Romantic suspense author Zara West (Beneath the Skin) created this stylish book trailer for Two Natures using my storyboard, stock photos, and public domain archival photos from the New York Public Library.
Now through September 28, the e-book of Two Natures is on sale on Amazon Kindle and Apple iBooks for 99 cents! Julian may never be this cheap again…unless you’re a cute boy and buy him another rum and Coke…
The dense and varied literary coming-of-age novel ranges from comic scenes that could easily become a hit movie to the explicitly sexual and the touchingly tragic. Reiter brings alive LGBTQ touchstones of the era: the visit from out-of-town and out-of-it parents to their closeted son, the AIDS death and awkward funeral, and so on…
…As art historian, I especially enjoyed the way that some of Julian’s spiritual reflections were provoked by art. For instance, Julian’s inner spiritual conflict is portrayed at first through his responses to “Piss Christ,” a controversial photograph by Andres Serrano.
The novel is also significant as an example of how a new generation tries to make sense of an AIDS crisis that they were too young to experience firsthand. I happened to read “Two Natures” at the same time that I was rereading my own journals for an oral history interview about doing AIDS ministry at Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco in the late 1980s. Perhaps no novel can capture the agony, ecstasy and desperate intensity of those times.
Julian never found the kind of LGBTQ-affirming church home that we provided at MCC-SF. Sadly that may be true for many young gay men in the early 1990s, and even now. But there’s good news: Reiter is already working on a sequel. Julian will have another chance to find long-term love and a gay-positive spiritual community, with readers invited along for the ride.
A marvelous book. I enjoyed Julian’s story so much and found it very relatable. There were so many beautiful, little surprises (“Spring Chicken Perfume”) and a great many laugh out loud moments. It brought up a lot of memories for me—young men who had to shoulder more responsibility and grief than was reasonable for their years, and too many who never got to grow up and old. Too many losses. I really appreciate the characterization of Julian—so on the ball in so many ways, and yet so readily apt to drop it. Very realistic.
Reiter is a marvelous writer and this is a rich, wonderful, and heartbreaking, story. I enjoyed reading it very much.
Book Reader Magazine, an e-book promotion site in the Awesomegang affiliate network, ran a brief interview with me this month.
Save the date: My book launch reading will take place on Thursday, Sept. 29, at 7:30 PM, at the Bureau of General Services – Queer Division bookstore in the LGBT Center, 208 W. 13th Street, New York City. I’m honored to share the stage with Charlie Bondhus, winner of the Publishing Triangle’s Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry. See the event listing in Gay City News. RSVP on Facebook.
The countdown continues to the launch of Two Natures on September 15! Readings are scheduled for New York City, Northampton, and Greenfield, MA this fall. Watch this space or visit our Facebook page for exact times and directions. With guidance from The Frugal Book Promoter, I’ve garnered some encouraging pre-publication reviews and author interviews online. Here are the latest stops on Julian’s PR tour.
What do you define yourself as? Or do you not? Why/Why not? I define myself as a creative artist whose medium is writing. A revelatory and sometimes painful aspect of writing Two Natures was facing the truth that this identity is more fundamental than other labels that I thought would fit me forever, including “Christian” and “female”.
How long have you been practicing? I’ve been a writer since before I could write! I dictated my first poems to my parents when I was about 4. They were about fairy princesses, of course.
What interests you about your medium or why do you use this medium? I grew up in a family that loved books. The magic of communing with characters from an intangible world was my first, and (I’m finally realizing) my most formative, spiritual experience. It’s a great honor to be able to practice that magic myself.
