Okay is the New Great; What to Say to Grieving People

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Sorella di Ira How Are You? – the king of all dreaded questions for greiving people. .

You ask how I am and I say Okay and you furrow your brow and ask, What's wrong? And I know you don't really want to know that I have struggled for six years to get to this honest Okay and for me,  Okay is fucking fantastic.

One of my co-workers lost her husband this week after 38 years together. I cannot begin to fathom the monumental loss she's experiencing right now. The condolence cards make the rounds, finally landing on my desk this morning. Both cards are chock full of stock sympathies because nobody knows what to say to grieving people.

Even other bereaved people.

Some of the well-wishers have mentioned her husband by name. That's always nice. There's a lot of sorry for your loss and in my prayers. One truly thoughtful bit comes from an unexpected source, reminding me that we only ever see the surface of nearly everyone we meet.

I stare at one of the few blank spaces for a long while before I write the following:

It's okay to not be okay for as long as you need to.

What I want to write is that I know it feels like you can't survive this separation. You can. You are going to carry the grief with you wherever you go for the rest of your life, but it will feel lighter as you get stronger. After a profound loss, we don't have to strive for Great.

Some of us are just working to be Okay. 

Please Accept My Eternal Damnation

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Please Accept My Eternal DamnationAn Open Letter to an Evangelical Christian Friend,

Thank you for sharing your life with me. I enjoy the time we spend together and value your friendship. I sense your disappointment each time that I decline an invitation to visit your church. I have tried to explain briefly that my relationship to religious things in complicated. I am open to a deeper conversation about these things, but it has not transpired.

Thus far you have merely insisted that your church is not like those churches.

It is a lovely thing that you have found a church where you feel welcomed and supported. I am truly happy that you have you have a faith which comforts you and I understand the instinct to want to share your joy. I remember it, even. But from time to time, I am concerned that our relationship is predicated on you trying to save my soul.

Which is not going to happen.

It seems like you think that if I just heard the Good News, I’d be in.

I won’t.

I believe in neither Hell nor Heaven. I accept the possibility that they may exist despite my disbelief. But I am done living my life in fear of the one and pursuit of the other.

I can still recite the names of all the books of the bible and there are hymns that will always have the power to make me weep. I appreciate prayer in its many forms, and am fascinated by theology and religious expression. Losing my faith was one of the greatest losses I have ever experienced.  I can no longer believe in some great plan, or a benevolent benefactor in the sky, and if my eternal damnation is a result of that loss, so be it.

I describe myself as an engaged agnostic because it’s easier to explain than a mystical atheist.We could talk about that more, if you'd like, but just to be clear, I have no interest in trying to convert you to my view. I think faith is a lovely thing for those who can afford it. I no longer can.

And so, my friend, I need you to accept my eternal damnation and decide whether or not you’re interested in being my friend in the here and now with no agenda – no expectation.

I really hope you are.

[cross-posted at DailyKos.com]

Bathroom Bills and Protecting Our Transgender Children From YOU

An Open Letter to all citizens, lawmakers and organizations working overtime to expand the discrimination against transgender children with creepy, voyeuristic bathroom bills :

Bathroom BillI get it. You're trying to protect your children from a perceived threat. Some of you are even willing to file false reports of transgender kids doing the things you imagine they'd want to do so you can get the ball rolling. I've lied to protect my child. I understand the urge. But the reality is that your children aren't the ones in danger.

Our transgender children are routinely harassed, humiliated and violently violated by sweet little darlings like yours. Our transgender children are singled out, attacked and shunned by those good little boys and girls you're raising to be ignorant, hateful and terrified of anything they don't understand.

Your misplaced indignation and transphobic rhetoric is a real and present danger to our transgender children and your obsession with peeking over stalls honestly freaks us out to the point that we wish we could keep YOU out of the restrooms our children use. Quite honestly, you are the reason non-discrimination laws exist in the first place.

Our transgender children deserve the right to use the restroom in which they feel safest, because they are subjected on a daily basis to small-minded, cold-hearted, bigoted little bastards like the ones you're raising to be just like you.

sincerely,

one pissed off trans-parent

 

Note: I originally posted this Open Letter regarding the so-called bathroom bills in November of 2013 when transphobic groups were working overtime to repeal California's law protecting transgender kids in school bathrooms. Luckily, the trans youth of California and their allies prevailed. But this morning I noticed that similar fights are taking place across the country and I thought perhaps it was time to reiterate my point.

