Tiny Giant Happy Things, May Day

Yesterday was May Day, and it rained. May Day, as both the pagan holiday (also known as Beltaine) celebrating fertility and spring and International Workers’ Day, is pretty big deal around these parts. As a queer anarcho-socialist pagan household (to put the most accurate labels on us as possible) we cannot escape the weight or the joy of the first day of May. May Day is the height of spring, literally the very center of the season, and it throbs with potential and hope. And it is also filled with history, hung in the solemnness of those who died to make the world just a little bit safer and kinder and fairer.

Lots of years we have participated in an annual May Day bike ride in our city. Many of those years it was my first bike ride of the season, because I’m not a very dedicated cyclist and almost never ride in the winter. I remember the familiar burn in my legs, their confusion at being asked to do something they had almost forgotten about. One year a girl who had apparently just moved to our city found our gaggle of weirdos riding and just tagged along. She said “I was just singing old union songs to myself and thought I wouldn’t have anyone to celebrate with.”

The year the spouse and I fell in love, we battered and fried dandelion blossoms. Then we walked around our old neighborhood delivering them to friends and neighbors.

Oh, and I usually shave my head.

I rarely write about May Day, it’s such a busy, high energy, time of the year. I feel like I don’t have time to catch my breath and reflect. I feel like my head is spinning and then the holiday has passed and its not really relevent anymore. But today is only the second day of May, and my baby is outside playing with his Ma, and all the dishes from last night’s massive May Day meal are still in the sink. Today I can spare a moment to think about the wheel of the year and the march of time and the slow slow crawl of progress. Because if ever there was a day to challenge the nuclear family, the absurdity of the idea that we could live separate lives cut off from one and other in our separate and private homes, the stupidity of the notion that we could own our children, that day is May Day.

This May Day, like all May Days, I had more things I wanted to do than actually happened. We chose to stay on our block, which felt right, it felt like celebrating with our own community. These are the people we share with, the people who watch each other’s kids in a pinch, who will loan each other a cup of flour or help plant a garden or help you bring in a heavy box because you were stupid enough to think you could buy that ikea bookshelf and move it all by yourself (ahem). These are the people I am fighting isolation with right now.

So we made magic wands for the kids, and some neighbors had a May Pole in their yard, and we somehow managed to pull off a big dinner that included both fried dandelions and violet lemonade. I shaved off most of my hair. I baked a cake my favorite way, which is without a recipe or a measuring cup. Oh, and I built a bookshelf, because I just couldn’t stand hating my living room anymore. And all of our books were in piles on the floor since I impulsively decided to take the old (hated) bookshelf out to the back yard for a garden bed last week. The rain let up for enough of the day, and in the evening there was a small neighborhood bonfire.

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In three weeks the baby turns two years old.

So today I am sitting in a bright room, with the sunlight pushing through the clouds, thinking about the spring and the coming summer and the fallen heroes. There is a lot of hope in May Day, even the tragic kind of hope is still hope. Our clover seeds came in the mail, and the garden looks happy from all the rain, and I feel (for once) like maybe I’m doing my best and it’s good enough.

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Yo, Some Queers Live Here

I’m a pagan and a buddhist, a person who’s struggled to figure out exactly how she feels spiritually and religiously over the years, and also a person who’s taken the time to really explore and learn about other faiths. Today is one of those days between Ostara and May Day that feels like it’s going backwards, even though you know it isn’t. It snowed last night, and this morning while none of that snow had stuck to the ground, it was still a little cold to take the toddler out to play (at least for wusses like me). So we played indoors, listening to music, coloring, dancing, putting everything away in the play kitchen just to get it all out again.

Also, last night the United States bombed Syria. The force of war and violence feels overwhelming. I saw the news about the air strike right after meditating for the first time in months, my eyes opened, fresh and clean, and then this is the stark and ugly reality of the world we live in.

