Boss Up with Bevin Your dream life is at the end of your comfort zone

2016-10-21

You are Stronger Than You Think: Grief, Resilience and Capricorn Resistance

Last week I was shaving my newly adopted cat’s legs in an effort to mitigate his pee smell from peeing on his legs. “Shaving Day” was not a success and continues to be the official low point in our three week relationship. Lucky for me, it was a very consumptive process because I missed the texts from my mother when Grandmother went missing.

biscuitreynoldsHe’s so cute but the pee smell is so gross.

After I released Biscuit Reynolds to his 18 hours of post-shave sulking, I checked my phone. Mom’s series of texts were heart-wrenching, but I was already relieved to have read the most recent one. “I called Eisenhower and talked to Grandmother. She was in the hospital getting tests. She’s being released right now.” The first texts talked of asking me to join the hunt looking for Grandmother. She lives independently and doesn’t love her cell phone so we have to catch her at home in order to reach her. Mom hadn’t reached her in too long and got worried. On a whim she called Grandmother’s favorite hospital and asked for her room—and got her!

bevingrandmothermay2015Me and Grandmother in May 2015 on a visit from NYC. Being closer to her geographically was a big reason I wanted to move to LA.

I’ve been kind of wrapped up in my grief around Amanda’s suicide, so I was glad for a happy and swift resolution. Then I recounted the story to my partner Dara and started weeping. A coping strategy I have from my traumatic childhood is to be able to stay separate from my Feelings during crisis. I’m a complete rock star in crisis, I can solve shit, I can organize, I can motivate—I know how to stay safe and I know how to keep other people safe. This is a great skill but not great for emotional health and the Feelings always come. The weeping while I was telling Dara gave me the warning bell that I wasn’t done having these Feelings about Grandmother going missing.

Later that day I walked into Target and then started melting down. Have you ever sobbed at Target? It’s not cute. Part of what has been hardest for me with Amanda isn’t just the loss of her, it’s how much I identify with her and it’s scary. If the world was too hard for Amanda, will it be too hard for me? This thought often propels me to make the phone call even though I feel awkward talking about my Feelings in Target. I know I need to not isolate and I need to ask for help. So I called Bridget (she’s been so amazing this past month).

grandmotherbevinshermansMe and Grandmother at Sherman’s on Friday. When I asked the waitress for Shabbat candles for the table she was very confused.

I got through everything and then talked to Grandmother. Her test was a biopsy on a mass on her lung. She had gone to urgent care because she was coughing up blood and then they sent her right to the ER who admitted her to find the mass, do the biopsy. Grandmother didn’t call us because she doesn’t get a cell signal at the hospital and “didn’t know anyone’s numbers by heart.”

The fact that Grandmother might have cancer was a lot for me to take. Dara just celebrated two years out of cancer treatment in August. I, unfortunately, know a lot about cancer from supporting her through it. In spite of looming work deadlines, Dara offered to come with me to Grandmother’s the next morning to keep her company while she got the biopsy results from the doctor.

cancersurvivorpark1In May 2015 we did this photo shoot at the Cancer Survivor’s Park in Rancho Mirage, CA. We had NO idea Grandmother would have cancer–that’s the one thing that doesn’t really run in our family.

That night I was snuggling with Dara in “the nook.” My thoughts started floating to the grief places and I was crying. I realized I was soaking her shirt with my silent tears and I rolled over to my side. I felt like I was getting away with something. When you’re grieving sometimes you think your sadness, hurt, confusion, anger, depression is too much for your loved ones. Because often, it’s too much for you. Normally I spit in the face of anything that says I’m “too much” but I’m an independent Capricorn and sometimes I like to seem more together than I really am. Crying silently on my side of the bed felt like I could be more of a mess than Dara thought.

I instantly related to Grandmother. Like me and Dolly Parton, Grandmother is a Capricorn. So is my Great Grandmother and my Great Great Grandmother. An epic line of Capricorn women who in each past generation with deepened misogyny had to seem together and not lose it in front of anyone about grief and abuse and alcoholism and who knows what other trauma legacies are in there. Capricorns are the goat climbing the mountain. Persistent, ambitious, success-driven, not showing weakness. The cardinal Earth sign. The Keep It Together and Look Good Doing It sign.

