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

 

long, open road ahead

Dear Fellow Berners,

I get it.

You’re angry.  You are grasping at anything that might justify the possibility of our candidate winning the nomination from the Democratic Party.  You might be holding tightly onto steep math, or even onto some sort of chaos befalling Hillary Clinton and her campaign.  You are sourcing any and every article you can find that echoes how you’re feeling and posting it all over any social medium you can find.  You and your like-minded people are raging against the machine that you swear up and down has been rigged against us from the start (and maybe it has – my jury is still out on that front).  You’re expending so many keystrokes to cut down, to insult, and to scream at anyone you might know who is expressing any sort of support for HRC.

My real question to you is this:  Are there better ways you could be expending your energy and passion rather than all that rage?

Believe me, I’m not going to belittle that rage.  Living on the edge, or even over the edge, for so damn long has left me feeling jaded, angry, and lost too.  Credit card balances way too high, one check away from being swamped, dreading that rent increase notice, all the while attempting to pay down an education that I was promised would bring me economic stability and a rung up on that damned ladder (and I’m a white guy – I can’t even begin to speak for anyone of color or of another gender identity)…I get it, as far as I can.

I have had the opportunity to live abroad, and have experienced a world where a National Healthcare System existed, under Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.  I got to experience life where the election process involved so many parties, so many different voices, all racing to be first past the pole in order to win, which was both raucous and definitely a challenge to wrangle, but also allowed for so many different voices and options in terms of governance and legislating.  I know we can do better here in America than we already do, especially in terms of governance.  Nearly daily, we all read articles of the things that the new government to the north, under Justin Trudeau, is undertaking, and find ourselves lamenting that we should have something similar here.  Governments all over the world provide healthcare as a human right, provide economic safety nets that really do help to buffer against all of the economic instability out there, and treat their citizens with dignity and a sense of human decency without explicitly needing to call out to all of the various protected classes that we still have to both write into protection laws, and have yet to write into protection laws.  For them, a human is a human in whatever form/shape/color that person exists.  To most of us, HRC represents all that keeps us from having that kind of forward-thinking government to support our lives in a variety of ways.

That, however, is the place where I think we as Bernie supporters need to start pivoting.  If we want to drive our country forward, to join the ranks of other countries that are light-years ahead of us in terms of social stability and human dignity, then we need to coalesce into something beyond the Bernie campaign.  For months, he called for a political revolution, for actual action that demands more than just rants and cross-posts on Facebook.  We need to hit streets, write letters, show up, actually shout using our real voices.  We need to find the way to enact the actual revolution and make ourselves a voting bloc that demands to be heard and considered.

Much like the right has its Tea Party, we can be that demanding of our political representation.  If a member of Congress isn’t pushing hard enough to the left, or is compromising on what we value as those who agreed to Bernie’s campaign platform, and all of its various planks, then we should be able to threaten those representatives with being primaried out of office.  I think, truly, we can do something like this, something powerful that will require the DNC to pay attention.  I think we can do it without the ugliness that the Tea Party has wrapped itself in, though, and provide a voice of reason and liberalness that includes all of us who demand something greater than what we’ve got.  I do think, though, that in order to to that place, we need to do a much better job of organizing, of showing up at *every damn election,* and challenging our politicians at every level, from local school boards and city councils to state and county boards and houses of government, and on up to the federal level.  For years, we’ve been labeled as grassroots, but maybe, just maybe, it’s time for our roots to get a little bigger, a little more resilient, and start reaching a bit higher than just grass-height.

If we can put our collective lighting in a jar, I think we really can make a wave of change that would benefit the entire country and bring us truly into the 21st century.

A Lifting Fog

For months now, probably since my knee blew out in early February, I’ve been living in a state of pause.  I stopped going to the gym.  I stopped chasing health goals all around, and found myself looking at my list of things to do and achieve, and simply turning away from them.  Each one of these goals felt insurmountable, unattainable, and requiring way too much focus and effort than I could muster.  I don’t think I realized just how depressed and sanguine I’d become as I spent the month on the couch nursing my injury.

Summer has come, and I’m not any closer to reaching those goals – fitness, fiscal liberation, and the like – but something has snapped and broken inside me, for the better.

Earlier this week, I got news from a dear friend about a situation that has set him back on his heels in terms of his own life-trajectory.  He’s facing a steep challenge over the next few months, possibly years, and while he reached out to me for support, I felt myself reverting into Oldest Sibling mode, planning and scheming and laying out a framework for how to help him move forward.  I listened with intent to how he was feeling, and will continue to do so as he moves forward, but what this has done for me personally has been the gear-shift I’ve been needing.

I found myself able to sit down and go further with a chapter and section of my memoir that has been a huge challenge to face and come to terms with.  I found a pathway forward in my own health journey that, for the first time in a long time, felt deeply close to my heart and something that I could claim as my own, rather than buying into someone else’s system, and ending up poorer and just as out of shape as when I started.  I am seeing myself for what I am, right now, but I’m also once again visualizing where I want to be in a year’s time, when I turn 40, and what kinds of things I can do on a daily and consistent basis that will bring me to that place.  That lamp in the dark, the thing that I am making my way towards, became clear, as though a thick bank of fog finally lifted and blew away.

This has been a good week.

It’s good to be back in my skin again, rather than feeling like an object in orbit around this lump of flesh that seemed to exist without purpose.  I’m looking forward to see where this new-found drive takes me.  Right now, though, I’m going to pour myself another cup of coffee and enjoy a quiet Thursday morning.

It should be noted that through all of this, Ray has been a steady rock.  I’ve been able to lament to him about my stasis, and time after time, he reminded me that it’s okay to pause, to stop obsessing, to stop beating myself up for needing a break in all that I’ve got going on.  We took off on a camping trip to Walla Walla, Washington, and even then, while I was dealing with a cold and full of snot and ick, he remained constant and life-affirming, all while I was feeling so dejected for seemingly ruining our trip.  I am reminded daily just how lucky I am to have him in my life.