Doing Pride Differently

Pride marches, parades, festivals… they’ve meant different things to me at different times.

Activism.  Partying. Hooking up.  Marching topless down the streets of NYC is always a gratifying experience, even the pasties in Brooklyn were fun.  Pride as a young newly out dyke with my young newly out girlfriend was about validation.  Pride on my island with my mother and my at the time partner was about representin’, integrating my identity and defying homophobia.   Pride with a huge Latino contingent in NYC with our respective flags was empowering.  Pride in Idaho was about my pastor at the MCC who was losing his battle to cancer and we were pretty sure it would be his last pride.  I’ve skipped various prides, just not feelin’ it.  I’ve gone alone.  I’ve gone with partners.  I’ve been on the prowl.

This year I’m getting ready for Long Beach Pride and it’s a different experience.  Yes, I still went shopping for the right outfit.  This time though even my shopping experience was different.  See, I am with a group wearing denim and colored shirts (they are doing horizontal striped polo shirts but those of us who just won’t do stripes are going solid).  So I was looking for a denim skirt.  Not quite my thing.  I asked the salesperson who offered help and she gathered some for me.  Cute skirts really.  So I try a few on and discover they won’t do.  One of them has a front slit that is a bit too much… so then I explain to the salesperson that I’m shopping for pride.  That gets some recognition and a friendly reaction (no, I was not kicking game and neither was she I am sure).  Then I have to explain that I need something a bit less revealing.  And, well, then I have to deal with her perplexed expression as I explain that I’m singing with a church group so I can’t quite have the high slits or micro minis.  So yeah, I was shopping for a church skirt for pride.  You see how it’s different?

This year I am blessed to be part of outreach ministry for Open Door Ministries. I will be working the booth for a while and I will be singing on a float as part of the worship team.

I am very excited about this opportunity.  I think it’s a great chance to minister and witness.  I feel called to do it.  And I’ve learned in my walk with God that I can be sure I’m called to something when I feel this combination of excitement, rightness, and terror, discomfort, and “really?????” ness.

So I am doing pride differently this year.  I’m not there to party, although I’m going to get my dancing in and hopefully see some friends.  I’m not there to hook up or flirt with random butches.  I’m there to minister to my community.  I’m going there to share a message.

I’m there to tell people and show people that it’s possible to be Queer and Christian.  That God made us and loves us, God longs for us, God watches over us, God wants us.  That no matter how much the church may have hurt people, God’s love is theirs to keep.  That it’s safe to come back to church.  Part of our message is an apology.  We apologize for the damage un-Christlike churches have done.  And we are an example of the JOY you can have in Christ and that it’s okay to be gay.   I personally am not into recruiting just for one church.  It’s bigger than my church.  It’s about healing some wounds and opening doors for people.   And as much as I feel that this ministry blesses me, I am terrified.

I have been a lukewarm Christian, a closet Christian, an uncertain Christian, an afraid-to-get-too-deep Christian.  That has changed in my life and now I can’t be silent anymore, and I can’t be lukewarm, and I can’t just be passive about my faith.  This is a recent change.  I’ve been growing in my walk with God and I”ve been stepping out in faith and learning to be empowered by my faith. That doesn’t change that I am afraid.

I grew up being told that faith was stupid, literally compromising my intellience.  I grew up being ridiculed for believing when I dared to believe.  I struggle with these wounds from my childhood.  I struggle with visibility.  And yet I know that I can’t be silent. I have to be authentic.  I have to be fully me.

When I get up on that float to sing songs of worship, it’s not about vocal dexterity, it’s about making a joyful noise.  And it’s not about me.  It’s about sharing my joy and lifting my voice to God.

When I share blessings with people at the booth, listen to anyone willing to talk, pray with anyone who might want prayer, it’s not about me.  It’s not about whether I’m comfortable with it or not.  It’s bigger than me.

One of the things we are prepared to share in outreach is our personal witness for Christ.  I can’t imagine anything more terrifying.  Intellectually and politically I can break it down for you, why I think this is important. But I have to get real with it. What has God done in my life?  Can I share that?