I mention all of that to give you context me. This morning my wifespouse went off to what we knew would be a busy and overwhelming day at work, and I stayed home with our toddler. This morning I tried to smile and play through my worry for the world. I tried to cherish my time with my child — even the parts that weren’t especially fun — with the knowledge of other parents who have lost children. This morning here I was, a gay pagan buddhist driving toy trucks around the house with my 22 month old, trying not to cry.

And that’s when they came.

Many months ago, I wrote about proselytizers. After moving to this house and this neighborhood, one day two polite and friendly Jehovah’s Witnesses came to my door. I wrote about my conflicted feelings about them. Today, they came back. Or rather, not them, but other proselytizers, representing the same faith, came through the neighborhood. I saw them on the sidewalk, and I took a deep breath, ready to be polite and friendly and conflicted when they knocked on the door.

Only, they didn’t knock.

My wifespouse and I are queer people. Ours is a queer family. We are proud of that. We do not have a rainbow flag, but we do have an adorable wooden sign, made years and years ago by a former housemate of mine. It reads:

“Yo, some queers live here.”

Last time proselytizers came to our home, I honestly don’t think they noticed it. Today they did. I know they did because they stopped just below it. For a moment, I thought they wouldn’t come up the steps at all. For a moment, I hoped they wouldn’t. But they did.

My child climbed into the window seat to watch them approach. He was holding a small wooden car in his hand and pointing. I took a very deep breath, preparing myself emotionally for the knock on the door, for answering it, for smiling. The moment stretched out and grew longer and longer, I was waiting for something to happen, only nothing was happening.

But something was happening, actually. They didn’t knock, but I could hear them muttering to each other under their breaths, just on the other side of the door from me. I could hear them cooing at my child through the window. I could hear them doing everything a person might do except knocking on the damn door they were standing right in front of.

Finally, after an agonizingly long wait, I just opened the door.

They weren’t smiling. The two women looked shocked and alarmed. One held back. The other had a small tract in her hand. She gave me an incredibly dirty look. I said “good morning.”

And then there was a tense exchange of pleasantries.

“We just want to… invite you and your… family, to our celebration of Jesus’ death…” she holds up the tract, but doesn’t reach towards me, she isn’t trying to hand it to me.

I hold out my hand and say “thank you” and with trepidation, like she’s avoiding something dirty, she places it in my hand.

“Oh!” says the proselytizer, “well… thank you for taking it.”

We wish each other a nice day, and they get off my porch in hurry, and I close the door in a hurry. My kid smiles at me, and he doesn’t know what is wrong, and I don’t know if I did the right thing by being polite and taking the tract or not.

***

So this is a message to any Christians reading this, especially to my Christian friends and family who might be reading this (I know that some of you do).

Be nice. Just be nice. It’s not that freaking hard to be nice to people who are different than you. And if you are going to go out into the world, you really should be expecting to run into people who are very different than you! Spoiler: we all have to deal with that. You are not special in that way, every single faith on the planet is composed primarily of people who will, at many points in their lives, have to interact with people with vastly different beliefs than their own. Sometimes you will meet people who do things that you personally would not do because your religious convictions lead you to believe that those things are wrong. It might make you uncomfortable! You still have to be nice.

And if you happen to believe that people who don’t follow your (very specific) moral code are going to hell, you should still be nice to those hell-bound people! And if you also happen to believe that it is your duty as a believer to share your belief with others, so that they may also be saved, then you should be especially nice.

If you come to a gay person’s home, with an offering of a tract about Jesus, you had better not shrink away from that gay person’s hand. If you have the audacity to go door to door, from stranger’s home to stranger’s home, to share your beautiful faith with the world, guess what? You are going to run into people that you think are sinners! And it is your job to not be an asshole when that happens. You had better hand your literature into the hands of devil worshippers joyfully and with a friendly smile. Because if your goal is really to save these people, if your goal is really to save me, then you are a disgrace to everything you believe when you let your prejudices get in your way.

If I can be nice, you can do it too. If you can’t? Get the fuck off my porch.

The Proselytizers

Sit down, let me tell you a story.