What kind of work do you want to create, or what work are you inspired by that you would like to strive for/emulate? I am inspired by artists who challenge binary thinking, whose work offers both sensual pleasure and an intelligent perspective on the human condition. Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and The Goldfinch are ambitious in this way: action melodramas that are also philosophical treatises on the troubled relationship between art and morality. So are some of my favorite works of fiction that blend horror and political critique, such as George Saunders’ Pastoralia, Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country (a Cthulhu Mythos pastiche set in the Jim Crow South), and Jenna Leigh Evans’ Prosperity (an American dystopia set in debtor’s prison, winner of our 2015 Winning Writers North Street Book Prize for genre fiction).The poetry collections that are touchstones for me include Atlantis by Mark Doty, The Cow by Ariana Reines, Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot, and Live or Die by Anne Sexton.
Trudie Barreras, a popular Amazon Vine reviewer, gave Two Natures a 5-star review on Goodreads:
…[T]his book offers an amazing level of honesty and insight. Like the earlier work of Patricia Nell Warren, Reiter’s representation of gay male psychology and eroticism is clear-eyed and unabashed. Although her descriptions of male-male sexual encounters are no more explicit than the similar descriptions of heterosexual lovemaking in many modern-day romances, some readers may find this unpalatable. To them, I can only say, “Get over it, people!”
Although Reiter is investigating the link between sexuality and spirituality in this narrative, as well as presenting a deeply incisive exploration of the social and cultural aspects of the urban LGBTQ community during the AIDS crisis, she is not heavy-handed or in any way “preachy”. Her main characters and many of the peripheral cast members are sympathetically and vividly described. Julian himself is voiced with wry and biting humor.
A trigger warning: for those who, like me, have “been there and done that” with respect to losing dear ones to AIDS, and who have experienced the anger, disgust and grief resulting from the vicious and callous rejection of gays – especially those stricken with HIV – by the so-called Christian establishment, the honesty of this book is stark…
It is a pleasure to read a novel that is literary in all of its aspects. I also found that the issue of faith that is so important to me is beautifully handled here… We all know someone like Julian and many of us see ourselves in him. The highest praise that I can give this book is to say that ‘I love it’ and I do. Julian is an everyman and in that he is a composite of so many gay personalities. You owe to yourselves to read this wonderful novel.
A.M. Leibowitz, author of the excellent gay Christian novel Passing on Faith and many others, scored Two Natures 10 out of 10 fountain pens in this Aug. 1 review and author interview. She doesn’t let Julian off the hook for his moral failings, though!
This is a difficult book for me to review. On the one hand, despite its length, it’s surprisingly fast-paced. There isn’t a lot of wasted space; everything has a purpose, so it doesn’t feel as though it’s lagging anywhere in terms of moving forward. The writing style is superior, in the style of the best literary fiction. At the same time, my reaction to it is very much along those lines—I’m not here to be entertained by this book. It’s not a feel-good love story or a tale of tragedy-to-triumph. It’s meant to be appreciated mainly for its historical value and technically skilled craftsmanship. For a number of reasons (the heavy topics, the highly literary style, the depth of the psychology), this is one to read with a group for the purpose of discussion.
There’s a lot covered in this novel, and the title says it best. Everything in Julian’s life is split, and he spends most of the story trying to make whole the things he sees as fractured. Despite the fact that there’s a sub-thread about the religion of his youth, it actually doesn’t factor in much beyond his musings until near the end. However, his broken trust in his faith and family of origin drive nearly every other relationship he has. It’s vital for people of faith to read this with the understanding of how religious institutions create and contribute to the oppression specifically of the LGBT community…
…Ultimately, I could probably talk for days about this book because it’s impossible to capture everything about such a dense read in a short review. My own personal grievances with the characters aside, I do think this is a phenomenal work, and I highly recommend it. It should be required reading if for no other reason than that we’ve already forgotten what life was like in those days.
Love Julian or hate him? Pick up a free copy and find out. Join the Goodreads M/M Romance Group and sign up for the “Don’t Buy My Love” giveaway starting August 25! Fifteen e-book copies of Two Natures are on offer in exchange for an honest review.
Julian is a Southern boy and transplanted aspiring fashion photographer in New York City in the 1990s; a gay man facing the height of the AIDS epidemic and professional, social, and spiritual struggles alike as he questions himself, God’s will, and Christian values in the advent of a specific kind of apocalypse.
