I Need

The world seems to be on fire, or drowning, or both.  The recent election, the slew of horror-story memes, contradictions, opposite-land cabinet picks, and the direction that my country is going to be heading over at least the next four years, have all carved away at my eternal optimism to a point where I don’t know how to be anymore.  This lack of hope, lack of light, and lack of focus has me grasping at any and everything that might be construed as positive, but time and time again, those things that bring me moments of joy are elusive and slip through my fingers.  So, I’m back to this space, this darkness.

I took off to the snow and evergreens a little while ago, and for a moment, I found respite.

Tomorrow, I want to go back, back up there, back to where the snow crunches, the air is perfumed with fir and spruce, and the sounds around me are muffled by the blanket of winter that covers every surface that faces the sky.

I need a retreat from this world.

Survival Skills

Since November 9, 2016:

  • I’ve been to the gym.   I know this sound like a trivial detail, but having not gone persistently for months on end, the requirement to have a strong body, coupled with the clarity and surge of energy and endorphins that the gym provides, is now more necessary than ever.
  • I keep writing.  I keep putting down words of frustration, of sadness, of confusion onto pages and papers as an attempt to make sense of it all.
  • I keep going to work.  Not only do I need to just pay my bills, but I also need the distraction.  Sitting here, quietly, staring at whatever is in front of me, only leads to more jaw-clenching and rage.  The act of getting out on the road, and driving around Portland, Oregon allows me to interact with others, even on the most basic of levels, and reminds me that I’m not alone.
  • I keep reminding Ray that I love him, more than ever.  We’ve drawn quite close over the past few weeks since November 9th, and I feel more connected to him than I ever have.  We both have had to face down some real truths about where we came from, and what has been holding us back.  Now, in this current political upheaval, we have each other, and not a whole lot more.
  • I keep looking for things to do, meetings to attend, groups to join, so that I don’t just sit here and idle my way through this mess.

There’s a direct and sincere feeling of having to come to terms with the life I have been leading.  I have actively bought into the New Liberalism that has marked the last few decades here in America.  I have sought the refuge of ever-more liberal cities in order to find a space to exist with limited fears, even when the act of doing so cost the connections I once had to my very-blue-collar past.  I have bought into the idea of higher education as a means to overcoming social injustices.  I have fed into the very machine that voters from places I’ve always been afraid of (middle America, “fly-over,” redneck, etc) have denounced and ridiculed, and now claim victory over.  I gave over my rural identity and politics the day I decided to come out of the closet, it seems. I allowed myself to succumb to the audacity and optimism of living in and among a class of liberal urbanites who never expressed any connection to the world beyond their cities (other than to liken trips to the rural spaces as something akin to safari, or a trip to the zoo), all under the banner of being able to safely exist as my true self.  I’m not sure about these choices anymore.

Today, I’m finding myself questioning this move, and why I didn’t have the strength to be who I am while retaining my rural roots and connections.  What kind of impact could I have made if I had simply gone back home after college?  Is this regret?  Is this me internalizing a lot of doubts I now am holding about the country I live in?  I’m not certain.  I do know this, though – I moved away at the time because of fear.  I chose not to live among those who held deep-seated hatred and bigotry against me, who I was and am, and those like me.  For many like me, I’m pretty certain this is a similar refrain.

I’m also now, more than I have ever been, questioning the words and language used by those of us who live in these urban/liberal-elite spaces.  How have we glossed over, or even promulgated, the challenges of race and racism, along with bigotry and xenophobia, by not actively engaging in the methods and actions needed to come to terms with these problems?  Simply put, I don’t know what to trust any longer, internally or externally.  I need to figure this out.

 

 

work self

Passing

Now that Trump is our president, now that his supporters have had their victory, there has been, and continues to be a persistence of fear among those I know and love, those who saw his victory as more than just a change of face in the Oval Office.  This fear, this deep-seated anxiety that has ravaged my collective family for a nearly a week now, comes from somewhere else, somewhere none of us were prepared to have to revisit.

