OUT

28 08 2010

When I started writing My Imperfect Truth I began with the assumption that anyone reading would either be a friend or family member and would already know that I’m gay. Somehow starting a blog with a great big “hey y’all did I mention I’m a lesbian” essay seemed disingenuous and a little attention-grabbing. After all, I reasoned, other writers don’t provide any back story that begins with “so I’m straight…” Being gay is just one of the many things I am, along with freakishly tall, bad at math, a snazzy little dancer, Irish-Italian, and a mom. Besides, every gay person has their coming out story and most of my close friends know mine. Well a glossed-over version of it anyway. I had also made a promise to myself that I wasn’t going detail my coming out story here because it involved the end of my marriage, which was an understandably painful event for my ex-husband. I have too much affection and respect for him to publicly revisit that time. So, to save time, the answers to the questions I invariably get in odd places (cocktail parties, business events and recently a friends wedding reception) are: A) yes I suspected my sexuality from a young age, B) no I didn’t get married hoping it would make me straight. I loved my ex husband and in spite of the marriage ending there were some really terrific times and a pretty spectacular daughter along the way. And, C) um, no I don’t plan to ‘go back to men.’ (I was recently asked that question with Kelly sitting right next to me. Dude really? ). And really that’s always been the end of that. After nearly seven years with Kelly, the most recent of which has been spent happily co-habitating, building a great family home life, traveling together and planning a wedding, I thought I had finally leaped over most of the coming-out hurdles and could sit back and enjoy our happily wedded life. After all, it’s been a long time coming.

When I first came out, my life was a combination of outright terror and tentative excitement. Moving on as a single mom (although one blessed with a supportive and involved co-parent) was scary, and there was some rough water to navigate. My coming out changed my role in many of my personal relationships. I was no longer the straight tag-along to my gay friends and in many ways those relationships required the most care and feeding. Some friends gay and straight felt a bit betrayed by this secret I had kept, others felt I was just being trendy and wasn’t “really” gay. There were some harsh words, some misunderstandings, and the loss of one very dear friendship completely. And then there was my parenting life. Suddenly I was very different from the other moms dropping off their new kindergarten-ers at the local Catholic school where we had decided to send Liza.

I know. This is where I get the inevitable. “Wait a minute, you’re gay but you’re sending your kid to a Catholic school?” question. And my short answer is this: “Yes.” My relationship to my faith is complicated and it’s very personal to me, but at the end of the day it is my faith and I wanted my child raised in that faith, for even as the politics of my church turned its back on me, the prayers, rituals, and hymns comforted me at a time I needed it most. I wanted Liza to attend a school where the academics were rigorous, where the emphasis was on respect and personal responsibility, and where she could be fully a part of the school and parish community. It was absolutely the right decision for her but I was understandably nervous enough about being welcomed as a divorced mom at a Catholic school, let alone a divorced gay mom. For nearly five years I kept that part of my life quiet when dealing with her school. Kelly wasn’t living with us then and aside from a few of Liza’s friends who spent enough time with us to know that Kelly was usually around, no one “officially knew.” But as I grew to trust that the moms and dads of her friends were o.k. with the situation, and as Liza matured, I finally felt comfortable enough at the end of her fourth grade year to ask my friend in charge of volunteers for a school fundraiser if Kelly and I could volunteer together. We were greeted warmly and enthusiastically as we handed out pizza and desserts and Kelly’s joking demeanor was a big hit with the kids. That was the first time I introduced Kelly as my partner to other parents and teachers at her school. And after that we never looked back. Kelly has been there at concerts and plays and when she picks Liza up at her after-school program the teachers never have to ask what child she’s there for. Last spring, when I read of a boy in Massachusetts being denied entry into a Catholic school because he had two moms, it made me doubly thankful for the warm and supportive environment we had found at Liza’s school. This week as the start of sixth grade was upon us, and as our wedding draws closer, I let out a sigh of relief that surely the biggest coming out hurdles were behind me. I was wrong.

