“chosen family” or otherwise—continue to develop outside of the mainstream’s view of what’s typical or normal. I tend to find these scenarios much more enriching to understand than the formalized systems we often train workers to deal with. Not that social service systems don’t have a role to play! But in terms of where my curiosity and my passions lead me, it’s the new territory, the uncovered stories of how people “make stuff work” that keeps my attention.

Some might look at all these elements and say yep—this is an academic. But I can’t say I have much taste for the full-time research track that this degree prepares me to pursue. I do enjoy teaching college students—but this is also still new and exciting, not something I have done for years and years. If I could find a way to pay the bills and get a couple books published once I’m done with this degree, I’d be happy. But to some degree we always have to balance what we want to do with what we need to do to survive, yes?

Luckily I still have another 1.5 to 2 years to figure this all out. But in the meantime I’m open to suggestions!

Turkey, Thrift, and Reciprocity

Everyone in this household is hungry for Thanksgiving food—turkey, cranberries, stuffing, the works. For I think the seventh holiday season, Jaxon and I are buying the bird from Callister Farms, a family of poultry farmers we met when they ran a small business at the Midtown Global Market a few years ago. Although that venture didn’t pan out, they still sell to local co-ops and do direct sales as well, via online or the farmer’s markets. Nice people, and moreover great bird. The first time I brined one of their turkeys, I made Jaxon take a picture because it looked like carved alabaster coming out of the saltwater.

Sort of a running “argument” with my parents involves the amount of money we spend on food, which should be interesting this year as they are coming to Minnesota to spend the holiday with us. Minneapolis-St. Paul is without a doubt a foodies’ destination, and we take full advantage. My mother in particular always shakes her head at the co-op prices, saying how much more they can get for their dollar at the big-box grocer/all-purpose retailer where they shop. (Last summer when we visited, I was a bit disconcerted by the large ammunition aisle, not terribly far from produce and dairy.) My pat response is that we prefer quality over quantity, I know the names of the farms where my meat came from, and I’d rather eat pasture-raised animals, eggs, and dairy than factory-farmed, processed food. She gets the point—20-30 years ago, she and my father were pasture-raising farmers in their own right, way before the Internet could have helped them. But, the issue of cost—and being able to get the best deals– always sticks with her.

As Jaxon would attest, I tend to panic over expenses, but really we both like good second hand shopping. We thrift damn near everything we acquire, including clothes, household items, and entertainment (viva cheap VHS tapes!). At the same time, I’ve really reached the conclusion that whenever possible I want my purchases to directly benefit the people who make and deliver the goods to me. The fact that it costs more forces us to be frugal, but that’s fine.

At the same time, I’ve been watching Jaxon try to build a clientele for his design business. He managed on his own for several years as a faux finisher and interior designer before the economy collapsed, and recently left his “temporary” retail job to return to the independent marketplace. I’ve always told him that he’s more artisan and craftsman than “typical” designer, and I think that’s made his work more challenging. By emphasizing relationship-building, getting to know the emotions and desires underlying people’s preferences, and focusing on how spaces feel rather than pushing the newest product lines, he harkens back to a way of doing business that I think some people understand, but others may find odd. While one of his objectives is of course to attract new business, the larger goal is to build relationships with people who appreciate the interaction that occurs between him, them, and the space they are creating or reshaping.

There’s a common thread here with my ruminations about food up above, which I can only describe as “reciprocity.” In a way it’s kind of old fashioned in that we tend to look more for reusable goods whenever possible, and prefer buying from people and places where our relationships already exist. At the same time, it reminds me of my old job working in volunteer management and fundraising for an AIDS organization. I think that with charitable giving it’s expected that the contribution will support someone’s wellbeing (directly or indirectly), and people tend to have a sense of the real-world value that their labor or cash represents when they make a donation. In this market economy however, we’ve gotten used to focusing solely on our consumption—we give money to the big box or online seller and we take something of value from it. The idea that what we give is helping to sustain someone else’s welfare (there’s a dirty word) is sort of lost in the complexity of the corporate enterprise.

It leads to a kind of paradox, doesn’t it? On the one hand, I really cherish the opportunity to engage with other locals in a city where there are ample opportunities to exchange cash for direct services and goods. At the same time—what’s especially true is that this modern (postmodern?) economy makes a lot of this possible because of the Fortune 500 companies and financial heavyweights that attract workers to cities like this, and the Internet that enables me to order fresh turkey from farmers who drive past the big boxes and factory farms to deliver it. I suppose we get used to living with contradictions like this in the 21st century—we’re light years ahead of our ancestors technologically, while culturally we’re advancing toward a more pluralistic understanding of our differences. Yet, it’s not uncommon for me to see friends and colleagues yearning for simpler exchanges in their commerce, more holistic approaches to their health and nutrition, and less chaos in their nonstop social networks. It leads me to wonder if it’s really the case that we are straddling the divide between these contradictory worlds, or if maybe we’re actually pre-figuring the arrival of an emerging, more reciprocal and pragmatic way of doing business with each other.