Flying Lessons

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flying lessonsWhen Arthur Cave (son of Nick Cave and Susie Bickfell from a cliff in East Sussex and died, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t stop feeling about it. Clearly this was none of my business. It felt ghoulish to read about it or look at pictures of their family. For days, it was a cloud over me, the thought of him lying there, waiting to be found, the thought of what his parents were going to go through.

Being intimate with the shattering grief of losing a child, you shudder at the thought of others having to face it.

More than a week later, at the gym, with trance music pouring through my headphones, the part of my mind that had been preoccupied with Arthur Cave shoved its way to the front, demanding to be examined. I was tired of avoiding this dangerous train of thought, but still needed to keep it from opening up my own well of grief right there in a noisy gym.

And with no explanation beyond the need to maintain some kind of calm, I began to visualize Ashlie there with Arthur, arriving just after he fell, holding out a hand and helping his spirit to its feet. I imagined her working to distract him from the broken body on the ground, refusing to let him stop and think long enough to be afraid.

On the elliptical, with my eyes closed, I worked to see Ashlie and Arthur running back up to the cliffs hand in hand and jumping off, but this time flying. Laughing. Fearless. And it begins to block out the horror of his death. It begins to lift the cloud.

I cannot change what happened to my child or theirs, but I can change how the bereavement of others affects me – able now to imagine (when I need to, because public grief is forbidden) my own dead child leading a merry band of spirit children on grand adventures around the world.

Take care of Arthur, I tell her, and I can breathe again.

Miss Major – Still Fucking Here

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Major!

MAJOR! is a documentary film exploring the life and campaigns of Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a formerly incarcerated Black transgender elder and activist who has been fighting for the rights of trans women of color for over 40 years.”

The above description and few additional details from Miss Major’s Wikipedia Bio were all I knew about Major Griffin-Gracy a few weeks ago when I accepted an invitation to attend film’s premiere at the 2015 Transgender Film Festival in San Francisco.

It’s not that I didn’t know the statistics.

I did.

From the advocacy of Janet Mock, I learned about the increased risk of violence faced by transwomen of color and through the incarceration of CeCe McDonald, I learned about their disproportionate representation in the criminal justice system. I’ve seen the graphs and charts, but Major! explores these issues through story; tracing the harrowing yet exuberant life of an irreverent, irrepressible and utterly disarming woman who has built family and community for transgender women in and out of prison.

 

TGI Justice

Miss Major’s TGI Justice Project works to create “a united family in the struggle for survival and freedom… working in collaboration with others to forge a culture of resistance and resilience to strengthen us for the fight against imprisonment, police violence, racism, poverty, and societal pressures.”

The staff and volunteers at TGI Justice visit prisoners, write letters, do research and advocate for their sisters behind bars. It is a noble work. It matters.

What I experienced watching this film is akin to the religious conviction of a lapsed evangelical during a barn-burning sermon. I was deeply affected and ultimately shamed by how little I have done for others. in my life. As I witnessed Major’s struggles and losses, I became acutely aware that for too long, I have excused my inaction by wrapping myself up in grief.

I am too sad, too anxious, too broken to do the work that must be done is an easy out, but for how long? At what point do the injustices of this world demand that I snap out of it?

One of the most powerful moments of the night was Miss Major’s defiant battle cry; I am still fucking here. At the film’s close, familiar and unfamiliar transgender women appeared on-screen, echoing this refrain. It was evidence of the resilience of the human spirit in a society and its systems which seek to destroy. And yet, there are so many who are not still here.

The empty seat beside me was glaring and I wept throughout the 8-minute standing ovation. Leaving the theater, I felt the full weight of having been a useless ally – mostly in theory and woefully out of practice. My daughter is gone, but I am still fucking here and I should damn well be putting that grief to work in her name.

For such inspiration and a renewed fire in your belly, I highly recommend checking out MAJOR!, when and where you can find it.

MANY THANKS to AJ Russo, who squired away tickets for J., Mouse and I to attend the event.

Visit the MAJOR! doc’s website: http://www.missmajorfilm.com/

Find out more about the work TGI Justice does here: http://www.tgijp.org/