Anne Lamott, Bigotry and Pee-Pees

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Dear Anne,

Your name has been a sacred one in this house full of writers, with our dog-eared copies of Bird By Bird, Stitches and Traveling Mercies. So it pained me more than many when the transphobic tweet blowing up my Twitter feed this morning was yours. Your response to the hurt and anger produced by your comment on Caitlyn Jenner;”Will call HIM a SHE when the pee-pee is gone”, was to suggest that œwe can agree to disagree. But that’s bullshit.

You don’t get to agree to disagree about someone else’s experience, or negate their existence and NOT be called out for that bigotry.

Perhaps you’™re embarrassed to admit that you are ignorant about transgender people. Maybe you honestly don’™t understand that the dig at Catlyn Jenner is a slap in the face to every single person for whom gender is complicated. Especially those who look up to you. Or looked.

I want to believe that your heart was in the right place but you just didn’t know. Because I don’t want someone to have to think of this ugly incident and your snide misgendering when they read this:

“You need to apologize to your grandmother.”

“Is she going to apologize for being a bigot?”

“Probably not, kiddo.”

She rolls onto her back and shoves her hair out of her face with both hands. “Grandma Jo doesn’t think you can be gay or transgender and a Christian at the same time.”

“Yeah, well she doesn’t think you can be a Christian and a Democrat either. But what one person thinks doesn’t change what’s true. Even if it is your Grandmother.”

I sit on the edge of the bed and start untying her shoelaces like I did when she was little. She lets me, flexing her feet and wiggling her toes when I pull her shoes off.

I say, “Anne Lamott says that ‘You know you created God in your own image when He hates all the same people you do.’ I shared that quote with your Grandma once, and she thought it was great. Maybe one day she’ll realize that her picking and choosing what God disapproves of is the same thing, but we’re never going to win that battle by fighting with her.”

Alice shoves my hands with her feet, and I tickle the bottoms of them until she squeals and pulls them away.

“She loves you,” I say.

“But she doesn’t like me.”

“Of course she does. You just challenge people’s assumptions about things they think they’ve already got sorted out, and that’s terrifying.”

(excerpt from The Complicated Geography of Alice)

I SO hope that you didn’t fully understand how your jokes wound women who will never have access to necessary healthcare, children who hope that one day their bodies will align with their inner selves and the parents, partners and loved ones of those people who fight such ignorance and cruelty every day. Because then, we can fix this. You can take the time to learn about the lives of trans people and perhaps even teach others to be more open and accepting.

The truth is, Annie; I’ve learned so much from you over the years and through your books. But maybe it’s time for you to listen and learn. It’™s okay to make mistakes, as long as we correct them.

sadly,

Jules Vilmur (aka laurastina)

 

Snapshot circa 2005

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[It’s been nearly two years since I smoked my last cigarette, but I found this bit tucked away in a pocket just now and it made me smile.]

The kid is maybe sixteen, slouched on a stone bench outside the bus station. His hair is unkempt and hangs in his face. He wears perpetual boredom like a heavy mask. There’s a pencil poking out of his back pocket, visible only when he leans forward to tie the too-long laces of his left sneaker. She recognizes him right off, knows he rides the 69West into town and up to the High School every morning. Occasionally early, usually late.

They don’t take much interest in one another, the woman and the boy, until she withdraws a pack of Winstons from her pocket and lights that first, morning cigarette. Slowly, shyly, he comes to life.

She pretends not to notice, as he stands up, hooks his thumbs in his belt-loops and shuffles across the space between his bench and hers. “Do you have another cigarette?” He asks, not quite looking at her, his eyes mostly obscured by a mop of dark hair.

She laughs, right off, one of those you-are-so-foolish-to-even-think-it laughs, and then says, “Dude, I SO can’t give you a cigarette.” It’s the laugh she’ll regret moments later, as he stares at his shoes and rubs the toe of the left one over a pebble on the pavement and then shuffles back to his bench.

