All this violence, all this hate, all this anger, all this vengeance, all this “eye-for-an-eye”, and all that repeats in my mind is this:
It’s been a while since I’ve posted. Part of me feels I should say I’m sorry but I’m not sorry. A lot of shit has been going on in my life, and I’d like to hope most people would agree that real life takes precedence over a blog or keeping others entertained.
There’s a lot to write about, a lot I need to tell you, but I had a bit of an epiphany today, and I wanted to share it with you all.
Last night, I was feeling a bit nostalgic, very awake, and slightly under the influence of a few glasses of vino, so I rummaged through our cabinets below the bookcase with our DVDs and Blu-Rays in them to haul out my old photos from my pre-New Zealand days.
Some bring tears to my eyes. Some make me long for yesterday and for those who are no longer with us. Others make me smile. Others again make me laugh heartily.
I found a photo of someone I haven’t spoken to in a long time, someone who, to be totally honest, hasn’t crossed my mind a lot lately. He does once in a while, but with time marching on and a million other memories cramming their way into my head every month or three, and having seen each other last in 1995 when we were both totally different people, these thoughts grow fewer and farther the more distant that year becomes.
I woke up in the middle of the night. It was one of those half-awake, half-asleep moments, where you seem to be somewhere between dreaming and waking. After the 22 February 2011 quake and subsequent aftershocks, I hadn’t been sleeping very well at night, so waking up several times a night was more normal than not waking up at all.
But at about 2 AM on 13 June 2011, waking up was something different.
I admit, I haven’t been losing sleep over our inability to get legally married. Why? New Zealand is a socially progressive, fair country, and if it didn’t happen now, it would happen in a few years. As Motormouth Maybelle said in Hairspray, “A foot in the door, that’s all it is. One toe at a time.”
I also have to admit, last night, watching the parliamentary debate of the third reading of the bill to legalise LGBTI marriage on TV, I knew we had it in the bag. Deep down, something told me, “We’ll be equal in the eyes of the law now.”
New Zealand Parliament didn’t let us down. They voted 77 to 44 to legalise same-sex and transgendered marriage. We became the 13th country in the world to do so.
Suddenly, a young man in the gallery above Parliament stood up and started to sing Pokarekare Ana, a powerful Maori love song that makes me cry nearly every time I hear it. Everyone else rose, even the politicians, even the politicians who had been against the bill, and joined in. Only in New Zealand, eh?
It shows who New Zealanders are, deep down, as a people. There is not that great gulf between conservatives and liberals here. Sure, we may argue about ideology and how things are implemented, but deep down, those divides are not a chasm like they seem to be in the USA and other places.
A lot of people fought for this right for us. Noel and I had fought for equal rights in immigration, and, to be honest, I kinda felt we did our bit for gay rights. As I said before, I knew that eventually, one day, we would have full equal rights.
When we went to bed, I think I stared at the ceiling for a while as the sheer weight of now being totally and unequivocally an equal with any of my straight friends, family, or co-workers in the eyes of the law pressed down on me. It came to me that this was the feeling women had when they got the right to vote or right to make their own reproductive choices. This was the feeling people who had been enslaved but were now free had upon their freedom. This was the feeling people who were denied marrying the person they loved on the basis of, first, religious beliefs, then skin colour, felt when they suddenly had the right to marry that person they loved.
I was at the end of a journey, the end of a fight to be treated equally in the eyes of the law. It had started the day I was born (and we still have a long way to go in the USA and socially, I admit) and here it was, 17 April 2013, and the journey to complete legal freedom ended successfully at the age of 39.
I stared up at the ceiling, tears in my eyes, and a smile creeping along my face.
I felt utterly and completely free.
Today, there are major battles occurring in New Zealand, the USA, France, and many other countries. It’s a civil war of sorts, another civil rights movement, and this time, the question is: Should we allow gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) couples legally marry? (Not civil unionise. Marry. As one of the Supreme Court justices said, it’s the difference between a skim-milk marriage and a full marriage.)
We’ve heard every excuse in the book from the anti-marriage crowd.
“Marriage is for procreation.” Really? How can two straight people in their 50s get married if marriage is for procreation?
“God / Allah / Jesus / [Insert Your God Here] wants marriage between a man and a woman.” I don’t think you or I can say anything about what God (or whatever god you believe in) thinks. Besides, marriage has been around for a lot longer than some of our gods, so no one religion can truly make a claim on the institution of marriage. Also, holy books like the Bible say a lot of things like, “Don’t eat shellfish” and “Don’t wear clothes of two different fabrics” and “Women are not equal to men” and “You can have slaves” and “Don’t cut your hair” and “Don’t get tattoos or pierce your body” and (my favourite) “Thou shalt not commit adultery”, yet anti-marriage equality people seem to conveniently forget some or all of these parts. And, while we’re arguing this point, LGBT couples are asking for the right to legally marry so we can have the same rights and privileges under the law (not your church) that straight couples have.
