Don’t erase me.

Note: I only speak for myself here. I hope I don’t annoy or offend people who may feel like I am speaking for them and saying things they don’t need or want said. Let me know in a comment so I can think/learn!

Here’s the problem with saying things like
I’m colourblind; we all bleed red.

Why do gay people feel the need to come out? Love is love.

ALL lives matter. 

Look, I get you. I realise you’re saying things about how the world should be. But I’d also like you to know that being colourblind, being blind to differences and saying we’re all the same and all equal, well. It’s not great.

It invalidates the experience of living an othered life. When I hear people saying they don’t understand why gay people need to come out, it can feel like a tidal wave of erasure coming my way. My experience doesn’t matter. I don’t know what it feels like to be queer in this modern world.

But the thing is, if you are white and straight (and male? well educated? have money?) you probably don’t see that there is still a big problem. Lots of big problems.

Black people aren’t making up racism or exaggerating what it means to be black in today’s society. Why would they? Why would gay people be so scared of coming out if it wasn’t a colossally huge deal? And why would they (why would I, I own this, it happens to me) have to come out every single day to new people they meet, if it truly didn’t matter?

Sometimes I can say I have a wife and the conversation moves on, but usually it’s fraught with well meaning apologies for assuming I have a husband, asking me about gay marriage, etc. Sometimes it’s been less…pleasant.

My experience is other.

Saying things like, ‘Please, people, let’s stop talking about #blacklivesmatter and white privilege, we’re all Americans,’ boils my piss. Because the simple fact is, only a white American would be able to say something like that. Look around at every other minority, they’ve got a different story to tell. We may all be Americans, but we are not all living the same experience.

And, quite frankly, all this ‘colourblind’ stuff feels like privilege and assumption and oppression even more. You may mean it like, ‘Hey, we’re all people.’ And while that’s great, the assumption that you ‘don’t see difference’ means that you assume everyone is having the same experience you have. You are wiping out our voices, you are ignoring what we say, you comfortable where you are and assume everyone else is, too.

But I think the only way we are all going to get there, get to that place, is by doing the hard work. The uncomfortable work, if you aren’t used to it. It can take balls to come out again and again, ten times a day, but I do it because I don’t want to be ‘whitewashed’ (for want of a better term….maybe straightwashed?), because I want my children to know it’s okay to be who they are, because other people I meet might be trapped in a very tight and alone place, and I’d like them to feel comfortable telling the truth with me.

It can take bravery to try to find out the answers to questions you or your family may have. Why do some women wear headscarves? Why are black people ‘still’ so angry about slavery? (Yes, my mind explodes at this one, but this is a very common thing to hear in America.) Why do people want to emigrate to new countries, and what is that like for them? 

Do the work. Do a bit of research. Have uncomfortable conversations about inherent racism, about privilege, with your friends and family. Try to imagine what it might be like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

And please, stop erasing me.

We are all different and that has the potential to be such a strength. This world is full of colours and shapes and sizes and abilities and loves and stories. When you say we’re all the same, you are speaking from tremendous privilege and perhaps idealism, but you are not speaking the truth for all people. There are many rich subcultures all around us all, and what a shame it is if we miss the opportunity to learn more about them, to make friends with people unlike ourselves, to celebrate all these differences and how they enrich us all.

Minority people have spent years, decades, centuries carving out spaces to be proud of themselves, to not fall prey to shame and violence. When you say we don’t exist, when you say our experience isn’t valid, you are trying to wipe out the things that we have fought hard for, the things that make us special, the things that are a big part of who we are. If you want us all to be the same, to be a world without wonder and difference, I’d gently suggest that the way to do this isn’t to cover your eyes and pretend you don’t see us. We are here. We are ready and waiting for you. We want you to stand by us as allies, we want you to delight in our differences, we want to be acknowledged.

We are not all the same. And you know, that’s okay.

All I can do is love. 

Here’s my understatement of the year:

Man, things have been politically and socially messed up lately.

Here in the UK, the vote for Brexit (for the UK to leave the European Union) has triggered a huge rise in xenophobic hate crimes. Muslims (including British born), Polish people – hell, any flavour of immigrant (except, perhaps, white and well educated) is experiencing violence, having vitriol spewed at them, living in fear and uncertainty for their futures.

