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

2017-03-24

Meet Iris and Virginia, the Cuties behind Cuties

Hey everybody! I am so thrilled to introduce you to my pals Iris and Virginia! I met them through their monthly pop-up gathering Queers, Coffee and Donuts and am so appreciative of all of the work they do to create fabulous parties.

Virginia (left) and Iris (right).

I love gender inclusive body positive community space. Being explicit about this gathering principle helps people feel at ease in new social circles. When I was planning my move to LA many people complained about a dearth of queer community events and spaces, but thanks to Iris and Virginia’s hard work, there’s a thriving new crowd about to inhabit a permanent brick and mortar space–Cuties coffee bar!

Not even a year ago we lost 49 gathered at a gay nightclub in the Pulse Nightclub shooting. Not long after that was the Ghostship fire in Oakland, where queers were gathered in an underground space and 36 lost their lives. I think now more than ever brick and mortar gathering spaces that are funded and able to have safety protocols are so important for marginalized communities. We need safe(r) spaces and refuges where we can be ourselves and we need to rise up let our tragedies fuel our commitment to making space and our resistance to oppressors.

As a Femme presenting person I really love being in a majority queer space and hope that folks assume I am queer until proven otherwise. I also hope that in a space that centers gender non conforming identities that folks don’t assume pronouns based on aesthetic assumptions. Iris once joked, “Every time someone asks a Femme presenting person their pronoun preference, an angel gets its wings.”

The fundraising video for Cuties is groundbreaking! An example of how all media can work to be in solidarity with gender non conforming and trans folks–put people’s names and preferred gender pronouns! (You have to watch it!)

The first Cuties event I went to was a pool party with donut floaties! Here I am with my friends Dari and T!

Read below the vision behind Cuties coffee bar. If you have a few bucks to help create this vital gathering space, please donate. Perks include pronoun pins! A great accessory and fabulous gift! And if you don’t, please share about this on social media. Folks all over should know that this is happening.

Here’s my interview with Iris and Virginia, my questions are in bold:

Tell us a little bit about yourselves and what background you bring to the Cuties coffee bar?

Iris is a genderfluid queer femme who has a background in costume design and the arts. Virginia is a transgender woman who started two online businesses. Her most recent business Tonx was an online subscription service for coffee which sold to Blue Bottle. We’re both from Virginia and we both love hosting. Creating a business around hosting and serving folks seemed very natural to us.

Cooper is their incredibly cute and sweet cat.

Did you start your events before or after you decided to open the coffee bar?

The coffee bar idea came first! We knew the process of finding a location and building out the coffee bar would take time. We also knew that we wanted to provide space and start building community right away so we came up with idea of “Queers, Coffee and Donuts.” It’s a monthly event where all folks on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum and allies can congregate in a low-pressure social environment. There’s no agenda other than inclusion, good strong coffee and delicious homemade donuts.

What has been the part of Cuties that has made you the most proud?

Seeing how loving and supportive this community can truly be makes us incredibly proud. We love watching people connect at events we host. We’ve seen people find new partners, friends, roommates, collaborators… you name it. People are even finding jobs through one another! Our goal with Cuties from the start has been to connect the queer community in LA in a way that’s inclusive and supportive and it seems to be working! Seeing the results fills us up and keeps us moving forward.

What are the challenges you’ve been experiencing with the build out and starting a brick and mortar business?

Everything always takes a lot longer than you think! We had some delays in getting into our space which threw our timeline off but we just put our energy into fundraising and creating more events for the community. We also imagine that there will be some delays with the buildout but we’re trying to schedule padding into our timeline to accommodate for those. It’s a struggle to let go of challenges that come up that we can’t control but over the past year we’ve really seen the power of persistence and incremental work. Even when it doesn’t feel like you’re making progress even the smallest step makes a difference in the long run.

What’s your vision for a day in the life of the Cuties coffee bar?

It’s early. Still dark out. We lift up the security gate and get the shop ready for the morning rush. Sleepy LACC students wander in before their first classes as the sun comes up, folks stop by after morning meditation at Against the Stream, people from the neighborhood come in for their morning pick me up. Slowly as the morning rush dissolves folks start settling in a bit. We have a slow, steady stream of everyone on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum (including allies) coming in and getting served. The afternoon shifts into evening. Some folks are out front in the vestibules cozied up on a date, tables are moved aside and chairs are set up inside and a screening of short films by queer filmmakers or maybe it’s a continuing sex education class or perhaps a Queer Mermaid Meetup. We close up shop after a full day happy knowing that our community had a safer and welcoming space where they could be themselves.

What informed the decision to open in East Hollywood?

The process of finding a space took us almost a full year. We were looking all over the city and saw hundreds of spaces. It was a very Goldilocks experience: this space is too small, this space is too large, this space is too expensive, this space doesn’t have enough infrastructure. The space in East Hollywood seemed to have a lot that was just right. The building is older and has some nice vintage details including dusty rose bricks and white moulding. The space is around 1,200 square feet and fit our budget. It was previously a coffee shop so there’s adequate electricity as well as some good plumbing already in place. We also love the location because we’re right behind LACC, a block away from a Buddhist meditation center. The Braille Institute and the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical center are both close too. While our goal is to center and support queer & trans folks our business is going to be kept afloat by the neighborhood around us.

Dari drinking coffee at Queers, Coffee and Donuts.

What’s on the menu for Cuties?

We’re starting small! You’ll be able to get some pastries and donuts with your coffee. Since so many of our community members are vegan and gluten free we’re featuring goodies from Erin McKenna’s Bakery. We’ve been serving their donuts at Queers, Coffee & Donuts monthly and they are a great option for folks who can’t have Virginia’s very glutinous and decidedly non-vegan donuts. Eventually we’ll start adding some grab and go items like breakfast bagels and sandwiches.

I have noticed that a lot of coffee bars in LA don’t have space for fliers (for real!). Since you’re a community space, what’s your vision for fliers/community message board?

In the shop we’re planning on having nooks for fliers for like events and classes but also informational pamphlets about PrEP or safer sex practices. There will also be bulletin board for people to share services, roommate requests, and more. We’re also excited to feature zines from queer & trans creators and have them on a rack for purchase. The flier nooks, bulletin board and zine racks will be positioned so folks will see them when they pick up their drinks. We’re also dedicated to keeping those resources up to date. It’s such a bummer to see a flyer for a cool event only to find out it was last weekend! We’ll also continue with our promotion of community events and services through our social media accounts and through our newsletter the “Cuties Weekly Brief.”

Check out the IndieGogo for Cuties right at this link (and seriously watch the video even without sound–you’ll see what I’m talking about with groundbreaking pronouns in the subtitles)!

Follow Cuties on Facebook!

Upcoming events for Cuties:

Queer Carnival fundraiser in the new space Sunday, March 26thTristan Taormino is doing a spanking booth, there’s a Shibari tutorial and lots of other fun, and I’m working the door!

Queers, Coffee and Donuts April 9th

I love that Cuties events often encourage optional costumes and Iris will always bring the fabulous costume to other events–like my birthday party! Pictured here with Tristan.

2016-01-14

Remembering Bryn

Second update: I was approached about this piece and asked to do a rewrite that, among other things, altered some language I used, clarified some of my language and directly addressed my interactions with Bryn around Michfest. I’m truly sorry if my piece caused anyone additional pain. The rewrite was reviewed and commented on by two of my friends, Mira Bellwether, who is a trans woman and a Femme, and a genderqueer identified Femme. It is important to me that the work I put out in the world helps the world become more survivable for trans women. It’s very important to me to respect the voices of trans women and work towards the most respectful and loving way to communicate about this devastating loss.

Update: The response to this post has been beautiful and overwhelming. I would love to keep adding links to more memories of Bryn, more of her writing and information about the memorial service on her birthday, February 7th (especially for folks not on Facebook). If you have links to more memories please comment or send me an email queerfatfemme at gmail.

From Sarah Schulman:
Dear Friends and Community:
We will be gathering on February 7 to remember our beloved friend Bryn Kelly, to recognize the beauty and depth of her life and to support each other in our love and grief. Details will be forthcoming from her family, her partner Gaines Parker, and from Kelli Dunham and other friends. Please share this information. Thank you.

Fundraiser for memorial costs.

This Friday Bryn’s birth family will be having services in Huntington WV.
Friday, Jan 22, 12p visiting, 1p service
Expression Church of Huntington
1539 18th St, Huntington, WV 25701
A group of WV/OH folks are attending, feel free to join, it will not be only birth family, you will not be alone.

I woke up this morning to two text messages from friends asking me to call them. I’m a Capricorn, I know a pattern. I know that means another queer friend of mine has passed. We love each other. We’re always in a race to beat Facebook to tell one another the important stuff. I never want someone to have the experience of finding out something devastating like this on Facebook, and I’m glad my friends think so, too.

I’m on West Coast time now, so I know I might always luck out and get a phone call before Facebook, because even though I’m gone from Brooklyn I still have patches on that quilt of Brooklyn queer community (as Quito so aptly said, today we have a Bryn sized hole).

brynhardfrenchnyc2010Bryn in 2011ish at Hard French in NYC.

I talked to Kelli, got the news, and had the awkward and necessary next step of figuring out who I am close to that I want to try to beat to Facebook. Bryn was in my dream a couple of nights ago. Fleeting. And since I had a dream about Glenn and Hana last night (we were on vacation) I took it as the Goddess’ sign that I should call. Glenn asked immediately if it was violence or did she take her own life. We ask these questions because it’s the lived experience of so many of us.

And also so is cancer. Ellie died two weeks ago. I have lost countless friends to cancer, heart attacks, stupid disease stuff and suicide. I am all about body autonomy and the choice whether to live or die is one that everyone should get to make. And at the same time, I’m not even through processing Taueret’s suicide less than a year ago.

bevinglenntaueret2009Found this photo of me, Glenn and Taueret in 2010 at Hey Queen while looking through my archives.

Anyway, I don’t usually eulogize right away but I wanted to make sense of this and also I wanted to let some friends and exes know about Bryn whose contact info I don’t have but who I suspect still read my blog. I use writing to make sense of things and, you know who you are and I hope you didn’t have to find out on Facebook.

brynatparty2010

I met Bryn almost ten years ago at a Mixer party (I think that’s what it was called) at Levi Braslow’s loft apartment. I was immediately captivated by her. She was hard to get to know.
Bryn was a trans woman. I identified with her as a fellow Femme and woman and someone who adored conventional masculinity delivered in a queer way, who loved parties and socializing but wasn’t actually comfortable at parties all the time.
She didn’t tell me she was HIV positive until years after we met (she got progressively more open with the world about it). She moved from rural Ohio to Michigan to New York City, if I’m remembering the whole trajectory. Even though she was from Ohio she was in rural Appalachia and definitely identified strongly with my West Virginia loves. She was queer country, through and through. She also told me moving to NYC when she did saved her life, because of the HIV services available there.

My friend Mamone shared a post Bryn wrote in January, 2015 to the facebook page for the Marshall University LGBTQ Office, in Huntington, West Virginia. Mamone knew her 20 years, from that time in 1996 through to present time Brooklyn. “Hi all. I just wanted to introduce myself. I visited the MU LGBTQ Office when I was a scared teen in 1996, and found tremendous community and support. Now I live in New York, where I am a writer and performing artist. So, if anyone is thinking about grad school or just moving here after graduation, feel free to friend me and ask me questions! Huntington still holds a very special place in my heart. ❤ http://www.brynkelly.com
Bryn emceed and performed at the queer country monthly night in Brooklyn the whole time it was running.

brynsummerspeakeasyoffemme2010At Speakeasy of Femme, a Femme Family event, in 2010?

