Non Sequitur – A Birthday Request

My birthday is coming this week. I’ll be 39.

Save the date for next year. There will be a celebration.

But for this year, it’s pretty low key. Back in my 20s I set the standard that I only celebrate the Zeros and the Fives with parties, but the rest of the birthdays pass by with small-scale celebrations.

It’s been a really strange week. On Thursday night I got an email from a coworker whose recently former ex boyfriend had been found dead in his apartment. He’d been battling addiction and losing, which had prompted their breakup – but she was torn up about ending their romantic relationship and trying to remain his friend. Over the past year, she’s come to me for counsel more than once because she knows I’ve been in a similar situation.

And now her experience is that much more similar.

Then I found a couple of new podcasts for my commute. One is RISK! – a storytelling podcast. The other is the Savage Lovecast which people have been telling me about for years.

Both of the episodes I listened to this week featured a story about a young widow and the struggle to reconnect with your sexuality – stories that resonated with me deeply. Then I read a post in one of the facebook groups I participate in and another young widow shared her story, which also had similarities to mine.

And then yesterday, I saw the article from a young widow who wrote an open letter to the people criticizing Patton Oswalt for announcing his engagement so “soon” after his beloved wife passed away (like, nearly 2 years ago).

It just seems like that subject keeps trying to pound its way into my head, and all in the course of the six days after I signed escrow papers to begin the process of transferring ownership of my home, where my own widowing took place.

I’m not like, devastated. In fact, I have found all of the stories I’ve heard this week to be uplifting and generally comforting. It does feel nice when we realize we’re not alone, even three and a half years after it happened.

Hearing their stories doesn’t just remind me of what I’ve lost. It shines a great big light on what I have gained, as well as makes apparent what I’d had all along. It reminds me to appreciate everything I have every day that I have it.

Well. That wasn’t the post I was planning to write.

Honestly, I thought this was going to be the post where I asked people to donate $3, $9, or $39 to one or more of a list of charitable organizations I would like to benefit from my 39th birthday.

I guess that post got away from me.

A few weeks ago, I asked my friends to share with me some of the charitable organizations that they feel are doing good work in marginalized communities – specifically for LGBTQ+ and POC. I wanted the recommendations to come from those who have, or continue to benefit from the services these organizations provide. As someone who works in the nonprofit sector, I know better than to trust the website or the PR….

….I trust the people that are being helped.

In addition, yesterday someone had posted a video to an IndieGogo campaign that I thought was worth funding, and doesn’t have much time left.

So below are the links to the organizations that were recommended to me by the very people these groups exist to support. And if you are the type of person that is inclined to give gifts for people’s birthdays, then I would ask that you consider making a contribution to one or more of these organizations for my birthday.

You don’t have to tell me if you did or didn’t – but if you do, I would love to share my appreciation publicly in a future post.

The Relational Center The Relational Center exists to promote the essential importance of relationships. When we value our connections with others and with the environment, we create the necessary conditions for health and sustainability. So our work promotes personal, interpersonal, and social practices that help people build strong, resilient relationships. Our programs provide healing support, a space for community building, and tools for leadership.

Los Angeles LGBT Center Since 1969 the Los Angeles LGBT Center has cared for, championed, and celebrated LGBT individuals and families in Los Angeles and beyond.

Lambda Legal Lambda Legal, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and everyone living with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.

Trevor Project The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24.

And the IndieGoGo Campaign that only has a few days left:
Woke Girls Woke Girls is a new line of fashion dolls and chapter books that celebrate the power of today’s American girls. Through empowering representation of girls from marginalized identities and stories which finally portray them as the magical heroes that they are- Woke Girls shows girls that even when the world is unfair, they have the power to love themselves, stand up for what is right, and build a better world.

I will be making a personal contribution to each of these causes myself. I hope you will consider joining me.

Thoughts on “morality”

Last night I went to the movies with a 69 year old activist, feminist woman whom I met through my local Democratic club. She’s been protesting since the 1960s, her son served on active duty in the Army in Iraq,  and she’d suggested we go see Loving at the cheap theater near her house.