God has done so much for me.  I stand in awe of God’s love daily, even when I’m cranky, even when earthly love has failed me, even when I’m a mess, I can see God’s love around me, in me, everywhere.  God has given me opportunities for service.  God has given me LIFE.  God has given me joy.  God has cradled me in love and God has given me courage.  God is taking me through it all.  God is too big for words.  What God has done for me is just too big.  What God has done for me is love me, just as I am, complete with fears, with loneliness, with exhaustion, with uncertainty.  God loves me, sassy femme that I am, I am God’s babygrrl and I can count on God’s love to see me through it all.  God hasn’t made my life perfect.  But God gives me grace and strength daily to walk in love and walk in faith.  And I will sing praises as long as I have breath.

So, I will be sharing more about my church (and yes, I’m like someone with a new significant other, I get all giddy talking about MY church and talking with a friend who said OUR church a few times in the conversation made me bouncy).  I’ll be sharing more about my Queerness and Christianity.  I am not fragmented.  And I am changing in some significant ways.  Change is hard and it can be hard to share changes.   God has blessed me with a fierce and courageous spirit and I will continue to strive daily to meet these challenges.

In the meanwhile, pride is in a few days and I ask for your prayers that this may be a great opportunity for ministry.  I hope to be a blessing to others and an example of God’s amazing love.

And I’ll be a Queer Christian even in the dance tents, so hit me up if you are going to pride and you know how to salsa, merengue, or even a cumbia or two! I’ll be in the yellow section tabling.  Come say hi and get a blessing from us!

Happy Pride to LB and OC folks!

I Heart Socal

I love my home. I love Socal.  I love Long Beach and I have recently had the chance to fall in love with LA too!

I love how winter here means I get to wear my leather jacket.  How everyone rolls out with their cute boots and scarves they seldom get to wear.

I love how the streets are so alive now that it’s Spring and everyone is kicking it out on the stoop or at the park.

I love that even in the dead of winter I can sit outside with my crew at a coffee shop under a heat lamp and kick it.

I love that I can go to the park down the street on a weekend and it’s like going to a festival: the guy is there selling elotes, the dude with the frutas is there, another one with paletas.  There’s a soccer game and families cheering, people just kicking it in the park, toddlers running after balls twice their size, loud music.

I love how I can usually look around me wherever I am and see beautiful people of color.

I love exploring LA and going from a Jewish neighborhood with Hebrew shop signs to a chaotic and vibrant Latino area.  I love exploring Westlake, Echo Park, Silverlake, not the glossy LA but the real shit.  Love exploring PTown and Koreatown.  I love going to a new neighborhood for work and checking things out.

I love that I can now navigate the public transportation system and not get lost, I know how to get around now and can find my way around LA easily.

I love walking on the beach at night.

I love how colorful it is and so beautiful.

I am at home and I’m loving it.

Youths!

Working with youth is really an art and a calling: not just a career choice.  Youth bring so much joy to my life, along with the anger at social injustice, the frustration, the sadness, but always joy and laughter and surprises.

Like the workshop I was doing last week in a High School where somehow a discussion of art and social issues turned into a sex ed discussion.  Suddenly I find myself explaining about how there is sperm in precum and so yes, the girl can get pregnant if you pull out.

Curriculum or not, if the youth are open enough and trusting enough to bring up real life questions I am ethically and morally compelled to address them.

Another class turned into a discussion of systemic oppression when students were clowning on their white teacher and I had to try not to laugh too hard at her “dang miss that must be a white thing coz we don’t do it like that!”  Badass latino youth speaking out.  Fuck. Yeah.

It takes something special to work with youth successfully.  A combination of resilience, humor, flexibility, compassion and a youthful spirit.  Aside from all the grand sounding and genuine reasons for my love of working with youth– social justice, empowerment, investment in community, etc., there’s the fact that I just love to play.  I love to laugh.  And they sure make me laugh my ass off on a regular basis.  I love to learn and they teach me all kinds of unexpected stuff.  I love to think and, when I’m doing it right, they consistently challenge me to think.  I love to kick it and have the discussions on a REAL level and strip away the distance created by academic discourse by bringing it home to a young person who is trying to make sense of some of the fuckery of the world and how it plays out in their lives.

