Tag Archives: This Day in June

My flip-flopping stomach

 

Monday morning, 6:15AM. I stumbled into the kitchen, tired and bleary-eyed, and I headed straight for the electric teakettle. COFFEE!!! I NEED COFFEE!!! Somehow, my brain doesn’t fully kick into gear until I have a few sips of coffee in my system. While I waited for the water to boil, I picked up my phone and scrolled through my messages and updates. The e-mail from Jess is the one that catches my eye.

Congratulations on the Stonewall! it said.

Now, let me backtrack. Jess isn’t a close friend of mine. I know her because she works in my city councilmember’s office. In fact, I got to know her because she was trying to help me catch a stray rooster that was terrorizing my chickens and waking up the neighborhood at 4 AM every morning. (I’m not making this up. I swear. I actually wrote a children’s story about this rooster, but I scrapped it when the real-life rooster turned horribly evil.) So, on many levels, this was a totally bizarre e-mail message to be getting from her.

So I replied. Did I win the Stonewall? I hadn’t heard.

The next thing I knew, my Twitter account was pinging and dinging all over the place. My children’s picture book, This Day in June, had in fact won the 2015 ALA Stonewall Award. The most prestigious LGBT book award, as a matter of fact. Since then, my brain has been buzzing, and my stomach has been flip-flopping all over the place. I’m still in a state of disbelief about it. And I haven’t really had time to digest this – a few minutes after I found out, my daughter woke up, and the frenzied before-school routine was set in motion.

So now it’s Tuesday, and I’m at work, and I have a window of time between checking things off the to-do list and teaching classes all afternoon. Now I have a little time to process this. And what better way to do that than writing about it?

So. How do I feel about this?

I feel excited. Make that EXCITED!!! I’m excited about the award. I’m excited about the possibilities that come with it. I’m excited to see This Day in June getting national attention. And I’m excited that I have another reason to wear a dress I bought for an upcoming black-tie event. (I know, how shallow!)

I feel anxious. Sick, almost. Why, I don’t know exactly. Maybe because this is unfamiliar territory for me? I just know that my stomach hasn’t really settled down since I got the news. I feel jumpy and restless – to the point where I didn’t really want the coffee I’d made that Monday morning. (That’s a first for me.)

I actually feel a little guilty. Why? Because there are so many authors who have been writing much longer than I have whose books have not won the award. Me, I’m a first-time children’s book author, and my book gets the award. It’s a huge honor, for sure, but it’s also very humbling.

I feel energized. I want to write. I haven’t blogged for a while, mostly because I felt like I was running out of things to say. But now the words are coming back. And I’m realizing that you can never run out of things to say, just like you can never run out of stories. But sometimes, you have to take a breath in between before the next thought comes.

I feel hopeful. The ALA had diversity on the radar screen this year – the Newbury and Caldecott Award winners were books with diverse content. And not only was This Day in June the first picture book to receive the award, it’s a book that pushed the envelope in many ways.  (It’s not every day that you see children’s picture books featuring drag, leather, and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.) The ALA sent a message this year, and that message was this: Get out of the box, and start taking diversity seriously.

All kinds of feelings, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But even just a few minutes of writing has settled my stomach a little, and grounded me. Amazing, the power of the written word.

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Filed under children, human rights, LGBT families

Trashed

So I went to San Francisco Pride this past weekend. And it was an adventure.

It was crowded. I waited in line for 30 minutes to buy my train ticket – and that was at the station that was an hour away from the Pride festival. When the train arrived at our destination, it took me 15 minutes to get out of the station. It was THAT kind of crowded.

It was loud. One of the lines in This Day in June says, “Dancers jumping/Music pumping.” And the music was pumping – so much that it made the sidewalks shake. Just like another line in the book.

It was outrageous (I mean that in terms of clothing). Sequined bras, lamé shorty-shorts, rainbow tutus, platform heels, leather harnesses – I saw it all. I didn’t see complete nudity, but there were people I saw who came close.