When Trump spoke, it wasn’t his words that we were all paying attention to.  It was the voices of his supporters.  His rallies consisted of people who felt empowered and emblazoned by the rhetoric of their candidate, especially when he spoke of disadvantaged communities.  Communities of color, of people with disabilities, of women, of the people who identified other than “normal” on the gender/sexual identity spectrum, all of them (us) were used as fodder to amp up the crowds.  This act of sifting us out, of separating us from “real” people was used time and time again across every space that Trump spoke, as means of suggesting that too much attention has been given to these marginalized people at the expense of those who stood before him in the crowd.  We were his cannon fodder.  His supporters finally saw a man who would say the words about these communities that they had perhaps kept to themselves, at least publicly.  Trump gave them the answer to the question “What about me and my needs?” in a way that no other candidate could or did. He gave them a scapegoat for their rage and feelings of fear and inequity.  Through his own rhetoric from the campaign stump, Trump pointed at the collective left and shouted “There! There is the target for your rage!”

His followers, as we’ve now seen in the reports of assault, violence, graffiti, and the like against the people and communities he targeted in his campaign, are acting as they were directed.  They feel empowered to take their deep-seated fears, grounded predominantly in economic insecurity, and act upon them.

Yesterday, I was asked a question that surrounded the expression of my self.  A dear friend of mine, who lives in an area of the country that went for Trump in the election heavily, was wondering about my thoughts on being “out” versus simply “passing.”  She wanted to know my thoughts on this because, in all truth, I can and do pass as a straight man every day.  I put on my jeans and flannel and boots and can walk down any Main Street anywhere and hardly get noticed.  I don’t look or act flamboyant, or any express any other stereotypically gay behaviors.  I drive a bus, I have a belly, I have a beard full of grey hair.  I’m bald.  I wear simple glasses.  I fit in.  My friend has similar abilities, as she is fully capable of dressing and using makeup to express herself in public as just another white female, even though she too has multiple identities that make up the person she is, much as I do.  Her question was one of personal safety versus being seen as a member of those extended communities as an act of solidarity or support.

I suggested that, for now, she follow her guts and ensure her personal safety.

It really stung me to suggest that she keep her actual/other selves in hiding.

She mentioned that we no longer know the boundaries of where it is safe to express our full and other selves.  We don’t know where the lines are anymore.  Trump supporters are everywhere, even here in the epicenter of liberalness known as Portland, Oregon.  These people walk among me every day, and I interact with them on the job every time I open the door.  Or, at least, that’s how I’m approaching every interaction.  As a matter of personal safety, I see everyone who isn’t a person of color, who isn’t a woman, who isn’t visibly a member of any of the communities that Trump targeted and demonized in his rallies, as a potential threat.  Jaw-clenching, breath-holding threat.  It’s a coping skill as much as a life-saving reaction.  I honestly don’t know who I can trust anymore.  Those lines are gone.  Not even my geographical location is any form of protection any longer.  750,000 Oregonians voted for Trump.  Every one of those people could be a threat.  I simply do not know.

As I gazed at my reflection in the mirror this morning – a middle-aged man with too many bags under his eyes even after a decent night of sleep, with so much grey in his ever-bushy beard – I found myself looking at myself in a very different light.  Instead of an out-and-proud gay man, I saw myself, my passing-safe-self, as easily identified as a Trump supporter instead of a member of a community that is targeted and under assault by his actual supporters.  There is nothing about me and my presentation that would suggest that I’m anything more than a white man.  As this realization came over me in the glare of the bathroom light, suddenly, the memory of the passing glances I got yesterday while I was at work came back to me.  More than once, I got a shadow of fear, a pause, between my rider and me as they boarded the bus.  This is a typical thing, really, as they present me with their bus pass or fare and there’s a moment of validation or not that I must undertake.  That sort of interaction happens in my job.  Yesterday’s moments of pause, though, had a certain pregnancy to them that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, at least not until today.  As I sit there in my company-standard uniform, a white guy behind the wheel of the bus, there is no assurance that I am not a member of the groups who now, emblazoned by our next President, are out to hurt those who are not like them.

My “passing” is as much an act of personal safety as it is a wall between myself and those people in the communities that are now facing such dire consequences for simply existing.

There is no visible line to spot where civility and common decency to another human ends.  There no longer exists an agreed upon demarcation of what is acceptable behavior towards another human being, and what is not.  Trump’s election has blurred all of that.  Instead of looking at another person in the eye and assuming that they will not act out violently against me because that’s what we’ve collectively agreed upon as a basic standard of life, I find myself in a constant state of preparedness for battle.  As a white, passable, male, I recognize that if I’m feeling this way, that same feeling is exponentially greater for anyone else who is visibly part of a marginalized group.