“God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” If you are dumb enough to believe that Adam and Eve were the only two people on the planet at the start, then you are dumb enough to spout garbage like this. My Mom (a very smart woman) said to me one time: “I think Genesis in the Bible is how God tried to tell His people about these things in very simple terms, like explaining the Big Bang and evolution to a 5 year old.” And it’s true. Now, we’d say, “Imagine there was a boy named Adam, and a girl named Eve,” knowing that Adam represented men and Eve represented women. And, even if you want to argue this point with me, go read some of the additional Biblical texts out there and let me know who Lilith is and how she fits into the picture if Adam and Eve are the only man and woman on the planet. On the scientific front, homosexuality and even homosexual pairing is observed in many species on this planet. So, God created gay ducks but He didn’t create gay people? Right.
“Marriage is sacred.” If it’s so sacred, why do we allow divorce?
“The fabric of society will unravel if we let gay and lesbian couples get married.” Really? Because we heard this argument with multiracial couples, and it totally happened when we allowed a black man to marry a white woman. Oh wait. It didn’t. And see the point above. If divorce, single parents, mixed marriages, etcetera, etcetera, haven’t destroyed the fabric of society (and they won’t), I doubt letting a few loving, caring, monogamous gay and lesbian couples getting married will unravel society either.
I could go on all day with some of the garbage that people say about the whole thing, but it comes down to this:
I was born gay; the only choice I made was to tell the truth and live my life true to my biology / genetics / whatever made me gay. I pay the same taxes as everyone else. I am supposedly equal in the eyes of the law. But, as the law currently stands, I do not have the legal right to marry my partner Noel. This automatically bars him and me from certain legal rights (like the ability to adopt as a couple) in New Zealand and thousands of legal rights, protections, and abilities in the USA. This brings the argument back to that, therefore, as a gay man, I am not equal in the eyes of the law.
The USA is very good at doing this to groups of people, including African-Americans throughout US history and Japanese-Americans during World War II (at least). Animal Farm has the perfect quote: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
One of the stories my Grandpa used to tell us that stands out in my mind was when he had to go to the emergency room in a hospital in Chicago or Milwaukee sometime in the 1940s or 1950s; I wish I could remember the story exactly. My Grandpa had scoliosis (a curvature of the spine) and so, I guess he was used to being a bit of an outsider in that regard, and he did the Christian thing and treated others as he would like to be treated. At the hospital, Grandpa had to wait for a while to see a doctor. The nurse came in, quite flustered, and apologised profusely. Grandpa said he was in a bit of pain, and the nurse said, “Well, we do have a coloured doctor on duty.” Grandpa told her he didn’t care what colour the guy was, send him in.
The doctor came in and kept asking Grandpa if he was sure he wanted an African-American doctor to help him. Grandpa said, “You’re a doctor, aren’t you?” The doctor confirmed he was, to which Grandpa replied (again) that he didn’t care what colour the doctor was as long as he could make him feel better.
And this is the attitude a lot of my family has to this day. This was the amazing attitude Grandpa had towards everyone he met in life, and it’s something I try to emulate (hopefully somewhat successfully, because I, like he, am a minority).
Grandpa died in 2004, aged 83. I still think about him every day. At his wake, though, another amazing thing happened.
My Grandma was talking to one of her and Grandpa’s friends, a woman about the same age. I was standing nearby and happened to overhear my Grandma: something she doesn’t know to this day.
My then-83 year old Grandma said, “Marty (my Grandpa) even got to see Scott before passing away. Scott flew in from New Zealand; we all wish his husband Noel could be here with us, too.”
My grandparents, devout Catholics their entire lives, never cared that I was gay. They never cared that I was in love with another man or wanted to marry him. They thought I should have the same rights as everyone else. They never judged me at all, because they loved me for who I am.
It took courage for my Grandpa to let an African-American doctor help him out in an era that that was frowned upon. It took courage for my Grandma to say to her peers that her grandson was married to another man. It took courage for my friends and family to stand behind Noel and me to love us for who we are and support us in our fight for marriage equality.
Every little step we take as individuals, for the freedom and equality of others, helps change society in a positive way.
Do you have the courage to stand with us, on the right side of history?
Sorry for the delay in publishing anything lately. I’ve been dealing with a lot of internal stuff, and when that happens lately, I seem to shut down and focus on… well, internal things.
Two weeks ago, I was at home (as I usually am on a Thursday) and I went through the normal routine. Get up, play some games on the computer while eating breakfast, think about any work I can do for the day, and then, after putting my dish in the dishwasher, I walk into the garage and let Levi out of his pen.
(For those of you not in the know, Levi is our chihuahua. He sleeps in a fenced-in area in our garage where he has access to a luxurious futon, a litter box, food, and water.)