None of this bothered me – it’s what to expect when you go to Pride (especially San Francisco Pride, which is the second largest public event held in California). And none of this would prevent me from bringing my child to Pride. After all, I wrote a children’s book about Pride – children should be able to go, right? It’s what makes Pride the fabulous event that it is.

But there were two things I saw at Pride that did bother me. A LOT. One was that a lot of people were drunk. Actually, let me specify: A lot of very young people were very, very drunk. I saw quite a few people being carted off by the paramedics because they were so drunk or high. And on the train ride home, a young woman was passed out to the point where it was unclear whether or not her friends would be able to get her off the train. (They did, but barely.)  Has Pride devolved into an excuse to get drunk? I thought repeatedly throughout the day.

You know what else bothered me, even more than the drunkenness? There was trash EVERYWHERE. You know those Burger King wrappers that everyone’s talking about, the ones that look like this?

 burger king wrapper

Well, I got to know them quite well. Because by the end of the day, thousands of them were crumpled up and tossed onto Market Street. THOUSANDS. The city was a mess by the time this was all over.

People were trashed, and the city was trashed. That upset me more than anything else. People live in this city, I thought angrily as I shuffled my way through the crumpled-up Whopper wrappers. How rude it is to come here, get trashed and trash the city, and then leave, expecting someone else to clean up the mess you left! I was seriously awake for part of that night, ruminating about this.

The next morning, I got up and I did some writing about this. (Free-writing often reveals things to me that wouldn’t otherwise be revealed by thinking or talking about them.) And I came to this: How we oppress people isn’t all that different from how we oppress the environment. That’s the basis of ecofeminism, which links ecological destruction with patriarchal oppression under male-dominated capitalist systems. In other words, trashing a city is just like trashing an entire class of people.

Now, a major caveat emptor: A number of well-known ecofeminists, including Mary Daly, have held extremely transphobic beliefs. For example, Daly, in her classic book Gyn/Ecology, went so far as to describe the presumed “unnaturalness” of transgender people as “the Frankenstein phenomenon.” Daly was also Janice Raymond’s dissertation advisor – the dissertation that was eventually published as The Transsexual Empire: The Making of a She-Male. (That is seriously the title.) I’m in no way endorsing this component of ecofeminism, nor do I necessarily agree with the gender-essentialist idea that all women have a “maternal instinct” that is analogous with the concept of Mother Earth. But I will stick with what I came to in my writing. How we oppress people isn’t all that different from how we oppress the environment.

Pride celebrations rose up out of the Stonewall Riots (and, if we go a little earlier in history, the Compton’s Cafeteria Riots). Instead of submitting to dominating authority figures, queer people decided to rise up, speak out, and fight back. That’s why people marched in the first Pride parades – as a form of guerrilla, grassroots activism. So if Pride is about celebrating our collective LGBTQ communities, and rising up from oppression, then how does getting staggering, stumbling-on-the-sidewalk drunk (and high on E, in some cases) and violently trashing a city achieve that?

It doesn’t. And that’s probably why I was so upset. Because if that’s what Pride is all about, then we’re just reaffirming the oppression we’ve been trying to resist all along.

We reveal our internalized oppression through the ways we hurt ourselves. It’s no secret that alcoholism and drug addiction are huge problems in our collective LGBTQ communities. We experience a lot of collateral damage as a result of internalized oppression, and addictions are just one example. At the same time, we demonstrate externalized oppression by imposing our power unjustly onto someone or something else. Trashing a city that has provided a safe ground for so many LGBTQ people is a good example of externalized oppression, in my opinion.

Several weeks ago, I came across an article titled “Re-Queering Pride.” The article, accompanied by an illustration of people yelling, “Stonewall was a police riot!” captures exactly why I think Pride needs to be re-visioned. Our collective queer communities deserve a big fabulous party, that’s for sure. But if we’re going to continue the fight against heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, sexism, cissexism, racism, class oppression, ableism, et cetera, et cetera, then we need to practice what we preach. Treat ourselves with respect, treat others with respect, treat our surroundings with respect.