I know two youth workers that I particularly admire.  One of them can be described by an icebreaker she did with a group where everyone had to do a dance move with their introduction and she did the robot and was captured on cell phone video for everyone’s enjoyment.  Not only does she work with teenage youth but she also mentors twentysomething youth.  And she’s such a joy to be around.  Creative and genuine and FUN!  The other one plays rockband with the youth on a regular basis, has an office filled with youth and with evidence of their presence: artwork they share with her, random action figures with significance, jewelry they’ve made, stuffed animals, notes, and a door covered in butcher paper so youth can express themselves.  Or the less savory evidence like a hotdog left over by the youth who were cleaning after one of their Friday feasts.  She gives them ownership of the program and empowers them to do for themselves without needing an adult authority figure to boss ’em around. Radical I know.

And what happens when people who work with youth get together and hang out is fun to watch too.  Of course I’m talking all poc so that’s also a factor.  Invariably we are too loud.  Whether it be sitting in the parking lot eating pizza on a break from program and talking about life or at a restaurant sharing a meal.  We are just too damn loud.  We joke and tease.  And we laugh till we cry. And sometimes we do cry when we talk about the challenges and frustrations.  We are intense.

I’m blessed to be able to participate in a few youth groups right now.  I volunteer for an LGBTQ youth group, which sounds noble of me but sometimes it means I just show up and kick it with them and play video games.  I also work for a program doing workshops in schools (yes the ones that led to sex ed last week).  And I’m starting a new job working with Elementary School children and doing program development, evaluation and outreach.  And I can honestly say that I love what I do.  There are days when administrative, bureaucratic, policy or political issues just piss me off but then I kick it with the youth and it’s all good.  They are real.

In one of my sessions last week we were talking about police harassing young people for suspecting they are taggers or gang bangers.  After walking them through a critical examination we identified ageism and racism as factors.  They would get harassed as young Latino males, I would not be likely to get harassed as an *ahem* adult Latina female.  Then we got to talking about the value that society places on the young.  The fear that young people evoke in adults, how they are perceived as a threat.  And hopefully part of what sunk in was the fact that some of us do value their opinions, their leadership, their thoughts, and some of us get a great deal of hope and encouragement from them and learn from them.  People talk shit about youth and what is this world coming to and they are not capable leaders, there’s a leadership vaccum who will take over for us, blah blah blah.  Me, I can’t wait for them to take over!  I’ll be there with pompoms doing the robot too!

Angry brown grrl

Memo to all who participate in my life:

Yes, I am a very sparkly, serious yet playful, intense, intelligent, driven, angry brown grrl.

And if you aren’t down with that. You aren’t down with me.

The end.

Pink + Five Year Old Boy= Happy Femme

It’s official.  I live with the coolest kid evah!  Not only does this bioboy child (who is, for the record five, turning six in February a few days before I turn… yeah before my birthday)  okay… so not only is he the kind of child who finds random sparklies and jewels at school and brings them home for me because he knew I’d like them, not only is he the kinda kid who knows what my favorite dress is for going out (it’s black with large red polka dots and he knows I wear it with red shoes!), not only does he make me random treasure maps, cut off my arms and legs when we’re playing pirate (and thinks I should have a pink eyepatch), he’s also the kind of kid who actually KNOWS (and remembers) that I used to hate pink but then I started liking it…and explains that he used to like raisins, but now he doesn’t anymore, kinda like I didn’t used to like pink, but now I do, but backwards.  All with his toothy grin.

He’s the kinda kid who, when I sit down to have dinner with him tonight, goes to the drawer to get our forks and picks out the pink one special just for me!

It’s impossible to have a bad day around that.  Simply impossible.

Comida Mexicana

I don’t know when comida mexicana became comfort food for me.

I was tempted to attribute it to recent experiences but I think it was born before that.