The normal routine has Levi bolt out of bed, go running to the back door, doing his toilet business in the back yard, and coming back in for a little cuddle before settling onto his big cushion in front of the fireplace for a good part of the morning. And he does it at 120 times the speed a normal 16 year old dog should do it (being a chihuahua and all).
This all went to plan, except when Levi got to his big cushion, he made a hacking noise twice (this is a normal noise he makes after he’s eaten grass or has a hairball) and then fainted.
All I remember is rushing to the cushion as quickly as I could and shaking him slightly as I made a prayer aloud to God. Within seconds, he came to, and seemed fine (although a bit dazed). He has been fine ever since.
He had been ill earlier in the week, so I wasn’t sure if it was the aftermath of that (just got up too quickly and that was that) or if his heart murmur was at that stage where it would make him pass out.
Noel tends to be a bit more laid back about these sorts of things: Levi fainted once, he had been sick a few days before, it probably is nothing. The “exterior” me thinks, he’s probably right; I’m just overreacting. All the time, the “interior” me is worried beyond belief, the voice within screaming, “Take him to the vet! Take him to the vet! Take him to the vet!”
Yesterday, I finally caved in to the “interior” me and took him to the vet, despite nothing else seemingly wrong.
Chantal (our vet) found that Levi’s heart murmur has grown worse from when he had a chest x-ray 9 months ago while his teeth were being cleaned. The x-ray had found nothing out of the ordinary, but now, instead of her hearing a dum-dum rhythm when listening to his heart, all she could hear was a wooshing noise.
Despite this, he seems fine and has no other symptoms of congestive heart failure.
The words and phrases “quality of life”, “comfortable”, “we’ve had this talk before about Jenah“, “contraindications”, “congestive heart failure”, “this is the best we can try” came out. It’s not Chantal’s fault, but the “exterior” me smiled slightly and nodded and asked questions. The “interior” me died a little more.
The “interior” me noticed we were in the same consultation room Jenah was put to sleep in. That me thought how small the room looked compared to what I remembered it to be when she drew her last breath and finally slumped into what looked like a peaceful sleep.
When Levi collapsed two weeks ago and I rushed to his side, the “interior” me came out, praying aloud to God to not do this to us. “I’m barely over Jenah’s death and quakes and all that shit, I don’t need him to die on me. Please, God, let him be okay.”
I usually keep that “interior” me in check. It’s a sign of weakness, my embattled psyche thinks, to let the “exterior” me crack and let the “interior” me show.
This is the lesson I learned from being picked on for being gay and smart in grade school. This is the struggle I’ve been playing out my entire life. The “exterior” is what I show the world because the “interior” is too fragile and too feeling to expose to the harshness of reality. The “interior” me found out that crying or responding or letting those picking on me (I loathe the word “bully” as it’s overused these days) would only bait them to continue, so the “exterior” me grew out, like a hardened shell, around the “interior” me.
I think of it like the “exterior” being the friend or big brother who stood up to all the bullies because the “interior” didn’t have the strength, courage, or energy to do it himself. I never had the luxury of someone to stand up to the bullies when I was growing up. Hell, I didn’t even have a lot of friends because I was a nerd and gay, and gay was different, and nerd was different, and different was not good. So I learned (finally) that I had to rely on myself to defend myself. It’s something I do to this day (because if you don’t do it, maybe no one will).
The “exterior” me is the one who makes ’em laugh, smiles, makes it look like nothing is wrong, or conveniently shields the “interior” me from the hurtful comments or snide remarks or condescending tone someone’s made about me. The “exterior” me appears not to be hurt when a friendship seems to fade despite all the work I’ve put into it, or when a friend makes plans with me, only to have me wait around all day to be absolutely positively blown off. The “interior” me just wonders: “What have I done wrong?”
(By the way, the bullies never go away in your life; they just take a different form. I believe, for example, that some Government departments have several of the bullies and the bullied-turned-bullies working for them, trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole. “You will conform.”)
Before I go to bed, every night, I use the toilet and wash my face and brush my teeth. No, not all at the same time. Last night, thinking back on the day’s events and Levi’s diagnosis, the “interior” me shoved his way out. My mind’s eye saw Jenah suddenly fade away in that room at the vet; it then turned to wondering if Levi would go the same way in the same room.
And then I broke down crying. Not just normal crying. Sobbing crying. That deep well of tears bubbling forth from somewhere deep within the core of me.
This morning, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to all of this, and I realise that the “interior” me is showing more and more each day. The “interior” me is tired and worn-out.