When I was in the fourth grade, two Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on the front door of the house my parents had recently bought. This, in and of itself, isn’t at all remarkable. It’s well known that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a branch of Christianity that believes in proselytization (or, as they call it, “witnessing,” hence the name) and they often do it door-to-door. As best as I can recall, it was a middle-aged woman, and a younger woman, both wearing long skirts and vaguely “dressy” attire. This would have been 1994, I think, so please, adjust your mental image accordingly.

It was not odd that they knocked on the door. What was maybe a little odd was the way that my mother answered. And what happened afterwards.

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***

As far as I can tell, this is what happened. My mom grew up in a family that was officially catholic, but the whole family stopped going to church when she was four or five. She wasn’t super into churches, but was sort of vaguely Christian-ish. I won’t attempt to speak to her specific beliefs or lack thereof, because they aren’t mine. But she was, and is, a deeply good person, a person who feels for others, and a person who believes in kindness. And she had heard, like most Americans have, stories about how awful and “weird” and “crazy” Jehovah’s Witnesses were. She’d heard rumors. She’d heard they weren’t real Christians. She’d heard they were a cult. She’d heard they wouldn’t let you celebrate Christmas. But it wasn’t in her nature to believe rumors. So when two showed up on her doorstep, rather than being annoyed, she thought “now here’s an opportunity to find out what’s really going on, straight from the horse’s mouth!”

When they said that they wanted to talk about the Bible, she invited them in, and they sat at our dining room table with glasses of water.

I was nine years old, and I was fascinated.

I had always been deeply interested in religion, but nobody in my life wanted to talk to me about it much. My family didn’t go to church, not even on holidays, and my one close friend who’s family was religious just saw it as something your parents made you do, and was utterly perplexed by my desire to learn more about it. But suddenly, there I was. There were two people in my house who wanted to talk about god. And, they were wearing long skirts.

I’m not exactly sure what happened first, my memory is fuzzy, but before long my mother and I both had a weekly bible study set up. The middle aged woman would come, and she would sit at the dining room with my mother, and they would thumb through the bible and various other books. The younger woman, sometimes alone and sometimes with a woman who was older than her but younger than the lady talking with my mom, would come and sit in the living room with me. My mother listened skeptically and asked lots of questions. I, on the other hand, ate up everything they had to say and asked for a larger spoon.

You see, no one had ever tried to explain that different people believed different things to me. I didn’t know that the world was full of a myriad of different religions, with different traditions, and different reasons for thinking the things that they thought. I only knew that some people went to church and some (like me) didn’t. I knew that some churches were different from each other, some had more or less singing, and some had more or less decorations, but that was really the end of any understanding of the variety of faith on my part.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t go to a church, they went to a Kingdom Hall. I was not allowed to go… yet.

I don’t remember their names, which bothers me, even though this was two decades ago. I also don’t remember how long our weekly bible studies lasted for. I only remember that I looked forward to them. I remember thumbing through my copy of Your Youth, Getting The Best Out Of It looking for answers. I remember nodding solemnly when they explained that obviously evolution was a big lie. I remember when they explained that it was true that they didn’t celebrate birthdays, because they found that celebrating an individual person with gifts on the day that they were born was dangerously close to worshipping them, if not a form of worship outright. I bit my lower lip. I loved my birthday (I still do) and I was obsessed with birthdays (I still am) and I couldn’t imagine the pain of losing it forever, but I also stoically accept that Jehovah God would help me, and one day I would be devout enough not to mind going without it.

Ironically, it was in their effort to teach me The Truth (what they earnestly believed was the whole and absolute truth) that they accidentally introduced me to the idea that different people believed different things just as earnestly, and hey, maybe we couldn’t say for sure which one was right?

To avoid confusion, for the purposes of this conversation, I will name the elder teacher “Linda” and the younger one “Becca.”