Bryn was slow to get to know. I was in the phase of my life when we met (around 26/27) that I was quick to make friends. If I thought you were awesome I would trust you right away. She was more like a cat who comes into the room you’re hanging out in, scopes it out, but it takes a long time to hang out and chill. We talked about that, years later, when I realized that my overly trusting nature was getting me fucked over by people. She and I agreed there was probably a healthy middle between her inclination and mine. I wonder if that shifted for her?

She was an Aquarius, like Michelle Tea and Oprah (her words). Her birthday is coming up soon.

We were friends and we liked to party. I have a ton of summer drunk sweaty selfies with her. She was definitely a Winter hibernator. I rarely saw her then.

One of my favorite Femme moments with Bryn was when we were both flirting with the same out of town boy at a party who was hardcore flirty but being kind of vague with both of us. I found out later she eventually took him home. I high fived her when I found out, a win for one is a win for all. A lot of people default to Femme competition but I didn’t feel that way with Bryn.

brynatbuffe2012Me and Bryn at the August 2012 party Buffet.

A homebody who took such great joy hosting dinners and parties with amazing food. I am not a big football fan but anytime she invited me for the super bowl I said yes because of her food. She was the first Femme I knew our age who would cook a pork shoulder and helped me get over my fear of cooking large hunks of meat.

brynchrisokelly2008Bryn doing Chris’ hair for my 30th birthday party, Ascots and Bouffants. Miss you, Chris.

She cut great hair. She was a traveling hair stylist who could come to your house to give a cut. Like many of us who work in the queer community, she offered a sliding scale. She was extremely talented. Bryn eventually got a salon chair and started cutting in her house, which became a more intimate beauty parlor experience.

She was always a late arriver at parties. Going through my photos looking at memories of Bryn, I always know to look towards the end of the photos because Bryn was beyond fashionably late.

brynbunny2009

She was stylish, loved side boob and deep cleavage, had ever shifting hair, usually somewhere between reddish or blonde. For a brief period of time she went brunette and looked a lot like Snow White, she thought it was hilarious when I said that. One time I was late to Submit and saw her outside approaching. Her hair was mermaid blue because she had been experimenting with toner. She is one of the only people who I know who still had a consistent aesthetic even though her hair was always evolving.

brynheathernewyear2010ishThis was a super late night find of Bryn, something like 3AM on New Year’s Eve at Sweet Revenge which is now known as One Last Shag. We hung outside in the snow, drunk, celebrating. Yelling.

She was part of Femme Family–an important part. She trusted us enough to organize with us. She showed up.

Early at a Femme Family organizing meeting she said she had just gone to queer/trans yoga at Third Root and said she felt so free. I just remember the look in her eyes, we were in the lounge at Re/Dress. She was so relaxed and happy. She was usually kind of on edge, socially, as I think she loved being social and like many of us, had some social anxiety.

femmefamily2At the Femme Family coming out party in June 2009.

femmefamily1The other part of some of the organizers of Femme Family at that party.

She was a powerful witch, she was a great gossip and loved to throw shade. She was the kind of person you got dish from and dished to in a beauty parlor way and I knew she both loved me and talked shit about me and… whatever. We were honest with each other. Sometimes we were both Femme wolves who kept to our own and got over ourselves whenever we saw each other. Recently, when I ran into her, she had been up all night doing edibles and she had the sweet glow of someone who was high on socializing and on THC.

brynsweetbitch2008She was so delighted to give me this bottle of Sweet Bitch wine.

My friend Mira pointed out that in reading the eulogies for Bryn, most people knew a lot of Bryn but not all of her and I found that to be the case. She and I were both kitchen witchy but we never practiced together. I knew there was a lot more possible in our friendship but it didn’t all gel.

And then there’s the Michfest stuff. Trans women are women. Period. Folks who read my blog know I’ve been involved in working for trans women’s inclusion at Michfest for over a decade. The organization of the Festival intended that the Festival not include trans women. I’ve been working from the inside, working within a community, trying to change that.

Bryn was working from the outside, participating in Strap on dot org for years and attending Camp Trans, the protest camp across the street from the Festival grounds. The summer of 2008 we were both in Michigan at the same time, and we joyfully reunited at a Camp Trans “love-in across the road from the gate” as she put it. It was an educational and artistic workshop working towards inclusion, where attendees of the Festival were invited to attend. She performed a duet on her recorder with her boyfriend at the time.

Later that week she was given a ticket to the Festival by an attendee who wanted to pay for some trans women to attend the Festival. She came in with her boyfriend and I showed her around, with the joy of getting to show someone I loved a place that I loved. That summer, with lots of trans women on the land, felt like trans women’s inclusion was really possible and so very likely. I truly believed in my heart of hearts the Festival could be inclusive of all women, and I worked hard at it.

Bryn wrote a piece about attending the Festival, read it for a couple of performances and read it for my then podcast FemmeCast. (My audio archives are packed in a box en route to California right now, but I will link to it when I have it.)

Over time, after that Summer, Bryn became less convinced that it was possible and we didn’t have that many more discussions about it. On that issue we ultimately disagreed.

She was an incredible writer and performer, filmmaker and actress. She performed at Gayety, the performance series I curated with Kelli Dunham, and at Rebel Cupcake.
brynheelsonwheels2013After performing together at Heels on Wheels in 2013.

Her breakup with her physically abusive ex Scott Loren Moore a few years back was really hard on her. She did some amazing art about it, including a film for Elizabeth Koke’s epic performance art tribute to Sarah McLachlan’s Fumbling Towards Ecstacy in 2012. She won a Lambda Literary fellowship. She was always up for some deep gay weird art.

brynsweatysummerdrunk2008One of my earliest photos with Bryn. Sweaty, summer drunk, 2008.

I have gathered some links to her writing below, because you should hear from Bryn in her own words if you didn’t know her. She was special and magical and I’m really sad to not be able to read more of her amazing art. Hers was an important voice. She made a difference.

Bryn’s Website
Bryn’s Tumblr
Bryn’s Twitter
Captive Genders on Original Plumbing
Other Balms, Other Gileads
Bryn in the Golden Age of Huslters Video (she also did Kate Bornstein’s hair for the video!)
Dapper Dan and the Rise of the AIDS Punchline
Bryn’s work on Pretty Queer
Bryn was The Hussy on Pretty Queer. I always suspected it was her and she confessed in one of our gossip sessions. It’s good stuff.

bryncelebrationofpersonhood2008In 2008 I had a “Celebration of Personhood (as Opposed to Couplehood)” party on the same date I was originally planning to get married. I made these chicken wings as a reclamation of the chicken wing recipe my fiance and I had used.

I hope that if any of you are ever considering suicide, you consider at least paging through this mini version of Kate Bornstein’s important book Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and other Outlaws.

katebornstein2013ishAuntie Kate.

As someone who gets really internal when I get depressed to the point of suicidal, I need to remember that my self care is a daily choice and is a choice that helps me stay alive. Today, even though I’m still on the road, I went and worked out because it’s the best thing to do to keep my brain functioning away from depression. And it’s deep Winter, a friend just committed suicide and there’s all this change going on. Self care. All the texts with my thirty something Femme friends today are about self care.

bryntaueret2009I posted this photo of me and Taueret and Bryn after Taueret’s suicide last March. I never thought we would lose Bryn to suicide, too.

I’m sending out lots of woo and prayers to Bryn, that her passage to the other realm is smooth and easy. That she feels love and relief and peace. I pray for all of her friends and family, that they be held and know love in this shitty, unfathomable time. That all of her former friends and lovers know peace and light. That we can figure out ways to shift the world so that it is easier on people. That staying alive does not have to be a struggle. That we can destigmatize mental health care. That crisis centers that are financially accessible and queer and gender and fat and disabled friendly develop because we need them.

You are loved.

You are worthy.

You are important.

Please stay.

2015-10-08

Saying Goodbye to NYC: On Leaving, Change, Grief and Anxiety

I have this grief about leaving Brooklyn that hits me in waves. I am profoundly curious and excited about this new chapter in my life. I haven’t experienced a drastic geographic change in 15 years. I’m a totally different person than I was when I left CA. I’m so curious what it is going to be like. But also, I’m bummed about leaving a lot of the things I love about NYC behind. I’m working really hard not to let my grief and anxiety interfere with my ability to love the process and let go of NYC in a mindful way.

bevinatnybgOn my NYC Bucket List was going to the New York Botanical Gardens, which currently features an amazing Frida Kahlo exhibit. It includes fourteen pieces of her artwork and a whole recreation of the gardens of her famed home, Casa Azul.

When I was 29 and my fiance had just broken up with me and I was kind of a disaster, my friend Kelli Dunham gave me a cd about the grief process. I didn’t realize at the time that you could have grief about things that weren’t death. I just thought you powered through yucky feelings by ignoring them. Learning how to deal with grief and anxiety has been a long road and I’m still working through it.

I am going to miss my friends. I’m going to miss all of the tremendous cultural opportunities living in NYC–mostly all of my weirdo Downtown artist friends’ shows. I am going to miss Fall foliage (strategically moving just after foliage, when the gorgeous Gaywitchmas decor lines the streets and just before deep snow times). I’m going to miss the ability to skip car traffic and hop in a subway car to get places. There is grief about leaving that behind.

FridapyramidSince I’m moving someplace in a warm climate I got a lot of great ideas for my future gardens in LA. I love the way the colors of the plants popped against the bright colors of the buildings and pyramid at Casa Azul.

I want to approach this move in a mindful way that is as low stress as it can be. Last night I mentioned to Dara my anxiety level and she’s like “What are you anxious about?” I said, “Um, how about my impending move across the country?” Even the best laid plans and the most time you have to execute them still come with lots of unknown anxieties and that’s kind of buzzing along in the back of my head. I do all the things I know to do to handle my anxiety, including buckets of self care, meditation, faith that the Goddess has a plan for me and is taking care of everything behind the scenes on my behalf and still more self care. Yet still, part of having feelings that are difficult to experience is just acknowledging them. Hi anxiety. You are there still.

So my anxiety is telling me “Do ALL the NYC things you might possibly miss! Schedule ALL the hangouts with your friends! Fill up ALL of your time with moving prep!” But my self care mind is telling me, actually, slow the fuck down you started getting sick this week. Do what you can. It will all be okay. It will all be okay. It will all be okay.

casaazul

Ever since I stopped doing monthly queer parties, I definitely changed how I interact socially. Going through chemo as Dara’s support was a big part of recentering myself towards hanging out at home. At first it was out of necessity and then it became part of how I interacted with the world. I think this is also a product of getting older, and have heard queer friends in their thirties, forties and fifties talk about shifting priorities and not focusing on nightlife for socializing any longer.

There’s also this thing where everyone in NYC is really busy. There’s a necessary hustle to living here because it’s not cheap and my friends tend to be working artists. So they hold down day jobs/day hustles, side hustles, artwork, gigs, rehearsals, etc…

Remember that line in Clueless where Cher’s dad says “Everywhere in LA takes 20 minutes!!” In NYC I think that’s more like 45 minutes. The subway is convenient but it takes awhile, and busses take forever–often they just don’t show up. So if you factor in 45 minutes to get to Crown Heights from South Brooklyn neighborhoods it is hard to squeeze that into an evening. Am I naive to hope that things are a little bit different in a town where most folks drive?

bevinmacvictoriaThe other day I got to do one of my favorite things which was a spontaneous dinner hang with two of my favorite people at once! Mackenzi and Victoria!