I understood Grandmother’s reticence to ask for help when she got swept away to the hospital, to sit in a bed by herself and not call her kids or grandchildren. Just to do it on her own and not bother anyone. Getting away with not seeming like a mess or like she needed anything.

cancersurvivor2

I felt glad to relate to her and understand her motivation to isolate. I understand it with love and not judgment. I was also glad to be forcing myself on her to support her through the diagnosis the next day. I was sure she didn’t need someone to be there. She is always so happy and grateful when I come to visit I knew it wasn’t an imposition.

Dara caught on to me crying eventually and got me tissues and was her rock star supportive self. She drove two hours with me into the desert to Grandmother’s house in Rancho Mirage. She sat at the table with me and Grandmother googling the diagnosis, a mass on her lung but possibly a type of adrenal cancer or maybe lung cancer I still don’t know. She showed Grandmother her chemo karaoke video from her cancer vlog “Cancer Can Be Cool” and talked Grandmother through her experience with cancer treatment and how Dara insisted on positivity from everyone in her life.

daragrandmotherchemokaraokeDara worked so hard on that Chemo Karaoke video–she filmed it on her birthday during a chemo infusion at the Memorial Sloan Kettering chemo center where she got her treatment.

My idea was to go out to Sherman’s, our family’s favorite restaurant, a Jewish deli. (Better than most places I’ve been to in NYC—there I said it.) I wanted us to have a celebration for Grandmother’s cancer survival and success. I believe in the power of positive thinking more so than just about anything in my faith arsenal. If you’re going to go for a positive attitude might as well celebrate and have fun.

celebrationfood

We’re in the day by day diagnosis phase right now, where we wait for the next test result, next doctor referral. It’s maddening to a Capricorn like me who wants to plan and know what’s happening. But that’s not how the world works and I have to keep using lots of tools to be cool with it. I’m on my second listen to the just-released audio book The Universe Has Your Back by Gabby Bernstein and it’s got a lot of tools for working with the flow of the Universe, womanifestating and for finding serenity.

I told Grandmother that part of my vision for being a rich lesbian is having a big ol’ compound where she would be able to live in her own space in our house, hold court with my friends (who all love her or will love her, she’s so charming) and she won’t have to deal with telling the gardeners they are not doing a good job she can just tell my house manager. But since I’m not yet a rich lesbian I need her to hold on a lot longer. We gotta beat this.

cancersurvivorpark2The Cancer Survivor Park in Rancho Mirage is really great. Worth a visit if you are in Palm Springs.

There’s a lot to worry about, both me and her. She’s older than she looks and that means she gets a lot of ageism when people look at her chart instead of her whole picture of human health. I can certainly relate to doctors looking at weight and not the whole picture of human health. She is always concerned that she won’t get to live independently anymore. I want to be able to be there a lot for her treatment but we just adopted this cat and he stressed out with us gone for one night that he started pooping blood. I just recommitted myself to finishing the memoir I shelved during Dara’s cancer treatment.

I get that worry is a misuse of imagination. I’d rather focus on how fun it will be to make art projects and adventures out of her cancer treatment. We almost convinced her to sing a Dolly song for an instagram video to help me promote Dollypalooza LA on October 29th! She’s got cute stories about being almost famous early in her life, about being constantly mistaken for a celebrity while living in Beverly Hills and now I think everyone thinks of her as an older celebrity while she’s tooling around Palm Springs. We are hopeful she’ll consent to being part of Dara’s cancer vlog. Grandmother is basically a gay icon waiting to happen.

daragrandmotherwalkingHeart emoji. Literally every time I write a gratitude list Dara is at the top.

Before Amanda died, the phrase “You are stronger than you think” kept popping into my head. I didn’t realize it then but that was the Universe telling me I am ready and resilient, even as I don’t really feel either just yet.

cancersurvivorpark3

2016-10-11

My Coming Out Story

Happy Coming Out Day! Every year on October 11th the LGBTQ community and our allies celebrate Coming Out Day as a way to commemorate and sanctify an important moment in the lives of queer people. It’s also an important way to help our children, families, friends, co-workers and communities know that you are a safe space for LGBTQ folks to come out to.

bevinchrisamandadamienFor this post I’m using photos I found in my archives from the Femme Family Pride Coming Out as Femme party that Femme Family produced in June 2009 at Stonewall Inn. L-R, Damien, Me, Amanda and Chris.

