My Inner Muse

My inner muse feels and is very feminine, which is great to know so clearly after all these years. This makes sense given how I identify as being significantly part woman internally/psychologically-spiritually, even though I am cis-gender male on the outside. Lately, my muse has had me creatively writing steadily and often about many things, all from a feminine-feeling sensibility in terms of what I like to write about and the overall aesthetic I draw from when writing. All very feminine in content, feel, and style. This goes far beyond the influence of my parents and other major figures in my upbringing. It is a strong, sometimes strident, sometimes gentle female voice coming through me, into my fingertips, and out as words onto the page or computer screen. She doesn’t sound like anyone I know or have known in particular. She sounds like…me, or, more specifically, a very major part of me.

One reason I have been inhibited with writing for so long is that I had to release an old internalized belief of how and what I thought others wanted me to write, namely parent figures in my life, past and present. I thought I should write “like a man,” whatever the hell that even means. It’s like there was a subtle layer of homophobia and sexism just under the surface of my conscious awareness, constraining my dear muse as if she were being tied and gagged to a chair most of the time, allowed to be unbound to write a bit of “proper,” “neutral,” “professional-sounding,” or “acceptable” material here and there. Then, she had to go back into the shadows and shut up. Yeah, enough of that. She’s done with being silent and I am the much better for it. I’m done with being silent.

Interestingly, my folks no longer hold over me these strict expectations that I write in a “masculine” voice. However, I do remember that they once did long ago via all sorts of indirect and direct messages they used to convey that I needed to butch it up more, be a man and not such a sissy/fag/weakling, etc. After all, I (read: they) didn’t want my peers to think I was gay, even though these peers pretty much already knew I was. (That horse left the barn at my birth, folks.) That wouldn’t be good. Conform or be isolated, either/or. It could be argued that my folks didn’t extend these expectations of cis-gender conformity to my actual writing, but then even one small memory of my father’s disdainful face over a short story I had started to write in detail about a pretty boy when I was…a (somewhat) pretty boy…reminds me that I am speaking truth to experience here.  That little story promptly died in my mind.  Well, my folks didn’t know any better at the time, bless their hearts. They do seem to know a lot better now. People can and do evolve.

And I thought I’d unburdened all of that old shame. Well, there was a bit more there, it seems, which has steadily melted away. I write in the voice that’s mine to write from. And if some or many readers find my writing sounds/reads as “manly” (yeah, right, but okay– lol) or neutral, that’s fine with me and doesn’t matter anyway. I hope people enjoy my jottings, grapple with my views, are stimulated, regardless of the gender tone the writing comes across as being, if there even seems to be a “gender” there at all for readers. Perhaps I may not always feel a gender to this inner muse, or I may find another writing muse comes forth who has another gender or no gender or is a mix of genders. That will be interesting. I’m not concerned, just open and curious.

In the meantime, the inner muse I do know and experience is female and growing ever-clearer of late. She has always been there. She loves being out in the open– in the light of day, in the dark of night, under the winter sun, under the spring moonlight, in faraway lands, at home in Beverly under the bedroom skylight. Listening, watching, then drafting the best choice of words to knit together into points to be made, thoughts to be shared, images to be conveyed. She’s here, folks, and she’s going to stay. She has a lot to say. I have a lot to say. And I’ll listen, with my inner ear. And my muse will sometimes write out what she has heard with me. She will do so with gusto, like a woman tossing back her long, black hair over one shoulder, before looking down to write, smiling and sighing, “Ooh la la!”

Not So Kindly Remembering Billy Graham

I feel mixed about Billy Graham’s passing and his legacy, though mostly negative.  A good handful of my gay Pagan friends have expressed understandable disdain for him and what he leaves behind, given how he spoke hatefully about homosexuality.  Unfortunately, Graham’s son is even worse, another dime-a-dozen, polarizing evangelical hater we can do without.  Thinking realistically, I strongly suspect the son won’t change, much as some are surely naively wishing he will be “inspired” to be more like his father.  I have one friend on Facebook who wrote this as a wish before they then deleted the post after I filled them in about Graham’s stance on gays.