There’s an expression in the gay community that you don’t come out just once, you come out over and over again each time you meet someone new. I hadn’t thought until this week how that expression would also be true for my daughter until the night she burst into tears and told me how embarrassed she was that I was gay, and how afraid she was of having to tell new kids at a new school next year, how she was afraid she’d be teased for it, that when we go places as a family she wonders what other people are thinking. The rawness of her emotions slammed into me and I found myself grappling for an answer. I took a deep breath and told her that the people who matter will accept her and her family and the people that don’t are not going to be the people that matter. That we don’t live our lives in secret as if we’re ashamed of who we are, and that by living honestly and openly we are taking away the opportunity for others to use our life as a weapon against us. I told her that sometimes I wonder what people think of our family too, but then I remember how awesome our family is and I remind myself that what other people think is their business. She listened tearfully and said she was done talking about it. I gave her a hug, went into the bathroom, got into the shower, and cried. My coming out had been over 30 years in the making, but Liza had gotten dragged along on my ride and now it was finally catching up with her and it was killing me. Suddenly I doubted everything. Had I handled this the wrong way? Should I have remained closeted at her school and around her friends? I’m used to parental guilt but this one was a doozy. For the next week I proceeded to tread Ilightly and didn’t force the subject. I held my breath that Liza wouldn’t be embarrassed when one of her teachers inquired about what caterer we were using for our wedding and wished us well. Although she was a bit more scowly than usual for a few days by the end of the week we were back to sitting on the deck laughing at wedding scenarios (like Kelly’s suggestion that we have the guests greet each other by rubbing noses) and I hoped that the storm had passed at least for the moment. Kelly thinks I’m naïve to think that my sexuality will never be an issue for Liza with her friends and peers. I continue to maintain that the only way to change minds is to simply live our lives and by doing so show that there’s nothing unusual about our family (well other than the fact that Kelly likes to eat pretzels with taco seasoning sprinkled on them but that’s another blog post entirely). I know most kids are embarrassed by their parents at some point in time and I know Liza wishes I wasn’t so fat, that I could cook, and that I would never again do any show with the local teenage actors who are her friends. But I hope that she can find it in herself someday to be proud that I finally found that courage not to hide who I am. That she can be proud that I’m out.

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Warriors

29 05 2010


Our friend Jackie died last week at the age of 42 from breast cancer. I met Jackie the same night I met Kelly, the love of my life. After a Thai dinner, Kelly convinced me to join her and Jackie for ice cream, which I would soon learn was her favorite thing. Jackie’s warm friendly demeanor instantly put me at ease in a room full of strangers. Her close friendship with Kelly, born of countless racquetball games and movie nights and ice cream runs meant that Jackie would be a big part of my life as well and I couldn’t have been happier. She was a vibrant, upbeat woman who seemed to gather friends and admirers around her everywhere she went. Her memorial service was an uplifting testimony to her spirit and an emotionally wrenching time for her wide circle of family and friends to say goodbye.

While we waited for the service to begin, Kelly’s good friend Diane gave Kelly a gorgeous bracelet sold by the Friends of Mel Foundation to help raise money for cancer research. The multicolored beads and simple design make it the kind of jewelry you can wear with anything and I instantly coveted it. Our friend Michelle commented, “oh that’s the new breast cancer bracelet!” I learned that the Friends of Mel Foundation was started by friends of a woman who lost her cancer battle, and has since grown into a nationally known effort which has raised over $2 million for cancer research. Jackie’s own friends too have started a foundation in her memory, the Jackie Williamson Sisters of Hope, with the admirable goal of raising funds to help women, and in particular members of the lesbian community, who are facing the financial burden of dealing with critical or terminal illnesses. Yet another of Jackie’s closest friends has been training for her third 60-mile walk for the Susan G. Komen foundation to defeat breast cancer. Audrey started walking three years ago when Jackie was diagnosed, this year she sadly will be walking in her memory.