I also just got kind of fatigued with how much work it takes to schedule a hang out in NYC sometimes. When people are busy and you get to the third round of times that don’t sync up… This summer I made plans with a couple of friends of mine 2 months out to go to Spa Castle. I totally guarded that time like a precious jewel because it was so hard to get it on the calendar and I wanted to see my friends.

I have also been on a journey to move towards centering self-care into my life–making taking care of myself a priority. Having blank space on my calendar to work on my day job work or my art work is important, it’s also important that I get to the gym, and not to burn myself out running around. Where I used to say yes to everything and fill up my calendar with back to back plans, now I’m more hesitant because I want to conserve my energy for the work I want to be doing in the world. I changed the way I eat, which means I cook for us a lot. It’s much easier and cheaper to eat a whole foods diet* if you cook at home, but that also means I spend a lot of time cooking and cleaning.

nybglilypond

So I had all of these shifts in my life, many of which contributed to my decision to move in the first place, but it also means so many of my precious NYC friends became people I see only every 4 to 6 months.

When I was doing my “should I or shouldn’t I” thinking about moving I realized that if I move away and am still working somewhat bicoastally, I’ll still see my NYC friends about every 4 to 6 months, just in more concentrated doses during visits rather than sporadically during our busy New Yorker lives. I’m hopeful that will work out.

Each time I catch-up with a friend I haven’t seen in 4 to 6 months (or sometimes longer) I am struck at how connections don’t necessarily have to have time limits. I love the experience of having so many friends with whom I have connections that time does not expire. That’s radical, beautiful abundance. It’s kind of weird to be like “Okay, so in the past 6 months all this has happened” with someone who is not a friend from out of town, but that’s a totally legitimate way to sustain connections with people we don’t get to see day to day. And in NYC there are few folks we get to see day to day unless we work or live with them, roll in a crew that prioritizes group hangs, or you see your neighbors often. (I have some neighbors I really love who I rarely see because our schedules don’t overlap.)

meandamandaAmanda moved away from NYC years ago and it is always a joy to get to see her again! Photo by Sarah Jenny.

So in part, my handling of moving anxiety and grief is going with the flow when it comes to getting my last minute NYC enjoyment in. I can’t possibly go to all the museums I’d like to see before I go, I probably won’t get to squeeze everyone before I go. Having an abundance mentality, where I know I can try to see folks as much as possible, putting it out there that I want to have hang outs while I’m decluttering and packing, sending around potluck invites, prioritizing quality time AND self care… Even looking at my life and being able to acknowledge that I’m having grief and anxiety is huge progress compared to who I was just 8 years ago. That’s what I’m experimenting with to handle my grief and anxiety.

That and remembering that I get to see lots of people I love once we are headed to LA. Both on the trip out through the South and once we get there. Life is change, the Goddess is change, and with change comes grief and anxiety.

bevinpyramid

*It is also not cheap to eat a whole foods diet and food justice programs that work towards making whole foods more accessible to low income folks is work I really admire and want to amplify. Do you do food justice work and want my help amplifying? Please get in touch!

2015-05-20

On Activism, Capacity and Seeing Yourself as “Enough”

I’ve been thinking a lot about capacity, self care and activism lately.

This morning I got one of my daily spiritual emails* that talked about directing our energies without regard to the need to be successful in an outward way. It told a story about Mother Teresa, who was asked why she devoted herself to such a massive problem as alleviating the suffering of the poor, when obviously she wasn’t going to solve poverty. Where did she get her dedication, “knowing that all the poverty and sickness would still be there long after she had died? Didn’t she realize she couldn’t win?”

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“Her explanation was simple: Of course she knew the task was immense, but “finishing” wasn’t her purpose.” Since Mother Teresa was a person of faith, she was willing to do what she believed was the right action for her, regardless of the outcome. She was focused on the task itself, not the completion of it.

This resonated with me today, as I’ve been focusing on learning my capacity for work, developing systems of self care, and thinking about activist burn out. I think the tendency as one is socialized in systems of oppression, is to give and give of oneself until there is nothing left. This is a value often taught to women, the idea that you have to put everyone else’s needs before your own.

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Activist movements, as in almost all things, can suck you dry—there is always more to be done, more people to reach out to, more actions to plan, more art to make, more reaching out. But at a certain point you have to be able to say, this is my limit. But we’re not socialized in a way to know what our limits are, to think thoughtfully about our capacity, and how to use self care in order to build our capacity. We’re not socialized to be able to say, “Enough, I can’t do this any longer.” I’ve seen it wear down on people until disease forces them to make big life changes.

I had to learn how to start saying no to things, how to learn how to ask folks for time to respond to them (I usually take at least 24 hours to say yes or no to volunteer work), and how to assess whether I wanted to continue working on things that were pulling a lot of my energy. I have flares of my chronic digestive disorder whenever I start getting really stressed out emotionally or with work.

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Today I went for a walk on Venice Beach. My partner is in LA for a work conference and I got to stay with her at the conference hotel. I’m so grateful for a super flexible day job where I can work remotely from a hotel! I took an hour and a half off for lunch and a drive to the beach. I was very charmed by the beach but so troubled by the amount of trash that was washing ashore. I grew up as a Girl Scout in Northern California and we were always doing eco events, picking up trash in wetlands and things like that. It’s a great way to have intimacy with nature and be of service.

Whenever I’m in nature I can’t help it, I just start picking up trash. I get so troubled by seeing it, imagining plastic wrappers wrapping around the necks of birds and things like that. I am 36 years old, I’ve been hearing about environmental conservationism my entire life. It feels so sad that beach clean-up and litter in the ocean is still an ongoing issue. And don’t get me started about the Pacific Trash Vortex. I can’t even.

17721574790_ee6a1b7bc8_zSome kind of corporate stress ball that looked like it could have been a jellyfish from afar. The weirdest trash I found today was an empty bottle of Patron Silver.

My brain is wired in this way where I just start to go there, I think about how big the problem is, how futile it feels for me to walk on the beach and pick up trash without a trash bag. Just gathering things in a found Starbucks cup or precariously clutching them in my paws. I had to think about what I was doing with my time. Was I going to spend my entire walk on the beach picking up litter? Or would I take the relaxing walk I had originally intended?

I decided to asses my capacity and go from there. So I focused with the intensity of a Capricorn for two ten minute bursts, and spend the rest of my thirty or so minutes on the beach in contemplation of birds in the surf and walking along. It felt like a great way to put into practice just doing something I felt called or compelled to do, without regards to the fact that my twenty minutes of litter removal was not even a drop in the bucket compared to trash island. I needed to see it as good enough and let go of the outcome.

17906139372_6e7f32ce97_zI’m obsessed with this bird. Did it ever find the fish it was looking for today? It didn’t the whole time I watched it but I hope it found something delicious later on.

I want to be the kind of person in the world who is of service, and also a person who enjoys life. I think that enjoying life and being person who is receptive to good in the world makes me better able to dismantle systems of oppression that say that fat people, queer people, and women, folks raised working class should not be free to enjoy their bodies. That by being a living example of a fat, embodied, sexually liberated person enjoying life is a form of activism. And that enjoying life is a way of increasing my capacity to do good.

I also know that I can use my privilege as a White person, a person with higher education, a cisgender person, temporarily able bodied, some level of “pretty privilege**,” and a person who has access to media privilege to help causes that are important to me. I never believed that by posting a blog post about Lyme Disease that I was going to somehow cure it. But I did know that by raising awareness of it, encouraging even one of my followers to watch that documentary about Lyme might make someone more sensitive to it and make the experience of Lyme for someone they know easier because someone “gets it.” That’s something. Or maybe just one of my readers has $50 to throw at my friend Jessica’s Lyme fund.

17288704433_242a2f15b2_zWhen I’m a rich lesbian I will have lots of money to give to all sorts of great organizations doing good in the world, and will create a foundation dedicated to funding projects that mainstream funders avoid–like fat stuff, radical queer stuff, sex worker organizing–and building capacity in those movements to make them more effective and support their self care matrixes. Also I will have a baller house on the beach and all those windows will have a giant mural that says “All bodies are worthy of love exactly as they are.”

It can feel so daunting to be an activist and want to work to make the world better. To get stuck in spirals of inactivity because you don’t feel effective. To get stuck in spirals of inactivity because you’re depressed, anxious, need to focus on making money or just survival and feeling so helpless. Getting used to seeing what you are doing as enough, learning that because you are human you are worthy of love and it’s not about what you “do” that matters it’s more about who you are.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the matrix of success lately, as I struggle through yet another round of letting go of my need to “accomplish” and “prove my worth.” I spent an entire session in therapy trying to talk about how I can get more done and my therapist arguing with me about how I am way too hard on myself. I have had to go through this so many times in my life and it usually ends up the same. I learn to let go of how much I accomplish, learn to feel worthy in spite of my ideas of success, and release blocks that enable me to find deep bursts of energy, creativity and the ability to work more effectively.

That airplane idea about putting your oxygen mask on first before helping others? I want to help create movements with folks where that is the norm and we help each other learn what our oxygen is.

17722918699_c035db8ea3_zLearning about my self care and what is effective self care has been really important for my journey to building my capacity and refilling my tank. Being at the beach really helps me. Such cleansing energy, with the wind (air), earth (sand), water (obvs) all that is missing is fire for a full four element cleanse.

*The one I am referring to is Today’s Gift from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, which supports my work in a twelve step program for families and friends of alcoholics. I also get a daily email Note from the Universe which is super cute and whimsical.

**It feels really weird to say that you have pretty privilege when you are talking about yourself. I have so much to talk about in a subsequent post about that, but there’s definitely an element of being someone who has some level of conventional attractiveness that affects your privilege in the world, even as a fatty.

2015-04-24

You Should Read Michelle Tea’s Book How To Grow Up

I love Michelle Tea. I can’t say much more than at 22 years old I read Valencia and finally found a literary voice that sounded like my own. Kind of breathless excitement about life, stories and a fascination with other people and my feelings and how they affected one another. Reading Michelle Tea told me I could be a published writer, too. It also told me I could maybe one day be an artist and have an amazing group of inspirational kind of reckless friends and all of those things came to pass.

How to Grow Up is her latest memoir. I have read much of her work over the years and I think it is my favorite. Her writing has evolved a bit, it’s still chatty like a friend telling you a story over coffee rather than writing a story and letting you read it. But the sentences are tighter, shorter and the sentiments are clearer. Also, she has a lot of really deep self-reflection and self-compassion that sharpens what she says through lessons learned. It is familiar to her early work but it is a different and more developed literary voice.

It’s written in essays, which makes it easy to read in chunks, but it is also very difficult to put down!

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I thought at first that the book was basically going to be an almagamation of her great column in xoJane Getting Pregnant with Michelle Tea. (I remember a road trip a couple of years ago where I would take breaks from driving at gas stations and read a couple of articles on my phone.) I was totally wrong about that, the pregnant stuff is only a couple of chapters and it is in a more nuanced, self-reflective tone than the columns.

Her book covers so many topics like doing the work on yourself so you stop dating people who stomp all over your heart, going to Paris fashion week, deciding whether or not to drop being a full-time artist in exchange for steady employment, getting over a huge break-up, having a wedding without spending a fortune, and so much more. I related to so much of it on such a deep level.