When you are actually a member of a group that is spoken of so hatefully, it’s different than being an ally of that group, no matter how well-meaning you are as that ally.  A gun pointed at one’s own head is different feeling than when it is pointed at your friend’s, much as the latter is painful and enraging to witness.  Allies can only empathize and understand up to a point.  Hence, I would have to be self-hating in the deepest way to block out feeling my own and the collective pain of my gay brothers right now to then somehow “rise above” and speak respectfully of Billy Graham.  For my own self respect and integrity and for that of my fellow gay men, I just can’t.

That all said, speaking from the concept of relativity placed along a spectrum of “bad to absolute worst,” I do wish all evangelicals were more like Rev. Graham, who was “bad” behaving as opposed to “worse” or “the worst” among all the offenders of such social and (un)spiritual conduct.  For he too adhered to the sticky wicket of hating on us gays in the name of being “true” to the Bible and its teachings.  Such extreme, troubled thinking and speaking has been a big part of visible, vocal “spiritual” expression in the U.S.A.– by Graham and his generally even more intolerant ilk.  Billy was accepting of other faiths and races, as I heard liberal Christian apologists say on public radio earlier today, and they are right, of course.  But, yet again, that leaves just us homosexuals as the token pariahs or “filth,” one group among the masses, the rest all to be loved by “good Christians.”  So, Graham was part-way to decency, which still left him short of full arrival there.  Logically, how was he completely a “good Christian” then when Christ himself preached to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” leaving no group of people, including gays, to be left out of that admonition?  Expecting me to praise Graham would be like expecting a black person to think and speak kindly of an inherently racist leader upon that leader’s death, even though said leader had expressed and done goodness in so many other ways.  The white, heterosexist patriarchy holds its haters close and dear, including Graham.  After all, it’s “just gay people” and nobody else.

It’s simply too soon to expect those of us who were direct targets of Graham’s deeply hurtful beliefs and words about us to “get over” this.  Healing takes time.  Maybe someday I will have more positive things to say about this old preacher, maybe, though maybe not– regardless of how healed I and my brethren have become over this spiritual level of toxic shaming Graham participated in doing.  Ultimately, I trust and hope, Graham will have to account for that somehow in the after life now that he’s shed his mortal coil.  Regardless, his relevancy for me and my fellow queers is fast-fading away, and therein lies the healing.

I feel very similarly about the current Pope as I do about Graham, except maybe a little softer towards the former because he seems to be wrestling a bit with his beliefs against gays, perhaps.  The Pope in his position is the gentlest of “bad” compared to his “absolute worst” predecessors, and for that I am guardedly thankful.  On other fronts these days, there interweaves a network of far more hardcore, villainous-behaving leaders and followers who we GLBTQ+, other minorities, women, and disenfranchised/vulnerable groups of people are up against.  We need to do all we can to neutralize them from power as peacefully as possible.

Reflecting on Billy Graham’s legacy, I am reminded how organized religion has not done well by me or my gay brethren.  This has been particularly the case for Abrahamic faith institutions– though filled as they are with wonderful, loving individuals.  Hence, this is a big reason why I am not a member of such an organization.  I worship the gods alone and in small groups, making my way on rare occasion to a local Unitarian Universalist Church, where I take the best, leave the rest, and am accepted, at least formally, as I truly am, a gay Pagan.