Coming out is such an intensely personal decision, since being queer is somewhat of a seemingly mutable way of being different. (“Passing” as straight is easier for some than others, and it is often tied to gender presentation.) I thought in honor of the occasion, and the fact that I told this story to my friends Jenna and Rick at my Epic High Holiday Shabbat dinner on Friday, I would share it here!

Coming out is easier said than done, and for me it was really difficult. I am 37 years old, which means I grew up in a pre-Ellen era. I noticed a pretty big cultural shift when Ellen’s character came out as a lesbian on her then sitcom in 1997. It was a watershed moment when, more and more, people were aware that LGBTQ folks were openly living their lives queerly. I feel like most kids who came of age after Ellen came out have a different experience within American culture.

bevinrachelsophieMe, Rachel (check out her work getting Queers, Women and POC into tech sales) and Sophie (check out her incredible body positive pin-up photography business).

I didn’t know gay was a thing that you could be until I was 14 years old. I had literally never understood that any of my mom’s friends were gay, that any celebrities were gay or that people throughout history had been leading queer lives.

I met the first lesbian that came out to me at Girl Scout Camp when I was a Counselor-in-Training. At the time that was a big no-no (even when I became a counselor a few years later it was very understood that lesbianism was don’t ask don’t tell) but we were friends and it came up. I felt a huge paradigm shift knowing that people were gay and it started helping me understand myself better. I wasn’t the kind of kid who grew up knowing I was attracted to other women, mostly I was attracted to gay men. (Hello, Keanu Reeves and George Michael.)

bevinbridgetMe and Bridget, who just launched her amazing business coaching! She’s been a little bird supporting me with branding, web stuff and business for years, so excited for her new venture!

I began questioning my sexuality when I was 15. I had no one to talk to about this so I just kept it as a running wonder in the back of my mind. My mom came out for the second time around then.* It was not a bonding experience for us. My Junior and Senior year of high school was really difficult for our relationship, since mom was going through a divorce and my grumpy selfish step dad was still living with us because we couldn’t afford to sell the house (recession) and mom didn’t want to risk me having to leave our great school district. Not a recipe for anyone to be at their most compassionate emotional self. In my perception at the time my mom was not a safe person for me to discuss my sexuality with because we were not safe people for one another emotionally. My mom is awesome and she has been a great safe space for queer kids for years and years as a teacher but we were very much water and oil in high school.

I know now that a teacher at my school was gay (she’s friends with my mom!) and if only teachers were allowed to be openly gay in the mid-90s, my life would have been a lot easier.

miasiaMiasia is an incredibly talented belly dancer from Washington, DC and whenever I possibly could get her up for a gig in NYC I did just that! You should check out her classes and performances!

I came out to myself for real when I was 16 years old and could actually articulate internally that I was attracted to another woman. I told three very close friends who were not in my day to day life. When I got back to high school for my senior year I shoved all of that internal realization deep inside, in spite of a low-level crush on a girl in high school, and tried to keep fitting in even though I never actually fit in.

katestonewallLaurence and Kate Huh, a really vital archivist photographer of NYC queer life.

I never dated anyone in high school, all dance dates were strictly platonic and even though I had some flirtations with boys here and there nothing ever happened. I knew how to keep my armor up as a trauma response to intense bullying I experienced in late elementary and middle school. To this day I still have to work to let my armor down where sex, attraction and flirtation are concerned.

damienstonewallperformanceOne of my favorite performances of Damien’s is “Femmes Bash Back” based on the Femme trans women of color who began the Stonewall uprising by throwing purses and heels at the cops raiding the Stonewall. Let that fictional Stonewall movie be forever proved wrong, since they rewrote history so some white cisgender gay dude threw the first brick. Stay tuned for Happy Birthday Marsha! It is important that our history be preserved accurately and not white-washed.

In college I met a lot more gay folks, especially gay men, and almost everyone was in the closet for some period and eventually came out. It’s so weird to think about that time because now it’s so normal for people to be openly gay that I forgot that I knew a lot of these folks before they came out formally. Even though I knew in my heart I was attracted to women (I identified as bisexual at the time because I hadn’t realized all my big crushes were on gay dudes) I didn’t think I should come out because I hadn’t dated or even kissed anyone romantically. It was all wrapped up in fat girl body self loathing and not feeling like I deserved access to my sexuality. Why bother coming out if I was inherently unfuckable?

shomidjingOur Femme DJ Shomi Noise.