 

 

 

To Keep Or To Sell

I won’t lie: money’s been a little tight lately. Despite a few signs of economic turnaround, this still seems to be the case for most of my friends and loved ones. With an eye toward identifying some sellable assets to shore up our savings, I pulled my old trumpet out of the closet—a silver Bach Stradivarius, purchased many years ago when I was a teenage band nerd. I remember that it was pricey then, and by the look of online prices at least, the value holds up well. It’s been almost 18 years since I played it with any regularity, and probably 10 since I last took it out, washed it, and gave it a go. Today when I took the horn out of its case, I could still detect some majesty under its tarnish. Old? Yes. Serviceable, and possibly sellable? For sure.

Having prepped a bath of warm water, I held it in my hands and began pulling the pieces apart. It was a gentle soak—not much debris coming out of the bell, since it had been silent for so many years. Washing it—and watching myself do this—put me in a somber mood, more reflective than I’d been expecting, but reminiscent of bathing a loved one whose time had likely grown short. Many years ago, playing band music was really my only emotional outlet. In my pre-coming out adolescence, the pressure of succeeding in school and band, always being “first,” and making sure no one could find fault in my performances consumed me, and in many ways that pressure boiled over when I couldn’t channel my feelings through that slender, erect, conical instrument. I could be a bit of a dick in those immature years, needlessly competitive and over-sensitive because it really felt like the slightest vulnerability could bring me down and shame me in the eyes of my peers. I didn’t know who I was if I wasn’t “perfect,” and that well-crafted instrument came to feel more like a part of my own body, capable of bursts of brilliance as well as sharp, defensive jabs when necessary to protect my fragile psyche.

When I came to terms with my sexual orientation and new friendships came my way, for the first time I felt safe to share all of who I was—and not surprisingly, my interest in that trumpet declined. College only accelerated that transformation as I found a love for the written and spoken word, community organizing, and social movements. Creativity came pouring out of my writing, the queer college magazine I started, and a novel I wrote in my senior year (but never published). Although music wove its way through everything I did, I felt little desire to pick up the horn. Later when I did, I had fun—playing along to Morphine songs and having spontaneous “bad music blues jams” with friends at parties. Still, as I landed squarely in nonprofit volunteer management, I lost track of the time and seldom felt the energy to dig the trumpet out and see what I could do.

So today I sat in my house, drying off this instrument that had been virtually an appendage for one complex stretch of my life. I got out the silver polish and started slowly working on the metal, and bit by bit the tarnish came off. The horn’s older, no doubt, but it gleamed as the sun emerged from a cloudy morning. I greased the slides and oiled the valves, all while carefully considering any imperfections that might affect its appraisal. Already I was getting excited, as I kept showing parts of it to my partner, demonstrating how beautiful the trumpet really looked. And finally—wasn’t sure I would do this—I put the horn to my lips and a clear, cold sound burst from it. Really not bad—I should take a decade or two off more often. Certain things came back right away—the embouchure, fingerings, vibrato, old ditties that were easy to try. The horn sounded good, but interesting to me was how I felt—different, secure, mindful of what this moment represented, and also aware of the absence of certain feelings—crushing insecurities and performance anxieties, frustration with my physical skills and existential angst. I asked myself if this could in fact be fun, and for the moment my answer was, “Yes.”

So, we still need money but I’m not sure I can bring myself to sell the horn. I also don’t know where this piece of myself fits with all the other parts that are in play right now—grad student, college instructor, researcher, writer, and occasional husband and housemate. But this integration process—taking a look at all the aspects of the self I’ve worked on, considering the pros and cons, and finding ways to make them fit together—feels more solid and secure with the trumpet restored and resting in the dining room. Jaxon says not to sell it, but I might still have it appraised.

Part 2 on Same-Sex Marriage

People who know me well won’t be surprised that I’m especially curious about the “collateral” impact of same-sex marriage fights on LGBT communities, so I’d love to hear if anyone has seen actual data on the issue as I’m describing it here. A couple months back, the executive director of a local nonprofit– one that was founded by and still heavily serves the LGBT community– commented to me that his organization was likely to see about a $200,000 drop this year in charitable contributions. Most of that money, he said, was going to the Vote No campaign, which we both agreed was necessary but raised a really vital concern for me, namely this:  When a community already has limited resources to care for its own, what is the impact on supportive services when capital is diverted to political defense efforts?