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Filed under activism, biphobia, human rights, racism, San Francisco, transphobia, violence

My love-hate relationship with Pride

A couple of weeks ago, I got an e-mail message from a sender I didn’t recognize. Here’s how it started out:

Dear Ms. Pitman:
I am writing on behalf of Our Family Coalition (OFC) in San Francisco. OFC advances equity for LGBTQ families with children through support, education, and advocacy. We seek to create an inclusive and just world where all LGBTQ families with children have visibility and opportunities to thrive as valued participants in our schools, institutions, and communities.

Initially, I thought this was a targeted mass mailing (which I get all the time), and I almost deleted the message. But then I read the next line:

We recently received an advance copy of your new book and WE LOVE IT!! 

No way!!! They love it!!! That’s exactly what every author wants to hear – especially when all caps and exclamation points are involved.

But then . . . the other shoe dropped:

Would you be able to join us at the Family Garden at SF Pride 2014? We thought it would be nice to have your book for sale at the event this year, and even nicer if you were there too! 

I should have seen it coming. If you write a book about Pride, then people are going to expect to see you at Pride, right? Somehow, I hadn’t fully connected those dots. (I may be bookish and intelligent, but I’m not always smart.) You’d think I’d be jumping for joy – I mean, I got invited to sell my book at one of the largest Pride celebrations in the world! But I wasn’t jumping for joy – in fact, I went from feeling totally excited (They love my book!) to feeling totally anxious.

I have a love-hate relationship with Pride. I love the idea of Pride – the festive, celebratory atmosphere; the people cheering as they watch the parade (and crying when PFLAG parents are marching in full support of their LGBTQ kids); the rainbows, the glitter, the balloons, the costumes. However, actually going to Pride is a different story. It’s usually hot. (Well, maybe not so much in San Francisco.) It’s crowded – like 1.5-millon-people crowded. People get really drunk – and I don’t love hanging around drunk people. And getting there is a Pain. In. The. Ass. (Picture thousands of hot, drunk people squishing themselves into the BART train.) For an introverted homebody like me, this is like being thrown into Room 101. (If you don’t know what Room 101 is, Google it, and click on the Wikipedia link that comes up.)

When I’m really honest with myself, though, it’s clear that my ambivalence about Pride isn’t really about the heat, the crowds, or the drunkenness. It’s about feeling like I don’t belong.  And that’s the feeling I had when I attended my first Pride celebration.

I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area back in 1994. I had known for a little while that I was bisexual, and I had divulged this information to just a few friends. In 1995, when I went to my first San Francisco Pride celebration, I had high hopes – in retrospect, I can see that they were unrealistic. I didn’t know a lot of people in the LGBTQ community, and I desperately wanted to meet people, to make friends, to find my place in the community. And it didn’t happen – at least, not at Pride. In fact, although I found the parade to be entertaining and festive, I felt like I was watching it through a glass window, unable to connect with the people on the other side. People talk about “feeling alone in a crowded room”  – imagine having that feeling among 500,000 people, all of whom are supposedly part of your “community.” There’s nothing worse than that.

I’ve been to several Pride celebrations since then. In the late 1990s, I went to a few Pride events in the Bay Area, including Sonoma Pride, San Jose Pride, and Santa Cruz Pride, to recruit participants for my dissertation research. In these last couple of years, I’ve attended smaller Pride events in the Bay Area and the Central Valley – Stockton Pride, Castro Valley Pride, Sacramento Pride, Fresno Pride, Modesto Pride. I’ve discovered that every Pride event has its own character. There were handmade quilts for sale at Sonoma Pride. Castro Valley Pride had a lot of teenagers, probably because it was held at on a high school campus. Lots of children were at Stockton Pride. Fresno Pride had a strong Latino presence – and a lot of HIV awareness tables. At these events, I felt much more connected than I did at San Francisco Pride – probably because they were smaller (my introverted self does a lot better in small-group situations). Plus it was easier to get involved at these smaller events, and that’s always a good way to feel like part of a larger community – especially in places like Stockton or Modesto, where there’s a strong “all-hands-on-deck” ethos.