It’s rare to discover within a gay love story an equally-powerful undercurrent of political and spiritual examination. Too many gay novels focus on evolving sexuality or love and skim over underlying religious values systems; but one of the special attributes of Two Natures isn’t just its focus on duality, but its intense revelations about what it means to be both Christian and gay.
In many ways, Julian is the epitome of a powerful, conflicting blend of emotions. Take the story’s opening line, for one example. Readers might not anticipate a photographer’s nightmare which bleeds heavily into evolving social realization and philosophy: “I woke from another nightmare about photographing a wedding. The bride was very loud and everyone’s red lipstick was smeared across their teeth like vampires, except vampires would never wear lavender taffeta prom dresses. It’s always the wrong people who can’t see themselves in mirrors.”
Even the language exquisitely portrays this dichotomy: Julian’s parents are still “Mama” and “Daddy”, his language and many of his attitudes remain delightfully Southern (“You know, back where I come from, that was the first thing you asked a new fellow: what does your Daddy do, and where do you go to church?“), and his experiences with men, female friends, his evolving photography career, and life in general are wonderfully depicted, drawing readers into not just the trappings and essence of his life, but the course of his psychological, philosophical and spiritual examinations.
As Julian explores this world, readers should expect sexually graphic (but well-done) scenes designed to enhance the storyline (not shock it with departures or dominant heaviness), an attention to the social and political environment of the 90s that swirls around Julian and changes his perspectives and decisions, and a gritty set of candid descriptions that probe real-world experience.
Readers of gay fiction seeking more than a casual series of insights into the world of New York City’s culture, enhanced by the deeper perspectives of a young man who spiritually struggles to find his place even as he fine-tunes his career and life, will welcome the close inspection of truth, love, and life provided in Jendi Reiter’s Two Natures, powerful saga of Southern etiquette and perspectives turned upside down and the risks involved in moving beyond one’s safe zone.
Many thanks to Don Mitchell at Saddle Road Press for creating this gorgeous photo montage and patiently working with me through a dozen revisions.
From the publisher’s website: “This big, genre-bending, spiritual coming-of-age novel focuses on Julian Selkirk, a young gay fashion photographer in New York City in the early 1990s, at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Vivid social realism, enriched by unforgettable characters, eroticism, and wit, make this a satisfying read of the highest sort.”
Friends of Julian, rejoice! Two Natures, my debut novel, will be published this September by Saddle Road Press, an independent literary press in Hawaii. Stay tuned for cover reveal, reading dates, book excerpts, giveaways and more.
Set in New York City in the early 1990s, Two Natures is the coming-of-age story of Julian Selkirk, a fashion photographer who struggles to reconcile his Southern Baptist upbringing with his love for other men. Yearning for new ideals to anchor him after his loss of faith, Julian seeks his identity through love affairs with three very different men: tough but childish Phil Shanahan, a personal trainer who takes a dangerous shortcut to success; enigmatic, cosmopolitan Richard Molineux, the fashion magazine editor who gives him his first big break; and Peter Edelman, an earnest left-wing activist with a secret life. Amid the devastation of the AIDS epidemic and the racial tensions of New York politics, Julian learns to see beyond surface attractions and short-term desires, and to use his art to serve his community.
Please enjoy my interview about the novel at David Alan Binder’s blog, which features conversations with published authors. An excerpt:
Why did you start writing?
To cheat death and make something productive out of my incorrigible daydreaming habit.
What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?
The only way to find the truth is to make my own mistakes.
