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ColumbiaAt this point in my revision process I’m supposed to be cutting words, not adding them, but last night I pounded out a rough version of a new chapter, one of those things that I’d toyed with writing originally but never got around to. I don’t know if it will stay in the book, but I thought I’d share it here because it amused me enough that I couldn’t quite keep it to myself. 

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 Mom taught us that if we cursed with a strong enough accent, we could get away with it. Seriously, you can say shite and feckin’ in front of the whole class and no one will notice, but one futher-mucker and the whole thing goes to hell.” Alice says, leaning between the front seats so she can be sure that Sophie hears her.

 Max snorts from the backseat beside Alice, but doesn’t look up from his GameBoy.

 You taught them to curse with a Scottish accent?” Sophie asks, incredulous.

 It was my Irving Welsh period,” I say, “and to be perfectly honest, I was tired of being called to the Principal’s office.”

We’re on our way to Columbia State Park a tiny ghost town in the foothills below the Sierra Nevada mountains. I may have grown up in the valley, but I was born in the foothills and driving through them on this late spring morning still feels a bit like coming home.

We stop off in Sonora to have a quick lunch with Ruby who works in the Memorial Chapel three blocks from the apartment where my first memories are stored. It’s another ten minutes to Columbia, the main street of which has been restored to it’s 1850s charm, It’s the kind of place that kids visit on school trips, and families stop off at on their summer vacation. For my family, it holds even a more personal nostalgia as the house my maternal grandparents lived in is two blocks up from Main St. Read the rest of this entry »

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092008

 “Ruby and I are blocking a coveted parking space at the edge of Graceada Park just for you,” I tell my mother, as my sister pantomimes a bizarre yet brilliant space-holding dance a few feet away.

Through the phone, I can hear the tension in her voice even though all she gives me in response is, “Um Hum.”

I glance over at Alice, under the awning of the Pride Center’s festival booth, handing out Prop 8 stickers and brochures to a middle-aged couple.

“Alice’s booth is ten feet away from this space,” I say in response to the strained silence on the other end of the phone. “It would mean so much to her if you came by to be supportive.”

Ruby stops dancing and shoots me a worried expression, knowing what’s coming.

“You know, your Pops and I have prayed about this, and it’s just not something we can do.”

A tight little fist clenches around my heart. I know there’s no reaching her at this point and yet I continue to bash my head against this particular wall. It’s not that my mother doesn’t love Alice. It’s just that she can’t see her, and so she keeps waiting for this particularly distasteful phase to end.

“Nobody’s asking you to wave a rainbow flag, Mom. Just to let your granddaughter know that you love and support her on a day that’s important to her.”

“Well, of course we do.”

“Just not enough to show it in public?”

“I’m sorry that you’re upset, but I’m going to get off the phone now.” She adds, “I love you,” before the line goes dead.

Alice has been looking forward to Modesto’s Pride Festival for three months. She shoved her way onto the organizing committee and took to carrying around a notebook into which she scribbled ideas, suggestions and plans to propose to the group. I get the sense that they tired of her “in Santa Cruz, they do it like this” suggestions but then these are people who understand Modesto’s queer history in a way that Alice does not. The fact that there’s a festival at all is progress for the traditionally invisible LGBT community.

But here we are in one of the town’s best parks, with its sprawling oak trees and full amphitheater where The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are camping it up, its tennis courts, its BBQ pits and, for today only, a Bounce House and portable waterslide set up near the play equipment. There is a nice mix of street food, and a whole slew of booths selling art, books, and crafts. Mixed in among the vendors are a smattering of non-profit organizations, a couple of churches and a booth for the Democratic Party of Stanislaus County.

“I don’t know why you try,” Ruby says as we abandon the empty parking space and return to the park.

“I know she has that whole ‘love the sinner; hate the sin’ thing but she acts like I just invited her to a gay orgy,” I say as we head towards a booth full of books. “It’s terrifying to her that someone might see her here and assume that she approves of…festival food and hula hoops.”

Ruby laughs and starts digging through the books on one of the tables. Within mere seconds, she’s selected three and is handing her cash to the bookseller. I grab the books from her and check them out as we move on to the next booth.

“You realize this is gay erotica, right?” I ask, holding up a copy of Teleny.

“Oh!” she blushes. “I just saw Oscar Wilde’s name and snapped it up.”

“Not that I’m judging.” I slip the books back into her bag and step into the jewelry booth after her. Ruby is a fiend for jewelry so we’re in there for a while.

Finally, she holds up a big fat heart on a long silver chain. “Should I get this for Alice?”

“Absolutely.”

With heart in hand, we make our way back to the Pride Center booth where Alice and one of her support-group friends are lounging in plastic chairs, making daisy chains. As soon as she sees us, Alice jumps up and comes out from behind the table.