But I didn’t get invited to Fresno, or Modesto, or these other smaller events. I got invited to big, huge, San Francisco. And I’m hearing a little voice inside me ask, “Will I find people who are like me? Will I see myself reflected in this event?”

One thing I love about the LGBTQ community is that it grows, and changes, and responds to our community’s needs. Our community is not perfect, and it definitely has its share of infighting (read “One big happy family” for some insight on this). But Pride celebrations have changed over the years, in ways that better meet the needs of the community. For people in recovery, many Pride celebrations have Clean and Sober spaces. Most Pride festivals have children’s play and entertainment areas. This year, San Francisco Pride has a 60+ Space, a Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Gathering Space, an HIV Pavilion, a TRANS: THRIVE Pavilion, a Leather Alley, an Asian Pacific Islander Community Pride Stand, a Women’s Stage, and an African Diaspora Stage, among others. If I were attending San Francisco Pride for the first time this year, I think I’d have an easier time plugging in. They’ve created spaces where you’re more likely to find your reflection, honoring the fact that we are truly a diverse collection of communities. And finding connections is how we keep ourselves strong, and keep our communities thriving.

Today is June 1st, the kickoff of Pride month. Pride celebrations are taking place every weekend in June, and at other times throughout the year. If you’ve never been to Pride before, consider going – and find a way to actually get involved, and not just watch from the sidelines. If you have been to Pride, and it’s really not your thing, consider giving it another try. I have a feeling that my second go-around with San Francisco Pride will be much more rewarding than the first time.

 

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Filed under activism, children, coming out, HIV/AIDS, intersectionality, LGBT families, LGBTQ youth