What I am left to decipher, what I am left to navigate, is how to both keep myself safe and at the same time show members of marginalized communities that I am on their side.  Yesterday, an idea adopted from people in the UK who are undergoing a similar struggle as they reconcile the vote to leave the EU – and simultaneously now have to deal with a more vocal and outspoken anti-immigrant, racist, vitriolic presence of people in their society – was to wear a simple safety pin.  It is meant to show to the world that the person wearing it is an ally, a safe person to be near, and someone who will stand up for you, whoever and whatever you are, in a time of crisis or conflict.  I wore one on my uniform, and will continue to do so, but I don’t know if it’s enough.  It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s enough.

Not when I look at myself in the mirror and can’t tell from the man looking back at me if he’s a Trump supporter or not.

Kissing Ray's Ear

So Much

It’s been too long since I’ve posted here.

Way. Too. Long.

I’ve started school again, and am hip-deep into learning C-programming, as well as taking two survey courses about computers and computer science. On top of this, I’ve been attempting to churn out a better draft of my memoir with the help of my writing group. The ladies I’ve been working with are patient and amazing, but I fear I’m letting them down. I’ve also been in discussions with Ray about the future for him and I. Possibilities with work for him and work for me seem to be rattling around out there, and while we are both anxious to take a Big Leap Forward with our careers, life, and all of that – we are both feeling terribly overwhelmed by it all.

Too many plates spinning.

I’m on a quick layover at work, so I’ll have to cut this short for now, but I will be back later. I need to write stuff down and share it here.

___

It’s now almost 10pm and I’m finally coming back to this entry.  See what I mean?  I’ve spent the last few hours doing homework and such, and totally forgot to come back and say my peace on here.

UGH.

Over the last few weeks, Ray and I have been getting pretty serious about our conversations regarding the future.  He’s got a number of options on the table.  I’ve got a few myself, but they’re mostly just threads that I could possibly pluck, depending on where he wants to go.  He, of course, would also follow my lead if I were to take one, but as I admitted to him last night, the last time I took the lead on anything like this, I lost the relationship I was in due to resentment and bitterness.  I don’t want to have any of that with him.  I also, however, don’t want to throw out any opportunities for myself in an act of just pleasing him.  Resentment goes two ways, I’ve learned.

For now, I’ve got Teach for America looming on my horizon.  They have placement schools in the Yakima River area, where Ray could possibly also find work in the wine industry out there.  There’s also the potential of going full-time at TriMet (with an extended possibility of becoming a Light Rail Operator).  The first option would be a huge shift in the way things are with Ray and I.  The second option would be more subtle, perhaps, but it would mean I’d need to give up on my dreams of getting back into the classroom, probably give up on school as well, and dive head-first into a job that I’m, to be honest, meh about.

I mean, I could make it work, and the money would be lovely.  I could be stupid-debt (credit card) free in a matter of months.  I could stash money aside for a downpayment on a home.  I could be the sole breadwinner for us while Ray figures out his own career and life.  But I could also do those things on a starting teacher salary in Washington State – especially if we were to live in an area that is very, very, VERY affordable.

So, yeah, right now, things feel like their spinning a lot, and I’m chasing back and forth to keep the plates up on the poles where they belong.  Ray can sense it, and is reacting accordingly – bouncing between “there, there, there, Thom” and “OMG GO AWAY.”  I get it.  I’m neurotic.  I’m also really, really hungry for change, and really want to put down some damned roots somewhere.  I’m almost forty years old.  It’s beyond time.

Summer’s Last Stand

It’s been a really interesting summer.  I went into it, with a very open work schedule, expecting to be able to get out and do a lot more than we have this year.  My knee injury earlier this year, coupled with Ray’s ongoing shoulder problem, has kept us a little closer to home than I had anticipated.  We haven’t gone camping as much as we did last summer, it seems, nor have we taken as many long-distant journeys around the Pacfic Northwest.  That all said, it’s not like it’s been a bad summer at all.  It’s been a lot more transformative than I expected.

We did get up to Canada, and celebrated Ray’s success at passing his Level 1 Sommelier exam.  This act underlines his abilities to suggest and serve wine, and demonstrates on his resume and at future job interviews, that his knowledge is real and verified.  It’s been a huge bump to his feeling of justification and personal security, and I’ve really seen a lot of worry and tension and depression start to wane in my boyfriend.  Because of this, we’ve started actively exploring our next step, looking at employment options, housing options, and having longer discussions about what happens after living here in Portland.  To that end, for myself, I’ve taken the steps to re-enroll in classes at the local community college in an attempt to learn new and different skills that can help me in my own job placement outside of Portland.  It’s caused me to reconsider getting back into the classroom, to start the process of obtaining a teaching license, and as of tomorrow, has me registering for introductory courses in Computer Science.  I’m starting to put more stock in the idea that Ray and I do, in fact, have a future that goes beyond the here and now, but I’m having these feelings and reacting to them in a way that isn’t going against Ray at all.  Instead, there’s a synergy, a parallel, between him and I that has really sparked a new level of connection between us both.