He’s tired of being in a room full of people and still feeling alone. He’s worn-out from always being the outsider, trying to push his way in but almost always rejected. He’s burnt out from fighting endless battles against bureaucrats and autocrats and people in general who don’t think or even care how their actions affect others, and when you disagree with them, they try to bully you and twist your words to something you haven’t said instead of admitting they were wrong. He’s had enough of feeling hurt at the actions of others, even if those others don’t know their actions have impacted him that way.
He’s weary of trusting new people. He’s suspicious of the motives of others. He’s at the point where he believes half of what some other people say. He’s always scanning for other’s ulterior motives. He’s tired of some other people not saying what they mean, or saying one thing and doing another. He’s frustrated with people not paying attention to what he says, or even worse, listening to what he says but doing what they want anyway, then crawling back to him to ask him to help them fix it. He combats this by speaking a bit louder and talking over people, just so he can get his point across.
He’s worn-out from caring too much. He’s sick of the cycle of trust-trust-be-hurt-trust-trust-be-hurt. He’s bitter from losing some of the ones he’s loved. He misses the ones he’s loved and lost. He’s homesick for the familiar, whatever that might be these days. He’s torn between too many worlds, none of which he truly feels he belongs in. He’s growing numbly comfortable with the “new normal”.
He’s tired of the rhetoric and dogma and clichés. He’s frustrated with being treated like a second-class citizen because of how he was made and who he’s hard-wired to love. He’s overwhelmed with not knowing what he wants out of life and struggling to help others out where he can. He’s confused about religion.
He’s scared because time seems flying by yet he feels he’s done nothing with his life. He’s tired of always second-guessing himself and his decisions.
He’s over fighting for every last square inch of his rights and his patch. He’s always fighting the urge to look back and losing, like Lot’s Wife. He’s tired of being so worried about the future that he doesn’t enjoy the present. He’s deflated at sometimes not making the most of “this moment”.
He’s sick and tired of worrying about “what-ifs” and thinking about what the next disaster around the corner will be.
He’s had enough of pain, or not being able to breathe, and his clumsiness. He’s tired of dieting and working out and doing everything in his power to lose weight for it all to come back (and then some). He’s angry at himself for putting off things until tomorrow: always tomorrow.
He wishes he was good at a few things instead of being mediocre at many things. He wants to punch the next person who says they are “passionate” about something (when, in reality, most of us are not passionate about anything), just like he feels like slapping someone who throws the “love” word around so carelessly (someone who has never felt love and doesn’t understand what it means). He wants to follow his dreams… if he could just figure out which one when, and how to follow them… and had the courage to do it.
He feels he’s not good enough. He wonders why people tell him he is good at things when he feel he’s mediocre, at best.
He wants the critic in his head to shut up sometimes. He’s frustrated because he has all these ideas in his head but he can’t seem to translate them onto paper, or into words, or into any media but the film reel in his head. And even if he could translate them, he’s afraid that the critics will pick apart those aspects of his life and himself he’s put out there for the whole wide world to see.
He wants to be wanted and to be loved unconditionally.
He needs a break.
Despite saying all these things, there are good things to the “interior” me too.
When he says things like “thank you” and “I love you”, he means it when he says it.
He’s a loyal friend, brother, son, cousin, nephew, grandson, husband and companion. His family, friends, husband, and pets love him overwhelmingly in return, warts and all, and know how to say the right words at the right time to make him feel better when he’s blue (which, for a while there, was quite a bit of the time).
He cares about how his actions impact others. He cares about others.
He wants the best for those he loves. He tries to help when and where he can.
He takes care of his friends, family, and loved ones who need it.
He tries to be positive, and when he feels happy or positive or one of those feelings, he genuinely feels them.
He’s learning a moment is a moment, and if it’s bad, it will pass.
He tries his hardest for his work and sometimes goes above and beyond his job description.
He genuinely likes most of his students and all of his work colleagues.
He’s learning to live in the now, instead of looking back to the past or worrying about the future.
He’s trying to find the edges of who he is.
He gives freely and expects nothing in return.
He stands up against what he sees as injustice and tries to fight against bullies and tyranny.
He tries to see the good in everyone.
Maybe the “exterior” me and “interior” me will find some sort of peaceful coexistence, like they had previously. After quakes, and the stress associated with them and the fall-out, Jenah’s death, and Levi’s prognosis, the two have become out of whack.
But I have faith that the balance will return. With time. With time and healing.
I saw the article in the Christchurch Press about photojournalist Peter Hoffman coming to Christchurch to work on a photojournal about the Canterbury and Christchurch earthquakes and how they affected the people here. Now living in the Chicago region, he’d lived in Christchurch for a little while in 2004, and it beckoned him back, after the quakes.
As a fellow Chicagoan living here, I contacted him via the Press. Noel, Jacqui, Catherine, Suzie, Kerryn and I volunteered to help with the project, which consisted of writing a page of our thoughts in a journal and having our picture taken. Of course, not every image or every story would be shared in such a limited-scope publication as a book.