For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow…

The Massachusetts Cultural Council has just awarded me a 2010 fellowship in poetry! Read the press release here.

My application packet included poems from my chapbook Swallow (Amsterdam Press, 2009) and my forthcoming chapbook Barbie at 50 (Cervena Barva Press), as well as some uncollected work. The following prose-poem, included in that group, won the Robert J. DeMott Short Prose Prize from the literary journal Quarter After Eight, and was recently published in QAE issue #16. (This $200 prize is currently accepting entries through June 15.)


I collect packets of soup noodles. The last pages of books from the prison library. I am a collector of others’ facial expressions. If you’ve found it hard to move your eyebrows lately, that was probably me. I collect the different colors the day appears in. Soup noodles crackle. There are many colors that are called gray. Dawn light and potato soup and regulation wool socks. I would collect them all, except I have nowhere to store the soup. Cellophane wrappers crackle as if something more was in them than you could see through. Fire and footsteps. Even in here there are hobbies I have no time for. I do not collect rats. They have no numbers. Unlike us. Every rat is the same number, meaning, more than you can see. Rats do not have the patience to collect soup noodles. That is why they will temporarily be your friend, again and again. Rats shrink from the sound of crackling, like a teenage boy forced to read a nineteeth-century novel of manners. The Victorians were so unsure of themselves that they collected the hair of the dead. Wove it into fetishes of gray flower brooches. Because they didn’t know anymore whether the soul had another place to go home to. Rapping and tapping, the dead return to turn out their pocket litter, to prove themselves by the ticket stubs and cigarette butts their unique past collected. Proving they are made of paper and ash. Like the clipboard woman sent by the state to ask me to circle how I am feeling today. I feel like the number 4. She does not want any soup noodles. I have found that most people, when they hear the sound of crackling, remember their dream of being followed through a dark wood.


New Poem by Conway: “Screw”

My prison pen pal “Conway” has been reading Shakespeare’s Henry VI plays. In his latest letter, he observed that the use of colored emblems, the red and white roses, to represent sides in the Wars of the Roses reminded him of gang colors. There must be something very primal about the human impulse to divide society along color lines (whether skin color or clothing) and then believe that those arbitrary differences represent real value judgments — the natural order, so to speak.

In this recent poem, Conway examines another way that clothing both symbolizes and creates a power imbalance.


Grab hold your notice, do come too
bring along a ticket, per chance for speeding?
We’ve seen a summons before
been charged through a specific door
for a fine ignored that went to warrant
finally arrested, in a county jail congested.

So, we’ll have to sleep on a dirty floor
where time passes by, that never clicks
on an imaginary clock that forever ticks,
unless of course, someone pays for your bail;
cares enough perhaps, to spare those straps.

Only then, can we be dragged from beneath–
of it, (our bottomless pit)
where pancakes taste, like pigeon shit.

Naked jailbirds, feebly rubbed against another
gagged with expressionless restraint
scooched along corridors with voiceless complaint
where chains dragged in, in exploit, then bragged about
are limitless banes of committee.
Uninformed, disregarding humanity
lying to become wards of a ruthless city.

Accept this summons, now come along
it matters not, if you’ve done no wrong
or argued any specific reason

What is this? The time of day,
without a window, sun’s light to see.
What would you say, if you were cold;
Nakedly sold, told No way!
“You may not wear warm clothes today.”
What could you say, if you would but say,
“Stay those icy cold fingers of punishment.”
But, this chill is devised for our bones to feel
No more “Monty Hall let’s make a deal”
with those insulated halters.

We must oppose the foes who choose
to make up rules–
to strip us of our clothes (like the fooled Emperor)

If not, then take a ticket
come inside; Regardless
if you care not to take this ride
swearing enough to start a landslide
where the razor wire divides the road
The one our ancestors must all have strolled.
Some poor soul struggled with a tyrannical law
or fanatical persuasion, sanctified definition
of someone else’s screwed up vision;
dynamic rule of indecision.
Which door do you have for me?
I’ll pick one or two, not three
That’s not a lucky number for me.