Yeah, Me Too

The recent “Me Too” campaign, which started on Twitter and quickly spread to Facebook, threw me for a bit of a loop.  I do not have a Twitter account, but I am very active on Facebook.  At first, I simply read my friends’ “me too” posts and any elaborations they cared to add, feeling both admiring (for their brave disclosure), sad (for their pain and suffering), and angry (at all the perpetrating men) over so many stories of sexual harassment and/or abuse that largely women posted.  A few men here and there shared “me too,” and I felt their pain as well.  Some of my women friends invited men to post too, changing one word in the meme on their profile pages from “women” to “people.”  Interesting and very moving, I thought, not to mention generous.  I considered posting my “me too,” but decided to sleep on it and sense how I felt about doing so in the morning.  The next day, I posted “Yeah, me too,” though nothing else.  I didn’t want to take up too much space drawing a lot of attention to myself, a man, on this matter.  And, frankly, that felt like plenty for me to say on such a public forum.  Also, I thought how my own childhood experience (I was nine at the time) of sexual coercion by a teenaged boy in which I managed to run away before actually performing fellatio on him barely counted. But, then there were also numerous verbal insults and threats against my sexuality and person that I lived through during middle school, high school, and adulthood, given my somewhat femme demeanor as a gay man.  (Now and then, my husband and I occasionally get yelled at obscenely by men speeding by in their cars while we walk down the street together.)  Still, those all combined didn’t feel to me like they added up to much compared to others’– especially women’s– living through horrendous incidents of rape, molestation, and/or pressure to perform sexually to keep one’s job, among any number of scenarios of abuse of power by men over (largely) women via hostile sexual behavior and/or talk.  The pandemic is real, just as I’d always thought and known.  Yet, out of solidarity, I added my small truth.  I had been invited, by women.  Women who I know and deeply respect.  I had honored their lead and followed.  I had also dared to stop the self-minimizing of my own “me too” experiences by publicly acknowledging them as significant and painful, however briefly on Facebook, but then by writing about them openly in this blog.

What shook a part of me deeply were posts by a few others, all gay men (granted, a great many of my Facebook friends are gay), interestingly, coming down hard on any men posting their “me too”‘s.  Some men stated they had deleted their “me too,” not wanting to co-opt or overshadow women, yet again.  After all, this campaign was for a day, started by women, and was for and about women, a means of educating the public at large about a very real problem a vast majority of females have lived through but largely kept secret and way underreported.  All very true, of course.  Those of us men who posted “me too,” were acting from male privilege, sidelining women yet again, diluting the message about this largely female plight.  We were being part of the problem.  Shame on us.  I tried to explain to one man, who I admired for his educational, activist-minded posts over the years, how I was not at all coming from such a thoughtless, selfish place, but from one of joining, commiseration, and empathy.  After all, women had invited me, themselves having changed the meme of “women” to “people.”  I pointed out how the campaign was in flux, had multiple narratives happening now.  He would hear none of this, though, interestingly, he didn’t argue against these particular points of mine, but basically repeated himself and took on a tone of endurance, saying how others had “thrown shade” at him but he was going to keep telling it like it is, stand up for the truth no matter what.  He also shared how he thought the world was going to shit, or something very close to that.  I thought to myself during this difficult exchange, It feels like he’s mansplaining to me here.  Shouldn’t each woman be able to decide and speak for herself how she wants to engage with this campaign and in what words to pass it along, for women only or for others too?  Oh, the irony.  A day later, I unfriended him, concluding that I did not need to take on his negativity and make it somehow about me.  For one thing, he and I had never met in person, he had no clear understanding of my well-meaning intentions, and did not seem interested in learning about them.  He seemed to mainly want to grand stand.  I unfollowed another friend who also just kept reiterating how this was a day for women only, but not before I explained to him how a posting “campaign” on Facebook is different than one stemming forth from out of solid clarity and infrastructure, such as Black Lives Matter or any number of extant organizations that sponsor educational and legislative strategies and programs for crucial women’s causes.  Those are backed up by physical headquarters, people on the ground, and clearly-defined “campaigns.”  They don’t simply depend on postings in cyberspace that could easily change from participant to participant who could each tweak the message a bit or a lot.  I told another fellow, who I have begun developing a friendship with in real life, that I was going to have to agree to disagree with him.  That was in his response to him telling me I was acting from my male privilege.  All of these judging, shaming statements from a few of my gay brethren hurt a part of me deeply, and I made that known up front.  It’s like they felt a need to speak from their tone deaf moral high horse. Typical of a good share of men, I thought to myself, regardless of their sexual orientation.