As we rode home from the cemetery I started thinking about all these lives cut short and all the ‘warriors’ left behind to fight the battle. My own losses to cancer are numerous and have been well chronicled on these pages before: my father to melanoma, my sister to multiple myeloma, my mother (and her mother) to breast cancer, my friend Dani to breast cancer, my friend Kim to a rare cancer of the bile duct, and now Jackie to breast cancer. In the early days of my time as a cancer warrior I too would cycle and walk, wear the ribbons, and the t-shirts. I too was like all those groups of friends running, riding or walking for someone whose face smiles bravely from their identical t-shirts. Sometimes they do it to “fight the fight” with them, and all too often to “keep their memory alive.” All these friends of hundreds of thousands of ordinary people living quietly remarkable lives all taken by variations on the same disease. These efforts provide a means to cope, to celebrate a life, to mourn a loss and to feel as though we have the power to make a difference, to be a warrior. When I started my own journey as one of these cancer warriors I had only my dad’s name to write on my “in memory of” ribbon…then I added Dani, my sister, my mom, Kim, and now Jackie. And while I haven’t tried to get my gargantuan body on a bike in a while I have thought of training to join Audrey or my friend Margaret in a marathon walk next year, because I know in my heart this battle can’t go on without me in the midst of it. And each year more and more warriors join this fight, walking, running, making bracelets, selling t-shirts, even skydiving like my fearless friend Audrey, all in an effort to try to stop the relentless march of this insidious disease. For every friend of Mel, of Jackie, of Dani, there are a thousand more each year who join the fight, wear the ribbons, sell the bracelets, plant “gardens of hope” and release balloons and sing songs in memory of their friends and raise sneakers and bike tires to honor the survivors. And you know what? I’m tired. We’re all tired. You can see it in the shell-shocked faces of those who have just experienced their first loss and in the hardened set faces of people like me who know this latest loss will be far from the last. This needs to stop. This battle should not have to be fought with dances and raffles and bake sales. This generation of warriors is ready to put down our weapons. We want to know our children won’t be fighting it a generation later. I want to know that Liza won’t be walking with her friends someday with my name on a ribbon or a t-shirt, making the same macabre jokes I make about coming from ‘the cancer family.” It’s time. It’s past time. Find the cures. End it now.





Well, Since You Asked….

18 03 2010

No, actually, I haven’t any idea what I’m going to write about next. Oh I have snippets of ideas that come to me in the shower or in the car and I think “yes! That’s it.” But then the day goes on and I get caught up in work or driving Liza to rehearsal or, let’s be honest, hanging out with Kelly on our groovy new sectional sofa watching reality television. Then before I drift off to sleep I think, “oh shoot. I meant to write today.” But by then the idea is gone as fleetingly as it arrived and I’m left to realize that I’ve hit a dry spell.

This is where you should feel free to ask me if I’ve run out of dead family members to write about. True, my pieces about my sister and my parents are among some of my favorites. And while it is tempting to regale you with stories of my Uncle Frank, the Colonel, who parachuted behind enemy lines on D-Day, or my Uncle Billy who worked for Shasta soda, which seemed like the coolest job ever to my10-year old self, or my Aunt Rose, who smoked endless cigarettes and wore glamorous blonde wigs, there’s only so much publicly-sanctioned mourning one can endure so I think I’ll let my dead relatives be for the moment and move on.