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
I talk to, and about, some of my fictional characters as though they were real people—to the point where my friends will ask me, quite seriously, “How are you? And how’s Julian?”…
…Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
The spark for my novel came from these characters who appeared in my imagination and would not let me alone. Its theme arose from the ongoing conflict in contemporary Christianity over recognizing the equal dignity and sacredness of same-sex love relationships. I belong to the Episcopal Church, which has been at the forefront of this debate since we ordained an openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in 2004. As of this writing, the American church has been put on probation by the Worldwide Anglican Communion for authorizing same-sex marriage rites. I was raised by two moms, so I know where I stand, but the issue tore apart some of my Christian friendships and prayer circles.
For research into the fashions and politics of the 1990s, the time period of Two Natures, I consulted the Sexual Minorities Archives (formerly in Northampton, now in nearby Holyoke) and the Conde Nast Library in New York City, as well as many books on the art and business of fashion photography. My friend John Ollom of Ollom Movement Art read the manuscript for accuracy concerning the gay male culture of our generation. John does through dance what I hope to do with my writing: help people integrate their “shadow side” by overcoming shame-based divisions between sex and spirit.
What a year! 2015 was a time of transition, living out the implications of changes that began last year and gathering the courage to go public with them.
Writing career milestones this year: My second full-length poetry collection, Bullies in Love, came out in March from Little Red Tree Publishing. Forbes Library in Northampton hosted the launch party with a poetry reading (watch it here) and slideshow by fine art photographer Toni Pepe, who illustrated the collection. Four poems from this book also won the final writing contest from the avant-garde online journal Wag’s Revue.
I finished the last pre-publication edits on the no-longer-endless novel, Two Natures, and began sending it out to contests and publishers. Will there be good news in 2016? Watch this space! Meanwhile, with help from my weekend writing retreat at Art of Change Tarot, I started work on the sequel, Origin Story. Research for this book will include attending Flame Con 2016 and reading M/M romances about bondage. I love my job.
In my religious life, I finally admitted to myself that I love Christianity but we need to see other people. I am charting a private, intuitive spiritual path by studying Tarot and reading books from a variety of traditions. With another member of my Episcopal church, I co-taught a summer workshop on faith and trauma, which seemed to be a positive and healing experience for everyone involved.
The Young Master, age 3 1/2, is in preschool full-time, where he is learning to use the potty and count to “oo-teen” (all the numbers after ten). His hobbies include Lego, trains, and complete resistance to every form of tyranny over the mind of man, especially putting on his pants when Mommy says it’s time for school.
Some of the best books I’ve read this year have been entries in our first-ever Winning Writers North Street Book Prize for self-published novels and memoirs. Results will be out in February. This means I haven’t had much time for leisure reading. Here are a few picks for the best of 2015.
Best Poetry Books:
Why did it take me so long to discover Mark Doty’s Atlantis (Harper Perennial, 1995)? Perhaps I wouldn’t have appreciated its wisdom until now. Written as his lover and many friends were dying of AIDS, this poetry collection is bathed in the radiant, ever-changing, yet eternal flow of the ocean he lived beside. The artifice, the traces of formalism, are worn proudly–this is not contemporary colloquial poetry–so the bereaved speaker’s vulnerability is that much more naked by contrast. It epitomizes a certain style of high-art gay poetry, with its tropes of sublime opera divas, drag, bath-house ecstasy, and a spirituality that cherishes transient, embodied, unique living beings more than any ascetic dogma. The poem “Homo Will Not Inherit” expresses a creed that I can believe:
And I have been possessed of the god myself,
I have been the temporary apparition
salving another, I have been his visitation, I say it
without arrogance, I have been an angel
for minutes at a time, and I have for hours
believed—without judgement, without condemnation—
that in each body, however obscured or recast,
is the divine body—common, habitable—
the way in a field of sunflowers
you can see every bloom’s
the multiple expression
of a single shining idea,
which is the face hammered into joy.
I found Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s Apocalyptic Swing (Persea Books, 2009) through the Smith College Poetry Center newsletter. The jazzy, tough, delicious poems in this collection swing through highs and lows of sexual awakening, boxing, and religious devotion. Resilience sings through these anecdotes of bombed black churches and synagogues, down-and-out factory towns and risky love affairs, with characters who know that “all you gotta do is get up/one more time than the other guy thinks you can.” I’d hoped to reprint a sample poem on the blog this year, but did not hear back from the editors. Treat yourself to some of her recent work at Poets.org.