I’ve really enjoyed the summer of the Jeep, even though it’s been a bit bumpy as a car owner.  It has been broken into twice and has ended up back at the dealer twice now for repairs, but all in all, having that vehicle, my dream vehicle, with the top down and the tunes up, flying across the grasslands of central Oregon, or winding up through the mountains on either side of town, has brought me such joy and happiness.  I love the freedom, I love the ability to throw the top down and just feel the world around me, and I love what being able to afford this vehicle has done for my feelings toward myself.  Three years ago, I was an absolute fiscal mess.  I had no job.  I was stuck in a world that wasn’t of my design.  I had nothing and no one to really turn to, and was allowing someone else, outside forces, direct me.  Now, only a short while after, things have really changed for the better.

This summer has seen a real push with my writing, too.  Having joined the small writing group that I belong to has been a real blessing in my life.  Every other week, I now have a wonderful gaggle of people conversing with me about the book, about their own work, about the struggles we all face as we try to hone our craft.  It’s super supportive, super engaging, and really reminds me that there is more to me than my ability to drive a bus and do the laundry.  I’ve seen this sixth revision of a story I began back in 2011 really take some amazing shapes, and plumb a lot of depths that I was once too afraid to explore.  In doing so, I am constantly feeling the loosening grip of darkness and fear that has always plagued me from telling a story that was as authentic as possible.  This feeling of liberation has really expressed itself outward in my daily life, and I come back to the house, to my job, and to my boyfriend every other Wednesday night feeling renewed and resolved to go further and do better.

To that end, this summer has also been a lot about overcoming my insecurities with regards to my relationship and the faith I have in it.  Ray and I have come up against moments that have required trust and commitment, as well as honest (sometimes brutally so) conversations about fear and worry that we both have.  In being able to hold space for these kind of talks, though, and seeing the promises we’ve made to each other act out in real-time between us, has had the cumulative effect of really deepening the bond he and I share.  Every day, it seems, he’s reminding me just how unlike any other man I’ve ever been this close to he truly is.  I expect rebuke, I brace for antagonism, and a constant stream of doubt towards the choices and actions that I make for myself and the direction of my life.  Instead, I keep getting more support, more love, more optimism from Ray.  I had no idea that this is how a healthy relationship was supposed to work.  I’m still learning and man – it’s such a valuable lesson.

Summer might be coming to an end soon, but we’ve still got lots going on this year to look forward to.  I have school.  Ray’s doing more and building out his resume in ways that will really set the stage for us soon.  We’re also planning a joint adventure for our birthday that is shaping up to be a lot of fun and will bring us back to Denver, where I can reconnect with past friends and remind myself of where I’ve been.  There’s also the chance that one of his dear friends will be joining us for Thanksgiving this year, so I might have the opportunity to put on a full-on feast, which I adore doing.

 

A Corporate Conversation

Last week, in the middle of coming to grips with what had happened in Orlando, with forty-nine dead people at the hands of a hateful and broken man, I started to pivot from grief for the loss, to action to prevent these things going further.  As part of this, I mulled over where to reach out, and where to put my energy.  I could keep writing letters to Congress.  I could keep fighting the comment battle on Facebook.  I could keep lighting candles and attending vigils and standing tall with my queer people.  I could also reach out to a place that I know, and that knows me, and learn a bit about how they manage to be both a purveyor of firearms, but also a responsible corporate citizen in the state that I will forever call home – Maine.

I reached out to L.L. Bean, the iconic and historic outdoor sporting goods retailer that has always been quintessential to representing part of what being from Maine means, and engage in a conversation.  I sent this letter to their corporate offices:

Letter-to-LL-Bean

While I wasn’t sure why I felt compelled to do this, as time passed between sending the letter, and the response I got on Friday before taking off to enjoy Pride Weekend, I realized I was seeking some footing.  I was seeking some ties to home, some sort of sanity from the place I’m from, as I take more steps forward to promote an honest, real, and engaged discussion about the problem we have with guns in America today.  I was seeking an example of what I thought was a smart gun sales policy (I kind of remembered how L.L. Bean handled guns from my time there as an employee, but I needed it in writing again).