We only pick, if we can pay the toll,
only then; someone else must refill the bowl.

Then, pick up another summons
eventually take this ride, come inside
as this penalty takes its time
your time, our time, or
time to fall asleep.

Blindly justice suffers this
because it missed the truth
then stole away our youth
finding out we’re already in, and
way too deep, too late
to disturb this butchered fate.

Another broken promise
where money makes the rule
this sticks like super glue, yoked
bound in solitude, to a matchless shoe
under the turning of the screw…

Theologian Patrick Cheng Rethinks Sin and Grace from a GLBT Perspective

Patrick S. Cheng is an ordained minister with the Metropolitan Community Churches and a professor of systematic theology at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA. He is also a religion columnist for the Huffington Post. I discovered his writings via the Other Sheep newsletter. In the opinion columns and scholarly articles on his website, Cheng draws the connection between a truly incarnational Christian theology and the healing of our oppressive legalism and dualism surrounding human sexuality.

As Richard Beck recently observed on his Experimental Theology blog, our current liturgical season of Pentecost celebrates an end to “othering” (viewing our fellow human beings as alien and subhuman). Beck writes, “The Kingdom is marked by its assault on Othering. Where Othering has vanished the Kingdom has come.”

Similarly, Cheng contends that the marriage of human and divine natures in Jesus ought to serve as a model for non-dualistic thinking about gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and other categories we use to divide and oppress one another. In his article “Rethinking Sin and Grace for LGBT People Today”, Cheng writes about four christological models and their parallels to the lives of gay and trans people, one of which is the “Hybrid Christ”:

Hybridity is a concept from postcolonial theory that describes the mixture of two things that leads to the creation of a third “hybrid” thing. For example, the experience of being a racial minority or an immigrant within the United States can be
described in terms of hybridity. In the case of Asian Americans, they are neither purely
“Asian” (because they live in the United States) nor are they purely “American” (because
they are of Asian descent). Rather, they are a third “hybrid” or “in-between” thing,
which ultimately challenges the binary and hierarchical nature of the original two
categories of “Asian” (outsider) and “American” (insider).

For me, the Hybrid Christ arises out of the theological understanding that Jesus
Christ is simultaneously divine and human in nature. He is neither purely one nor the
other. In the words of the Athanasian Creed, Jesus Christ is simultaneously both “God
and human,” and yet he is “not two, but one Christ.” As such, he is the ultimate hybrid
being. This hybrid nature is reflected in the double consciousness that is experienced by
many racial minorities in the United States such as Asian Americans, African Americans,
Latino/as, Native Americans, and others.

Marcella Althaus-Reid, the late lesbian theology professor from the United
Kingdom, wrote about the Hybrid Christ in her book Indecent Theology. Specifically,
Althaus-Reid wrote about the “Bi/Christ,” in which the bisexual Jesus challenges the
“heterosexual patterns of thought” of hierarchical and binary categories. Just as the
bisexual person challenges the heterosexual binaries of “male/female” and “straight/gay,”
the “Bi/Christ” challenges the either/or way of thinking with respect to theology (for
example, by deconstructing “poor” and “rich” as mutually exclusive categories in
liberation theology) and therefore can be understood as the Hybrid Christ.