I didn’t know anything about this movie. Not the premise, not the actors, nothing. The only thing she said was that it had something to do with civil rights.

The story centers on the lives of Richard and Mildred Loving, a Virginian couple who’s marriage successfully defeated the ban on interracial marriage in the Supreme Court in 1967.

As the final credits were rolling on screen, she asked me if I realized how recent that was. “It was around the time I graduated high school,” she told me. That’s when it sunk in, the recency of this “history.”

I was born in 1978. I’m no math wizard, but that’s ….that’s 11 years from 1967.

Eleven years before I was born, it was illegal for people to marry people they loved because they were different.

And now, not really all that many years later, we’ve barely achieved the legal freedom for people to marry people they love because they’re exactly the same – and the current administration seems pretty comfortable with taking those rights away.

People say we’ve come so far, but …no, we really haven’t, have we?

It’s interesting to me that the country is so focused on one religion right now. Muslims – it seems like either you’re buying into the vilification of a fundamentally peaceful religion or you’re forming a protest line to protect their right to pray.

You hear the people screaming that it doesn’t belong in public, but those same people scream that prayer and the teaching of creationism should be enforced in schools.

Meanwhile, it’s a so-called “Christian” that blows up a Mosque in Canada. I’m pretty sure it’s not Muslims that are painting swastikas and calling in bomb threats on Jewish centers in my own state.

You can easily find factual data that tell a story about violence caused in the name of Christianity vs violence caused in the name of Islam or any other religion and…well, both historically and more recently, the data does not reflect the rhetoric of our current government.

Yet, I don’t believe religious people of any kind are inherently evil. I know many, many good people who are very religious Christians, Muslims, and Jews. There are those who might disagree with me on certain issues, but overall – they are kind, generous, loving people who care about others.

But most of the best people I’ve known are also atheist or agnostic.

I’ve been questioning the concept of “morality” for a while. Why is it that people feel like they need religion to enforce their own morality? I’m not convinced the people who established the “morality” of a religion were even all that moral to begin with.

The thing about stoning women and selling your daughters? Yeah, I don’t buy it.

It’s not to say that they got it all wrong. There’s that whole thing about loving your neighbor, but I didn’t ever see the version of the Bible that had the footnote excluding neighbors that are darker in complexion than you are.

It’s the same way that I see laws sometimes. Before Loving vs. Virginia, there was a law that said a black woman could not be married to a white man – and the basis for this law? According to the movie “God didn’t intend for the races to mix, that’s why he put them all on separate continents.”

The lapse in logic in this argument blows me away.

I mean, I think it’s bullshit, but let’s accept the premise that God intended for all the races to stay in their corners of the world…

Do the white people realize that they’re the ones that started mixing shit up? Nobody invited them to cross the ocean and settle in the New World. Nobody invited them to kidnap Africans and bring them there to do all the heavy lifting, either.

But God is gonna frown on interracial couples, but not the people who put them together in the first place?

Nah, “manifest destiny,” they claim. There’s a destiny decreed by God that Americans will spread their moral virtue on the world. That’s what bothers me. When you have people putting words in God’s mouth for personal gain.

It’s never really about God when it’s about power. Certainly not when the party seeking power is uplifted mostly when another party is downtrodden.

This is why I don’t practice any religion and why I adamantly believe that religion is frequently a toxin to morality rather than its arbiter.

Frequently, I said. Not always.

But there I am, one of the people standing between an administration and their religious-based targets.

This is not about how things affect me. Most of the causes I passionately fight for do not affect me. I am not lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, or asexual. I am not a person of color. I was born here. I am gainfully employed, financially comfortable, am in good overall health and get health insurance through my employer with or without the ACA. I’m definitely not Muslim, nor am I Native American. Nobody wants to bulldoze my home to put in pipeline. For that matter, I own my home and nobody has been trying to lay claim on it despite the paperwork that says it’s mine. When I’m hungry, I eat, and when I’m thirsty, clean water is available straight from the faucet. I can afford birth control and I’ve never been pregnant, and at my age – am unlikely to become so without medical intervention. I am never misgendered and nobody ever questions which public restroom I can use. In fact, there have been times I’ve even used the men’s restroom when the women’s line was so long, and nobody batted an eye.