Now I know that my identity has nothing to do with anyone other than myself. I know I’m Femme regardless of whether or not I am partnered with a Butch, I know that I am fuckable whether or not I’m presently having sex, I know that I am kinky even when my floggers are collecting dust.

bevionstagestonewallIf my college-aged self could know how I would turn out, coming out of the closet would have been way easier.

At the beginning of my Junior year of college, at 19 years old, I was really thinking about coming out for real in spite of not having kissed a girl, and then just days later I met my first girlfriend. I was her Resident Advisor, she was a resident on my floor, she had Ani DiFranco posters all over her room (a very late ’90s tell). She wasn’t out to her roommates but as we became friends she came out to me and then we held hands while watching Mary Poppins late one night and it became wildly easy for me to come out because I was young and in love and wanted to tell literally everyone I knew about it. Plus saying, “I have a girlfriend!” is way easier than saying “I need to let you know I identify as LGBTQ.” Since being Femme presenting is invisibilizing to many folks, coming out is Groundhog Day repetitive for me. I tend to drop a “My partner/my girlfriend” or when I was single “My ex-girlfriend” as a way to come out rather than just telling people directly. Somehow that is more seamless for me.

arielbevinEarly photo of me and my friend Ariel Speedwagon.

I’ve had a few more coming outs in my life, like when I got to law school and decided to come out as a lesbian instead of bisexual, when I came out as Fat and Femme, and when I shifted to using queer to identify my sexuality because it better encompassed non-binary gender identities. There’s also coming out as a medical marijuana user (as Melissa Etheridge says,”I believe anybody who smokes cannabis is using it medicinally, whether they consider it so or not”), and coming out as non-monogamous which for me just means I like to be a little free to ethically explore connections with people as they pop-up and adhere to agreements with the person I am partnered with.

melissasjMe and my friend Lissa and Sarah Jenny.

I just can’t endorse coming out enough. I was scared, so so so scared before I came out because I thought I was going to lose friendships, loved ones and access to my dreams. For me, living life authentically, and loving myself for all of me, allows me to feel so free and relaxed that I am more able to focus my energy on making the world safe for other people to do the same. I have had SO MANY DREAMS COME TRUE because I am openly 100% of the time my authentic self. I think global peace starts with inner peace, and we need to be committed to doing the self care and self expression we need to feel at peace.

femmefamilyintention

Our logo intentionally had wings hugging the heart. Sophie designed it and Chris designed our flier.

Queer allies: amplify queer voices on your social media. Tell people you are a safe space and show your support for LGBTQ people. Work to learn how to be a better ally. It’s still dangerous in many spaces to be out as a queer person. Queers who live in countries that are more accepting of queers, learn more and more about LGBTQ refugees and borders and how being queer is sometimes the fight for your life. Offer your resources. I’m hoping to amplify more ways to do that in the coming months as I learn more about displaced LGBTQ folks.

Let’s all make the world more survivable for LGBTQ people and work to make “coming out” obsolete. Wouldn’t it be cool if people got to just grow up to be whoever they really are and love whoever they love and do it to whoever they feel attracted to and have consent and all that stuff?

Happy Coming Out Day!

*It turned out that my mom herself had come out of the closet for a few years in the early 80s. She even rode in Dykes on Bikes in the San Francisco Pride Parade in 1980! After a really traumatizing relationship with a horrible woman, my mom went back in the closet when I was four, dated men and married said step father who started out cool and then got awful and selfish and then after her second divorce she dated a woman and came out for good. So complicated, right? I didn’t come out to her until I came out publicly when I was 19.

miasiaonstageI love that in this photo Miasia is holding herself much like the wings of our logo are holding the heart.

metaueretandjesseTaueret and Jesse were both at the Femme Family Coming Out Party but somehow not in my batch of photos so here’s a cute one I found at a party in the same time period when hunting through my archives. TT made that beautiful hair fascinator herself. She was so talented.