I’m sure a number of outraged women posted similarly to these handful of my men friends, but I did not run across such angry women’s sharings on my own Facebook newsfeed.   I did see some women express agreement with my gay male friends’ chastising statements, however.  Clearly, they appreciated their male allies’ show of well-meaning support and I understood that.  But, I did not at all appreciate the few of my (male) friends’ shaming of me, one of their own, or so I thought, who is also completely for women’s full empowerment and rights.  And, for me, somehow a woman posting her anger over her perceived selfishness of men, the typical sidelining and co-opting of women– yet again– by choosing to post “me too,” doesn’t quite feel the same, even if some or all of these women may also have been coming from a tone deaf place.  They were simply speaking from directly knowing and feeling oppression, from an old place of pain.  On the other hand, men coming down on me and not wanting to try and understand where I was coming from, felt like some unduly competitive-oriented beating down that I have experienced from other men (albeit more frequently heterosexual ones) so often in my life, starting with my father (though, to his credit, he has long since softened, and generally evolved out of this) and then soon with peers in grammar and middle school.  Fascinating, tiresome, and so old hat.   I realize as I write this now, this was likely some men’s way of speaking from an old place of pain, which I am admittedly grappling to better understand.  If men always supported each other in every sense, including in our genuine, varied efforts to be vulnerable, and, from there, be more caring, respectful, and empowering of women, just think of the positive differences that would make, both among men and for women around us.  If we men, from a place of openness/vulnerability, can more often acknowledge when we are wrong, or even partially so, and see when we have hurt someone else, even inadvertently, just think of the social progress to be made.  Acknowledging mistakes does not equal weakness, the ultimate shame for men in general, being viewed as weak, but I’m certain a lot of men still believe that it is.  I know I have come from that way of thinking in the past.  And I am heartened by the men I witness or hear about taking chances with being vulnerable and letting go of the rigidity of needing to always be seen as right, strong, super smart, masterful, generally powerful, or some combination of these.

Less than two hours after posting my own “me too,” for which a lot of friends– most of them women– “liked” it, often either with a “sad face” or “heart” emoji, I posted this:

“Hello, dear women friends: If only just one of you is offended by me posting ‘me too’ because I am somehow taking away from the original intent of this campaign to underscore the surviving of sexual harassment and/or abuse as a women’s issue and yet another way how women are oppressed, etc., please let me know. Then, I will delete my original post. I only posted because a few of you women invited ‘people’ to post. (And thank you for your shared support around this pandemic area of awful experience.)
In advance, please accept my deepest apology for inadvertently disrespecting you for also posting. That was not at all my intention. My intention was to commiserate and empathize, that is all. Truly. May you be well, everyone.”

Nine women out of thirteen friends “liked” or “loved” (“heart” emoji) this message.  Not one woman posted feeling upset or offended.  Thirteen women and two men wrote supportive statements in reply, many of them very thought-out and thought-provoking in their own right.  Some women said how it’s a “people” issue.  A very savvy woman who runs a domestic violence shelter program, wrote this:  “Interesting.  I was told the same thing when I opened our (domestic violence shelter) services to men/trans/gay folk. Speaking for myself, I am neither surprised nor offended.  And I am very sorry that happened to you.”  Another woman, herself a seasoned social worker and former coworker of mine, posted: “Sean, it was just on tv that Alyssa Milano was the one to start the campaign and did not mean to leave men out.”  I haven’t verified this statement of my friend’s as fact, but I do find it interesting.  What I can say is that she tends to post information that has been fact-checked somehow– for what that’s worth.  A kind, gay male friend of mine replied with this to me:  “The text of ‘me too’ depends on the generation of the post.  Some say just women, some say women and men, some include gay and transgendered.”  I agreed with him, and, after taking a twenty hour or so break from Facebook to regroup myself and regain perspective, I elaborated on this point in a future post, which is also the next paragraph below.  It is my message to everyone who engages in social media platforms such as Facebook, which is, well, a whole damn lot of people.

Please consider, folks, that a single narrative or message on an active, ever-changing (in real-time) medium of communication, such as Facebook, can quickly morph and split off into several narratives or messages, different from the original message and its intention. Personally, I don’t think it makes anyone somehow “wrong” for changing and/or following whichever message comes their way first, which may very well no longer be the original message/narrative. This simply makes things quite varied and interesting(!). What I look for and try to maintain with any posting on Facebook that I want to somehow engage with and even re-post is a good intention. I think of the game “Telephone” I used to play with other kids in grade school. The message inevitably got changed along the way from ear to ear– except we’re talking exponential amounts of circles of “kids” in the case of Facebook.  Multiple messages, multiple narratives.  There’s room for them all. We can weed out the ones with bad intentions, individually and collectively, and all while doing our best to avoid assuming the worst, or assuming at all. And we can do so without shaming those with good intentions. One message/narrative need not supersede the other. And that’s okay.  Please think on this, friends, including over the recent “Me Too” campaign.