Best Fiction Books:
Horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos has spawned dozens of spin-off anthologies about his monstrous Elder Gods from outer space and their power to contaminate and consume the human species. A lot of these pastiches are good for some gross-out scares and nothing more. New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird (Prime Books, 2011) and New Cthulhu 2 (Prime Books, 2015), both edited by Paula Guran, take the genre to a higher level. For me, the Cthulhu mythos is fascinating because it confronts our secret fears about our place in the cosmos. It mashes up the worst aspects of materialism (humans are weak and our lives are meaningless) and authoritarian religion (an eternity of torment at the hands, or tentacles, of an all-powerful being). Guran’s anthologies are not lacking in old-fashioned frights, but their creativity lies in exploring the spiritual and political implications of the mythos, including Lovecraft’s infamous racism.
Best Nonfiction Books:
A Religion of One’s Own (Avery, 2015) is the new book by Thomas Moore, a Jungian analyst and former Catholic monk, known for his bestseller Care of the Soul. Moore suggests practices and new perspectives to forge a personal spirituality that is enriched but not limited by organized religion. This book reassured me that I could move outside Christianity while retaining some pieces of it that still made me feel connected to God.
The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind (Fence Books, 2015), edited by Claudia Rankine, Beth Loffreda, and Max King Cap, is an essential addition to our cultural conversation on racism in America. The anthology grew out of Rankine’s “Open Letter” blog that solicited personal meditations on race and the creative imagination. Contributors include poets Francisco Aragón, Dan Beachy-Quick, Jericho Brown, Dawn Lundy Martin, Danielle Pafunda, Evie Shockley, Ronaldo V. Wilson, and many more, plus contemporary artwork selected by Max King Cap. The writers span a variety of ethnic backgrounds, points of view, and aesthetics, united by honest self-examination and political insightfulness.
The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision (Apocryphile Press, 2014) pairs Douglas Blanchard’s paintings of a modern-day gay Jesus in the Stations of the Cross with Kittredge Cherry’s devotional and art-historical commentary. Read my review on this blog from March 2015.
[T]he whole world is already sacred, already “charged with the grandeur of God” that shines out from every material object, waiting for us to notice it. The Spirit is not something separate from daily life, which we must bring in by choosing the right set of rosary beads or tarot cards. Any of these objects could work as a point of connection to the life force, just as any of them could become an idol if used in the wrong frame of mind.
[T]the impulse to produce something worldly, even commercial, out of your moment of enlightenment doesn’t mean that enlightenment wasn’t genuine. And on the flip side, boundary-less emotionalism and flamboyant devotion to spiritual practice can also be a mask for egotism, passive-aggressive power, and seduction.
[On June 26] the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Obergefell v. Hodges that under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, gay and lesbian couples have a fundamental right to marriage equality! States may no longer ban same-sex marriages or refuse to recognize such marriages performed in other states.
In religion, a third way between “There is ONE truth” and “There is NO truth” can possibly be found through the model of medicine. Different religions focus on different spiritual maladies and propose cures to match. To oversimplify quite a bit, Christianity is answering “How do I overcome my sinful separation from God and ensure an eternity in God’s loving presence?”, while Buddhism is answering “How do I achieve inner peace and escape the ups and downs of this impermanent world?” What gives us the right to say that one of those questions shouldn’t matter to anybody? Outcomes-wise, what’s the benefit of pushing a solution on someone who isn’t experiencing that problem?
Peggy Olson is going to take on 2016 like a boss. (Image source here.)
On December 6, our family will participate in the annual Hot Chocolate Run/Walk for Safe Passage, the main fundraiser for Hampshire County’s domestic violence shelter and services provider. We hope you’ll feel moved to sponsor us here.