 

 

 

2016-09-30

I Promise My Personal Tragedy Will Not Interfere with My Ability to Do Good Hair: Remembering Amanda Arkansassy

It happened again. The phone calls and texts started, trying to give me news of a friend’s suicide before I found it on Facebook. This is what we have now. Who knows the protocol?*

bevinarkansassyMe and Amanda at a dance party in 2010. Yesterday I met someone who had tiny flying birds coming from a tattoo on their head and it reminded me of her shoulder tattoo.

This is a post about my friend and it’s a post about my messy grief process. I don’t know what to do right now, but I think modeling how I am grieving may be of some help to other folks out there who are bewildered and confused and don’t know how to keep processing these suicides of bright light Femmes.

My friend Amanda and I became close in 2008/2009 when she was a member of Femme Family, a Femme organizing group that sprung to life after the Femme Conference in August of that year. We wanted Femme community in NYC, and me and Damien, Amanda, Sophie, Chris, Taueret, Bryn, Bridget, Rachel, Hana, Dylan, Erica, Heather, and a lot of other Femmes who popped in and out, made it happen. Mostly we were cultural organizers, throwing dance parties, fundraisers, Femme poker nights, a Femme literary reading series, we had a book club and published a zine.

femmefamilyClockwise from top left: Bryn, Sophie, Damien, Amanda, Rachel, Me, Chris, Dylan, Erica. We were all so busy working our party that we had to do a group photo in stages.

femmefamilygroup2webTaueret, Heather, Me, Bridget, Amanda.

Amanda was the Madam of Country Glam, me and Damien weren’t yet roommates but we were Co-Head Madams. Taueret was the Madam of Ferocity. I forget which Madam title Bryn had. Taueret took her life in February of last year and Bryn just this past January. The last time I saw Amanda was when she was out for Taueret’s memorial (on Amanda’s birthday, October 3rd) and the last time we spoke on the phone was after Bryn passed and Amanda needed advice about posthumous art curation. It was such a beautiful moment, we talked for an hour while I was in a park at sunset, Dara and I having just seen what would become our quirky house in LA. I watched the beauty transform around me in my new neighborhood, we processed about Bryn and she filled me in on her new romantic adventures.

Amanda had the biggest heart. She was so sweet and welcoming. She was from Arkansas and it was a huge part of her identity. She was brilliant and political and knew how to show up for people. She always drove a huge SUV and made it look really easy in Brooklyn and Manhattan. She was a little younger than me and in some ways I think that played into our dynamic. A couple of days ago a friend of hers told me Amanda referred to me an inspiration but to me she was my fiercely loyal Femme friend.

birthdayamandaI’ve known so much grief and loss for so long that I know that even in sad circumstances we need to celebrate life. So even though it was the day of Taueret’s memorial and that was the reason for her visit, I knew our Femme Family reunion brunch needed to include birthday candles for Amanda.

I was still rebuilding myself after my painful break-up with my ex fiancé and she witnessed and held space. She showed me solidarity. She loved Steel Magnolias and Dolly Parton as much as me. She loved to get dressed up and take pictures. She loved other Femmes and loved to peacock for and with us.

0008_ability-to-do-good-hairThe title of this post is an homage to a shared favorite movie.

She started performing burlesque as Lola Dean and I think her first performance ever was at my Queer Family Holiday party. Taueret’s first burlesque act was at my previous party, a Queer Zombie Cabaret, and they both bonded over learning burlesque. When I competed for the title of Miss LEZ I asked them both to be my back-up dancers for my “talent” (hosting a gameshow/being surrounded by hot Femmes) as the Baconettes.

arkansassywiththosepastiesAmanda loved these pasties so much, she bought them special for the show on Etsy. Photo by Alison Picard.

Amanda was amazing backstage at the pageant. She was a former pageant queen in high school and gave me great advice about my interview portion and poise and other pageant stuff. Taueret was also amazing and told off a former date of mine who had recently stood me up. I remember leaving with Taueret after losing the pageant and feeling both physically famished (they don’t feed you backstage) and emotionally supported while kind of crushed that I lost.

misslezbevinamandaIf you want to read about my pageant platform and my play by play of that night check out this blog post. Photo by Syd London. Shout out to original Baconette Melissa Davis!