Many companies are choosing to leave the UK, the pound dropped in value overnight to unbelievable new lows, and the strongly held opinions of the leave/remain camps have caused friendship and family breakups. Political leaders appear to have no plan, other than quitting their jobs and stomping their feet.

In the US, a spate of violence has occurred – and not your ‘usual’ mass shootings that seem to barely affect people anymore. I went to bed one night with the news of a black man being held down and shot point blank, and woke up to the news that yet another black man was shot in his car – with a four year old child in the back. I won’t go over the details of these horrific killings, but I will say that my facebook community has been heavily invested in these debates. The hashtag #blacklivesmatter (which I support, 1,000,000%) has people foaming at the mouths.

Most alarming to me aren’t the out and out racists, but the ordinary people left scratching their heads and saying, ‘But don’t all lives matter?’ These are the people who genuinely don’t see why the BLM movement is necessary, the people who say they are colourblind, the people who probably have good intentions but don’t realise the ramifications of what they are saying.

These are the people who went nuts when policemen were shot and killed in Dallas, following a peaceful protest on behalf of BLM. The sort of protest march that has happened twice in London in the past few days, with no violence attached. Of course no one is saying murdering police is a good payback for them murdering black Americans, but suddenly it’s turned into a big contest between ‘black lives’ and ‘blue lives.’

I straddle both worlds, having lived in America until I was about 21/22, then moving to the UK. My friends live across the globe, but most are in the UK and the US. So when shit goes down in either place, given the (shameful?) amount of time I spend on Facebook, I see all the posts and arguments and memes and misunderstandings. Many of my friends are very political, and most are very liberal.

One said this week, ‘Why are we all talking about this? Is there a point? We need to stop talking and start doing.’ She’s right, of course, but it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. What can I, a sole person with no wide political or social reach, actually do? I’m not going to be going into Parliament or Congress to fight for law changes – but I can help raise awareness, I can strongly support minority communities (ever mindful that I’m queer and an immigrant, which no doubt colours my thinking), I can try to participate in respectful discussions. I can STAND UP against racism.

Most importantly, I am someone who DOES have one area of strong influence – my children. They are the next generation, the next brave people who will rise up and make their voices heard.

My strongest way to be and do is to do just what I am doing. I talk about difference with my kids. We have lots of hard discussions in a way that doesn’t feel so hard, because I start from the base assumptions that these things are worth talking about, and that my children are capable of having these discussions.

I want them to never be colourblind – I want them to see the richness and diversity of all our fellow human beings, I want differences to be celebrated and acknowledged, I want them to understand why when one group of people is targeted with hatred or violence, it affects all people. Keeping quiet implies tacit support of the oppressor, and I hope my children grow and learn how to navigate the tricky waters of society. I hope that even if they don’t take the waters of xenophobia or racism by storm, that they make ripples felt the whole world wide.

It’s up to us, to all of us. We need to lead by example. Black lives do matter. Immigants do contribute to our society. We can’t hope or try to erase whole communities of people from the wider social experience just because they speak another language or have skin that’s black. These people matter.

And so do our voices, and our actions. Do the little things you can. I’ve written my MP, I openly support and campaign for minorities (and gun law reform in America, but that’s a whooooolllle different story), I tell my children that we are all different, and that is okay. It’s better than okay, it’s glorious.

I am me, and you are you, and if only we all joined together, how much more powerful and beautiful this world would be.

Represent yourself….

My seeds post  inspired two things – a lot of laughter and mocking on my personal Facebook page…..and an angry tirade from a stranger on a public Facebook group. Apparently my attitude is terrible, I’m an embarrassment, and anyone reading my blog will end up thinking home education is bad. I, Alison the Awful and Terrible, will be responsible for fanning the fires of hatred against home education. 

But here’s the thing: I can only be me. I am not the sole representative of home educators, of parenthood, of anything. And while we do each provide a personal face for ’causes’ or issues we are associated with, sometimes the best way to do that is to be honest. 