And there is my summed up, “two cents” on this unique, initially painful learning experience on social media, in this case Facebook.  As I have done many times before, I find myself remembering with deep appreciation Nietzche’s words: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”  And I do indeed feel stronger inside than how I felt earlier in the week shortly after sharing my “me too.”  My hope and wish are for everyone to feel stronger for sharing their own truths and, from there, be able to live more truthfully.

 

Some Thoughts on Monogamy

I am heartened to read and hear about women catching up to men in the arena of “cheating” and, frankly, glad to see this finally getting explored by some through a lens of curiosity instead of from a pathologizing/stigmatizing agenda.  I think monogamy is more a spectrum phenomenon and not something that “cookie cutter” fits every single person or couple.  It’s also a very heteronormative concept that doesn’t fit large segments of the GLBTQI communities, let alone a share of the heterosexual community either.  I think about polyamorists too; they’re living a (still) daring paradigm of consenting adult partnership arrangements that seem to work for some well enough (and, obviously, not for others, as is also the case for strict monogamy).  I worked with a male-female polyamorous couple and they were very serious and mature about their arrangement, dedicated to maintaining open communication.  They came for help with another matter, but were glad that I supported their polyamory and didn’t somehow judge them in any way for it.

Fascinating, this thing called love and how we humans 1) choose to secure it with another(s) and 2) tell other people how they themselves should secure it because we think we somehow know what’s best for them.  The longer I live and work in my profession, the more I come to see and believe that as one feels increasingly secure in oneself, the more one can be open-minded and open-hearted to possibilities, one’s own and those of others’.  As I’ve recently written in Braced Brain No More on this blog, it’s about releasing old “braced” thinking from one’s brain, those “do’s”, “don’t’s”, “should’s”, and “shouldn’t’s” uniquely and constantly told to us and subliminally implanted in us during childhood and onward.

If only more adults would be more honest about their actual primary relationship arrangements, the stigma of open relationships/other arrangements would surely gradually fade from the general public.  That said, I personally do think that getting married, having kids, and being with only one person romantically is natural for some for at least a certain extended period of time, though perhaps not necessarily for many decades, for example.  It’s the difference between what actually occurs in nature vs. a human-created, socially imposed value on something.  For example, statistically most adult women are not naturally skinny like pre-teen boys, though extremely thin women are still held up as a primary norm of beauty in the U.S.  Most females have some degree of wider hips and body fat than skinny models in magazines.  Yet, a small percentage of women happen to be naturally petite and super thin, just as their genes are coded in them to be.  Now, taking this one set of phenotypes in nature and blowing those up to be the norm all females should aspire to is not realistic, as it’s not natural for the majority of them.  The same can be said for adults being in indefinitely exclusively monogamous relationships. This statistically works for some people but not at all for many more.  It takes all kinds to make a world.  We sure need to live and let live more than a lot of us do.

One of Them

I am and have always been on the non-binary spectrum, not far from the middle, the middle being equally both male and female. Some of us lovingly refer to such “middle” folk as Two Spirits, of which I am proud to call myself one. I feel blessed to be comfortable in my body with my bio.-assigned gender. However, emotionally-mentally-spiritually speaking, I am probably at least 40%-45% female identified, though such measurement of this(these) multidimensional attribute(s) is(are) rather crude at best. Being a woman inside is a large part of who I am. To those few who know my female/Faery name and have seen how I’ve given open expression to her, they know I speak a deep truth. 

The reality is, a great many naturally identify as a unique combination of male and female, though society at large pressures each of us to solely identify with one gender. I am elated at the thought of serving more of my trans brethren and sistren. Our very existence challenges this gender binary point of view.  And I’ve always been right there as one of “them,” somewhere in the middle, in the mix, along that multi-spectrum. 

Please, everyone, live fully and happily as yourSelves, whoever and whatever that all is, because it’s ultimately good and beautiful.