We brought the Baconettes back together the following Spring. I was Queen of Honor at Hey Queen, a queer dance party that was a staple of Brooklyn nightlife for five years. I was “Size Queen” and wanted to compose a really hot number to Madonna’s “Hanky Panky.” Me, Taueret, Amanda and Hana met up in my tiny living room to practice. We did it again at That’s My Jam the next month and from the buzz off those events I started Rebel Cupcake at Sugarland on International No Diet Day, May 6, 2010. Amanda performed as Lola Dean along with Taueret at the first Rebel Cupcake and once more before she moved to San Francisco.

bevinbaconettes

She, Sophie and Rachel all moved to San Francisco at about the same time. I felt really sad that they left but felt kind of okay, too, because I knew they had each other and no doubt they would do magical things out there.

rebelcupcakequeerrootWatching the blossoming friendship of Rachel and Amanda was really special. Photo from the photo booth of Rebel Cupcake, by Nogga Schwartz.

I think a lot about how Femme Family was this beautiful incubator for those of us involved. It gave us confidence in our abilities and we got ideas that were firmly based in our Femme identities. I started Rebel Cupcake, a body positive dance party for fat kids and fabulous weirdos. Damien started Heels on Wheels, a Femme art tour, show series and now a book with Heather. Sophie started Shameless Photography a feminist body positive pin-up photography business and many of the Femme Family were her first models.

Amanda went on to create Femme Space, a reclamation of space for Femmes and a beautiful portrait project. The stories and photos are stunning, I highly recommend a deep dive into them.

Long distance took an understandable toll on our friendship, but it never lost all of its love. I would see her and have epic conversations about all the things but mostly romance gossip because it was a fav of both of ours. Just six months ago she got on snapchat and she posted the sweetest thing on Facebook about how she loved my “snapchat stories” and for a bit there we would have girl talk and lingerie sharing over snapchat private message 10 seconds at a time.

bevinamanda2015

As our friend Elisabeth said memorializing Amanda, she was the ultimate “Hi Femme!” which was her actual license plate. She had to appeal a bunch to the CA DMV to get it–they thought it was about drugs and she schooled them that it was an actual identity. She was tickled every time she caught someone taking a photo of it behind her in traffic.

We constantly bonded over country music and I still think of her every time a good block of country music sung by women is on the radio (which is rare). When I was in LA last year learning my way around I heard a whole hour dedicated to women in country music and was so excited to tell her about it.

A couple of years ago she told me her plan after she moved to San Francisco was to eventually go back and head an organization for Southern Queers in Arkansas. I loved seeing Arkansas through her lens on social media. I loved seeing places she had told me about.

sfcrew2011Visiting San Francisco with Mackenzi, outside of the Lexington with Sophie, Dagger and Digg. Amanda was always a poly-identified Femme and there are a bunch of really good looking folks that had the pleasure of knowing her romantically in mourning. She was so special as a friend and I think she was extra extra special as a lover.

Another toll of long distance is when your friends throw parties you hella want to be at. She had a birthday party at the Madonna Inn one year and I was SOOOOO SAD I was too broke to go because I had always wanted to go to the Madonna Inn and they were taking lingerie photos with all the theme rooms! It was going to be Femme Slumber Party birthday magic. And I got to go to Dollywood which I know she always wanted to do and I wanted to do it with her! And she had a Dolly Parton themed getaway birthday party.

rachelamanda2010Femme Conference 2010.

Now that I’m in LA I am closer (wouldn’t ever turn down an invite to the Madonna Inn now!) but her housewarming party in Crockett, where she just moved to get more rural, was a night when I’m doing a big event here. I remember thinking “SOMEHOW SOMEWAY we will have a party we can both attend.” She died before I could even pester her to come be my photographer for Dollypalooza next month.

One of the things that is most beautiful in Femme friendships is seeing yourself reflected in one another. Amanda was positive and upbeat, like me, and sparkly. She was the kind of Femme who threw herself into activism and organizing and also had good hair and impeccable nails. I always told her she was my nail inspo and had stiletto nails long before they got really mainstream popular. She kept a few fingers on the right hand short, for sex. I was living for her ombre. Honestly, her hair just kept getting better and better.

arkansassyNashville fans, she declared Juliette Barnes one of her fashion icons. Amanda left behind a perfect shiba inu/chihuahua rescue named Memphis and her cat, Kitten Butt. And a gorgeous white bedroom set she moved cross country.