The gift of writer’s block

Writer’s block, I’ve come to learn, is my friend. It’s not a nice friend. But it is honest – brutally honest. Unfortunately, my writer’s block tends to communicate in code. It’s not always clear what it’s trying to say – but if I take the time to listen to it, to understand it, it always, without fail, helps me to be a better writer.
OK, you think. She’s written a nonfiction book (Backdrop: The Politics and Personalities behind Sexual Orientation Research). She’s working on another nonfiction book (Fringe: On the Edges of the Mainstream Gay Community). And she just released a children’s book (This Day in June). Boom, boom, boom – one book project after another. Where’s the writer’s block? At first glance, it looks like my writing has taken off like wildfire. Scratch beneath the surface, however, and you’ll see a much different picture.
In 2009, I was granted a semester-long sabbatical from my teaching responsibilities in order to write a textbook for college classes on sexual orientation and gender identity. This was a huge gift, given that sabbaticals aren’t easy to come by in the community college system. However, instead of hitting the pavement and getting right to work, I stalled. I could not make myself write. In fact, for eight weeks straight (almost half of my sabbatical time), I did everything BUT write. It was very scary – I felt like a fraud and a cheat, and I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to make good on my sabbatical agreement.
But then, I had a breakthrough. I was having a conversation with a colleague whose work I very much respect. When I asked her a question about the research she’s done over the years, she laughed and said, “There’s a story behind every research study.” At that moment, I realized that the book I had originally planned on writing (and was now avoiding) wasn’t the book that actually needed to be written. That insight was a game-changer – something opened up, and the writing flowed like a rushing river. Instead of writing a textbook, I started telling the stories behind sexual orientation research (which is way more interesting, in my opinion). No wonder I had writer’s block – who really wants to write (or read) a textbook, anyway? It was all but grabbing me at the throat and shaking me, yelling, DON’T WRITE A TEXTBOOK!!! WRITE SOMETHING MORE INTERESTING!!!
Now, over the past two years, I’ve been working on Fringe, which focuses on the experiences of people who claim membership under the LGBTQ umbrella, but because they’re not young, white, middle-class, exclusively gay, cisgendered, thin, educated, and/or able-bodied, they experience marginalization within that communityI interviewed about twenty people, including intersex activist Hida Viloria, BDSM and polyamory/non-monogamy expert Janet Hardy, transgender activist Jamison Green, disability researcher Rhoda Olkin, and former NCAA athlete Kye Allums, to name a few. I’ve collected a wide range of amazing, inspiring, and gut-wrenching stories. And, as Yogi Berra would say, I’m experiencing deja-vu all over again. Because now it’s time to write . . . and I’m having trouble writing. I’m blocked – again. And it’s scary.
However, I do know this: With Backdrop, I learned that, in time, the reasons for the writer’s block will be revealed – and that revelation will move creative mountains. But with Fringe, the mountains just ain’t moving. I try to write, but I’ve gotten stuck – and stayed stuck. For much longer than eight weeks.
And then the insight came. I was having a conversation with a colleague whose work I very much respect (deja-vu all over again, right!).  I asked him to sum up his discipline in one sentence (he’s a history professor), and he responded instantly by saying, “Who gets to tell the story?”
Who gets to tell the story? Do I get to tell the stories of people whose experiences I don’t necessarily share? Or should I sit down, shut up, and let people speak for themselves? This is what writers call First Voice – letting people speak for themselves (especially those whose stories have been stolen, revised, and re-told by those in power). Children’s book author and illustrator Maya Christina Gonzalez describes this concept in her essay titled “Polka Dots, Self-Portraits, and First Voice Multicultural Children’s Books“:
At a conference I looked at a large collection of Multicultural children’s books. With each book I picked up I could sense if something felt original and authentic and when something felt somewhat discordant. Each time I sensed a lack of resonance, I looked more closely at the author and artist and each time I found that they did not originate from the community they were representing. It is not that their books lacked merit, by no means. But it did feel different. And each time, I got this funny feeling in my gut, it reminded me of educators, professors, experts, ethnographers, authors and artists who were telling me about me or my people or my culture. I did not feel felt. I felt studied, categorized, defined and documented by outsiders. I did not feel that I belonged. I felt separate.
In this quote, Maya Gonzalez was specifically referring to the experience of people of color. However, the LGBTQ community also knows what it feels like to be defined by those who hold power, to have our stories told by those who have not experienced them. Psychologists and psychiatrists diagnosed same-gender-loving people with the disorder of “homosexuality” – and treated them using psychoanalysis, shock therapy, medication, and, more recently, religious conversion. When anthropologists studied the people indigenous to the Americas, they used the term “berdache” (which many Native Americans consider to be marginalizing and othering) to describe gender non-conforming Native men – many of whom were ultimately wiped out by European colonizers. When doctors encountered babies with ambiguous genitalia, they called them “hermaphrodites” – and then proceeded to operate on them so they would conform to society’s gender standards. Their stories were appropriated, and told through the voice of the oppressor – often mangled in ways that caused irreparable harm to those communities.
I don’t consider myself to be “the oppressor.” However, I do have to acknowledge my privilege (unlike Tal Fortgang, for those of you who might have read his inflammatory piece dismissing his own privilege). Even though I’m a card-carrying member of the LGBTQ community, I don’t exist on the “fringes” of that community – not in the same way that many of the people I interviewed do. Even if I practice allyship with the trans community, or the intersex community, or with LGBTQ communities of color, or the BDSM community, does this make it okay for me to tell their stories for them?
I don’t know the answer, to be honest. But I think I hear what Writer’s Block is telling me:
They gifted you with their stories. Handle them with care.
Consider – really consider – whether you should be their storyteller.
And if you do assume the role of storyteller, don’t privilege your voice over theirs. 

Writer’s block. It’s my friend. Not a nice friend. But an honest one.

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Filed under BDSM, disability, gender nonconformity, intersex, polyamory, racism, transgender, Uncategorized

This Day in June is released TODAY!!!

Happy birthday to you!

Happy birthday to you!

Happy birthday, dear This Day in June!

Happy birthday to you!

TDIJ cover

 

 

You may think I’m very weird for singing “Happy Birthday” to my new children’s book. But you have to understand: Today is Book Release Day. Which, if you’re a writer, is a Very. Big. Deal. It really is like the day you gave birth to your child (if you have a child, of course). And writers do all sorts of things to celebrate The Big Day. Some throw a party for themselves. Some go to a bookstore and buy their book – because that’s just a cool thing to do. Some go out to dinner.