1937764487_495d6304f0_zIn November 2007, I had just been dumped by my fiance. I was devastated. My friend Mamone was in DC (I was in NYC) at the Sister Spit show and, knowing what a huge Michelle Tea fan I was, asked the group to pose with this sign to make me feel better! It was such a wonderful gift to receive this photo!

If you out there are reading this blog post, I think you should buy Michelle’s book How to Grow Up. However, these people in particular are going to love it:

Working class folks.

I love how much Michelle Tea talks about money, her feelings about it, growing up working class and oh my goddess how being an artist with an uncertain income is affected by that working class upbringing. I have never read anyone talk about the intersections of those two realities about money–working class/poor childhood and taking the leap to freelancing. It is scary as shit and I need a lot of tools in order to navigate this. I’ve already begun using one of her tools, which is to invite her higher power into

Spiritually curious people.

Michelle opens up about her spirituality, including a Stevie Nicks higher power that helps her through things. Tarot readings, how she meditates, explores Buddhism and explains some Buddhist principles in terms of hilarious real life examples of her love life. She also talks about how meditation has really helped her navigate life with more stillness. And the weird fears we get when we venture into a new kind of deeply religious or woo place with ritual and worrying about getting it “right.” I related so intensely to that I put that sentence in “we” and I’m not going to edit it.

I’m a super spiritually curious person, I’m always interested in hearing folks spiritual practice and woo modalities, so I loved that thread throughout the book.

XO-lv4KJThis amazing photo was taken by my friend Sophie Spinelle of Shameless Photography fame.

12 Step People.

I’m paraphrasing Michelle in a blog post I can’t find that I read a few years ago that she breaks the 11th tradition of AA about being anonymous at the level of press, radio, TV and films–being transparent about where her tools for sobriety came from–because she couldn’t have gotten sober without it. Not telling people about her work in AA would be like lying and acting like she could have done it all on her own.

Anyway, she has so many great recovery gems going on in the book in some ways I felt like I was reading really engaging sobriety stories. I found a lot of good tools for my work in my own 12 step program (for family and friends of alcoholics) and I will recommend this book to my pals in recovery.

I have been thinking a lot about whether or not people who don’t like 12 step language or tools would be put off by the book and I don’t really think so. (I know a lot of folks who had parents or former partners in recovery who have been really damaged by recovery language and don’t like it.) It doesn’t overwhelm the content, and if you take what you like and leave the rest you’ll still enjoy it.

Political people like queers or femmes who critique the fashion industrial complex but also love it.

There’s a whole chapter about Michelle buying her first designer piece, a leather hoodie, and all of the feelings that come up about it from her working class background and history being a vegan punk. How her deeply committed political beliefs are complex and how she had to learn to lighten up a little in order to actually enjoy life and eat enough food to live off of. Um, also there’s a whole chapter about Michelle deciding whether or not to get BOTOX.

20150212_015937Macy’s ankle broke while I was reading the book.

On a personal note, this was the first time I read a Michelle Tea book and actually knew some of the people she talked about because our queer worlds are very small. I had always wondered if I would read a Michelle Tea book one day and know people in real life, and then it happened. Knowing who they were did not change how I perceived them independently of the book and also it did nothing for deepening the story since Michelle writes very well from her own perspective and experience. I kind of thought if I knew someone and read about them it would be a thing but it wasn’t.

(I am always curious about how people talk about people they know and use pseudonyms and all of that because of my blog and the memoir I’m working on. My privacy ethics are very nuanced after years of blogging, but I still sometimes feel nervous about people’s reactions to being in print.)

I highly encourage everyone to buy Michelle Tea’s How to Grow Up and savor it. You will love it.

And then consider picking up Valencia because it rules.

2015-04-20

We Need to Be Talking About Lyme Disease in the Queer Community

I’ve been trying to find a way to talk about Lyme Disease and how it affects the queer community. I grew up a woodsy outdoorswoman going to Girl Scout Camp in Northern California with signs that warn of deer ticks carrying Lyme disease. I saw the signs that told us to do tick checks, as a camp counselor I’ve coordinated big groups of young people in looking for ticks and being aware of them. I know to seek medical attention if you see a bullseye rash, especially if you get a fever or aches following exposure to a tick bite. (The CDC has a guide to symptoms of tickborne illness, if you’re lucky enough to know you got bitten.)

I’ve heard that only 20% of folks with Lyme Disease had a tick bite that was identifiable. It’s a disease that sneaks up on you, is vastly underreported and very difficult to test for. (It’s estimated that the cases of Lyme Disease are actually 10 times higher than what is reported.) Because of these factors it is really difficult to get a diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan. Insurance companies and the US Government are both very unwilling to concede to the actual appropriate treatments for Lyme Disease, doctors lose their license for treating it effectively, paying out of pocket for treatments is wildly expensive… This is a very scary, very real and very deadly thing that is happening to more and more people.

Over the years I’ve known a few queers with Lyme Disease. I’ve connected with some about treatment as they’ve used a similar anti-inflammatory food plan as I have, or who have battled candida overgrowth like I did because of the mammoth amount of anti-biotics used to treat Lyme.

small_selfportrait_sunX400Photo of Leslie Feinberg from Advocate.com. Have you read Stone Butch Blues yet? You should.

Ever since Leslie Feinberg died from Lyme Disease, I’ve known we need to talk more about Lyme Disease in the queer community. I didn’t know how to have that conversation, so I just started to bone up and educate myself.

I watched the documentary Under Our Skin, free streaming on You Tube, which according to folks I know with Lyme, it is an accurate portrayal of what it’s like to seek treatment for Lyme Disease and it is shitty. It’s the kind of helpless I feel when I see really big world problems that need solutions. But I know what I do have control over and that’s learning more about it, asking questions and opening conversations.

Here’s the trailer for Under Our Skin:

Under Our Skin – Trailer from Open Eye Pictures on Vimeo.

Here’s a link to the whole documentary on you tube.

I also watched the Punk Singer, the Kathleen Hanna documentary by Sini Anderson. Kathleen opens up about her Lyme Disease and how it affects her life. It’s a really powerful double feature. The Punk Singer is available on Netflix and to buy on iTunes. (It’s great in addition to the Lyme content to hear about the Riot Grrrl movement, see great interviews with queer heroes like Lynnee Breedlove.)

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Here’s the trailer:

I may not know what to say about Lyme except, I’m here and I’m listening and reading about the disease and experiences of those with the disease. And I want more people to listen to folks with Lyme and hear them. And see them, and help them be part of the queer community even if they physically can’t be there.

4116744_1428627138.8138Photo from Jessica’s Lyme Treatment Fund.

My friend Jessica Scarlett and her wife Nik are fundraising $9,000 for her Lyme treatment. Maybe you have a few extra bucks for a stranger or maybe you know them from somewhere on the internet, like both of their really awesome art and etsy stores. NikScarlett.com
Jessica’s vintage collections and sales are the coolest.

I met Jess when I was a baaaaby gay in Sacramento, CA in the late nineties and Nik when I moved to Philly. They are a really cool couple and battling a really shitty disease.

I’ve also followed Fran Varian’s battle with late-stage Lyme Disease for years, as she is an incredible writer and femme so many folks I know have adored for a long time. The thank you letter up on her Help Heal Fran website is a poignant article about living as a queer with a chronic, expensive illness.

franindiPhoto of Fran Varian from HelpHealFran.org

The below passage from that piece really hit me. I think a lot of Femmes participate in queer community from a place of giving–but it is so hard to be Femme and in a place of needing help sometimes. We have this notion about ourselves as Femme that we have to be resilient warriors doing it on our own.

Before I knew that I was sick I was proud to be an activist. I worked for social justice in the health care industry and I donated my time to teach kids about poetry. I read and I performed at fund raiser after fund raiser. I wrote and spoke extensively with the earnest hope of making a difference in someone else’s life. Before I became sick I held a deeply-rooted belief that it is noble to give of one’s self and shameful to require gifting, though I never would have said that out loud.

Now I think differently. And because my body does not frequently cooperate and allow me to physically accomplish all of the things I want to I have a lot more time to think. Before late stage Lyme became my daily reality I allowed the pride I felt in being helpful and in giving to define me. I thought it said something about me. Unlearning that vanity has been almost as difficult as learning how to live each day with a daunting, progressive illness.

Avril Lavigne was on the cover of People Magazine last week coming out about her retreat from the spotlight while she underwent extensive Lyme Disease treatment. It’s awesome when celebrities bring awareness to it. Wealthy folks obviously have a different experience with treatment because they have access to funds for treatment insurance doesn’t cover. But still, the more awareness people have about it and the more we talk about it the more we can turn the tide of these awful insurance companies and maybe move closer to single payer healthcare/government run medical coverage for everyone.

Do you have an awesome Lyme resource to share? An article you read and resonated? A documentary, video, blog? Leave the link in the comments!

(I had some cool ones on my facebook fan page, but I’m still locked out of Facebook pending giving them a government id to their satisfaction).

2014-12-05

Black Lives Matter–Aggregating Information and Resources for White Folks to act in Solidarity

I’ve been feeling really impotent around the recent injustice where white policemen killed unarmed black men and grand juries failed to indict them. This is not a new story. There has been systemic killing and imprisonment of Black folks for a very long time.

IMG_20141205_125422From the Instagram feed of Mx Justin Vivian Bond at last night’s NYC protests.

Two songs keep running through my head the last week since the Ferguson grand jury failed to indict, the verse of the 1983 Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel song White Lines that goes “A street kid gets arrested, gonna do some time/He got out three years from now just to commit more crime/A businessman is caught with 24 kilos/He’s out on bail and out of jail/And that’s the way it goes/Raah!”

And the song by Le Tigre, Bang Bang! where they count the bullets that police shot into unarmed African immigrant Amadou Diallo in 1999, I just keep counting to 41. “There is no fucking way this is not about race./Who’s gonna call 911/When they can’t tell a wallet from a motherfucking gun?”

I feel really impotent because I don’t really believe the system is going to change and I don’t know what to do. Some people take to the streets and protest. I get really freaked out in huge crowds, especially protests. So while other people are taking to the streets to protest I’m wondering what to do to act in solidarity with Black folks and talk about the fact that Black lives matter and the disproportionate imprisonment of Black folks and the killing of Black folks by police officers is genocidal and it is wrong.

I think “justice” system is a misnomer. This shit has happened again and again why is it still happening? Why are the prosecutors who work with the NYPD all the time responsible for grand jury indictments? Why aren’t we addressing systemic racism in the police force? Why aren’t these police officers being imprisoned for murder? This article kind of sums up how I feel about the “justice” system, with the exception that I took criminal law and it made me sick to my stomach to realize criminal prosecution is basically a chess game where people’s lives are at stake.

What seems different now is that there is more more public outrage than ever before and more movement. Yesterday I saw a white plus size model I follow on instagram post about her outrage about the Ferguson grand jury and the Eric Garner grand jury results. I realized that by not saying anything I was not doing anything. So I needed to at least say something.

Something I know that I have the ability to do is signal boost, so here are some of the writings, actions and movements that have meant something to me that I want to bring to my readers. It’s important to keep reading and staying engaged in things, even when we feel powerless. There are still things to do. Maybe the system won’t change but we can open up people near us. We can call in folks who are doing and saying racist things, especially right now.

As Chris Rock tweeted, “Just found a new app that that tells you which one of your friends are racist. It’s called Facebook. #FergusonDecision”

December 18thHealing Justice for Black Lives Matter: Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha started this by deciding to donate all of her proceeds from tarot readings the day of December 18th to the Black Lives Matter movement. She has catalyzed healers from all over the US to do the same (now they’re up to 50+ healers, in NYC, Toronto, Chicago, Oakland, Minneapolis, etc…). Check out the ever evolving event page to connect with folks in your town or who are offering herbal medicines, etc… to benefit this cause.