When I was younger, I was under scrutiny as a lesbian. Was it a phase? Was my hair gay enough? Was I really as normal as I seemed, or did my deviant sexuality mask some serious deficiencies as a human?

It carried on, all of it. When we first had the babies, I was conscious again of our status as queer parents. While I had long ago made peace with being Other, suddenly I was in a world where even more people than usual were in straight relationships. We had to come out again, and again, and again. Every single health professional commented on us being a two mother family. And while the vast majority were (over compensating) very positive, it was still a constant presence. We were judged as parents. Could two mothers function as parents? 

All I’ve ever been able to do is to be myself. I’m not perfect. I like to swear, I kill plants with the greatest of ease, I’m tired and just want ten minutes alone to watch Full House. But all of that is good enough. It’s all we can hope for. 

I’m a real person, and perhaps because of my ‘otherness’ the internet stranger’s critique didn’t bother me as much as it could have. But did it bother me? Sure. I don’t want people to view me as a shining example of ineptitude and home education failure. But you know what else? I’m not an example of that. Nor are you. We are both allowed to have off days, to wobble, to tell funny stories that make people laugh because they relate. Not everyone will like us, but that’s okay. (And not everyone has a sense of humour…it isn’t always about you or me, it can be about that other person having a bad day or just being radically different in their viewpoints.)

We are allowed to be gloriously messy, to make mistakes, to spend too much money on eBay. The best and truest way to let people know who we are is to be who we are. It might feel like a risk, but it is the easiest way to find like-minded souls, to celebrate and relax into who you are, to represent yourself as authentically as possible. You and me, we’re okay. Just as we are. 

  
(Me and my castle buddy, twin expressionistas.)

Who are the Muslims we fear?

I’ve always thought that it is hard to maintain hate in the face of actually knowing someone. You know. Saying hello, learning a name, maybe having lunch together.

That’s why I’ve always been very open about being queer – it’s not always been easy or pleasant to be out, but I like to think it helps others who might not be ready to be open about who they are. It’s one thing to hate an anonymous person or group – but once you know them? My, it’s hard to hate that nice fellow you chat with every day.

So for my family and friends that fear Muslims, let me tell you about a few I’ve known.

In London, I worked in a very diverse team. I always felt happier sitting with the black and/or Muslim crew, and it wasn’t until a friend pointed out that I was probably happier there as I was also a minority (albeit with white privilege and able to pass as a heterosexual). So, here are some scary Muslims I met.

One was one of the smartest people I’ve met. She was very serious, thoughtful, and insightful. She studied for her MA at the university where Suzy would attend for her MA the following year, and gave us the lowdown. She was always someone to have an interesting, smart conversation with. She laughed easily and had a gift working with young people.

Another spooky fearsome Muslim was a woman who had a dirty laugh and loved any excuse to use it. She was so authentic and funny and irreverant, and I knew any time I was working in close proximity to her I’d almost wet myself from laughing multiple times.

While I worked there, I also had a lot of young Muslim clients, some male, some female. One particular young woman I supported emotionally for eighteen months. I saw her three times a week, sometimes more, and she was a gift. She was in her late teens, an adult really, and she was exploring what it meant to be her in this world she lived in. A year after I stopped working with her, we saw each other on a random London street. She ran across the street to embrace me, and I squeezed her so tight…if only to let her know, in some way, how much I had cared and still cared for her.

Now I live in a different city, which is also marvellously peopled with people from around the world. Our home education community is large, and we are lucky enough to know (and be getting to know!) Muslim women and children …who oddly enough, haven’t threatened us or made me fear for my life.

One of these women, my children refer to as ‘superhero _____’ because early on in knowing her, one tripped over a brick on the pavement. He fell and ripped up his knee quite badly. I was rather far away in the park and heard the screams. I also heard when they stopped. She’d stopped to comfort him, and that small act of kindness has impressed itself deeply on my children.

Another woman we’ve only just met was deep in the woods with us earlier this week, and some of the adults and children were talking about ISIS. Cue a great opportunity to talk about racism, stereotypes, judging other people.