But move on to what? What’s on your mind Katie? Well since you asked, my wedding for one. Oh sure we have the caterer booked, the tent, tables and chairs reserved, and even our wedding rings bought but the question that occupies my mind the most these days is this. “What does a 44 year old, gray-haired, 60-pounds overweight lesbian ‘wear to her wedding?” For it never fails that immediately following “congratulations,” Kelly and I hear ‘what are you wearing?” And you know, I’m not someone who gets easily flustered but that question can send me straight to stutter-ville. “Uh…uh… “ I stammer, ‘I have kind of an idea of silvery gray.” “Silvery gray what?“ is really the question. Oh I’ve seen photos of things I’ve loved – wide legged suits with snazzy full backed vests, or long, flowy, empire-waisted dresses with beaded spaghetti straps, but putting those outfits on this body is where the problems start. You see I have a classic fat girl problem when it comes to clothes, I think I’m skinnier than I am. When confronted with the reality of what I look like in an elegant gown I’m slightly confused. ‘Who is that old lady?” I think “and why does she look so ridiculous?” I’m not a very “girly girl” as my daughter would say. I like nice jewelry but rarely wear make-up and my short gray hair is hardly conducive to dramatic tossing or classic up-dos. Of course the one day Kelly and I ventured out to a bridal store we were given a dressing room smack in the middle of two different bridal parties of 20 something women who collectively probably weighed less than I do. Oh sure, our sales associate was sweet as can be and extremely excited about our upcoming nuptials, and the girls outside my dressing room parted helpfully every time I took a hesitant step out to look in the mirror but I have a feeling they were thinking “aww…someone’s mom is here!” I found a photo of a suit that seems right up my alley, but it’s from a British clothing catalog that stops at size 16. That’s right peeps…sixteen is just a size I dream of seeing again someday. I know myself and there is no way I’m getting this body into that suit by October. So, right now I’m deep in classic denial about the fact that eventually I’ll have to come up with something to wear unless I want to get married in my usual weekend outfit of jeans and a 3 button Henley from the Gap (size XXL). I’ll keep you posted on the great wedding outfit search of 2010.

And since you asked, no actually I haven’t lost weight. Although GOODNESS KNOWS I’VE BEEN TRYING! OK, both those statements are only partially true. I’ve lost a few pounds since I started seeing a nutritionist in December and I have changed a lot about the way I eat. No more bagels, no more pizza, pasta only every other week when Liza is in residence, lots and lots of protein and vegetables. And as usual when I make any attempt at changing my habits I discover my one true essential truth: I’m really, really good at being a fat person. When presented with communal munchkins at work or the prospect of an appetizer with my wine when out to dinner with friends I abandon those healthy eating resolves quicker than NBC abandoned Conan O’Brian. And you know, it’s not as if I’m not presented with daily evidence that changing my habits will result in a better body. I count among my best friends two women who have severely had to restrict their eating due to allergies and both of them now sport the bodies of teenage girls. Ok. Ok. I GET it. I’m just not sure I’m willing to DO it. Recently one very, very, thin acquaintance told me I got “too much blind support” for being as heavy as I am that allowed me to think my size was ok, and really it wasn’t rocket science I just had to cut calories and work out more. (DUH). And yes I realize the irritating contradiction about bemoaning my size when it comes to searching for a wedding dress and celebrating the joy of a really, really good cookie dough ice cream cone. And yes I’m human. I’m jealous as hell of women who have the ability to cut out bad things and be all outdoorsy and post on Facebook about their “awesome workouts” or their refreshing hikes. Sometimes I’m so jealous of them I could spit. (This is where you have my permission to say ‘ok Katie, we get it. Move on.”). Well, all I know is that I’m torn between just settling down at the age of 44 and loving myself already and constantly being reminded every day that I am just too large, too tall, too gray, too wrong. Yeah I haven’t figured out the answer either. I’ll get back to you when I do.

And since you asked, all this talk of my weight has put me in a somewhat fragile “place.” Oh please, I’m kidding. For one I’ve never been remotely described as fragile and two, I loathe the use of the words “space” and “place” to describe feelings. If I hear one more person say something like “wow…Tuesdays put me in a really, really bad space,” (which is usually accompanied by some sort of rueful head shake as if to indicate some deep dark pit of despair that only Tuesdays can trigger), I just might loose it. All this spacing and placing is just a way to avoid using actual descriptions of actual emotions. How about trying this on for size? Can we all get behind using words like “angry” or “sad” or “excited” or “frustrated.” I know I’m on the verge of sounding like Dana Carvey’s “Cranky Old Man” character but seriously…enough already. No more space. No more place. Deal?