And some worry. Will anyone buy my book? Will it get a horrible review – or LOTS of horrible reviews? 

I’m one of the worriers.

So many of us have amazing creative talents. We write. We paint. We sculpt. We sing, or dance, or design, or craft. But for many of us, especially those of us who are “professionals,” those creative talents are hidden. Because it’s one thing to have our guilty creative pleasures. It’s another thing to go public with them, and celebrate our creativity with exuberance and pride. Why? Because it’s scary.

Consider these examples:

A few days ago, I complimented a little girl at my daughter’s school on her outfit, which was colorful and wildly creative. Her mom, who was standing next to me, whispered, “I wish I had more time to sew. Maybe when my kids get older.” As it turns out, she had made the outfit, but she didn’t want to admit it – probably because she didn’t want to brag and look like she was full of herself.

A few weeks ago, a student came to talk to me because he was concerned about his grade. When he opened up his notebook to show me how he takes notes, there were beautiful, intricate drawings in the margins. “Those are amazing!” I said to him. He blushed. “Oh, that’s just doodling. Instead of wasting my time on that, I really should pay more attention in class.”

A few months ago, at a party, I met someone who had a lot of tattoos, one of which was especially striking. “Where did you get that done?” I asked. She told me, and then, lowering her voice, she said, “I designed it myself.” She paused. “It’s really not that hard.”

All three of these individuals clearly have unbelievable creativity. And when they told me that they had sewed the outfit, drawn the doodles, designed the tattoo, they each found a way to downplay it – dismiss it, really. But honestly, I think all three of them wanted me to know that they were the creative force behind their awesome works of artistry. And you know what? I am no different from them. I love to sew, and do all things crafty. But when I sew a doll and give it to a child as a gift, I never tell anyone that I made it – even though I’m always in awe of each doll I make, because each one is so cute, and each has its own unique little doll personality. When someone asks me if I made it, I’ll tell them . . . but in a lowered voice, because I don’t want to seem like I’m bragging. It’s the same with writing: When a children’s story I write gets published, on Book Release Day I want to jump up and down and share with every single person I see my excitement about this exuberant and celebratory picture book. But a little voice in my head tells me I should be Humble and Reserved. That I shouldn’t share my excitement, or brag a little bit (or a lot), or throw myself a big party – because that’s narcissistic, you know.

Personally, I think that voice is Fear. Because if we don’t share our creativity with others, then nobody can criticize it – or criticize us. However, when we bravely put our creative work out there in the world, we’re revealing our bodies and baring our souls – and opening up our deepest pools of vulnerability.

When I kick Fear to the curb, here’s the truth that’s revealed: I’m more excited about This Day in June than I am about anything else I’ve ever created. The story itself is fun to read. Kristyna Litten‘s illustrations are simply outstanding – they capture perfectly the essence of Pride, and there are lots of intriguing little details embedded in each two-page spread (including an image that bears an uncanny resemblance to me – see if you can find it!). At the end of the story, the cultural and historical elements that are referenced throughout the book are explained more fully, and there’s a section that offers guidance on how to talk to children about gender identity and sexual orientation (because, oddly enough, there are no books out there on this topic).

You know the biggest reason I’m so excited about This Day in June? Because our children deserve a beautifully fabulous book about Pride – and I’m thrilled that I got to do it. It’s long overdue.

So how will I celebrate? I will go to work, as usual – but on my way home, I’ll swing by my local bookstore (The Avid Reader, in my case) and purchase my book – even though I already have several copies. (I’ll buy the Kindle version too, while I’m at it.) Maybe we’ll go out to dinner, but I might just prefer a quiet dinner at home. I’ll have a launch party – just not today. (Stay tuned on that one). And I’ll read This Day in June to my daughter before she goes to bed.

This Day in June is available today from Magination Press, from Amazon, or from your local bookstore.

 

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Filed under children, Uncategorized