And on Tuesday nights at gymnastics? My bestie there happens to be a Muslim woman addicted to ice lollies. We’ve chatted occasionally over the last year, and she’s often seen rolling her eyes at her children, smiling and chatting with whoever she’s sat next to, etc. We’ve not talked every week, and we’ve never talked about deep issues – but do we have to? We are both tired mothers waiting for the day to be over so we can go to bed.

Sure, you may say, my friendly misogynist. These are all examples of women. Women aren’t scary.

What about the guy who entertained my children today while they waited for a Christmas present for their other Mummy to be ready? He laughed and joked and made them howl with laughter.

Not all people are good. I get that. But a lot more people are good than bad. A lot more people are here to say hello, to make connections, to help each other out rather than to hurt each other.

And I can say that while I’ve got a lot of shit from (mainly American, not UK) Christians about my sexuality (not all of you, not at all, but perhaps more broadly from the Catholic church I no longer belong to….and yes, some people I know who send long emails about my sins), I’ve never got shit from my Muslim, atheist, Buddhist, Jewish, or Pagan friends (and of course, some Christian friends!). Not once. I’ve been met with grace and kindness and friendship.

I aspire to meet others in grace, kindness, and friendship. I’m thankful that I moved abroad, that I had a chance to meet people who were different (and yet so similar) to those I left behind. My horizons have been expanded, I (usually) challenge racism and the like immediately, I am living with two children who don’t comprehend disliking someone because they are brown or wear a head scarf.

All these terrifying Muslims I’ve known, they’ve given me friendship, lots to think about, laughter (and once, some AWESOME bread that I can still taste now. Thank you, superhero!). These women (and men!) have been beautiful, smart, sunny, angry. They’ve been naughty partners in crime, colleagues in study, someone to gossip with in the playground. I don’t hesitate to be openly horrifed by policiticians or ordinary people who spew hateful language and ideals.

Once, at the university where I gained my first degree, we had a rally. A rally where everyone ‘other’ was welcomed. We stood in the darkness, holding candles, and listened to each others’ stories. Stories of gender, of religion, of sexuality, of race. Sometime in that evening, looking at all these other magnificent and gorgeous people, we all realised how much stronger we are together.

I was nineteen when I learned that, really felt it to be true, and it’s not stopped being true yet.

I’ve done cool shit.

20150810-185908.jpg

I have done some cool shit.

I’ve spent time teaching in a well known school for the Deaf, totally immersed in American Sign Language and Deaf culture. One of my most proud moments still is when two 17 year olds thought I was Deaf – a real relief as spending eight hours a day communicating in a language I was not born to was intimidating. But amazing.

I’ve worked at an American summer camp for years and years, culminating in an excellent time being the Director there. Summer camp is sort of like you see in the movies, only deeper and funnier and harder. It helped me discover who I was, to celebrate that, to be loved for nothing more simple than just being me.

I spent one memorable winter season living alone at that camp, 400 acres of potential axe murderers and demons at my beck and call. Many hours spent hearing voices outside the window, running like hell through the woods to my little cabin, keys shaking in my hands as I pictured the hounds of hell just about to disembowel me.

I’ve been part of the editorial staff of an international magazine. I never knew how mundane something so seemingly glamourous could be. I loved it. I loved the giant proofs of each new edition, I loved the weird pressure of my work being checked by people just as geeky as me, I loved the odd man who gave me lifts out of London.

I moved across the world to another country, practically sight unseen, for love. I learned how to navigate the most effed up city ever, fell in love with that city, lived in a tiny studio flat with a toy lobster hanging from the bathroom light pull. After a year of staying up all night on the phone to Suzy, waiting for the mail to come each day, what a miracle it felt like to live with her.

I had two years of therapy; it was a requirement for my course, and what a gift it was. I spent hours sitting on a couch across from a woman who showed me such love, such understanding, such humour. How profound it was to be seen, to be known. If I offered a quarter of that experience to the many humans I worked with as a counsellor, I consider that a job well done.

I’ve been inside some notorious psychiatric hospitals, many while volunteering as a mental health advocate. One particular night of trying to get off a locked ward, then out of a locked outer containment zone, then out of endless maze like corridors that all ended in locked doors stays with me still.