Thus, a theology of the Hybrid Christ recognizes that Jesus Christ exists
simultaneously in both the human and divine worlds. This can be seen most clearly in
the post-resurrection narratives. As a resurrected person with a human body, Jesus Christ
is “in-both” worlds (that is, both human and divine), and yet he is also “in-between” both
worlds (that is, neither purely human nor purely divine). Although this can be a painful
experience — metaphorically speaking, Jesus Christ has no place to lay down his head —
his hybridity is what ultimately allows him to build a bridge between the human and

If the Hybrid Christ is defined as the One who is simultaneously both human and
divine, then sin — as what opposes the Hybrid Christ — is singularity, or the failure to
recognize the reality of existing in multiple worlds. For example, sin is failing to
recognize the complex reality of multiple identities within a single person, which in turn
silences the experiences of those individuals who exist at the intersections of race,
gender, sexual orientation, age, and other categories. As postcolonial theorists have
pointed out, this kind of singularity (for example, defining the “gay” community solely in
terms of sexual orientation and not taking into account race) results in the creation of a
number of “others” who are never fully part of the larger community and thus feel like
perpetual outsiders (for example, LGBT people of color).

Read the whole essay here.

Other notable writings on Cheng’s website include “Kuan Yin: Mirror of the Queer Asian Christ” and the Huffington Post article “‘Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin’ and Other Modern-Day Heresies”. An excerpt from the latter follows:

…I contend that people who advocate “love the sinner, hate the sin” with respect to LGBT people are actually the ones who are the modern-day heretics. In my view, these people are nothing more than contemporary versions of the gnostics who were condemned by the early Church. The gnostics, strongly influenced by Platonic philosophy, believed in a dualism of the spirit and flesh. That is, spirit was good, whereas flesh (indeed, all matter) was evil. For example, the heretical religious thinker Marcion (d. 160 C.E.) believed that the God of the Hebrew Scriptures was in fact evil because that “god” had engaged in the “evil” act of creation! (Even the great theologian Augustine of Hippo was a Manichaean dualist before his conversion to Christianity, and in some ways he never entirely gave up that world view. See, e.g., De Civitate Dei at 14.6.)

Traditional Christian theology, going at least as far back as Irenaeus in the second century C.E., has condemned such dualism because orthodox doctrine understands creation to be good and that God has created humanity in God’s own image and likeness. This is why we profess in the Nicene Creed that we believe in “one God” who is the creator of “all that is seen and unseen,” including the gift of human sexuality in all of its forms. And that is why the central revelation of Christianity involves the incarnation, or the goodness of the Word made flesh. Indeed, of all the possible ways of reconciling Godself to us, God chose to take on the form of human flesh. To paraphrase the Eastern Orthodox concept of divinization, God became human so that humans could become divine.

As such, I believe those Christians who “hate” LGBT sexualities and gender expressions while allegedly “loving” LGBT people are nothing more than modern-day gnostics. It is simply not possible to divorce one’s sexuality or gender expression — LGBT or otherwise — from one’s spiritual self, particularly if such sexualities and gender expressions are rooted in the love of God, the love of the other, and the love of the self.

This is why I still care about traditional Christology. It’s a justice issue. The liberal image of Jesus as a merely human role model still leaves in place the most fundamental dualism, the gap between God and man. Then we have nothing left to do but choose sides. Liberals choose compassion for neighbor while conservatives choose obedience to God. Neither rubric is adequate to deal with Othering, “the root cause of sin” (to quote Richard Beck’s post again).

In Jesus, as traditionally understood, God and neighbor are one.

Monday Non-Random Song: Edith Piaf, “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien”

I’m giving up self-pity for Pentecost.

Non, rien de rien,
Non, je ne regrette rien,
Ni le bien qu’on m’a fait,
Ni le mal, tout ça m’est bien égal.

Non, rien de rien,
Non, je ne regrette rien,
C’est payé, balayé, oublié,
Je me fous du passé.

Avec mes souvenirs, j’ai allumé le feu,
Mes chagrins, mes plaisirs, je n’ai plus besoin d’eux,
Balayées les amours, avec leurs trémolos,
Balayées pour toujours, je repars à zéro

Non, rien de rien,
Non, je ne regrette rien,
Ni le bien qu’on m’a fait,
Ni le mal, tout ça m’est bien égal.