Our community is unusually fortunate to have a domestic violence program that is trained to serve the LGBTQ population. It’s often extra-hard for queer victims to seek help, because they fear that police and social workers will be biased against them, or that airing negative images of same-sex relationships will set back the civil rights struggle. Additionally, some queer victims don’t recognize that their relationship is abusive because it doesn’t look like our mainstream cultural image of the heterosexual wife-beater. Speaking for myself, the lightbulb only went on when I attended an LGBT-inclusive volunteer training class at Safe Passage. I’d been abused for 30 years without having a name for it.
Recent studies are proving that abuse is an issue within same gender relationships and this must be acknowledged. One study found that 21.5% of men and 35.4% of women in same gender relationships experienced intimate – partner physical violence during their lifetimes compared with only 7.1% of men and 20.4% of women who cohabited with a partner of a different gender. 34. 6% of transgender people (regardless of gender of the partner) experienced intimate partner violence also in a study from 2014.
Another study, conducted by the CDC in 2010*, of over nine thousand women (96.5% were straight, 2.2% bisexual and 1.3% lesbian) found that while 35% of straight women had experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner it was even more common for bisexual and lesbian women. 43.8% of lesbians had experienced one of the three categories, while 61.1% of bisexual women had and this is even with the lower turn out rates of bisexual and lesbian women in the study which is suggestive of a much more serious epidemic of intimate partner violence that LGBTQ+ people experience. Additionally, trans people (particularly non binary trans people) are still often ignored within research and so the true realities for their experiences are being silenced – this is despite the fact that it is widely accepted that trans women are especially at risk of assault in general and so should be considered as an at risk group for experiencing domestic/intimate partner abuse.
This erasure and the limited way we think about domestic violence is dominating the narrative and leaving survivors isolated. As a consequence of the still very narrow and binary gender stereotypes and expectations we have, men are erased as victims of violence and it is believed that women can never be perpetrators. It isn’t uncommon for these stereotypes to be so prevalent that even those experiencing abuse do not see what is happening. Gay and bisexual men have brushed off assaults as just something they assumed that was natural to being in a relationship with a man, and women often do not think that the woman they are with would be capable of committing any form of abuse due to her gender. These ideas are so engrained in society that even domestic violence charities still don’t seem like welcoming or understanding places for many LGBTQ+ people. The 2010 Equality Act also means that trans women can be turned away from women’s shelters despite the fact that logically this is a clear violation of non discrimination legislation (included within the same piece of legislation). Furthermore, intimate partner violence has often been focussed upon by feminist movements in an entirely cis-centric way with the emphasis on patriarchy and (cis) male violence which has exacerbated this issue around one dimensional beliefs about abuse. The focus is generally centred around cis, heterosexual women in monogamous relationships and often with children, yet this approach has completely erased LGBTQ+ victims and this isolation puts them in further harm with little support available in society and very little understanding.
Jasna Magić, researcher at Broken Rainbow, noted that while mainstream services were generally welcoming in attitudes to LGBTQ+ people there was little consideration of the specific experiences and issues they would face. There was often positive will behind support workers but good practice was lacking. She added that this was an issue that charities would struggle to overcome as a result of financial cuts; mainstream organisations would not be able to invest in equality and diversity training for its staff or in resources which helped promote better approaches to LGBTQ+ survivors. Magić also reinforced that abuse within LGBTQ+ people’s relationships was often not recognised either by society or by survivors themselves.
…It’s estimated that 25 percent to 33 percent of the LGBTQ population will experience some form of partner abuse or domestic violence in their lifetime. The Inter-Personal Violence study conducted in 2011 stated that LGBTQ communities of color are one of the demographic groups experiencing a high incidence of domestic violence. However, it’s often hard to determine accurately how prevalent interpersonal violence is in these communities because of social stigmas and cultural taboos that prevent people from accurately reporting abuse. Other forms of oppression and discrimination figure in this as well.