Every week, Becca and Linda, or oftentimes just Becca, would sit with me in my parent’s living room. The TV would be off for once. My sister would clear out. In the quiet, we would go through the books and talk about God, who — I had so recently learned — had a name, and that name was Jehovah. Each week, they would ask if there was a particular chapter I was interested in discussing in Your Youth, Getting The Best Out Of It, and each week I would desperately want to asked about the chapter titled “Masturbation and Homosexuality.” Only I was too embarrassed, I was terrified that if I admitted that I was interested in even finding out what was in that chapter, they would get the altogether wrong idea and think that I wanted to be a masturbating homosexual.

So on this one day, I asked instead about the chapter about Armageddon, because frankly, we were running out of other chapters.

And so Becca was explaining what was going to happen at the end (link has nothing to do with JWs, actually), and Linda was nodding with approval. As always, I accepted what Becca told me as fact, because I knew that she cared about me and was a good person and would never ever lie. And then, as I remember it, Becca must have veered slightly off corse. She was explaining how everyone would one day be resurrected, and then added that prior to purging the world of wicked people, Jesus and Jehovah God would allow everyone, even sinners, to live in peace for one thousand years.

(That is what I remember, but I’m not sure how reliable my memory is on that. I’m also not sure what the official doctrine is on the subject, and briefly combing through the Watchtower website hasn’t yielded an answer for me.)

Linda pursed her lips “that is not,” she said, “actually what we believe.”

“Well, I’ve read the bible and it’s what I believe.” Becca half smiled, but things were definitely tense. Linda shook her head.

I was on the couch, more interested in this conversation than I had expected when I randomly picked the topic. Here were these people who I thought could teach me objective truth, and yet they disagreed. “How do I know which one is true?” I remember asking.

Linda, still looking annoyed, said that even people of the same religion sometimes disagreed on certain details, and that we’d see which was right soon enough. She didn’t know how much she had just rocked my world.

***

Within a couple of weeks, they stopped coming to talk to me. Word was that they were asked not to, because my newfound faith was making me “weird” and even “creepy.” I was certain this was exactly the kind of oppression foretold for true believers, I cried, and I kept all of their books. Within a few months though, I stopped looking at them, I felt frankly relieved that I would still be able to celebrate my birthday, and I moved on. I would go through various religious stages as I grew up, but I never called god “Jehovah” again.

But I didn’t forget their kindness.

***

The internet meant that you didn’t have to wait for a religious person to come to your door to get information about faith. It also meant that I could read about various religions from various cultures, and weigh them against each other. I stayed up all night at the age of fifteen comparing religions, I was specifically looking for one that did not condemn homosexuals. I was also specifically looking for one that didn’t proselytize. I settled on Wicca. Later, I would take money that I received for my birthday to the bookstore at the mall, and with a deep breath plunge into the “New Age and Occult” section (terrified that someone would see me) and purchase a copy of Scott Cunningham’s Wicca, A Guide For The Solitary Practitioner.

Just like that, I was a witch.

Christian kids at my suburban High School always had questions for me. I was excited to dispel rumors and to debate our different world views, for the most part. In some ways, growing up had changed me almost beyond recognition, but in others it hadn’t at all. I still, deep down, just really wanted to talk about religion. I found it fascinating and delightful, all of it, and even beliefs that I couldn’t share delighted me when I saw that they brought others happiness.

And I started to hear those rumors that my mother had heard about Jehovah’s Witnesses, that they were a cult, that they were “crazy,” that they were not Christians, that they were dangerous. A Baptist friend insisted that Jehovah’s Witnesses definitely did not read the bible. I was amazed at the amount of misinformation, honestly. And I always defended them. No, I said, they were not a cult, they were certainly Christians because they believed in Jesus, they were just a smaller denomination that fell a little further outside the mainstream. They were certainly homophobic, but no more than many other Christian denominations.

This is getting long.

***

I used to get drunk and read that chapter, “Masturbation and Homosexuality,” at parties. I did it to try to make it funny. I did it to try to make it ridiculous. I did it to try to heal the pain of being thirteen, sneaking down to the basement where the old books were kept, and re-reading that chapter in the dark, wondering if I had ruined myself forever.