This is the response I got from Carolyn Beem, Manager of Public Affairs for L.L. Bean (mouse over and select the next page to view page two):

Response-from-L.L.-Bean

Removing the questions surrounding their absence from the Maine Pride celebrations, I really felt good about their response concerning guns and gun safety.  They do have an understanding and respect for firearms that could serve as a model for gun usage in our country going forward – especially with respect for hunters and sportspeople.  I align myself in that camp – a healthy and deep-seeded respect for the power of a firearm and the need for adequate and responsible safety and gun ownership responsibility.  I also echo their stance with regards to assault weapons as tools for hunting; they aren’t designed for hunting at all.

We can solve this.  We can take into consideration the heritage and traditions of hunters and ranchers and people who depend on gun access for those reasons.  We can make exceptions for gun owners who simply enjoy shooting (clay pigeons, target practicing, and the like), without constantly and continually selling weapons of mass destruction – what I’m now calling these assault and military-grade style of weapons that are too present in our country.

We can, and we will solve this.

An Open Letter to the United States Congress, President, and Vice-President

Dear Members of the Congress of the United States:

Yesterday, I woke up to a beautiful summer morning here in Portland, Oregon.  The sun was shining brightly, there was an anticipation of a gorgeous warmth in the air to cap off what had already been a really stellar weekend.  Though I was up early to go to work, I still felt the sense of optimism and positivity that I greet most of my days with.  It was going to be a good day.

Then, of course, I did what any modern American today does – I checked my phone.  I opened up Facebook, and before I could even swallow my first swig of coffee, I was gut-punched by the news coming out of Orlando, Florida.  Overnight, while I slept soundly and safely in the house I share with my long-term partner and boyfriend, twenty, no thirty, no fifty gay people, mostly men, and mostly younger than I am, were mowed down in a night club in an act of bloodthirsty homophobic hate.

Once again, I found myself clicking through news stories, reading status updates of shock, of grief, of dismay.  It was the same when the AME Church in Charleston was ravaged by hate.  The same when Umpqua Community College in my own state was the killing ground.  San Bernadino, Newtown, Aurora, Columbine…  On and on, and back it goes, back as far as I remember.  Blood and hate and violence when a person with an axe to grind gets their hands upon fully-legal-to-have assault weapons.

Today, after a day full of grief and sadness, where I attended vigils among my GLBT community, while I fought back the tears all day just to get through my day at work – a bus operator here in Portland, and not a space where I can safely be my out-and-proud self – and while my boyfriend and I exchanged words of sadness, rage, and grief, I’m now, once again, reading the headlines in the news.  Of course, like clockwork, it’s full of prayers and thoughts, “it’s not the gun’s fault,” and “it’s a mental health issue” arguments streaming across every news source and place that, just yesterday, mapped out the pain and agony of a ruthless and bloody scene in Orlando.

Today, I’m writing to you, not just as a citizen of Portland, Oregon, but as an active, political, vocal, proud American who has simply had enough with the bloodshed.  I’m tired of thoughts and prayers.  I’m tired of your inaction and inability to shoulder the burden of guilt that rests with you and your defiance with regards to enacting tough, bold gun reform laws.  I refuse to be quiet any longer, and I refuse to be placated with platitudes – “thoughts and prayers,” as you are so quick to call them.

I need you – we need you – to stop the shenanigans.  We, us – the American People – need you to do your job, step up to the plate, take responsibility for what you have not done, and move forward with sensible gun laws.  We need more than your words.  We demand your deeds.  Action.

Don’t you dare quote the Second Amendment to me either.  I know the “well regulated militia” part as well as the “right to bear arms shall not be infringed” part.

Change this law.  Change the direction of this country.

Or, face the real possibility that this issue will run you out of office.  It’s not just the Right with their Tea Party who can make real change happen.  Us over here on the left, out here grieving the loss of so many people, GLBT, People of Color, and the others that are not represented well among your halls of Congress, demand this of you.  We’ve had enough.

I’ve had enough.

Please.  Be a human and have some integrity.  Stop taking money and advice from the NRA and the rest of the gun lobby.  Notice the blood on your hands.

Your Fellow American,

Thomas W. Palmer