Read the Herstory of the Black Lives Matter Movement: It was started by three queer Black women and has since been twisted and co-opted. Know the herstory when you use the hashtag.

Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.

10835209_827282524012516_9146511200801306480_oFrom the Humans of New York Facebook page.

Check your language, and speak out even when it’s scary: I like when folks remind us that Stonewall was a “rebellion” not a “riot”–language matters in these movements and I think that the Ferguson protest was/is a rebellion. I also think it’s important to continue to signal boost Black lives matter. Sure, every human is worth dignity, but right now Black folks are being targeted, and we’re acting in solidarity with them.

Read 12 Things White People Can Do Because, Ferguson: “I am challenging white people to consider carefully whether failing to speak out or act because of those fears is justified when white silence and inaction mean the oppression and death of black people.”

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Read about Monica Jones: Monica Jones is a Black transwoman who was arrested last year just for walking down the street by two undercover cops. The cops decided that because she was a Black transwoman she was soliciting sex work. This article breaks down “Walking while trans” as “a succinct summation of the interconnected biases against trans women (and trans people more broadly, sometimes called transphobia) and against people who trade sexual services for money or other things (sometimes called whorephobia) and bound up in that special sauce of racism.” Further, it talks about why it’s so important that Monica Jones is fighting back.

She was just deported this week by Australia when she arrived for a speaking engagement in a way that seemed clearly pre-meditated by Australian Immigration Officials.

Read about why our “justice” system is not about justice. If you’re feeling apathetic about what is going on, it should rile you up.

If you get freaked out about talking to people about racism, confronting folks or calling them in, read this masterpost about talking about Ferguson. It’s dense and full of info, and you need to give it some time, but it could really help you have these conversations that are scary and hard. It’s important to confront racism when you read it (on facebook) or hear it (at work/in your family/etc). As white allies, it is important to not just say we’re allies but do the work.

We want to give you tools to support that work and that dialogue. If you’re facing tough questions from friends, family, colleagues, or even perfect strangers, we hope this will help you answer them. We need to collectively build support and awareness to build a better society, and part of that means challenging those who assume “we are already there,” exposing those who would further marginalize already disenfranchised communities, and educating those who do not see why any of these things are issues in the first place.

Redistribute wealth: If you have means and want to redistribute wealth to help the grass roots folks on the ground, this google doc has info on various 501(c)(3)s mobilizing to help.

I was really moved by what the widow of Eric Garner had to say about the officer’s “apology” for killing her husband. So far the video has already got over 5 million views. If you can’t watch a video there’s a transcript here.

“No, I don’t accept his apology. No, I could care less about his condolences,” she continued. “He’s still working. He’s still getting a paycheck. He’s still feeding his kids, when my husband is six feet under and I’m looking for a way to feed my kids now.”

Marianne Williamson wrote a great article about the deficit America has regarding race relations after the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson.

We need to apologize, and we need to make genuine amends. America needs to pay long overdue war reparations, and until we do, we will not move forward in any meaningful way. America needs more than forgiveness; we need genuine repentance, and restitution for our national sins.

A black person is killed by police every 28 hours. We need to do something. Confronting racism in our workplaces, families, communities, everywhere is something we can do to begin to create change.

In the words of my friend Mizz June, “Fight darkness with light. Combat rage with love. Unexpected reactions create change.”

If you have other articles/resources that have things white folks can do about racism, please post them in the comments.

2014-07-16

Macy’s Surgery and the Power of Showing Up Imperfectly

The first time I visited my beloved Shih Tzu, Macy, after her ruptured disc surgery, I freaked out. I didn’t even realizing visiting in a vet hospital was a thing but once I found out I could do it I knew I’d be there every day. Macy’s there for me through thick and thin, I knew I needed to be there for her.

I couldn’t visit until the day after her surgery. When I went in, they put me in the same exam room we had seen the veterinary neurologist for her initial consultation, watching Macy painfully hobble around the room. Now I was in the room alone, waiting for Macy, who wasn’t even 18 hours post-op.

The vet tech brought her into the room cradled in a towel and set her in my lap. He left and I was staring at Macy. I didn’t expect her to look so crappy. There was the obvious stuff that I had never thought about, like the rectangle shaved over her spine with the frankenstein stitches woven across. But then there was the stuff I didn’t expect; the pleading, confused look in her eyes and the sour smell of a dog that has gone through it and bathing isn’t in the cards just yet.

IMG_20140708_161532Our first visit post-op.

I felt panic and shock as I held her. I began calculating in my mind how quickly I could leave. They said I could visit not that I had to. Would she even notice if I was gone? Did my being there matter?

This panic lasted for about a minute and I started to talk some sense into myself. I am the kind of person who believes we are more than just our bodies—our spirits matter. If I was in a coma I think I could still sense that people were in the room with me and that my loved ones would matter to me. I know that Macy’s consciousness isn’t developed in the same way as mine, but I also know that me showing up for her would matter in some way I couldn’t explain.

So I stayed. I sat with her, in a way we don’t usually do in our day to day lives. Quietly, lap sitting, togetherness. No TV, no work, no distractions. I cried a bunch, I told her it was going to be okay, and while doing so was half telling myself. I showed up for Macy.

20140713_190929I really appreciated everytime the hospital brought Macy in with a flamboyant blanket or towel because I felt like they really saw my gender.

I’m never really positive how Macy feels about me. She’s not a lap sitting dog, with the exception of butch laps. With me she prefers to be four feet away at all times—when I work she sits in her bed four feet to my right. When I cook she sits in the kitchen four feet away and watches me. When I’m in the living room she’s on the couch just out of arm’s reach. Sometimes I get a complex about how little she wants to snuggle me and how much she wants to snuggle Dara.

In the week after her surgery I visited Macy every single day. Some days we just sat together, some days we worked on physical therapy exercises her neurologist showed us. I got daily calls after her neurological exam. She stopped making physical progress for a few days (the vets expected this) but when I visited I could tell things shifted for her. One day she was much more “herself” again. Later she seemed to almost get excited about things, especially when I started bringing in high value snacks like chicken and sausage. I was glad I was visiting because I could tell from her spirit progress that was different than the surgeons.

20140709_143004 (1)This is Macy’s little walking tool–it’s a harness for her back legs to keep her moving and give her practice using her back legs as she acclimates to mobility.

It’s been really difficult during this time because my girlfriend is going through radiation therapy for breast cancer on the Upper East Side. If you don’t know NYC geography, she’s basically an hour away via train. She got an apartment around the corner from her radiation hospital so she wouldn’t have to endure a daily commute for her daily hour long radiation appointments. It’s sucked so much to not be able to be supporting her as I thought I would be doing this month, and to not have her support during Macy’s recovery. We did squeeze in a visit one night (benefits of the hospital being open 24 hours) and another visit the next day where we did some good walk therapy. Macy loves her Dad and will always come when Dara calls.

20140711_170632Dara’s mom was in town and came to visit Macy, too.

My initial discomfort with seeing Macy in the hospital really got me thinking about the power of showing up for people in their time of need. Showing up sloppily, imperfectly, but with a big heart and good intentions. It matters.

The shock of seeing Macy in that condition reminded me of how folks must have felt the first time they saw Dara with a bald head after the chemo hair loss began. How hard it must be to see how tired and out of it she gets. It’s easier for me because I’ve watched this happen gradually, but it is difficult for folks to witness it when they haven’t seen her for a few months.

Sitting in your own discomfort with shock and change, having faith that you’ll get through it is an incredibly powerful gift you can give to the folks in your life who are suffering.

I’ve seen how important it has been to Dara’s spirits during recovery from surgery, chemo and now raidation for her friends to show up for her. Sometimes all she can do is sit and watch TV with people but it means a great deal and definitely puts her in a better mood.

IMG_20140714_113430The hospital was really amazing and sent me photos of Macy in her crate.

People have been showing up for me in the past nine months in amazing ways. Little texts of, “Thinking about you, sending woo/prayers/love,” make me smile. I think that positive energy has so much power and being thought of is really nice. Folks have brought meals. Folks who keep inviting me out even though I haven’t been able to go out as much and often have to decline—it’s nice to be remembered. The people who relentlessly play phone tag with me in order to have a catch-up. It all matters.

Dara convinced me to take a few friends up on their offer to pitch in for Macy’s astounding medical costs, the whole thing is in excess of $7,000. When I first heard the price tag of what it might cost (we had to pay for a $1500 MRI to find out if she even needed surgery), I couldn’t even fathom how I was going to pay for it. I was lucky enough to know I could borrow the money. However complicated I felt about asking for help with pet medical expenses, I knew I had to open myself to whatever help we could get. We raised $500 in the first 24 hours, and it’s already up to nearly $2,000 a week later.

MacyEstimateThis is the initial estimate of her prognosis–the low end was if we only got the MRI, the high end was if we got surgery. It didn’t include the vet visits and blood work leading up to surgery.

And the thing about crowd fundraisers? It’s about opening the channels to letting people support you. I feel like sometimes we pass around the same $20 to each other when we need it. I think it’s amazing. Katie from Empowering Astrology blew my mind when she told me that money is just energy in 3D form. She’s totally right—we’re passing energy to each other. The person who donated $2 and said they wished they could pay for the whole surgery—that meant so much to me.

My BFF Spunky told me when I thanked her for donating to Macy’s fundraiser, “It’s literally the least I can do.” Because our friends, especially our far away friends, often want to show up for us in tangible ways that they can’t do. But money is energy. And for me, going through this, knowing that a great deal of the financial burden is taken care of? That blows my mind. It has enabled me to take some of the stress off the shelf and focus on caring for my beloved Macy.

It can be so hard to think that what you are able to do is not enough for your friend or loved one. I had no idea whether visiting Macy in the puppy hospital mattered to her or not, especially in those moments when I had to give her back to the vet techs. Saying goodbye was awful. It wasn’t perfect that I could only be there for an hour, or a half an hour, or whatever, but it was something. I had to trust it was going to help her get better and not feel so lonely.

IMG_20140714_145911Me with Macy on Monday when I got to take her home after a week in the hospital!

Since Macy was discharged on Monday I can’t leave my bedroom (where she stays in a playpen on bed rest for at least the next week) for five minutes without her barking her scared, “Please don’t leave me alone” bark. The vet said it’s normal for dogs who were in the hospital for a long time to feel really anxious and have a difficult transition home. What I’m realizing is that Macy missed being four feet away from me at all times just as much as I missed her being close to me. And I realize it mattered that I showed up for her.

2014-04-18

Six Strategies to Not Care When People Stare at You

When my girlfriend started to go through chemotherapy, she shaved her head. She didn’t want to start losing her rock star style shaggy hair in great clumps so she figured she’d go bald on her own. She doesn’t shy away from flamboyance, so she did a whole head shaving party and got our buddy Khane Kutzwell from Camera Ready Kutz to do a whole fancy design, that you can see in the below video.

Shortly thereafter, folks started staring at her more than they used to. Especially as her hair thinned and she slowly went bald. She worried, when it got really obvious that she was balding, about what other people were thinking about her.

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I could relate to how she was feeling. I used to constantly stress out about what people thought about me, even when I was a more run of the mill fat girl when I was a late teenager and in my early twenties. (I did my best to blend in, but it’s hard when you’re 5’7” and fat.) As I started to come more into my own, I started dressing more flamboyantly and now I get noticed a lot. It’s actually kind of a relief in New York City because you get less stares when you look like a weirdo than you do outside of the city. I often forget how conspicuous I am until I travel.