I can see a couple areas worth exploring. The first is charitable donations, which in a highly politicized climate often go to the most visible and widely covered causes. Second is health outcomes, where I know some research has been published previously on HIV/STI incidence in states that passed same-sex marriage bans. Recently when I did some historical research on early gay and lesbian social services (post-Stonewall through pre-AIDS), it really stood out that these charities survived on small donors and volunteers (often service consumers) until big grants arrived, but the private support would then become precarious because donors would move on to the next big problem area. With just my anecdotal observations to go on right now, it doesn’t seem all that different from what I see today.

I do think that the moment presented here is interesting in that same-sex marriage is closer to becoming a fact in Minnesota (and across the U.S.) than ever before. Yet, how much impact will that have on queer people who experience multiple stressors such as family rejection, homelessness, poor health, addiction, etc.? Forty years ago, activists were making the case that services were needed “by us and for us,” yet the resources to fully sustain them were overwhelmed by the sheer amount of need that turned up. Today– 31 years after AIDS was discovered– there are some channels for funding LGBT-affirming services, but not many. Aside from this point, I think that as queer communities continue to develop– in physical as well as online spaces– there is an inevitable conversation looming about what we most need in order to adequately take care of each other. I just hope that we don’t lose sight of these numerous health disparities in the public arguments ahead.

On the Minnesota Marriage Amendment

Although my academic schedule kept me out of the action for this past election, like most queer Minnesotans I watched the results with a mixture of anxiousness and anticipation and felt deeply proud when we became the first state to reject one of these divisive ballot initiatives.  I’m especially in awe of the organizers, volunteers, and donors who pulled off a smart, well-focused campaign.  A few thoughts linger with me in the aftermath, which I’ll try to share here as fully as possible.

I remember when my home state of Michigan passed one of these amendments, after I had already moved away.  Seeing the returns and the wide margin by which it passed felt like a shocking punch to the stomach– something that left me unsettled on several return visits afterward because I couldn’t help but wonder– who would be part of that 60% that voted to permanently deny same-sex couples equal marriage rights? On those trips I would quietly look around at strangers, at family members during reunions, at fellow football game attendees, and absorb that they had likely voted with the majority. It felt creepy– undermining my confidence in a number of ways and making it difficult to spend time in the state for very long.

Fast forward to the present, when yesterday my partner and I walked our dog through the neighborhood and noted several lingering orange “Vote No” signs lining the blocks. I wondered, how would today feel if Minnesota had followed the 31 other states to put LGBT marriage rights to a popular vote? Together we couldn’t quite come up with the words that would describe our feelings if this place– where we met, bought a home, and started building our careers– had made discrimination a constitutional mandate. There is still a lot of work ahead to get same-sex marriage legalized here, and I have lots of opinions on the other “unfinished” work of building a community that raises and nurtures healthier queer people from youth through old age. Today though, on a sunny afternoon with pleasant fall shadows hanging around me, what lingers is the sensation of a close brush with something deeper and more jarring, a narrow escape from the perilous prospect of waking up to question whether this home was still truly a home.

 

A New Home for Myself Online

Hi, I’m Michael.

I finally broke down and created a blog– not that I’d been resisting, but it always felt like I had neither the time nor the energy to write when I was working full-time in the nonprofit world. But, the last couple years have changed that as I have worked through my graduate program and started teaching. So, now I feel like I need to get my habits back into shape– in this case, getting into a routine where I just put down my thoughts, organize some ideas, maybe share some past materials, and hopefully get into good conversations with everyone I know and love, as well as the friends I haven’t made yet. 

So, welcome. I’ll try to add content regularly. The blog name, by the way, is meant to be a (hopefully clever) pun, riffing off the fact that many of my best times occur when I’m surrounded by good food, good wine, and good conversation. I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in a beautiful old farmhouse shared with my partner of many years, our two closest friends, one dog, and four cats. I attend and teach at the University of Minnesota, but my deepest love and loyalty will always be to my first alma mater, Michigan State University. Both are very good universities and both are land grants, but they are very different as well. I’ll try to stay balanced in my praise and criticism of each. 

I want to write a couple more posts before I send this site out to everyone. This seems to be a good way to organize my thoughts when I need more motivation. I hope you’ll read and comment back as well, as that seems to keep me on my toes with my writing. More in a bit.