And since you asked, yeah, do realize I come off as a cranky pants about 99% of the time. My pals on the Mothertalkers site call me the cranky Yankee, one of my best friends has had to explain to her friends that ‘really, I swear, she’s a nice person, she just writes cranky.” My young teenage pals humor me when I ask them things like “who is this annoying girl named Ke$ha, why does she have a dollar sign in her name, why is she on my TV and how can I make her go away?” Yes I realize that at some point I have to be more conscious of this lest I end up like Andy Rooney alone in my office with stacks of books ranting red faced about things like automatic paper towel dispensers or the fact that the world ‘small’ has lost all meaning at movie theater concession stands. Fortunately for me (and possibly unfortunately for you) I am surrounded by several dear friends who make my cranky ravings look like the mellow sounds of Doris Day singing to her puppies and who love me for the snarkmeister I am. But I’ll work on it and let you know how it goes.

And since you asked. I’m ending this piece with no more of an idea what to write about next than I started with. I often wish I were like my friend T. (whose most excellent blog “Uncharted Parent” is linked on the right hand side of this site) who writes gorgeous pieces on really relevant topics. When I try it I feel like a poseur. But, As Kelly has pointed out I do have an opinion on pretty much everything. So I’m open to suggestions. What would you like me to write about? Good Lord that sounded incredibly self-important didn’t it? Trust me, I don’t for one second believe that anything I have to say about anything is remotely important. But yeah, I do like the sound of the keys clack clacking on my Macbook so go ahead and, as Linda Richman would say, “give me a topic.” And no, wiseguy you can not use something like “The Holy Roman Empire was neither holy nor Roman nor an empire.” So throw something my way, and I’ll get back to you. And by the way, thanks for asking.





If Wishes Were Horses

2 11 2009

I wish….

labor day weekend 2005 026That I knew how to tap dance

That I understood the appeal of hiking

That I was a better writer

That the Carol Burnett Show was still on the air

That Liza still held my hand when we walk on the beach

That I liked yogurt

That I could take a walk with my father one more time

That the day after the Oscars was a nationally sanctioned day of rest

That there was a sports team, any sports team, I was remotely interested in.

That I was more effective at my job

That I trusted my ability to sing

That I didn’t hyperventilate when it was time for costume measurements

That I trusted my friends not to care about my costume measurements.

That money didn’t worry me so

That I could pick up Liza every day at 2:10 like other moms

That I liked to cook

That I was better at confronting people who have hurt me

That peak foliage would last two months and winter only one

That I had found the courage to come out to my mother

That I had something more creative to write about

That I didn’t worry what the other moms at Liza’s school think of me.

That I was kinder in word and deed

That I knew what the cat found so fascinating under the living room chair

That I took the time to go explore the woods behind my house

That I was more serious of purpose

That I had Kelly’s wit

That I didn’t fall so in love with the character I’m playing. The goodbye will hurt.

That I had realized how loud that cool new clock in the living room would be.

That I could call my sister and tell her I was sorry for being such a bratty kid.

That I had a sense of style

That I could spend a long morning over coffee with my college roomie.

That I wasn’t so chicken

That my oldest nephew would realize how much his family loves him

That I could motivate myself to exercise.

That I hadn’t hurt my ex husband so deeply

That I didn’t love reality tv so much

That my brother lived closer

That I cared about statistics and surveys and studies

That I had been a better mom to Liza in her early years.

That I had the guts to tell my friend to get the help she needs before she dies.

That typing that sentence didn’t make me cry.

That I could live with the mistakes of my past.

That Dani was here to tell me we all have pasts and we all live with them.

That Kelly could really know how madly passionately desperately I love her.

That I didn’t have to stop writing this and go to work.

That we could have a national discourse without screaming at each other.

That the fact that I want to marry Kelly would be a non issue to everyone.

That I  wasn’t such a sap and didn’t cry every time Liza goes on stage

That for today I can make at least one person laugh out loud.

That I will find one friend I haven’t seen in a long time and tell them I love them.

 

What are your wishes?

 

 

 

 





At the Center of our own Universes- Snarkwoman’s Adventures in Social Media

24 09 2009

A former trustee at an organization I worked at years ago once described me as having “a dagger of sarcasm a mile long.” Of course being a cranky Yankee I took that as a compliment. I often tell people that I don’t waste good sarcasm or really good zingers on people I don’t like — I save them for those I’m closest to. A former colleague and I shared native Maine roots and insulted each other on a daily basis with great glee. I remember chortling with laughter when he’d throw pocket change on my floor and say “here. add that to your annual fund goal” My boss at the time asked one day why we didn’t like each other? I looked at him baffled…”he’s my favorite office mate I said. I adore him.” “But you’re so MEAN to him,” he replied puzzled at my behavior. He eventually ‘got it” and we now laugh over his confusion.