13513393314_3d9cd2f604_zPhoto I took in a bathroom on a road trip through small towns when I realized people were staring at me and I remembered that I usually stick out.

A lot of folks do the long look to try to decide what’s going on with someone when they look unusual. And that’s way more noticeable when you’re not used to it. It feels weird. And when Dara started to notice it, she felt uncomfortable and insecure about it.

I surprised myself by rattling off a bunch of strategies she could use to get more comfortable with being conspicuous. So here, dear readers, is a cheat sheet for how to stop caring about what strangers think about you.

This is, of course, just strategies for your perceptions of people looking at you. This list doesn’t address the real danger of homophobic, transphobic, misogynist, femmephobic, ageist, sizist, antisemetic, racist, anti-erotic street harassers and jerks out there. For my readers out there blooming as the gorgeous weirdo flowers you are I send a lot of love and protective energy to you.

1. It’s not about you.

I like to remember that everyone in the world is running their own race. What that means is that everyone is on their own journey and you don’t actually know what’s going on in their mind. We’re all living in a beligerent society that commodifies insecurity. It teaches us to hate ourselves and our bodies. When I was at my most insecure, I rarely paid attention to anyone else except if it was in a way that I would put my own self down.

I would hazard to guess that most folks who you think are looking at you aren’t actually noticing you. And if they are noticing you and passing judgment or having thoughts about you, it doesn’t affect your value one bit.

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to work on your own value internally. How much you are worth isn’t decided by the woman standing behind you at Starbucks who won’t stop looking at you. Even if she is judging you, which she might not be, her scowl could just be about how she’s not sure she can actually afford to pay her light bill and she’s wondering if this latte is a good idea.

If you’re familiar with the Four Agreements, I like to remember the second agreement in times like this. “Don’t take anything personally.”

2. Pretend they are thinking you are beautiful.

I read a tweet from Our Lady J that changed my life. She said something to the effect of pretending like the people staring at her were thinking she was beautiful. So many people might be looking at you because you’re beautiful but you might not have the ability to agree with them so you’re assuming it’s a negative judgment when it might actually be something positive.

I really like the call to assuming people’s best intentions and an affirmation of your own beauty if you can go there. And also, sometimes negative body comments are a way of masking folks’ own discomfort at finding nonconformative bodies attractive. That is really complicated for people.

Our_Lady_J_8Photo of Our Lady J by Santiago Felipe.

3. Remove your judgments about other people.

I believe true change on a global level starts from the personal. If you can transform the way you think it will help transform the world. I think this is true for how you feel about other people.

I used to comment internally on people’s bodies. I grew up wildly focused on my own body. Now I work hard to be really neutral with myself about my own body, but I had to stop my internal chatter about other people’s bodies before I could apply it to myself. When I found myself saying, “That person is thin, I wish I was more like that,” I would stop myself and remind myself of my core value: All bodies are good bodies.

We live in a society that teaches us that it is okay to pass judgment and value other bodies in hierarchical ways. The media is constantly critiquing people’s bodies and appearance–it’s so difficult to step away from that programming!

If you can replace criticism with compassion for other people it will transform the way you feel about yourself. Once I started learning more about how to apply compassion in my own life (I talk about this in the April write-up with Empowering Astrology) I mellowed out a lot and cared much less about what other people were thinking about me.

13416539085_5c6b735962_zDara’s alien as it started to fade.

4. Work on your own perception of yourself.

From about age 8-13 I was bullied relentlessly. I absorbed those terrible things kids and adults said about me and my body. I became the worst bully of myself and started a constant internal chatter of criticism. I believed those things. It took years and years of choosing to rearrange my thoughts to not berate myself.

Accepting and then eventually loving myself took a lot of time and intention on how to think about my body and then eventually my own self worth. There are a million strategies for this (I offer body liberation coaching to help folks work on loving their bodies), but one of my favorites is below.

Piggybacking on removing judgment about other people in number 3 above, is removing your own judgment. Often we look for things to reinforce the thoughts we already have. Our thoughts are incredibly powerful. When you walk around thinking about how awful your body is, that is what you reinforce with your thoughts about what other people are thinking about you–a toxic feedback loop!

Instead, try replacing your negative thoughts with positive affirmations. The deal with affirmations is that they are statements that may not be true in the present but that you will eventually begin to believe the truth of. (See Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life.)

Some good affirmations that you can splice into your thoughts when you get caught up berating your own body or worrying about what other people think of you are:

I approve of myself.
All bodies are good bodies.
I love myself.
My body is wonderful.
I am beautiful and smart and that is how everyone sees me.

5. Wear sunglasses.

As a nightlife performer in New York City–where venues with proper dressing rooms are a luxury–I have had to learn how to not worry about people openly staring at me because I’m wearing a weird costume and a lot of make-up. Once, on the way to the Dyke March wearing a Wonder Woman costume I put on a pair of sunglasses and I decided that if I couldn’t really see other people they couldn’t really see me. It worked, I stopped caring that much about whether people were looking at me.

6. Fake it till you make it.

This is also a great strategy for learning to love your body. It’s just acting like it doesn’t bother you when people look at you. Maybe it still does but if you pretend to yourself and maybe to other people that it doesn’t bother you, you’ll start to believe it.

13133225584_0696c9b086_zDoing Chemo karaoke.

It’s taken me many years to get over people’s perceptions of me. Ultimately, I know if what I am doing, wearing, writing about, living is in alignment with my core values, I know I approve of myself. And that’s the most important thing to me, being a person who knows who I am and lives that life authentically–no matter how people judge my body or my lifestyle.

2014-03-05

Self Care Stretches Time and Creates Resilience

This post is part of my mini-blog series about self care. Click this self care week tag to read all the posts!

Self care is like driving a stick shift car in the city. Once you think you’ve got your gear set and you’re really rolling something comes up and you have to downshift or brake. There are a lot of moving parts to coordinate and things don’t go as expected. Self care is this constant balancing act. I want to make myself happy but I also don’t want to make myself suffer as a result of that happiness.

This morning, for example, I deeply craved a flavored black tea. I’m tea obsessed, and lately my jam has been complex, delicious, sweet black teas. Love Tea #7 from David’s Tea is perfect for this. But as I walked to the kitchen to start up the electric tea kettle I checked in with my body. My body is tense. I’ve been dealing with some mounting anxiety issues and I knew my body was going through it today especially. I sighed as I realized the better choice for me, in the moment, was to go for my “Feelings Tea,” a blend I create myself that is high on herbs that help calm down my anxiety (chamomile, lavender, catnip, along with oatstraw and hawthorne berries for emotional TLC).

I wondered in that moment if the self loving thing would be to give myself the pleasure I wanted by succumbing to the craving or if it was to take care of my body in the long-run and set my day up for more success than a rush of caffeine could offer?

That answer is sometimes both.
24383_379486228748_5305803_nI wasn’t sure what photos to use in this post so I decided to include photos of awesome people I ran into today on my way to a dentist appointment. This is Becca Blackwell, full of stories from the 90s, and who rules.

“Self care” is a bit of a buzzword nowadays, but the concept is fairly simple. I would define it as anything you do to take care of yourself.

Think of a parent, caring for a child. The kind of care that parent gives the child would vary depending on the child’s age, needs and parent’s inclination. The same goes for taking care of ourselves, the level of care we give ourselves depends on our needs, inclinations and how much attention we are paying.

Once we age out of someone else caring for us (or many of us never had someone providing all of the care we actually needed) suddenly we’re in the business of self care without a real roadmap for what that means.

In my post on how I deal with anxiety I talked about running a diagnostic on your body, mind and spirit to find out what it is that you need in order to take care of yourself. In my experience I do this by journaling to see what is coming up and just trying new self care out to see how it works. It’s imperfect, but generally I can tell when I haven’t been doing enough self care because I get my own warning lights. My chronic digestive disease starts acting up, my anxiety is flaring, I’m snapping at my loved ones. When I’m doing the right amount of self care often I feel in my flow–like I am in synergy with the universe.

We’re in a society that commodifies insecurity and privileges people who are constantly “busy.” When you ask someone “How are you doing?” they often reply, “Oh I’m so busy!” Being busy is a status symbol, and being busy is often the number one excuse folks have for not spending the time needed to take care of themselves.

Being a body liberation activist I believe everyone deserves to love themselves and their bodies. And part of loving your body is knowing what it needs, and what you need, to take exquisite care of yourself. It’s really important to me that I am in touch with my body. How can I teach other people to love themselves if I’m not doing things to love my own self?

Self care is a hassle, but the rewards are infinite. In the words of my friend Kelli Jean Drinkwater’s therapist, “Self care stretches time.” If you really are one of those constantly busy people, self care might be just the ticket for settling yourself down enough to create the time, identify and manage your priorities in order to live the life that you want.

tangerinejonesedbarnasI ran into Tangerine Jones, burlesque legend and incredible person. Check out the article she wrote in 21st Century Burlesque, Backlash Blues. Photo by Ed Barnas.

Self care is allowing yourself the time to digest what is going on in your life. Processing emotions and mental experiences are as important as rest periods when you’re training for a marathon. It’s that time when your muscles start to heal and become bigger–that’s what self care enables you to do with the mental and emotional stimulation going on.

So what constitutes excellent self care? That’s a highly personal question. Something as simple as brushing your teeth every day is self care. I’ve literally known people who were so strung out worrying about other people that they let their own hygiene fall by the wayside.

The more I’ve gotten to know myself and my body, the more I understand about what kind of self care I need. The more I’ve learned about what kind of care I need, the more of a priority I make it. This is a slow-going process of realization and eventual prioritization.

I’m also a recovering perfectionist. If I were to do “perfect” self-care I basically could do nothing else. I could shove my day full of yoga, meditation, soothing time in a bath tub, reiki, writing in my journal, going to meetings, going to the gym, and on and on. Once I started making self care a priority I would turn it into a whole cycle of “never enough” tapes in my head and I had to get myself to come correct and stop punishing myself for not caring for myself enough. How’s that for a difficult cycle to break?

I treat self care as a job, but I also work hard to not get obsessed with not doing it enough. I give myself a threshold of about 5-7 self care tasks every day, not including day to day stuff like hygiene and eating. (Many of these 5-7 daily self care tasks only take about 1-5 minutes and some can happen while I’m doing other things.) This is a lot, but I’ve been focused on my own self care for about three and a half years, adding things slowly to that list. I watched a great video by Cheryl Richardson where she suggests only focusing on one self care activity at a time, and the rest falls into place.

In the Winter I am confronted with some significant issues with seasonal depression, so I know if I want to avoid a February and March downward spiral, I need to start in October working on my Winter Care Regimen, a beefed up version of what I do every day.

8332_157396603748_4263703_nI met Becca during our time vying for the title of Miss LEZ. Photo by Maro Hagopian for the Village Voice.

Self care is about creating resilience. When you’re living in marginalized identities there is a lot of criticism and oppression to weather, and I do it a lot better when I’m on my self care game. This is especially true as I step more and more into the public eye.

Self care is about the more you have the more you can give.

Self care requires a constant diligence recalibrating. When you get sick or tired you have to stop and rethink, add more or delete other things going on in your life that are taking away from your ability to care for yourself.