And yet you’ll see me out there fighting for all of the people who cannot claim any of those privileges. What drives me isn’t only what benefits me. I am driven by own sense of what is right and wrong – my on-board moral compass that thinks critically and independently of a highly-flawed ancient text written by the highly flawed race of humanity – whether you are talking about the Bible that hates on gays or the Constitution that allowed for slavery before it was amended.

Maybe someone wants to make the argument that my sense of morality comes from God the way they attribute people’s talents to a higher power. I’m fine with that. It doesn’t affect me.

And I would fight for your right to think it has something to do with God, even if I don’t.

Because it’s not about me, specifically. It’s about freedom.

And that’s about us all.

3:00 AM; November 9, 2016

I went to sleep when my candidate suggested that we do so. I can understand her not wanting us to be awake to bear witness to the hour in which she conceded this election to a reality television show star.

But, I woke up a few hours later and couldn’t help it. I refreshed the NPR page and saw that the nightmare was, in fact, a reality.

There are those who earnestly voted for him. And there those who refused to vote for either of them. Some of the former are people who fall into the category of “people I love,” distasteful as it might feel at the moment.

I keep hearing Haley Joel Osment’s voice in my head: I see racist people. Some of them don’t even know they’re racist.

Those same people are now calling for the “reunification” of the America they worked so hard to divide and segregate. They’re also the ones daring to question Secretary Clinton’s class for not making a public concession. WAIT, WHAT? NOW ‘CLASS’ IS IMPORTANT TO YOU?

There’s so much I want to be able to post on Facebook, but I have to be more careful and measured there, as the bonds of family could potentially be at risk. I did manage this, though:

I will defend my rights and the rights of the people I care for. Understand that I will not be forgiving of those who work for or support the dismantling of hard-won rights of women, the LGBTQ community, or people of color. In the coming years, watch what you consider to be a “joke” because we won’t be laughing. “Locker Room Talk” will not be tolerated. “She can’t take a joke” will not be tolerated. Hate speech will not be tolerated. I am setting my boundaries as a woman and as an ally to those who are frequently marginalized by a society that decided it no longer had to hide its ugly side. Be mindful of these boundaries if my continued presence in your life matters.

And it goes for people here, as well. Most of those who remain on my friends list now are not people who would give me cause to worry about any of this; but a few months ago I did unfriend someone for making a joke at the expense of trans people.

I see the emboldened already calling for us to get to work to make a difference in two years during the midterms and again in four if/when this country holds another election. And yes, …absolutely, yes. This experience, this election, has been a wake up call for me. I now see a truth that I was blind to before, and I saw it months and months before yesterday’s election.

This country is racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, and intolerant.

I didn’t want to believe that and my head was in the sand, but it is no longer.

We got passive. I got passive. I relied on shit just working itself out.

I want to be wrong about this. I want nothing more than to be absolutely wrong about the doomsday scenario that is playing out in my head under four years of a reality show regime.

Fuckin’ rub it in my face if I am and I will gladly take it because this is one instance where I REALLY don’t want to be right.

I am scared. I know so many of us are. But, as I said earlier tonight – the scared will only last so long. Soon, the anger will set in – and with it, the drive to push back and reclaim the relationship I want to be in with my country.

Until then, for those who are frightened and for those whose lives are far more at risk in the upcoming four years because your outward appearance doesn’t blend in as well as mine does; know that I and so many others like me are in your corner. Call upon us as allies and let the strength of our voices together keep you as safe and protected as we can.

With love,

phi

How the #BlackLivesMatter and #LGBTQ Rights movements helped a straight white girl become a better person

I went to a frozen yogurt place today after work. A woman walked in with two young girls. I’m not good at guessing ages, but I’d guess they were somewhere between the ages of nine and twelve.

Here’s the part that I never would have mentioned in the story before. The woman and one of the girls were black.

My parents like to tell the story of the first time they met with my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. H. Mrs. H was a remarkable force in education. She was a no-nonsense educator with a dry sense of humor. I used to come home and talk about Mrs. H nonstop after school.