But that was fifteen years ago. Before the internet exploded and changed our lives. Before message boards and chat rooms and instant messaging and of course “social media.” For me, a writer, the ability to snark on line has been a godsend. I’ve found other kindred spirits — a group of us even found common ground in the fact we’d all been banned from a “ahem” family parenting board -a DEBATE board no less — for ‘excessive sarcasm.’ Apparently it’s considered bad form to tell another poster that she was standing on the dock and the ship with the point on it went sailing past her.” The phrase “cry me a river” is also considered ‘offensive’ to the “mommy centered” powers that be at Ivillage. Who knew?

Then along came Facebook. For me, a compulsive “keeper in toucher” I love that I get daily glimpses into the lives of my nearest and dearest. I love that I’ve come to know casual acquaintances in a deeper more interesting way. I love that old friends have resurfaced and once again a significant part of my life. And of course I love that it gives me more opportunity to snark. After all I live my life by two major mottos: “It’s not a good day until you’ve made someone laugh out loud” and “A Day Without Sarcasm is Like a Day without Sunshine.” I love to banter. I love verbal sparring and have enjoyed some truly hysterical back and forth postings with friends new and old. I was used to my supportive communities at Mothertalkers and Banshees who understood my style — and who could give as well as they could take, much to my glee. I also knew that my sarcastic ways don’t define me…my friends in real life and in cyber space know that when support is needed I”m there. When kudos are called for I happily give them. And that my snark is only one part of who I am.

But on Facebook no one posts in a vacuum. A sarcastic rejoinder to friend isn’t just read by him or her it is read by all their friends — people who only know me as a face under someones status update – not as a living breathing complex human being. And until recently when I was told gently by one friend that her friends were concerned that I was some sort of Facebook bully for all my sarcastic posts — I didn’t realize the implications. I’ve tried to tone it down but for me toning down my sarcasm is a kin to giving up cookie dough ice cream. Realistically it will last for a day or two tops then I’m back in the freezer for a heaping dish of it.

I admit I was puzzled why my real life snark was greeted this way on the pages of Facebook. And then one day it hit me. On Facebook and other “social media” sites we are truly at the center of our own universes. We can tell everyone what we’re doing, thinking, eating, saying, reading, and watching. We can reach out for support in hard times and reach out to share the good times. But existing at the center of this world we also collide with OTHER people’s universes and the sometimes startling reality that it’s not all about us . If someone posts about a killer workout how many among us don’t think…”wow. they must think I’m a real slug”? If someone exults over career success how many of us think “wow, I must look like a slacker to them?” When in fact they probably don’t think anything of the kind, they’re in their OWN universal center not ours. But at the center of our own universes it’s hard to remember that. Once after a long night of wrangling with my checkbook I posted about feeling poor and was promptly admonished by several ‘not to complain’ because I still had a job. once after a frustrating real life exchange with a professional colleague I posted about my irritation and received a flurry of responses from people thinking I either meant a) them or b)someone I worked with when i fact it was neither A or B. Oh and lest you think I’m beyond placing myself at the center of my own universe I’m guilty of it too. I’ve had to work hard not to respond to every ‘fitness’ update with a snarky comment bout my obesity. I’ve had to face up to the fact that my responses were not always appropriate. Their posts about them should get to be about them and their fitness triumphs. Not me and my big fat ass. This is where my sarcastic nature is challenged I admit it. My sarcasm is and always has been my first line of defense when challenged or when insecurity strikes. But I’m trying to use it only for good… (I’ve always thought there was a superhero in me trying to get out, maybe I’ll name her SnarkWoman)… and to remember that my universe doesn’t always have me at the center of it….and neither does yours.

See you round the status updates…