I think a lot about fleeting pleasure versus contentment. Sometimes choosing the pleasure of the caffeinated flavor tea is not a sacrifice of my overall serenity, but I’ve learned how to drive my body well enough to know when that choice will have been like hitting a pothole. I can weather that pothole sometimes, and sometimes I can’t. Caring for myself means I need to lighten up a bit. These days emotional care nachos are a big choice during my girlfriend’s chemo treatment, in spite of my tricky digestive reaction to queso.

I’m compiling an epic self care post to go up this week as my mini series on self care continues! Comment with your self care ideas on my Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook Fan Page!

2013-05-31

Care and Death, Death in Care, Care in Death: Bear’s Peaceful Passage

The past two weeks have been a doozy. My elder cat, Bear, a handsome eighteen years old, got really sick. It’s hard to tell when a cat goes from being just an old cat with some bouts of dementia and a propensity to angry poop in the hallway, to actually-really-sick-call-the-vet. There’s a subtle shift. He had a really bad accident on a Saturday, the kind that involved a grumpy roommate and me just mopping the whole house. Then he puked, then he just sat still. More still than usual and he sleeps about 23 1/2 hours a day. I put a call out to my friends on Facebook if there was a vet person I could talk to about whether I should go to the vet. I’ve known so many people who have dumped thousands of dollars into an old cat to find out what’s wrong only to have to let them go anyway. I didn’t want that to be Bear’s experience in his senior years, I just wanted him to be comfortable and happy.

The answer never came from Facebook, but it did come from my heart. Jacqueline came over to hang out that Sunday night and told me about her awesome vet who does house calls and I thought that was perfect. I mean, I like my other vet but I couldn’t imagine schlepping Bear if he was feeling so crappy. I’ll spend $55 for an exam to find out if Bear is getting ready to go be with the goddess or if he has something easily treatable.

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Me, ALF, Bear and Macy. Photo by Kelsey Dickey.

The poor little guy was so sick and I was really glad to get an appointment same day. My friend Hadley came to support me during the visit. The vet reminded me a lot of me, professionally. I have made a lot of unconventional decisions with my law practice that make me better able to service my clients and it makes so much sense for a vet to be able to come see animal companions in the comfort of their own environment. She was very matter of fact and compassionate, which is an incredible balance to maintain and works really well in a vet.

The doctor touched Bear and took one look at me with a pained expression and I just said, “Oh god!” thinking she was going to say that I had to put him down right then and there.

She said he was 12-15% dehydrated and was likely in kidney failure. She suggested a few courses of action and I settled on an injectable antibiotic, anti-nausea meds and subcutaneous fluids. I decided to wait on blood work because it’s expensive and I wanted to see how he did with treatment.

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This is what subcutaneous fluids looks like. It’s not a big deal, takes less than five minutes when you get used to it.

Eight months ago, ALF, my younger cat (14) was diagnosed with hypertension and kidney failure and has absolutely thrived with treatment. After he got on fluids and I changed his food to the special kidney diet food he has been better than he was for years. He’s just being a wonderful little weirdo and now likes cat treats a lot more (probably because they’re more awesome than his kidney food).

So I thought Bear would rally. The rest of the vet visit was sort of funny. She made a lot of jokes that I thought were hilarious, also I probably laughed a lot more because I was so relieved that Bear was sick with something I understood and I felt like there was a course of action. She did tell me, “Don’t be surprised if you wake up one day and he’s passed.” And she talked about how she has to send cats via Fed Ex (in a cooler, overnight) to the crematorium because of how far away it was.

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I can always tell how old a photo is of my cats based on the bed spread. This is from when I was engaged!

I made a Facebook post about the whole adventure, because it was just a bad day. In addition to the vet visit and the very sick cat, our building sent some plumber to “check out” our toilet and that turned into taking the toilet physically out of the wall with no notice that we would have no bathroom access for several hours. It was a lesson in acceptance, since we could call 311, we could complain to the super, but nothing but being nice to the plumbers would get our toilet back. And nothing but accepting that Bear was sick and might not make it was going to help me have peace about it.

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I have spent a lot of time in my life railing against things that I had no control over. In the last couple of years I’ve found that working with the current of life, instead of fighting against it, is the best way for me to have serenity. Sometimes it’s a nice flow, sometimes it feels like whitewater rafting and I’m only holding on with my white knuckles barely in the boat, but it’s a lot more peaceful on the daily than screaming and pushing against the natural order of things.

Screen shot of @sharpbiscuits photo of me giving fluids to my sick cat Bear. He has kidney failure like ALF but is four years older. Rough day all around but feel slightly hopeful after in home vet visit.
Giving fluids to both cats at once reminded me how when I was growing up I was convinced I was going to have twins because twins run in my family. Two cats getting fluids is a hilarious effort in multi-tasking, but I’m glad my boys are mellow.

And, oh yeah, on that Facebook thread about my bad day I mentioned that the vet was really hot, which she was, and this sparked a hilarious conversation involving Jacqueline who concurred (as it was her vet, too) and lots of femmes bantering about the benefits of having a hot vet. Like, mostly during the visit I was concerned with my cat but then of course you notice that kind of stuff. It reminded me of how my friends in Rhode Island all go to the same hot dentist. And with no identifying details (other than hot vet) two people asked if it was a specific person they knew and I was quickly reminded how unprivate Facebook is.

So, our toilet was back, the bathroom looked like a disaster area and Bear was being pumped with fluids and spending most of his time sleeping. I set him up as comfortably as possible. He made some big improvement the next day, eating some watered down turkey baby food. I felt like a pushy mom, trying to give him anything he would eat. A tiny piece of chicken, some bone broth, etc… He went for a treat and I was ecstatic!

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Bear in his winter coat.

By day three he started to rebel against his two favorite convalescent spots (my armchair in the bedroom and the spot on the couch closest to the window) and began wandering the house in short stints. I would follow him. I documented a lot of his progress on my instagram. I watched him move into the hallway and sit down and get confused. He was already a cat that got confused a lot (he had good days and bad days, like people with dementia) but it seemed way worse now that he was sick. He also wasn’t sleeping on his side, or curled into a “puddle,” but sleeping sitting like a meatloaf. He didn’t look very comfortable.

Bear is better than he was on Monday but he's still really sick. Not moving around much or eating much (but some which is better than none). ALF is charming as always and I'm unsure if he's being comforting to Bear or just jealous I let him convalesce in
Bear on his sick bed.

I wanted him to get better, but tending him to when he was sick was a lot more work. I’m on a cleanse and between my morning alkalizing beverage, smoothie, my regular morning rituals, giving fluids to Bear, tending to any accident spots in the house and cleaning him off when he pooped on himself (I gave many kitty sponge baths) it was three hours before I could leave the house. It’s a good thing I work from home most of the time.

I wondered what was Bear’s quality of life and what was his convalescence. I didn’t want to give up on him before he had a chance to get better. I didn’t want to be selfish about my time–I consider animal companions to be life partners and I’m not the kind of person who just gives up when shit gets hard. Having an elderly cat means doing elderly cat care. But I also wasn’t sure what was normal for his age and what were signs that his body was shutting down.

I sent a long email to the vet asking what was normal and what I should be looking out for. She gave me a very thoughtful, lengthy response and I was left with a lot of ideas for what was possibly wrong with him, his meatloaf sleeping was probably discomfort, more treatment we could do, but also “Putting him down would not be premature.”

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Moms of toddlers take toilet training photos, moms of elderly convalescent cats celebrate litter box use.

She never once said, “You should put him down,” which were the magic words I was waiting for. Now, I adopted Bear when he was 10 and ALF was 6 (they were companions from their previous household that came together). Having older cats, I have always known that at some point in my life I would have to make a euthanasia call. I also have heard many people’s stories but they all seemed to sound the same. The pet got sick, the person was left with thousands of dollars in treatment that may or may not work and it was “the right decision given the circumstances.”

I just thought it would be really black and white and where I was in was a shade of gray. I had a cat who was getting slightly better but not all the way. Who was a lot more work and I felt okay giving him that work if that is what he needed me to do. He was still purring when I held him, especially when he snuggled up to my heart. But he felt like a flour sack in my hands. He wasn’t meowing–I think he meowed three times after he got sick, which was about a 95% decrease from his yelly hallway yowling ways. When I set him on the ground he couldn’t hold himself up right away, he flopped over to the side.

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Good therapy is to pick up both cats at once and snuggle them. They don’t usually struggle when I hold them together because Bear and ALF really love each other. Photo by Kelsey Dickey.

Euthanasia, even though I had thought about it so often for the past several years knowing that “someday” I was going to have to make that decision, was not an easy black or white decision to make at all. All of that worrying I did ahead of time was absolutely wasted. You cannot pre-live grief and pre-worry. I wish I had spent all of that time during all of those years I spent worrying and just spent it living in the moment and enjoying my life with my beloved cat.

ALF & Bear
Vintage photo of ALF and Bear.

I turned to Facebook once again (and this is why I mostly am only friends with folks I know in real life on FB) to ask about people’s experience with euthanasia and how they “knew” when it was time. I got a LOT of answers and stories. About how pets are very much in the present moment and when they’re sick or in pain they are very scared. How people often report they waited too long. I got many great private messages, including a very detailed astrological answer that involved last week’s lunar eclipse and Saturn in Scorpio.

“The issue here on an astrological level is about care and death or care in death or death in care. or care through death or other prepositional mediations of this care/death combo.
the question then becomes who’s care…who is caring for whom…what is care. and similarly although strangely—the same sets of ontological questions can then be asked of death.”–Tina Z.

I also read through a couple of articles people sent to me about death of a pet that I found really helpful in terms of deciding one way or the other whether I should let Bear go be with the Goddess or wait to see if his health improved.

My friend Tom suggested this book, The Last Walk, where the cover and the name just broke my heart so much I couldn’t really even try to read it but I trust his opinion in all book matters, so I’m passing the suggestion along. It was very helpful to hear my friends’ stories about letting their pets go, so I think this might help some folks out there who aren’t into soul baring/crowd sourcing on the Blue Grid.

How to know when it’s time to euthanize your pet from Yahoo News (I found this one particularly helpful).

The ethics of spending $25,000 on pet healthcare in the NY Times.

And in a very gay way (because of the connection, not the content), this amazing quote from my ex-girlfriend’s fiance, Rachel, really helped me. “Think of 2 or 3 things that really make her HER and when those are no longer there, you’ll know.” What Rachel was considering when she put her gorgeous dog down.

In thinking about all of this, I wondered about Bear. He really liked yelling in the hallway, yelling to get a good snuggle while I was at the computer (I’ve done a lot of working with Bear awkwardly in one arm), he loved parties where he got as much attention as he could possibly consume, he loved expressing his emotions by pooping in the hallway when he was mad, and he loved eating paper and the covers of books. He hadn’t done any of those things in a couple of weeks (well, the party thing he couldn’t control).

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Bear, snacking on some paper (a map).

I went to bed that night praying to the Goddess to tell me what was the right course of action for Bear. The next morning I sat down on the couch to watch some Super Soul Sunday while drinking my smoothie and Macy and ALF were all over me. They could not get enough attention from me or pay enough attention to me. I remembered back to when Bear first got sick, about a week prior, and I woke up one morning with both of them laying on my chest. Neither ALF or Macy is a big chest layer, and they prefer to keep about 3 feet apart most of the time so it was really weird, them close together and on top of me. That’s when I realized that Macy and ALF were paying attention to me because I needed care, and were leaving Bear alone. I trusted their intuition–that Bear was checking out or totally checked out. And that I was the one who was struggling emotionally with whether he should stay.