I think it was the first time I tasted Ana’s home made tamales when I lived in Idaho.  It still makes my mouth water to think of that mujer’s tamales.  I gorged myself on them till I was up to my eyeballs in glorious smooth creamy firm masa.

Or maybe it was born, around the same time, in my visits to La Fuente where I knew I could be surounded by Spanish language, welcome respite and a cold tres equis didn’t hurt either.

Or it could be the first time I went with Sonia to a hole in the wall, a secret club of sorts, that sold gallons of crema, enormous rounds of queso blanco, mountains of chorizo, and made the most amazing menudo I’ve ever tasted.  The first mouthful made my eyes water with the amazing blend of the taste of home combining with the new flavors that were so familiar and bold.  My ex was repulsed at the patitas which Sonia and I eagerly snatched up from her bowl.  She was confused at the enthusiastic squirts of limon and hot sauce that went into our brimming bowls.  I didn’t grow up with that costumbre but it tasted like home even then.  Maybe it was the relief from monotony that a taco truck provided when I could banter in Spanish and eat delicious fresh tacos.  Or the homes I was invited to where I was fed fresh tortillas or mangos with chile.

I first noticed the comfort food connection after the elections this November.  After voting, a very emotional moment for me given that it’s the first presidential election I’ve been able to vote in.  I’ve voted for other seats in the past but happened to be in PR every time a new prez was being elected, and we don’t have voting rights on the island.  So, not only did I get to vote but I got to vote for a black man.  Wow.  I came out of the polling booth with tears streaming down my face.  And I went to the bodega on my way to work and stopped for a paleta.  The taste of mango making the tears come that much quicker, taste of home.

I’m experiencing conflict in a few different areas of my life and I was trying to figure out if I could eat without getting sick, and the first thing that came to mind was tamales.  I wanted tamales, carnitas, aguas frescas, or maybe a licuado.  I didn’t exactly get that order but instead I walked down to the colmado.  I walked to where I feel like I’m part of the comunidad, where the sadness in my eyes is recognized and garners gentle inquiries and kindness.  They roast chickens there on weekends and the whole neighborhood is fragrant with the smell of pollo asado making my mouth water as I approach.  With the loud sad corrida playing on the speakers I gather the few things I need, lingering as I walk through the aisles.  With my rice, beans, tortillas, and fresh salsa I was set.  I had a refresco de tamarindo to wash it all down.

And it tasted like home.

It was the perfect meal to nourish tired body and soul.

And isn’t that what comfort food is for?  It’s the food that makes you feel cared for, loved, the foods that remind you of home, of simpler times, bring happy memories even if they are vague and fuzzy they are Good.

It makes everything else that much easier to handle when I know I can care for myself in simple and healthy ways.  And it makes me smile to find that comida mexicana is part of what gives me comfort.  It used to be that living far away from home, or far from places where Puerto Rican food was readily available meant that I had fierce cravings for mi comida.  I haven’t experienced that here.  Even when I can’t find exactly what I’m looking for I’ve found that my idea of what tastes like home has expanded and my taste buds for patria are evolving.

And now to find the perfect tamales!

The Pink Butch Test

We all have tests that people have to pass in order to be deemed dateable. We have screening tools. We all have things we look for, relationship benchmarks, dealbreakers even.

I have a few but one of the items high on my initial compatibility checklist is the Pink Test. Closely related to the Feather Boa Test.

I will only date butches who are okay with pink.

The first butch I dated when I was back in the game was a major player in converting me to pink. She set the bar with her joy at my pink pajamas (and my midnight treks to the video store in said pjs). Then there was the boi with pink shoes. There was a boi who acquired a pink harness in my honor (hawt!).  A  boy with a soft pink blanket and a favorite pink tie. There was a butch who explained she wasn’t anti-pink, it just wasn’t in her color chart (and showed me the color chart as proof). A one date butch who wore pink to meet me at the train station which automatically endeared her to me despite our short lived flirtation. A butch in a light pink dress shirt picking me up for a second date. Such fun!