For the woman, the seven minutes, which pass, between her laugh and the arrival of their bus, are thick with internal mumblings. Of course you did the right thing. First off, it’s illegal; contributing to the delinquency of minors and such, and secondly, you’d kick the ass of anyone who handed your own kid a cigarette. Hell, you should march right over there and let him have it for even asking, tell him how bad cigarettes are, how stupid you were to pick that first one up and how gutless you feel about not putting them down. You should ask him if he’s ever sat with someone who’s dying of cancer or even worse, ‘cause you know full well that it’s worse, sucking on a breathing tube for the last eight years of their life; having fucked up their lungs to the point of emphysema. You should call the school, tell his mother, shake your finger; smack him silly so he has half a chance of not ending up like you.

Still, she regrets the laugh, the way he hung his head and slunk back to his bench. I’m not trying to be an asshole, kid. I’m just doing the right thing.

 As she stands to board the bus, as she waits for the kid and an old woman on crutches to board first, she realizes that she’s rolling the smoke she didn’t give him between her fingers and thumb. Dude, I SO can’t give you a cigarette. If, however, one falls from my pack, into your lap as I jostle past, headed for the seat nearest the back exit, well it’s your luck, not mine.

And the thing she’ll remember, years later, is how that mask of perpetual boredom dissipated, how he nearly lept up out of his seat, twisting to make eye contact in that instant after the cigarette rolled from her fingers into his lap. Like Christmas morning, like puppies and shiny new bikes, like Disneyland and pizza; caught off-guard the kid’s mask evaporated completely.

As she slipped into her seat, four rows back, the boy still staring over his shoulder, waiting to make eye contact, waiting to mouth an exaggerated “thank you”, she was amazed at how good the wrong thing felt.

 

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Within a week, I read two narrative non-fiction books that were deeply connected in theme and evoked a powerful emotional response. Both Man Alive and The Other Wes Moore examine the journey to manhood; what it means and how it is achieved.
For the two Wes Moores, whose stories are traced in The Other Wes Moore, this passage was fraught with peril, poverty and the absence of fathers. Growing up in West Baltimore and The Bronx, the boys had similar struggles and yet their lives diverged greatly, one going on to become a Rhodes scholar, Army officer and accomplished writer/speaker, while the other is serving a life sentence for a heist in which an off-duty police officer was killed.

Do you think that we’re products of our environments? I think so, or maybe products of our expectations. Others’ expectations of us or our expectations … I realize how difficult it is to separate the two. The expectations that others place on us help us form our expectations of ourselves.

A series of letters and visits between the two are the basis of Moore’s analysis as he examines what manhood meant to each of the boys and how they faced the approaching need for responsibility – caring for family, trying to better themselves and their lives, sometimes achieving, sometimes failing.


Thomas Page McBee’s
path to manhood, chronicled in Man Alive is likewise fraught with obstacles. As a female-bodied man bearing the scars of family trauma and reeling in the fresh vulnerability of surviving a mugging, McBee’s experience is unique and his insight, broadly relevant.

It seemed possible to me, in the dry heat of that courtroom, that heaven was a metaphor for the grace of perspective you get when you die.

Through intertwined narratives of past and present, McBee explores both the perception of and his internalized messages about what it means to be a man. In a story that could be full of heroes and villains, we find instead nuance and complexity. McBee comes to terms with the humanity of his abusive father and mugger, freeing him to embrace manhood on his own terms.

I highly recommend both books and hope you will read more about Thomas Page McBee and Wes Moore.

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This Sunday, GoodReads will be selecting two winners from the 200+ readers who have entered their Giveaway drawing for a free paperback copy of THE COMPLICATED GEOGRAPHY. There’s still time to get on the list, but if you don’t win, you’re still in luck because we’re kicking off our Kindle Countdown Sale first thing Monday morning.

If you’ve been waiting for a chance to snap up a copy or share with your budget-conscious friends, this is it. You’ll be able to scoop up the Kindle version of the book for $1.99 on Monday, $2.99 on Tuesday and so on throughout the week until it returns to its regular price by Saturday, May 2nd.

 

Grief – Six Years Out

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For six years now, the arrival February fills me with dread as the anniversary Ashlie’s death approaches. Each season I’ve tried a different method of coping, none of them particularly effective, but still, I keep trying. This year, J. and I are heading to Capitola just south of Santa Cruz on the Monterey Bay.

Reporting back from the other side of monumental loss, I don’t have any great wisdom or grand pronouncements. Grief is ever-present. I have learned to live with it; little by little, making room for other things.

I wish there was more.

Maybe this year I’ll unlock some mystery but for now, I’m just hoping to make it through.