Non, rien de rien,
Non, je ne regrette rien,
Car ma vie car mes joies,
Aujourd’hui, ça commence avec toi.

(Lyrics courtesy of

You Gotta Give ‘Em Hope

Today, May 22, would have been the 80th birthday of civil rights leader Harvey Milk . Milk made history as the first openly gay candidate
elected to public office in California.
He served only 11 months on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors before his assassination in 1978. His passion for justice extended beyond his own community, to the struggles of all disenfranchised people, as this clip from his famous “Hope” speech shows:

Thursday Random Song: Archie Watkins, “He Will Remember Me”

This song brought tears to my eyes when I heard it on XM Radio’s southern gospel station, Enlighten 34. Like many people, perhaps especially those whose passions and self-worth are bound up with intellectual pursuits, I dread the possibility of losing my mind with age. Archie Watkins’ ballad was a comforting reminder that the meaning and destiny of my life are in God’s hands, not mine.

Read the lyrics to this song and others on Watkins’ “Pouring Out Blessings” CD on his website . Watkins was a founding member of The Inspirations, whose Southern Gospel
Treasury collection is one of my very favorite CDs in any genre. Buy it
on Amazon here .

Catholic Elementary Schools Expel Children of Lesbian Parents

It was widely reported this week that a Catholic elementary school in the Boston area withdrew its offer of admission to a third-grader upon discovering that his parents were lesbians. St. Paul Elementary in Hingham said the couple’s relationship was “in discord” with church teaching, and that teachers would not be able to answer the child’s questions about family life because they could not condone the values he was taught at home.

A similar incident occurred in March when the Sacred Heart of Jesus preschool in Boulder, Colorado expelled the child of another lesbian couple, with the approval of the Denver archdiocese.

I am a happily married heterosexual woman. I’ve achieved a stable home life in spite of the secrecy and shame I experienced as a child in a closeted family, not because of it. It makes me sick to see the proclamations on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website about “strengthening marriage and family life”. The USCCB makes it a “priority goal to Strengthen Marriage” (capital letters in the original). But what are these schools’ actions really teaching?

I remember what I learned, very early, as the daughter of two women who experienced employment discrimination and family ostracism for their relationship. Though I attended school in gay-friendly Greenwich Village and Brooklyn Heights, my parents still insisted I be discreet (and if necessary, deceptive) in case the truth got back to their non-affirming neighborhood and workplaces.

Every innocent question from other kids or teachers was a minefield for me, since I had to pretend that my two mothers didn’t live together, or that they were just friends. It was one reason we hardly ever invited people to our house. I had a painfully scrupulous personality as a child, and hated lying. As an introvert, I was also pretty bad at it. I wasn’t free to engage in ordinary small talk about family life without facing the awful choice between disloyalty and dishonesty–on top of which, I knew I was only making a fool of myself by denying what was obvious to outsiders.

Self-consciousness. Fear of getting close to people. Internal taboos against confiding in anyone about problems in your home. Such are the lessons a child learns in her parents’ closet.

Are these the relationship patterns that will produce happy marriages, heterosexual or otherwise, for gay couples’ children? I don’t think so.

Jesus came to bring us grace and forgiveness so we could love one another. He said, “The truth will set you free.” That’s the only foundation of a healthy marriage and family life. 

Visit the Human Rights Campaign website to send a protest message to the USCCB.