I never mentioned she was black. My parents didn’t know until they met her on Open House night for the first time. They tell this story with both a sense of surprise and pride. Surprised it didn’t occur to me to mention to them that my teacher was black, and proud that they’d managed to raise a kid in a whitewashed neighborhood that didn’t think her blackness was material information in response to “how was your day?”

As far as what happened in the frozen yogurt shop this afternoon, the color of their skin is not material. Except…maybe it was.

So, they walk in just ahead of me and we’re kind of moving around each other to take sample tastes of the different flavors. The girls were fond of Cake Batter while I was all over Peanut Butter Cup and Mudslide. I smiled and waited patiently as they made their selections.

One of the girls (the black one) went to try the special edition “Ice Age” flavor and the machine squirted out blue liquid. It got a little messy and she was a little shocked.

“All I did was pull the lever down and it splattered,” she said to nobody in particular. Her mom was a few machines down, filling up her cup with Vanilla Snow.

“Yeah, it sure did,” I responded to her. “Here, let me grab you some napkins.”

And I did. She thanked me.

Then she turned around again and, almost with a tone of surprise, added “You’re really nice.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“And really pretty,” she added.

Wasn’t expecting that. “Thank you,” I said.

The other girl turned around and nodded. “Yeah, I really like your shirt, too.”

“Wow,” I said to them both. “You’re both really nice, too!”

Took them a little longer to get rung up than me, so I was already sitting down and eating when they were heading out the door. I looked up and smiled and waved bye to the girls, and offered the mom that was with them a big smile.

“Have a great afternoon!” she told me. And it was sincere. Not just a bunch of words, but I felt like she was sincerely wishing me a great afternoon.

“You too!” and I meant it.


A few things to note. I grew up with a Mexican nanny who took care of my brother and me while our parents worked long retail hours in their furniture store. She lived with us, along with her two kids. Each of her kids had different fathers, so one was very dark skinned, one was lighter skinned, and my brother and I were both pale, blonde haired and blue-eyed.

She used to take us all out on errands or to McDonalds or to the movies, and whenever people would ask which ones were hers, she’d respond “All of them.”

We were raised as a family. They’re my two extra brothers. My parents paid their way through the same private school my brother and I went to. They had all the privileges of being raised in an upper-middle class suburban environment, but they still faced certain prejudices based on their names and the way they looked.

So, when I saw this woman with the two girls, I consciously made the decision to not assume ANYTHING about them. For all I knew, she could have adopted the two of them and they were sisters. The whiteness and blackness of the girls did not dictate their relationship to each other nor the woman who was with them.

However, during the time that she was paying for their yogurts, she talked to the white girl about whether her parents let her put that many toppings in her yogurt when they went out, so….y’know. Turns out the conclusion I might have jumped to would have been the correct one.


Ok, so I started thinking. I feel like the #BlackLivesMatter movement has made me more aware of my interactions with (the admittedly few) black people I run into. It’s not that I wouldn’t have offered any other little girl a napkin under the circumstances, but I do feel like I was making a conscious effort to smile and be friendly because of what I’ve been reading and seeing in the news lately.

Similarly, my understanding of trans and gender issues grew exponentially when I became close with a friend of mine who speaks eloquently on eir experience as a gender queer individual. I’ve found myself noticing when I’m using binary references to gender, and in my writing, have made a conscious effort to move away from saying “men and women” and toward saying “people.”

I’ve never really had a history of treating people differently because of their color, sexuality, or gender identification. I think, in fact, it’d be more accurate to say I treated them with indifference. No better and no worse than anybody else I’d run into during the course of a day. I treated them the same as I’d treat the next stranger who walked past me.

Something else I’ve managed to finally understand through many of the writings I’ve read and conversations I’ve had is the concept of “privilege.”

I’ve got lots of them. I’m white-looking. I’m educated. I come from a tight-knit nuclear family of means. Even being “pretty” is itself a privilege. I might even say I have geographical privilege, because where I live, people tend to be more liberal, multi-cultural, and accepting – so my latina/jewish background never really had much of a negative effect on me.