You see, I love genderqueers, I heart transgression and contradiction. And I have found that butches who won’t embrace pink tend to be somewhat binary in their “pink is for girls” thinking.

I want a butch who is confident and sexy enough to sport that pink dress shirt and rock it, to not give a fuck, not for a second think that they are less of a butch, not for a second consider it in any way feminizing– if anything that pink shirt is now being queered, it is being butchified, it is now transgressing the boundaries of pinkness. A butch who isn’t down with pink is generally not someone who will be compatible with me. If they are not okay with pink, odds are they won’t be okay with feather boas, or with glitter and sparkles. And I’m not okay with that.

So far my test has worked for me.

My New Year’s Eve date wore a pink dress shirt (and a beautiful tie) and has expressed that he favors white feather boas over black.   Looks like he  is going for extra credit!

Beautiful

When do I feel beautiful?

I am beautiful when I am dressed to the nines, ready for a night on the town. When my makeup is glamorous, my outfit is scandalous, my heels precarious, and my attitude glorious. When I’m ready to dance and flirt and party.

I am beautiful when I am with my friends, laughing, scheming, catching up, coming up with ways to change the world and live in the ways that matter to us.

I am beautiful when I am covered in spit up from a beautiful baby in my life.

I am beautiful when I am sitting cross legged on the floor telling a story–or better yet, listening with genuine attention to a story being told to me by a little one.

I am beautiful when I am working with youth, laughing, teaching, learning, listening and enjoying their energy.

I am beautiful when I am moved to tears: by beauty, by suffering, by passion.

I am beautiful when I give of myself, when I am able to bless others.

I am beautiful when I stand firm for what I believe in. Regardless of who is standing with me.

I am beautiful when my voice is raised in song, when I share music and make music.

I am beautiful when I stand naked before my lover.

I am beautiful when I am painting, absorbed in the whirlwind of color coming to shape before me. And I am beautiful when one of the children in my life join me in creating.

I am beautiful when I am dreaming. Asleep or awake, unseen or admired.

I am beautiful when I am in nature, when I swim in the ocean, when I hike through the woods, when I play in the snow, when I walk on the shore, when I try to catch a wave and am pummeled by the waves… beautiful.

I am beautiful when I am learning, thinking, pondering, questioning, debating. My mind is a beautiful thing.

I am beautiful when I am lonely and tired and sad.

I am beautiful when I am in the kitchen, creating meals for people I love.

Beautiful first thing in the morning when I embrace a new day with messy hair, beautiful when I am sick, beautiful in my rattiest jammies, or in my most gorgeous gown. Beautiful when I am smelling flowers, beautiful when I am scrubbing floors, when I am folding clothes, beautiful when I least realize it and beautiful when I am fully aware.

I am blessed to know how beautiful I am and blessed in my freedom to enjoy the beauty in everything around me. I am blessed to know my own beauty regardless of who is around to see it, and I am blessed to have those in my life who do see my beauty and celebrate it.

I walk in beauty daily and I am blessed for it.

Holidays and Holidaze

So the South Coast Chorale’s Holidaze concert is coming up… um TOMORROW!  It will be fabulous get your tickets if you haven’t slacker!

This holiday season has been different for me.  I usually dread the holidays for many many many reasons but I’ve been trying to go through the craze differently this year.

I got to do caroling with the Chorale and have survived the holiday hype for our show, which did I mention is going to be fabulous?!

The Center LB will be open on Christmas Day and I’ll be kicking it there with my community and friends, video games, chess, poker, snacks and festiveness.  I even helped my coworker decorate which was not only decidedly ungrinchy of me but also soothed my soul.  My main wish for this holiday season is that I may be a blessing to others, that I may find ways to give and to share the gifts that matter most, friendship, kindness, compassion, love, time, and energy.

Today I visited my homegrrl Kimmy’s blog and found the best letter to Santa evah!  Well, okay second only to mine when I wrote to Santa to find out if he really existed and peppered my letter with “no offense”s to make sure I wouldn’t miss out on the loot if the dude was real.  Isagani’s letter made me smile big though.  With his earnest wisdom he captured the essence of the season.  It’s okay to want cool shit for yourself.  Who doesn’t?!  Honestly!  But we also want cool shit for those we love.  And it’s a blessing to be able to love abundantly!