I’m taking this death really hard. I am replaying all of the ways in which I feel like I could have done things differently. Like what if I hadn’t flaked on hiring her to photograph me at my high school reunion reclaiming space that felt alienating to me as a teen. Would we have had a heart to heart two weeks ago that could have changed things? Should I have finished writing my book already since it’s mostly about how I survived this epic heartbreak and betrayal and bloomed even bigger and brighter than I ever thought possible? Could it have been a road map for her?

I shared these feelings with a friend yesterday who said, “You can’t put your lightness in someone else’s darkness.” And then confessed that they must have been channelling Spirit because they would never have said that. I’ve also gotten similar messages about Bryn and Taueret when I asked my psychic Alex about their possibly related suicides.

queerfamilyholidayallofusPhoto by Alison Picard.

I feel like there’s this way that when you shine really bright like Amanda did, like Bryn did, like Taueret did, that the world doesn’t want you to survive. Just being a bright light superstar that by your very identity challenges the white heteropatriarchy is dangerous. That manifests in the experiences of trauma caused by oppression, misogyny, heterosexism, ableism, fatphobia, transmisogyny, slut shaming, classism, and on and on. It’s hard to stay sane and positive when the world is relentless with heartbreak, police brutality, apartheid, and all of the other horrific things you see just by turning on the news.

The world is made better and sweeter for me by activists and artists like all three of them. I try like hell to take care of myself. I try like hell to model self care for the corner of the internet where people pay attention to what I say. When I’m modeling self care, I am saying “This is how I am staying alive today.” Because self care is vital and survival is vital.

amandaonthemuniThe same month she took her life her face was on the side of a Muni bus. Her light was shining bright. But it goes to show that we can have a good face on and be battling darkness really deep.

And let’s talk about our fucked up mental healthcare system. Why don’t we have walk in clinics, where you can start treatment without a giant ball of red tape and bullshit. Why don’t we fund this? Is it because the people who are in charge find our bodies disposable? We have such a fucked up world we need to make it more survivable. Instead the fuckedupness is making it harder and harder to stay alive.

It’s important and good we know about what’s going wrong in our world. We have to see it to change it, right? But we also need to recognize the toll that takes on everyone’s mental health.

We need to stop treating self care like it’s optional. Take care of yourself and take really fucking great care. And fund easy to access free mental health for everyone because we need it . All three of these friends of mine were brilliant women with different access to help and different ways of soliciting it. What about the people who aren’t as resourced or good at self advocacy as Bryn, Taueret or Amanda? Somehow we need to do better at getting mental healthcare into the hands of people who need it. The amount of people who need it is mounting.

speakingoffemmegroupSpeaking of Femme.

I keep thinking about the idea of feminizing the world as a means of creating world change and world peace. Amanda even mentioned it in the article announcing her as one of KQED’s 20 Women to Watch.

In response to the question, “If you could live in a book, TV show, movie, play or painting, what would it be?” She replied, “It hasn’t been written yet (to my knowledge), but I’m looking forward to media exploring a futuristic femme oligarchy. Until then, Steel Magnolias will do.”

Maybe that’s how I need to womanifest my thoughts about how to feminize the world. Write a TV treatment for a show exploring a Futuristic Femme Oligarchy. If Femmes ruled the world? It would be amazing. Amanda dedicated her Femme Space project that was poppin’ off to the memory of Taueret and Bryn (check the footer on the page) and I would dedicate that TV show treatment to all three.

amandaspeakingoffemmeblue

In the meantime we need to figure out how to survive. This is why I blog. This is why I talk about the things I’ve figured out for self care and to take good care of myself. I’m writing a self care zine so I can brain dump to whoever wants it all the stuff I know about self care. Because we don’t live in a world where mental and emotional healthcare is free and easily available. ’Til we do we need to be taking care of each other and ourselves.

I talk a lot about becoming a rich lesbian. I mostly want to be rich because I want to start a foundation to support the kind of hard to fund amazing grass roots edge of social change groups that don’t usually get grants. I want to give them cash and provide support for their sustainability and helping have the kind of structure that ensures the legacy can move forward if the founders either move on, burn out or have shit go down in their lives. My friend Jenn and I brainstormed that I need to have a social worker on staff who can provide therapy for supported organizers, coaching people in self care.