Sometimes people talk of privilege with disdain, so I understand why people feel defensive about their privileges. Like, it’s not my fault that I was born white(ish). Not my fault I was born into a successfully entrepreneurial family. I don’t like feeling guilty about my privileges.

But I do understand now that these same privileges inherently mean I do not fully comprehend what it’s like to be hungry, or poor, or disenfranchised. I don’t understand what it’s like to be hated for loving who you love or looking the way you look. I can sympathize. I can validate. I can try to understand.

But I don’t know.

What the #BlackLivesMatter movement has done is opened my eyes to how similar experiences differ from one person to the next. When I get pulled over for a traffic violation, I usually know exactly what I did and I’m not too concerned about my physical safety. I have the privilege to be annoyed, rather than frightened.

I think what #BlackLivesMatter and similar movements for LGBTQ rights has taught me is that my indifference is not a virtue. What happened this afternoon in the yogurt shop was that I made an extra effort to be kind to a fellow human being, because in my head all I could think was “her life matters.”

And her response? Telling me that I’m really nice? That really touched me.

She made me feel like my life mattered, too.

Even if they never come for me…

I was lucky not to have been born yet when the hate would have been pointed in my direction, not for anything I’d done or even really believed in. Just for being born. For existing and having a last name that identified me as someone worthy of being hated. Also lucky my ancestors got out of town before they started rounding them up and putting them in camps, I suppose, or I’d not be here now.

Of course, in some parts of the world I’m hated for having been born where I was born, and for believing the things I do about people and freedom and love not being mutually exclusive ideas. But living where I live, I’m mostly protected from that hate. Some people in those parts of the world might also hate me because I have a vagina and because my submission is my choice and my education was my right.

Of course, I guess being born where I was born, I could be hated because my parents weren’t. Born here. Technically they didn’t even come here on the up and up, but it’s not like they had a choice in the matter. They were kids when they were brought over.

But we’re not brown looking and by the time they got here, the whole religion thing wasn’t so bad anymore, so…I guess it’s all about timing.

Of course, I’m lucky. Because today there’s not a lot of hate pointed directly at me. Because I live in a place where that hate is not overwhelmingly tolerated. I can hide in my privileged bubble where my life isn’t threatened on a daily basis because of where or how I live or where I pee or who I love or what I wear or how I earn my living.

But had I been born in a different era, a different country, or…even a differentpart of the country, that statement might not be so true.

Today I’m reminded of that famous quote by Martin Niemöller. You know the one? The one that ends with “Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me?”

I was lucky.

I am lucky.

What’s happening? What keeps happening? This hate?

It’s not okay.

I’m here. I’m speaking. This hate is not acceptable. It wasn’t then. It isn’t now. It won’t be, ever. Even if it never gets pointed in my direction. Even if they never “come for me” the way they are coming for my friends, loved ones, co-workers, family members, and role models – it’s not okay. Even if I didn’t know a single gay person, black person, trans person, asian person, jewish, muslim, atheist, immigrant, or American person.

It’s. Not. Okay.

It’s not enough to “unfriend,” or “unfollow,” people on my facebook who might support bigotry, or surround myself only with allies so that it stops being in my face. It’s not okay to pretend it doesn’t exist in my cozy corner of my safe little reality the way I avoid watching videos of animal cruelty because it hurts my soul to bear witness to it. It’s not enough to send an angry tweet or change my profile pic or sign an online petition. It’s not enough to sit and cry and feel helpless because there’s NOTHING I can do.

I can’t hold my breath and wait six months and hope it all goes away.

All I can do is keep seeing it. Keep being not okay with it. Keep raising my voice against hate. Keep standing with those who are on the receiving end of injustice and terror.

Not because one day I might need them to stand for me, but because today is a day that we all need to stand together and say this is not okay.

I’ll sign the petitions. I’ll call my elected officials. I’ll write my blogs and share my love and send out hugs and support and give money where and when I can…

But this doesn’t end until we’re all doing it. Not just the ones who agree with us.All of us.

Hate has to stop.