I’ve been pregnant with two children, and spent an entire summer on the couch, looking out the window at white fluttering butterflies. Every year when I see those butterflies I am reminded of movement deep within, of my huge, curved belly, of the heat of that endless time of waiting and wondering.

I’ve done cool shit.

I’ve shaved my head, dyed my hair every colour of the rainbow, pierced my tongue. Met many ‘strangers off the Internet’ in a time when that just wasn’t done. I won national awards for acting when I was a teenager and was still so stupid and so brilliant. I achieved a distinction on my Master’s dissertation, and have gone back to teach other MA students.

I’ve written a book or two. Or three. These moments were among the most joyful and fulfilling of my life.

I’ve had sloppy teenage kisses and made messy teenage mistakes. I experienced true love at a very young age, and those memories still sometimes creep into the nighttime landscape of my dreams. I’ve kissed boys, and girls, and my own arm before I was confident in my abilities when lips met lips. All those things led me to here – married just about fifteen years. Safety, laughter, ease, contentment, love.

I quit teaching right before starting a plum job that was hotly fought for. I dropped out of my PhD programme to pursue a career in counselling. I qualified as a high ropes course instructor despite spending three hours crying in a tree, trying to work up the courage to step off a twenty foot high platform. I’ve been in more Halloween haunted houses, haunted woods, and haunted hayrides than you can imagine – and wet myself in fear on more than one occasion. I’ve also wet myself lavishly while laughing.

I’ve survived hard stuff. I spent two years in a wheelchair, unable to walk. My grandmother’s death led me to what, looking back, I can only class as a breakdown. I had a very unstable parent, with many problems, and my choice to cut all contact troubles me still.

I spent time in the room where Anne Frank hid. I’ve stopped my car to let a bear cross the road. I lived without electricity or walls five months every year. I’ve seen meteor showers, I’ve survived tornadoes, I’ve danced in the rain at the tail end of Florida’s hurricane season. I’ve swum naked in a lake filled with dubious creatures. I’ve found friends who feel more like family. I got a qualification as a sexual health worker with young people, and had some of the most…interesting…conversations of my life as a result.

All these things I’ve done, and more, crept into my thoughts while I was driving home today. And I wondered: where is my cool shit now? Ten years from now, will I be able to add onto this list?

I’ve done cool shit. I want to do more.

Brave and free.

I was born in America, land of the free, home of the brave.

Fifteen years ago is when I realized I wasn’t free. I packed a few bags, boarded a plane, and moved across the globe to be with the woman I loved. It was bittersweet. I left behind my family, my friends, my career, my home. I stepped into the unknown – except it wasn’t unknown. It was my wife.

We both wanted to live in America, but there wasn’t a way for me to bring her there as my wife or partner. Even that long ago, the UK had just passed provision to allow me to apply for a same sex partner visa, after my initial two years living with Suzy while I completed a graduate degree. I couldn’t bring her to my home, and actually, the fact that she loved me could bar her entry from the very place I’d always thought was so progressive and powerful.

This is the face of who marriage equality protects:

family

You can barely see me. I’m the one with glasses, the one who came out as queer at nineteen to her mother. The one who was told she’d go to hell, was told how abnormal she was, who grew up with a legacy of fag jokes and classmates who played Smear the Queer. I’m not dangerous. I love reading, I’m quite gregarious, I laugh a lot, I love my family.

You see my wife? She’s the one with tears in her eyes, as she holds one of our newborn children almost six years ago. She’s smart and creative, she has a beautiful singing voice. She works hard to help young people with additional challenges blossom, believe in themselves, and achieve. She doesn’t earn much money, but she loves her job and she recognizes how important it is to fight for people who sometimes can’t fight for themselves.

One of those babies is now a small boy. He does martial arts with painted nails. He is rough and tumble, he is sensitive, kind hearted, and gifted with a talent for befriending people. He exudes an easy confidence and is joyful. He’s a storyteller and a comedian.

The other baby is now a small girl. She’s musical, she’s a perfectionist. She’s funny and dramatic and strong. She is very athletic, she has a fierce love for her friends, she is learning to ride her bike without stabilizers. She has a small Bunny she loves deeply.