Get Paid for Being Crazy: Some Quotes on the Writing Life

The prestigious literary journal Crazyhorse recently asked its readers to submit their favorite quotes about writing. The editors’ choices from this batch were included in their latest email newsletter. Below are some of my favorites:

“If you’re going to be crazy, you have to get paid for it or else you’re going to be locked up.”
—Hunter S. Thompson

“I write a little every day, without hope and without despair.”
—Isak Dinesen

“Always pull back—and see how silly we must look to God.”
—Jack Kerouac

“Writing is finally a series of permissions you give yourself to be expressive in certain ways. To leap. To fly. To fail.”
—Susan Sontag

“You owe reality nothing and the truth about your feelings everything.”
—Richard Hugo

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”
—Ray Bradbury

“The process of writing will always be trying to repair something that doesn’t exist with tools you have to invent on the spot.”
—George Saunders

“Any writer who knows what he’s doing isn’t doing very much.”
—Nelson Algren

“Confront the dark parts of yourself…. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing.”
—August Wilson

“Truth is not an unveiling which destroys the secret, but a revelation that does it justice.”
—Walter Benjamin

“Writing isn’t about applause. It’s about humiliation.”
—Steve Almond

“Before I start writing I feel affectionate, interested, and frustrated. In that order. Afterwards I feel relieved, disgusted, and confused. Sometimes I don’t think it’s worth it.”
—Joy Williams

“A poet is someone who stands outside in the rain hoping to be struck by lightning.”
—James Dickey

“Go forth my book and help to destroy the world as it is.”
— Russell Banks

“I always write from my own experiences whether I’ve had them or not.”
—Ron Carlson

Campus Extracurricular Groups Claim “Religious Freedom” to Discriminate

From the April 29 issue of Religion Dispatches comes this story by RD associate editor Sarah Posner:

Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, a case closely watched by both the religious right and civil liberties advocates. At issue in the case is whether the Hastings College of Law, part of the University of California system, violated the CLS’s First Amendment rights by requiring that the Society comply with the school’s non-discrimination policy in order to receive official school recognition as a club.

Hastings, a state-funded institution, requires school clubs, in order to receive the benefits of official recognition, to adhere to the policy which prohibits discrimination on the basis of, among other things, religion and sexual orientation. CLS, which requires members and those wishing to hold leadership positions in the club to be professing Christians and to disavow “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle,” requested an exemption from these provisions in 2004, which Hastings refused. Although Hastings never denied CLS access to and use of school facililities, the decision meant CLS could not make use of benefits offered to official school clubs, including limited funding from student activity fees. CLS sued in October 2004, lost both at the trial and appellate court levels, and then appealed to the Supreme Court.

CLS’s mission, according to its Web site, is “to inspire, encourage, and equip lawyers and law students, both individually and in community, to proclaim, love and serve Jesus Christ through the study and practice of law, the provision of legal assistance to the poor, and the defense of religious freedom and sanctity of human life.” Through its Law School Ministries, it “encourages students in faith, connection with Christian mentors, professional development, exposure to other Christian students, and future employment. As many secular law schools have abandoned traditional education concerning the origins of law, increasing emphasis is placed on the foundations and practices which integrate faith and practice.”

Read the rest of the story here . Basically, CLS is arguing that it should have the freedom to uphold certain faith-based moral standards for its members, or else its mission is in jeopardy. Almost by definition, if their values weren’t somewhat different from the values of the secular university, CLS wouldn’t need to exist. Meanwhile the ACLU legal expert makes the point that in past generations, business owners who opposed equal pay for women or equal treatment for black customers also sometimes claimed religious exemptions, and it’s a good thing they didn’t succeed. Both sides have some merit, I think.

This story made me remember the young libertarian college student I used to be, who would have come down firmly on the side of CLS. While I always supported gay rights in theory, the issue occupied a much smaller place in my consciousness. The power imbalance that truly incensed me was the power of the institution over the dissenting individual.

I wasn’t yet a Christian, though inching in that direction; my primary religion was the creative life of the mind. I believed in the university as a temple devoted to the pursuit of truth (hey, I was 18). I was infuriated to find that in practice, we had to finesse our real opinions all the time in order to avoid a bad grade that would hurt our employment chances after college, negating our parents’ incredible financial sacrifices for our education. Where did our moral obligations lie – with the truth or with family loyalty?