What also prevents the gathering of accurate data in these communities of color is that same-gender interpersonal violence is clouded with myths. There is a belief that because the victim and the abuser are of the same gender, and are also in a consensual sexual relationship, the battering that occurs starts out as a mutual act of S&M. Another myth is that same-gender sexual abuse is not as bad because men and men and women and women are on equal playing field when it comes to defending themselves. Sadly, these untruths still abound among many health care workers and law enforcement officials…
…with violence associated with young black males, the protocol and treatment for domestic violence-related injuries in inner-city hospitals for these patients are rarely introduced or followed up…
…In same-race relationships, many victims will often not prosecute their partners for fear of community abandonment, isolation, and scorn. Rather, some rationalize the violence as the root cause of persistent micro and macrolevels of racism their partner encounters…
In addition to Safe Passage, I have heard good things about The Network/La Red, a Boston-based shelter and survivor advocacy group with an intersectional approach. Their website says:
The Network/La Red is a survivor-led, social justice organization that works to end partner abuse in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, BDSM, polyamorous, and queer communities. Rooted in anti-oppression principles, our work aims to create a world where all people are free from oppression…
…Partner abuse exists to achieve and maintain control, and reflects and perpetuates the larger violent culture which condones and rewards interpersonal, institutional and imperialist abuse of power in order to control and/or exploit groups of people. The Network/La Red links domestic violence to all other forms of violence, oppression and abuse, because the values and tactics behind each are identical.
Today’s my 43rd birthday. Among the pleasures of being middle-aged are a positive body image that’s independent of others’ opinions, confidence in my own authority, and making peace with change. This last requires overcoming fear-based defenses from my chaotic childhood, and also questioning the presumptions of the religion where I took refuge from that chaos.
Scripture-based faith is inherently conservative because its highest authority is an static text, which cannot help but be in tension with the dynamism of social and personal change. Denominations differ in how they handle this tension, from Biblical inerrancy to “God is still speaking”. Yet even the latter statement is almost too defensive for me now. Why wouldn’t God be speaking? Why must we labor under a suspicion that change is random or self-serving until proven otherwise?
That suspicion still silences me at times. I look back at some of my passionate beliefs and interests from a few years ago, which bear little resemblance to what concerns me now, and at times make me cringe in hindsight. And I wonder, how can I ever speak again with confidence, knowing I could be just as far off the mark, no matter how clear it seems to me now? Well, one belief that continues to prove itself in my life is the grace of God, which doesn’t require us to be right in order to be loved. And perhaps rightness is a moving target, and a belief can be the best tool for the job at a certain moment and nonetheless become obsolete, with no shame in that. In that case I only regret being so enamored of my cleverness that I sometimes shared my opinions unkindly.
To keep myself humble and amuse the reader, here’s a little timeline of my worldview. Note that I was 13 in 1985. Be charitable.
My role models are:
1985: Ayn Rand, the Elephant Man
1992: Camille Paglia, the Phantom of the Opera
2006: Barbie, Cardinal Ratzinger
2013: Alice Miller, Tim Gunn
2015: Peggy Olson, Cthulhu
This book is everything:
1985: T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets
2000: C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
2009: Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery
2015: Rachel Pollack, 78 Degrees of Wisdom: A Book of Tarot
1985: Depressing intellectual sestinas
2000: Libertarian law journal articles
2006: Conservative Christian anti-porn blog posts
2008: Insane feminist experimental poetry
2009: Gay Christian endless novel
2012: Poetry about diapers and insomnia
2013: Radical abuse survivor blog posts
2015: Gay male erotica
I identify spiritually as:
1985: Objectivist who believes in God and fairies
1995: Pro-life kosher Nietzschean Jew (it was a confusing time in my life, okay?)