This is our family. We try each day the best we can to love each other, to appreciate ordinary life. To my kids, this is their normal life. We are lucky enough to be blessed with friends, children and adult, from all walks of life – including various religions who may have traditionally been against same sex couples. My children have never experienced anything but respect and friendship from the wonderful community here in Bristol.

To live freely and safely, I’ve had to be brave and leave one life behind, rebuilding another.

Because of the ruling today in America, marriage equality becomes a federal fact. Now millions of children won’t have to grow up and be forced to become an immigrant if they happen to fall in love with someone from another country. Same sex parents will be able to jointly adopt their children. Spouses can visit their lifelong loves in hospital. Insurance companies will have to recognize and include families like mine.

I’ve been crying on and off all afternoon. When I told M about the ruling on marriage equality, he threw his arms into the air and shouted, ‘Woohoo!’ When I told S, she gave me a look of disdain and said, ‘They already had that in England.’

What a marvel to have children who see marriage equality both as a given, and as a joyful thing to celebrate. What a wonder for them to have all the opportunities in the future to live such an ordinary, happy life as the one I’ve fought for.

Marriage equality strengthens individuals, couples, families. It gives us all a chance to recognize how beautiful the ordinary is and will continue to be, to finally be free and happy without having to be quite so brave.

One love, and what a big love it is.

A few weeks ago I went ahead and clicked the link I was seeing again and again in my Facebook feed: Macklemore at the Grammys, where a good number of couples were married. Women and women, men and men, women and men. White and black, Asian and white, etc etc. Lots of combinations of beautiful people in love.

It made me cry.

It seems like change is cascading, rolling faster and faster down the hill. I see the easy words flowing out of other people’s mouths – it’s ‘no big deal’ to be gay. Equal rights are de facto. It doesn’t seem that way to me.

I remember being a child and hearing homophobic comments and abuse from family members. I remember my classmates playing a game called Smear the Queer. I remember crying so many nights in university about the hell of coming out to my own family, and the particularly cruel response I got. I remember a nurse during pregnancy refusing to recognize Suzy as my wife and referring to her as ‘your friend, or colleague, or whatever she is.’ These are not the distant past.

It feels like a BIG DEAL to me that straight people are stepping up to fight for equality. It’s not just a handful of marginalized minority people fighting, it’s becoming everyone’s fight. And I looked at my little girl and thought, ‘The world is different for you.’

It is. It is full of people who are accepting and loving. She is being raised with the opportunity to figure out who she is and be loved for that. She is less likely to face discrimination than the generation before her. She asked why I was crying.

I told her.

‘We know people can love whoever they love. But a long time ago, black people couldn’t marry white people. And not so long ago, a girl couldn’t marry a girl, and a boy couldn’t marry a boy. Some places are still like that. We know it’s wrong. People can love whoever they want to love and it is okay. White people can love black, girls can love girls, girls can love boys, people should just be with who they love.’

‘And lots of people, all the good, brave people, have fought for people to love and marry who they want to. They stood up, they said it wasn’t right or fair to not let people get married, and they changed the world.’

I looked her dead in the eye. ‘We can change the world. It is important to fight to change things, to make the world better.’

This has led to further and deeper discussions with both kids, who have been shocked to discover that some people didn’t/don’t think black and white people should get married. We’ve had lots of discussion about Suzy and me loving each other, about who they want to marry (M says me, bless him), about civil rights.

I hope our home is growing a culture where the kids learn that it is everyone’s responsibility to do what we can to make sure life is fair for all people, whether we share a skin colour, a religion, a love. That our children know we accept them from the get go – their gender, sexuality, career, or whatever else are things we celebrate. I want them to be fighters, to stand up to be counted – both in big battles and small. If another child is being picked on, if someone is hurt, we will endeavor to be their friends and champions.

Both kids have deep empathy for other people, questioning minds, critical thinking, open hearts. How my life has changed and been impacted when I think about family members one generation older than myself, and this new generation. Almost thirty one years separate me from my children, and what a thirty one years they have been. How far we still have to go, but how many people are willing to stand with us in love and pride.

I’d like to thank those people. I’d like to count my children among them.