Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Bittersweet Anniversary

Yesterday marked two years since CK and I have been legally wed. This year marks our sixth wedding anniversary, the traditional gifts being candy or iron to signify either sweetness or strength.

Today she's on her way to the Allied Media Conference. Our ability to end up traveling on or around anniversaries has been a constant theme since the first one. The exact dates themselves being less important than our joy in the passing of each year together.

We're living a pretty different life then when we began our married life together. Both of us are now running our own businesses, I'm not even working in tech any longer. We've moved to the far southwest hills of Portland, firmly in the suburbs and enjoying it. We garden even more now, we've adopted two dogs, and we've survived a whole lot of strife.

While this should feel like our season of celebration, this time between the anniversary of our right to legal marriage and the anniversary of our joining our lives together in public ceremony, it feels hard to really celebrate after Sunday's mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The largest mass shooting in United States history, but only the latest incident of violence against the LGBTQ+ community.

The Persian poet Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī wrote, "Is weeping speech?"


Imagine that every encounter you have with a new person is guarded. Do I talk openly about having a spouse, which could be kept "neutral"? When the new person inevitably refers to my "spouse" as my husband, do I feel safe correcting that person or do I let it slide because I don't have the time or energy to open myself up to possible confrontation? While recently flying with CK the airline staff at the check-in counter checked me in and referred to CK as, "Mr. K.", making both assumptions about gender, perhaps just not fully paying attention. Given the tension and stress in airports, was it worth our time and the potential for greater consequences to correct that person about gender, calling out that we're queer? Am I going to lose students if they find out my spouse is a "wife", not a "husband"?

We're lucky, far luckier than many. We live in a pretty liberal city, we're not the only queer people in our neighborhood, we're white, and we have a lot of access to things that make life easier. CK's family loves and accepts us fully. We have a multitude of friends who believe in us and love us. That said, we're grateful for two dogs that bark a lot in addition to a security system.

Imagine that every single day you wake up to the knowledge that there are not only countries in the world where you could be killed for loving who you love, but that there parts of the country you don't feel entirely safe traveling. When CK and I travel, within the country we are both citizens of, we often carry copies of a durable power of attorney for each of us, just to ensure that we would be able to help the other in the event of a medical crises. Imagine making that part of your pre-travel check-list.

Imagine that every single day you walk against a society where people think it is a bigger tragedy that more people like you weren't killed. You might say that this is just one, isolated, extremist preacher, but I have absolutely no doubt that there are people who share his opinion.

That's every day if you're queer. Maybe that's all you've got to carry. You are white and male. You felt accepted, valued, and loved by your family. You had friends and fit in at school. You went to college, graduated, found a satisfying career, found joy in the love of another person....

Stop there. because once you start expressing that your love for another person does not fit within the norms of society you stop feeling valued and accepted. Yes, maybe your friends, family, and boss accept you, value you, but you spend every day knowing that a significant part of society condemns you over who you love. That's the best case scenario if you live in a country that doesn't outlaw your very existence.

Just try to imagine that as the best case scenario. Most people don't have it that way. They don't experience an easy time at school, they struggle to try and fit in, they're not male or white, and they lacked the kind of resources that made getting an education and higher paying career possible.

Now imagine you grew up in a family that derided you, abused you physically, made fun of you, called you names, perpetuated verbal sexual abuse that filled you with shame and self-loathing, made you question yourself constantly, and left you feeling worthless. Imagine that every day you make your way forward, working for good in the world, fighting against the ingrained belief that you are a failure, a disappointment.

That kind of family of origin and the daily weight of homophobia is my everyday experience. I'm a queer woman from a toxic family. My Mother went to her deathbed telling people sadly about my "lifestyle" and making sure I knew that I owed her everything since I was lucky she didn't "get rid of" me.

Today I spent 15 minutes weeping in my van in a parking garage in downtown Portland. Struck with overwhelming feelings of failure, worthlessness, and self-loathing and trying to take in a beautiful email from my teacher telling me how much pride she has in work I've done. Some days are like that. The Buddha's last instruction* was to make a light of ourselves, to shine so that others might also find a way to liberate themselves from suffering.

Some days it is hard to be a light in a dark world.

A friend of mine posted the following (added emphasis is mine) and I think it sums up how I'm feeling today.

I'm so tired. Thank you to the allies who are raising the hard conversations ... I don't have the heart for it right now. I see you challenging friends, family, the media, and it matters to see your support. Please find a way to sustain that passion. Thank you to the few people who are gun owners who have said you don't need an automatic weapon to hunt or protect your families. You're right, but I do not have it right now to fight that fight. And thank you to the people who care enough to say, "are you okay?" Keep saying that - not just to me, of course, but for our collective healing, our humanity. It's not okay that we have to watch this turmoil, it's not okay that many of us have faced threats, exclusion, and judgment - for years and years, not just because of this. This event rips the scabs off of our hearts, to be sure - but this is bigger than that. Are we okay? Start asking that. We are not. Collectively, humanity really needs a reality check. Get the fuck over yourselves and be part of the solution. Don't pray for me, stand next to me. Don't insulate yourself, be uncomfortable with difference. Don't allow politicians to fuel divisive hate - all for personal gain ... check them. Tell them it's not okay. There are plenty of opportunities, find them. But most of all, don't forget these moments of horror and be comfortable again next week.

Please. Don't get comfortable. Don't go numb.

Speak up, stand up, walk beside us. Don't forget this with the next excitement that comes in the news cycle.


*The Buddha’s Last Instruction
by Mary Oliver

“Make of yourself a light,”
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal — a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire —
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.