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I see a lot of activists whose work and care taking is dedicated to the point of compulsion. There’s always more to do and not enough money or resources. I see people who are broke who give what little they have to folks who are broker than they are. It’s in the giving nature of people dedicated to world change. I wonder if Amanda needed more care than she was capable of receiving. I wonder if there’s a way to teach people to receive the love that is around them. Because Amanda, Taueret and Bryn were all beloved.

These deaths rip open the wounds that I work hard to heal. I’m grieving hard the loss of all three, grief compounded upon grief. I was putting dishes away and a wave came. I was literally sobbing into my kitchen cabinet when I came to. I find it’s easiest to grieve when I just open myself up to it. I don’t try to pretend that I’m cool when I’m not and I work to practice radical honesty with people who ask me how I’m doing.

femmepicnicWhen I was doing my deep dive into my photo archives I realized that right after this Femme picnic in Dolores Park I met up with my queer Femme friend Melissa Tracy who also took her life this year.

I’ve learned a lot about grieving over the years. I was sending a blog post about break-up grieving strategies to a friend and I realized a lot of it was very applicable to death. Try to be present. Try to let it flow. Commit to your plans so you don’t spiral out for too long. For me, preventing the darkness is easier than being swallowed by it and having to crawl out, so I’m trying really hard to not fall into that place.

This week I asked for a lot of help. Dara has been out of town for work for almost two weeks. On Saturday Amanda’s suicide hadn’t been announced yet and I had to figure out how to get the help I needed without doing the endless phone calls and messages thing, so I put an all call on Facebook. I don’t give a fuck about seeming vulnerable. I think we should be more vulnerable with each other, it’s a sign of strength.

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In some ways it’s been good that Dara’s not here. I have been relying for primary support from my friends and it’s important to lean out of your primary for support. I’m also crabby and listless, and I’m actually feeling shitty about how I am not a pile of sunshine for Dara right now. So being independent from her has been helpful.

Yesterday I knew I had a ton of work to do and in the in between times might need brightening. So I asked Facebook once again for sweet memories. Remembering connections to other, living folks is a sweet way to remind me that I am loved, and taking breaks from work to sit with a few at a time has been so helpful.

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I keep remembering all the hot people I was going to set her up on dates with. I keep thinking about all of the collaborations I wanted to do. Over the past year I thought a lot about what Amanda would do my Femme Space photo about. I thought maybe my rainbow mumu and me in a Home Depot because I am definitely a power tool wielding Femme, I do not let stereotypes about women and femininity stand in the way of me getting what I want to get done. And then I definitely thought it was going to be me teaching my new fitness class at the body positive gym opening up in LA. But whatever it was, it’s a collaboration that won’t happen. Because something about the world was too painful for her.

I want to make the world more survivable. I wrestled with the choice to not go to her funeral on Wednesday but the thought of making the travel plans was so overwhelming I was paralyzed. So I took that, and my big chronic digestive disorder flare as my signs that I needed to stay put and take care of myself. I can’t make the world survivable unless I take care of my own survival.

*For me, just in case this is relevant to any of my friends reading this, I prefer a phone call. Almost all of my calls are scheduled because that’s how I roll, so if you call me twice in a row and text “Call me ASAP” I know what that means. So that’s my preferred protocol. I changed my number to a 323 number when I moved to LA so check your phone and delete that old Jersey 201 number!

wafflesinbmoreI have all these new friends I just made and I wonder if they think it’s weird that I say I love you literally every time we part ways. It’s because I’ve known so much loss and I’m only 37 and I know it might be my last opportunity to say it. So I always do when I feel it. Grief is an unfortunate side effect of love, and I love really big. I loved Amanda a lot and my grief reflects the size of that love. There is no timeline on grief, I will never get over missing her. I will never get over Bryn and Taueret. I will only do what is the best case scenario and get used to the idea that they aren’t here. 

More Amanda Love:

Go Fund Me Campaign to help with Amanda’s memorial costs.

KQED Holding Space for Amanda (lists a lot of her artistic accomplishments if you want to learn more about her prolific work)

Femmes Before Literally Everything

To be added: Memorial information for next month’s memorial.

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