So, freedom of conscience was very much on my mind. I was also alert to the paradoxes of “liberal tolerance” so incessantly pointed out by Stanley Fish: in the name of “freedom” and “equality”, the administration might use its unequal power to suppress some student perspectives and constrain their ability to act with integrity.

But when you’re a student, you think the university is the entire world, and it revolves around your issues. At least it was like that for me. Non-affirming conservative Christians may well be an oppressed minority on college campuses, but they are the oppressive majority in the rest of America. This is not to say that two wrongs make a right. It’s just important to remember the wider context. CLS presumably wants its members to use their legal skills to block full civil equality for GLBT people when they graduate. Their gathering is not just about personal self-expression.

Now that I am older, queerer, and more politically aware, what do I think the correct outcome should be? Personally, I wish both sides would stand down. It’s unfortunate that the Supreme Court will end up settling what is really a political balancing act rather than a question of constitutional law.

To CLS, I would say, “Suck it up.” It’s a bit disingenuous to define yourself in opposition to liberal-pluralist values, and then invoke those values to win the freedom to discriminate. The hardship you’re being asked to suffer for your faith is relatively minor. It would be a different story if the students were actively penalized for joining CLS, or for expressing their views in the classroom in a non-hostile way. Here, a completely optional extracurricular activity is merely being denied certain privileges.

You kids might also want to reconsider making homophobia the litmus test for Christian purity. You can’t imagine how many people close their minds to the gospel because Christians have such a hateful reputation.

To Hastings College, I would say, “Face your fears.” Don’t act so afraid of controversial viewpoints. Promote dialogue between the CLS and gay student groups. Facilitate debates about different visions of society and how religion should interact with law and politics. After all, anti-gay Christians are out there in the real world. By suppressing those voices on campus (beyond what’s necessary to prevent harassment), are you really equipping your students to handle them as adults?

Photos from the Western Mass. Equality Across America Rally for Trans Rights

The Western Mass. chapter of Equality Across America held a rally on the steps of Northampton city hall this week to demand that Congress pass a transgender-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). One controversy surrounding this bill is the willingness of some gay-rights groups to accept a version that would not cover discrimination against transgender employees. They argue that a compromise bill would be easier to pass; however, the trans community is legitimately concerned that a stand-alone trans rights bill, if introduced separately at a later date, would never gain enough support.

There’s still a lot of misunderstanding of transgender people, probably because they’re even rarer than gays and lesbians, and often look different from the mainstream. On the issue of gay and lesbian rights, our society is slowly getting the idea that it’s wrong to stand in the way of marriage and family formation. We can relate to the anguish of being separated from the people we love. It’s less common to feel desperately out of sync with the gender expression that society expects from us. (Or at least, we don’t admit it, as we cram our feet into pointy high heels and nip and tuck ourselves to death!) As I get to know more people in the transgender community, and get in touch with my own discomfort with sexual stereotypes, I’m beginning to understand why the right to choose your gender expression is a basic human right.

Equality Across America is best known for organizing the National Equality March in Washington, D.C. last October. Their next planned action in our region will be the May 22 rally at the State House in Boston, urging passage of the long-stalled legislation that would add gender identity and expression to the Massachusetts civil rights law. If you live in our state, fill out the MassEquality web form to tell your elected officials to bring this bill to a vote.

Wherever you live, contact your representatives and senators today and tell them that you support fully inclusive federal protections for GLBT workers!

I took these photos with my BlackBerry while sitting on the City Hall steps holding my protest sign.

Lorelei Erisis, Miss Trans Northampton 2009, was our charismatic emcee.

Co-organizer Gary Lapon (not pictured) is a Socialist activist, so our rally included signs for workers’ and immigrants’ rights.

Lorelei and Elle St. Claire spoke eloquently for equal rights.

Co-organizer Madeline Burrows with Elle’s proud wife Jessica.

Bet Power, curator of the Sexual Minorities Archive, a local treasure trove of GLBT history.