I did it because I wanted to believe that Becca and Linda were good and had my best interests at heart, but I also wanted to believe that they were wrong in such an over the top, ridiculous sort of way, that no one would ever take them seriously. I did it because I wanted to make my heart stop hurting for people like Becca and Linda, I wanted to stop wishing that I could, like my mother, welcome them into my home and offer them a tall glass of water.

My mother was straight. I tried my best to be straight. When that failed, I tried my best to be bisexual. When I met my very last boyfriend, I knew I was gay, and so I clung to him like a life raft. When he broke up with me, I knew the illusion was over, and so I wrote my father a letter that said “I’m gay.”

***

Two days ago, I saw what I first mistook for a young, well-dressed, couple walking down my street. The woman was wearing a long-ish purple dress. The man was wearing a crisp purple dress shirt, and an absolutely phenomenal paisley tie that my wife would probably swoon over. They didn’t look like any of the neighbors that I’ve met so far (we’ve been in this house a little under a month). Then it hit me, I knew exactly who they were, they were not a couple at all.

They were both carrying several thin books, and the man was carrying a bible.

I was on the couch in the living room. The baby wasn’t feeling well, and he was breastfeeding and just starting to doze off. His little eyes were closed. My child, my perfect miracle child, my child with two mothers and a sperm donor we refer to as his fairy godmother. His eyes were closed, and then they knocked on the door, and his eyes opened.

Shit.

Before I was married, I used to just lie. When they came with their copies of Watchtower magazine, I would look into their earnest smiling faces, I would think about the courage that it took to walk down the street knowing doors would be slammed in their faces, I would think about how their faith must comfort them and how deeply they must believe in it. And I would lie to them. I would smile, and when they held up the publication, I would say “you know what I actually already have one!” and they would look so surprised and delighted. Like, here they were, doing the really miserable work of proselytizing, but I could make them delighted for just a moment. Sometimes they would look confused for a second, but then I would beam warmly at them, and they would beam warmly at me, and they would say “oh wonderful! well you have a great day, ma’am!” and I would say “you have a great day too, and good luck out there.”

I can’t do it anymore.

***

This isn’t really about Jehovah’s Witnesses. I mean, they are the people I have the most experience with in this one format, and because of that I feel a deep confusion and compassion for them, but this isn’t about their specific faith and it’s specific rules and tenants. This is about the fact that there are people who believe so strongly that they are right that they see it as their duty to tell you that you are wrong. They are not doing it to be mean, they are doing it to help. Their motives are good, and that’s part of why it’s so difficult to deal with the inherent rudeness of their tactics. That’s part of why it’s so utterly heartbreaking to come up against their hatred.

I won’t link to it, but Watchtower Publications recently released a video for the purposes of teaching children about families like mine. In it, a young girl learns that it is her duty to inform a friend with gay parents that her family is wrong, a lie, bad in the sight of god. They are literally telling children that kids like my kid, my kid, ought to hear from their friends that their parents are bad. It fills me with a rage and a sadness that feels so opposite, so separate, from the compassion I feel for the smiling people who come up onto my porch with their books and their good intentions.

Yet, both exist at the same time.

***

I didn’t want to go to the door, but they could see me through the open living room windows. They would knock again, and the baby would start to cry. My wife wasn’t home. I snuggled him up to me and pulled my shirt down over my boobs and went to the door.

I couldn’t lie, I couldn’t lie with my child in my arms, but I was also too tired to tell the truth. So I settled on saying as little as possible.

“Hi,” I said, fighting the urge to apologize, “my baby is sick and I’m trying to get him down for a nap.”

They looked at the baby, really more of a toddler now, snuggling his face into my shoulder, with tenderness. “Oh, we completely understand!” the young man said, for all the world as if he was giving me permission. There was a pause, they were trying to figure out if they should say anything else, if they should offer to leave literature, to come back on a different day.

“Have a nice day.” I said flatly, and I closed the door in their face.

***

I wish I had said more. And then again, I don’t. I’m sure they will be back. If not them, then others like them. They will come, smiling, with literature that tells that one day the world will be pure and virtuous and people like me won’t be allowed.

I wonder what I will say to them then.