2001: Gay-affirming conservative Episcopalian
2015: Tarot-reading Christian who believes in sacred Eros
Universal truth is:
1985: Whatever can be discerned by the free individual’s objective reasoning
2000: Most perfectly expressed in Jesus and Christian theology
2008: A catchphrase indicating that the speaker might be a self-centered patriarchal dickhead
2015: Each person should be respected as the authority on hir own experience
The world would be a better place if everyone:
1985: Took responsibility for their choices and followed their truth with integrity and courage
1996: Stopped fucking around
2000: Accepted the unconditional grace of God and cast off their shame
2009: Recognized abuse for what it was, stopped doing it, and stopped victim-blaming
2015: All of the above except the fucking, I like fucking now
The proper place for sex is:
1985: Somewhere I don’t have to see it
2000: In a marriage between two loving, committed virgins of any gender
2010: In my novel
2015: Can I watch?
If I could send one message to the world, it would be:
1985: Shut the fuck up
2000: Accept Jesus as your savior
2007: God loves gays
2010: Give me a baby
I blog often enough about how my childhood with my bio mom resembled Disney’s “Tangled”. Today I want to celebrate someone who makes Mother’s Day a joyful occasion for me, despite the painful memories we share (or perhaps because we can share them): my mom-of-choice, Roberta “Bib” Pato.
(Roberta and I celebrate her freedom from 34 years with my bio mom, February 2011.)
Bib moved in with my bio mom and me when I was about 5. I wasn’t allowed to call her my other mother, though she certainly was. We were closeted, albeit not very convincingly, and my bio mom approached motherhood with a “no other gods before me” attitude. So she was my “babysitter” in public, and my “dad” when we affectionately joked around in private.
She taught me how to cook by having me chop vegetables and read aloud recipes from Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey’s 60-Minute Gourmet. Mmm, chicken with shallots and asparagus! She drove me to school in a succession of clunky American-made station wagons, and then in the little red Toyota that served us faithfully for 14 years till I totaled it as a student driver. She was a beloved teacher in the NYC public elementary schools for 30 years, from Lower East Side ghetto schools where the children came from homeless shelters, to the Upper West Side, where she faced down a system that assigned children of color to the classrooms that were perceived as less desirable.
(Roberta’s wedding to her now ex-husband, 1968, with her mom Bea at right. She makes a cute femme, but it didn’t stick.)
Since starting her new life in 2011, she’s become the center of social life in her apartment building, co-founding a tenants’ association and making many friends who are film professors, religious scholars, writers, and more. They know they can knock on her door at any time of night for a slice of cake and a binge viewing of lesbian soap operas on YouTube. She’s amassed what is probably the largest collection of lesbian films in Northampton, which is really saying something.
(One of those “gay for you” romances that is so common in the movies, not enough in real life! But I might kiss Lena Headey if she asked me.)
As an active member of Old Lesbians Organizing for Change (OLOC), Roberta has attended conferences in Oakland and St. Louis, and (though she is staunchly pro-transgender rights) plans to visit the last Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival this summer. Not bad for someone whose ex-partner wouldn’t let her leave the house! The “classy old dykes” whom I’ve met through Roberta have given me a new sense of solidarity with other women and a gratitude for feminist heritage. For Pride Weekend this month, Roberta and two of her OLOC friends produced playwright/actress Terry Baum’s “Hick: A Love Story”, a brilliant show about Eleanor Roosevelt’s closeted romance with journalist Lorena Hickok.
(Northampton Pride 2014. She raised “L” this year too!)
Last but not least, she is the world’s most devoted grandmother to the Young Master:
(Roberta holds Shane for the first time, April 2012. Look how tiny!)
(Christmas/Roberta’s birthday, December 2014.)
Some grandmothers are always second-guessing the kid’s mom, but Roberta never criticizes. When I start to worry about the Young Master’s development or behavior, her unconditional love reminds me that Shane is perfect just as he is. Look at that face, right?
Thank you, Roberta, for showing me what a mom should be! We love you!