So, that’s my Christmas wish for y’all!  Cool shit for you and yours.  That’s about as maudlin as I’m bound to get for now.

Baby Femme

I was on the train this week and I saw the cutest little girl.  She had on pretty white stockings with multicolor stars on them and a sweet pair of patent mary janes.  She had on a skirt and you could tell she was lovin’ her outfit, she was swinging from side to side to see her skirt move and dancing around a little.  My first thought was that I wanted her stockings.  Then suddenly memories came rushing back…

As a kid I always wanted a pair of cute patent leather shoes.  ALWAYS.  Did I say wanted?  That’s not right.  Longed for, craved, coveted, NEEDED.  They were the little girl version of high heels and I had to have them.  I’m not sure where this longing came from.  While my mom shares my obsession with shoes, when I was growing up she wasn’t the shoe queen that she is today.  So yeah, I needed those shoes.  BUT, we were poor and I was cursed with Wide Feet.  Triple E to be exact.  So I had to shop at the ugly shoes section and get practical shit.  We didn’t have the budget to get me special shoes which would have cost a mint to get them in wider sizes I was told (not convinced today of the accuracy of that statement but whatever).  So I was stuck with practical shoes.  Not cute.  Not shiny.  No pretty heels that made clicking sounds when I walked.  Flexible, stretchy, comfortable, boring shoes.  *sigh*

As I grew and grew I never got the cute shoes I longed for.  In fact, I didn’t get store-bought clothes either.  My mom sewed all my outfits and her sense of fashion was not always au courant if you know what I mean. My party dresses were more in line with Laura Ingalls Wilder than 80s Madonna.  I tried to make do but it wasn’t always easy.

After my father’s death my mom slowly reclaimed her fabulousness.  Shoes were part of that process as I saw it.  Gradually her shoe collection grew until she had the perfect aquamarine wedges to match her outfit.  And suddenly my feet were no longer freakishly wide (still not convinced they ever were).  I could buy shoes.  And I did.  From the weird bowling shoes that I then proceeded to paint in fabulous designs to the treasured suede cowgirl boots (with heels, thank you very much).  From the lime green pumps on discount for two dollars because who needs lime green shoes, well I DO of course, to the beautiful black fuck me pumps.

I love shoes.  When clothing sizes are an issue because if you are size 16 or over you either want to wear disney characters on your clothing or brightly colored tents, I know that I can always find solace in the shoe section where the perfect pair of 71/2 or 8 shoes are just waiting for me to slide on in.  When budget is an issue I can always find cheap shoes.  Just picked up some red shoes with white polka dots for a buck fifty at the thrift store by my work.  There are times when I base my entire outfit on my shoes.

Mind you, I’m not a high maintenance shoes whore.  I don’t think I’d ever want a pair of manolos.  I like quality but I like reasonable.  I would pay obscene amounts for shoes if I could, but they would be fetish shoes and not some designer fetish either.  I don’t buy at payless only because their shoes disintegrate and I want mah shit to last.  But I’m an equal opportunity shoe queen.  Luv luv luv.  I luv ugly shoes, the ones with character that you have to have pizzaz to pull off.  I luv sexy shoes.  I luv sassy shoes.  I luv dancing all night shoes and I luv I-can’t-walk-in-these-but-I’ll-wear-’em-while-we-fuck shoes.

There was a period of time when mobility was an issue for me because of my fms and I had to use a cane.  I hated giving up cute shoes.  HATED it!

Now I have to modify my shoe choices because of budget and transportation.  I walk a lot and while I am capable of walking Very Long Distances in Very High Heels, it’s not good for the shoes… or my body.

Watching that little girl in her party shoes took me back and made me realize my shoe obsession must have been an innate thing.  Possibly hereditary.  Someday they might discover the gene.   And what a fabulous thing that would be!

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