I had a great talk with my Mom, since she had put down both of the cats I grew up with when I was already across the country in law school (the other cats we had previously had run away so we never had to make that call when I was younger) and it really helped me settle into the decision. She also said, “Bear doesn’t want to live a life where he’s pooping on himself.”

I sent an email to the housecalls vet asking for an appointment for in-home euthanasia. I knew from an article I had read awhile ago that this was the best choice for me–rather than schlepping your pet to a foreign place to go, he can go in peace in your home. It’s also good for the other pets because it apparently helps them understand better the process of what’s going on. I didn’t want them to think Bear was just at the groomer for the rest of eternity.

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Bear with our friend Avory.

Bear’s passing also forced me to confront one of my worst fears. Part of being a full-time freelancer/small business owner is that often life is financially feast or famine–and the last vet catastrophe last October wiped my savings and I just haven’t caught up yet. When I’m feeling afraid a method I’ve learned is to write a list of the things you fear most, then antidote with a gratitude list. One of my greatest fears is that I wouldn’t be able to financially care for my pets. Here I was, needing to make this big decision for my sweet little guy and worrying about how I was going to pay for that and my rent. I had to face that fear, though, and I was able to ask someone for a loan (which is not something I do very often).

I had already made the “Peaceful Passage” appointment, opting for Thursday at 5 because doing it the very next day (Wednesday) at 2pm didn’t give me enough time to say goodbye to Bear. It felt rushed.

I had my friend Kelsey Dickey come over and do a family portrait sitting with me, Bear, Macy and ALF. It was something I had wanted to do for years and I’m glad I did it. Even though Bear looks pretty out of it in some of the photos, it’s really nice to have. It’s also very hard to wrangle pets in a portrait sitting. Bear had a great day that last full day. He used the litter box. I caught him cleaning himself vigorously during our photo shoot, which was the first time that had happened in a couple of weeks. I was like “Are you trying to tell me something?”

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Photo by Kelsey Dickey.

That night, the night before the peaceful passage, I was throwing a party with Nicky and Jo for Yes Ma’am. Nicky told me that they were friends with my hot vet and showed her the whole thread on my Facebook wall. I was like “How do you know that’s my vet!?!” but of course it was the same person. I was also sort of embarrassed since she was coming to my house the very next day to put my cat down. I guess if people were talking about me being hot on my friend’s friend’s Facebook wall I would want to read it, too. This is definitely proof that nobody ever died of awkward because I’m still around.

I got home from the party and Bear wasn’t in any of his regular spots. I was worried about him. This had happened to me many times before, he switches up his sleeping spot, but ever since my vet had said he might be dead one morning I was afraid he’d crawl under a piece of furniture and pass. I couldn’t really hunt for him in the house because my roommate’s mom was sleeping on our couch, so I just let it be and knew I could look in the morning. On my way to bed at 4AM (after a party, remember), I saw his two furry feet sticking out from under the bookshelf where my altar is. He had spent so much of the past few days sitting with his legs tucked under I thought for sure he was dead. I put my hand on him and he didn’t startle like he usually did when I would think he might be dead (he slept pretty heavy and scared me a few times). I thought for sure he was dead. I was distraught but I didn’t know what to do and it was so late, I just went to sleep crying about not saying goodbye and knew I would take care of it in the morning when I wasn’t going to disturb an entire household, a sleeping guest and freak out.

I woke up and texted Hadley, “Can you come over and help me move Bear, he passed last night.” The last thing I wanted to do was interact with his dead body. Hadley was on their way over when I peeked under my altar and saw that Bear had moved. I called Hadley and said it was Resurrection Thursday, Bear was alive, I was just delirious the night before.

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How I spent much of the last couple weeks of Bear’s life. Holding him as much as possible.

I spent Bear’s last day pretty chill. I had no out of the house activities, I just hung out with him and the other two Muppets. I was no longer wondering if the previous day’s feeling better was permanent, he was really out of it and started pooping on me when I would hold him. I changed my outfit and got a towel to cuddle him with. I started to feel glad I had made the decision to give him a peaceful passage, the night before I was so worried he was scared and alone when he had passed I knew this would be with love and community.

People began gathering. I sent out a call to some friends. Either folks who had bonded with Bear or who were friends of mine who were going to bring pork tenderloin (Jacqueline) or other snacks and food. All told there were five people there with me when the vet arrived with her assistant.

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If I wrote a pet euthanasia book I would call it “The Last Selfie.”

Bear was curled up next to me on a towel on his favorite part of the couch. His head resting against my leg, my hand on his heart chakra. I wasn’t petting him anymore, just holding him while he rested. The vet was great, she explained everything as it was going to happen and that once he was gone she would leave us with the body for a bit and we could text her to come back up.

She offered that I could have his ashes returned, or a cast made of his paw, which I declined. I don’t need a physical representation of him. I have so many photos and so much Persian cat hair in my house, I’ll be physically remembering Bear forever, behind every piece of furniture.

She injected something into his hind leg to keep him asleep, though he was already very asleep. Then she injected another something to send him to be with the Goddess. The room fell silent and I was praying for his easy transition and thanking the Goddess for all of the time I got to spend with him as my animal companion and crying big fat tears onto him. It happened really fast. Suddenly she said, “He’s gone,” squeezed my hand and left.

I kept my hand on his heart because his body was still warm and I couldn’t bear to let go yet. My friends brought Macy over to see him (she sat quietly for a bit, sniffed him) and ALF (who ran off very fast).

At first it seemed weird to have “time” with his body but it was actually really nice and peaceful. We eventually called her back up, she brought a towel and curled him up in it just like he was sleeping, and got ready to go.

I was still crying and asked, “How do I pay you?”

“Do you have Chase Quick Pay?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll send you an email.”

One of my friends piped in, “This is the most fucked up Chase Quick Pay commercial ever.”

We all laughed.

Folks stayed for some food, and a couple other friends came by later. It was nice to not be alone.

At one point I looked around at Macy and ALF and realized I was doing a subconscious Muppet count as I had done thousands of times before. The three of them triangulate in almost always the same pattern in the living room. I could look to both of them and know where Bear would be sitting. Only he wasn’t.

In the days since it has been pretty weird and sometimes hard. Old familiar grief settled on my chest. But it’s a different kind. It’s like missing a part of myself, since Bear was so much a staple of my home life. I feel like with my friends I’m only about 90% there, but doing my best to continue to function and acknowledge the sad feelings as they come. And to love on my Muppets who are still with me and who I get to continue loving in this lifetime. They’ve been really clingy to me, which I appreciate because I feel very clingy to them.

My mom is a Lesbian Catholic and I asked her to ask the Lesbian Woo couple across the street (they had four when I was a teenager, not sure how many they have now) for a good ritual for Bear. They suggested getting a candle for each color chakra and burning it. As each candle burns out it releases a different emotion. I got the candles from a religious candle store near my house. I’ve been burning the candles since Bear passed and it’s really helpful to have a place to look in the house to acknowledge him. I can say hi to him, pray for him and let them represent my emotions.

Bear's chakra candles. Rest in power little guy.
The photo on the right is from about six years ago, when he was younger and more sly.

The loss is hard, but I know I did the best I could. I read a lot of mommy blogs and I know there’s no way to be a perfect mom, but there are thousands of ways to be a good mom. I know I’ve been the best mom I can to these three critters. I know my Bear was loved very deeply and lived a comfortable, sweet life. And I know now how to be even more present and grateful for the pets I still have.

2013-05-20

The Forest of the Future: A Sanctuary at the Edge of the World

Back in March, I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time in an amazing sanctuary space amidst a temporary art installation in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It’s hard to explain what the Forest of the Future was, but for some background you can read the curator/producer Quito’s statement about it here. It really gives a good background of how they just wanted to make a magical space to bring together a bunch of the visionaries they’ve met in their world travels, see what connections and catalyzing could happen, and that space was a forest.

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Me, Quito, Sparkles and Dusty.

The Forest had a team of amazing artists who worked endlessly to make it happen. I first arrived on opening night to volunteer and everyone had clearly been missing sleep for days. No wonder, once you stepped inside the space was truly otherworldly. That doesn’t come without an intense about of labor, love and vision.

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This video by Ricardo Nelson is a treasure and gives an overview of what the Forest looked like that still photos can’t quite capture (I’m in the first few frames, fisting a tree).

Forest of the Future : A Sanctuary at the Edge of the World .. from Ricardo Nelson on Vimeo.

There were lots of events that happened at the Forest during its two-week run, but it was also open daily for hang outs pretty much whenever you knew someone was going to be there (or 3p-late if you didn’t know someone). Quito did a lot of sleeping at the Forest, so I did a lot of solo time because I could get in.

Here is a list of amazing things I did while in the womb of the Forest of the Future:

I slow danced to “The Golden Age of Hustlers” as recorded by Justin Vivian Bond, with my then sweetheart. It’s a song I love deeply and never hear, so it was serendipitous that it played at that right moment and filled me with such sweetness and connection, not just to my sweetheart but to the universe.*

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I made out in the button bog.

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I had a couple of deep fights in the button bog that have left buttons in so many surprising places in my room.

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I read my tarot cards in the tree house when no one was in the Forest but me and some girl sleeping on the mushroom pillows in the field below.

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I did queer punk yoga twice, lead by Lizxnn Disaster.

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I cried my eyes out as LeRoi Prince read an amazing piece invoking the struggles of our queer ancestors. It’s the kind of thing that I try to invoke appreciation for before every Rebel Cupcake, but in long form.

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I had a flirtation/romance/make-out with a hot foreigner.

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I sang sea shanties along with a crowd, lead by a performance artist.

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I sat in on a discussion about queer communities, discussed what we owe communities as leaders and “who are your people.”

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I had a long conversation with a different foreigner about love and relationship permutations, polyamory, nonmonogamy and why we have such limited words for all the different types of romantic relationships we can have in the English language.

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I brewed and served tea in great cauldrons as a volunteer shift.

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I ate melty rose butter on fresh bread baked as an art installation.

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I made some amazing connections with people I already knew. I met a lot of new people. I developed a better understanding of radical faeries.

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I went to a sexy party that was dedicated to giving healing energy to Kate Bornstein. We all signed a card before people went off to their various corners/trees/button bogs/home to have some privacy.

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After a performance, during a dance party, I literally lost three hours. I thought it was 11PM and it was 2AM. All concept of time was erased that night.

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I cuddled on mushroom pillows.

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I did yoga in a field of soft fake grass and confetti. I never thought I would be able to say that. It was messy and liberating.

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I knitted. A lot. Many times during those two weeks I just packed up my knitting and hopped the train to the Forest. Quito brought a chair up from the green room just for me knitting. One time I wore fairy wings while I knitted.

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I watched Quito read from their upcoming book about Brooklyn nightlife and saw a lot of amazing photos of me and my friens from 2009-2011.

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I laughed hysterically as a bunch of buttons clattered out of my bra on the floor of the bathroom.

I saw people get rope suspension in the trees. It was so beautiful.

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I got yelled at by security for loitering in the wrong part of the building but my companion sweet talked them into letting us look at the view of Manhattan at night anyway.

And so much more. The Forest of the Future was an extraordinary thing in which linear time didn’t exist and reminded me how all amazing things don’t have to exist forever to change you forever.

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*My friend Silas Howard and Justin Vivian Bond and others are fundraising to make a video of the “Golden Age of Hustlers.” The video is going to be an homage to queers, transfolks, sex workers and will be really beautiful. They need to meet their fundraising goal really soon and can use any help you can donate!

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