“Did you see Davey yet?” she asks excitedly.

“No. He made it?” I’m delighted.

“He was over there with The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence a few minutes ago. Did you get a hold of Grandma Jo? Is she coming?”

“Nah babygirl, I’m sorry but she’s not.”

“Is it the big gay army thing?”

“Kinda, but check out what Aunt Ruby found.” I step aside, shifting the focus to my sister, who holds out the heart-shaped bauble.

With a squeal of delight, Alice reaches for it. “For me?”

“For you,” Ruby answers.

Just then, someone bear-hugs me from behind and I turn to find Davey, decked out in a tight red t-shirt and a rainbow-striped faux-hawk.

“I’m so glad you made it!” I say, hugging him fiercely. When we separate, I make a sweeping gesture towards the rest of the park. “What do you think?” I ask him. “Too quiet? Too sedate?”

“Girl, you forget where I come from! In comparison to Amish country, this is practically a gay mecca.”

Just then, Fiona’s Crown Vic slides into the recently vacated parking space just behind the Pride Center’s booth. I wave in her direction and Alice runs over to the car, reaching through the passenger window to grab the yappy little dog off Dotty’s lap. At the same time, a group of giggling girls descends upon the booth and Alice rushes back with the dog at her heels.

“I know everything about the Pride Center.” Alice waves her arms, like a carnival barker in front of the girls. “I know everything about the Pride Center. What can I tell you, sell you or do you for today?”

We leave her to it and move on towards the food vendors in search of a good taco truck. When we’re out of earshot, Ruby leans in to whisper: “Are you going to tell me what the ‘big gay army’ is?”

“Just one of those things Mom and Pops are terrified of … the so-called militant homosexuals.”

“Militant homos?” Davey pipes up. “Show me, show me! I do so love a man in uniform.”

I link arms with them both as we walk on through the park.

Alice isn’t angry that her grandparents didn’t drop by to support her. She’s sad, and yet she spends the rest of the day grinning and laughing and flitting around the park like a newly formed butterfly, the big fat heart bouncing against her chest as she goes.

I’m the one who’s angry. I let it go on the surface and never bring it up again, but it burrows deep and stays with me because once again my mother has chosen a belief system over her own flesh and blood, hiding behind a god who tells her exactly what she wants to hear. There is so much shame in this world. What does it honestly cost us to instill a sense of acceptance and pride in those we profess to love?

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uhh“Is everything alright?” The wide-faced woman folding sweaters at the entrance of the Target dressing room asks.

“Oh no, we’re fine.” I assure her, standing in the narrow hall between dressing rooms, while Alice cries loudly within the stall.

The woman looks unconvinced.

“Teenage girls and jeans.” I explain, rolling my eyes. Then I lean against the door and whisper. “Al, put your pants back on and bring everything out. We can do this another day.”

“B …bu …but I need jeans.” she wails.

“Ok, then we can do it at another store.”

The weeping downgrades to sniffles and I hear her moving around behind the door. I smile at the attendant, pacing nervously while I wait.

It was brave of us to try this in the first place, just march into the dressing room, daring anyone to try and stop us. What we hadn’t counted on when picking out the items to try on, was that Alice has shot up another couple of inches, and thinned out in the last few months, so every pair of jeans she took into the dressing room is too big, too short or doesn’t fit in the crotch. We don’t talk about Alice’s crotch much. Mostly we talk around it, a thing which must be managed for the time being, but too intimate to be discussed freely. Read the rest of this entry »

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SeeMeHigh on the list of things I wish I could explain to people about children like mine, is the importance of pronouns. In general, we don’t think about them all that much, but for those like Alice who spent fifteen years feeling mis-labeled on a daily basis, pronouns are incredibly important.  Respect, acceptance and kindness can be demonstrated or withheld in the simplest of terms.

He or she.

Him or her.

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One day before Alice’s 16th birthday, Max, June, Alice and I pile into the car and head West for the promised excursion to the Gay Pride Parade in Santa Cruz. Earlier in the week, June took Alice shopping for the perfect outfit and she skips out of the house this morning in a flouncy black mini, tall shoes and striped stockings. A little black tank, her favorite hoodie and a smattering of chunky candy jewelry completes the outfit.

Max and June are equally splendid in their attire, June having donned a red party dress with a matching parasol and Max, sporting his favorite bowler, a natty vest and, oddly enough, a raccoon tail. My slouchy gray t-shirt and jeans are frowned upon by all.

On our way out of town, we pick up Samir, the Persian boy from Alice’s support group. He is inexplicably dressed like a pirate and wearing a delicately-pasted beard which fills out one of the few parts of his face not cluttered with piercings. It’s his first Pride parade and he’s stoked.

Alice has elected to spend her birthday tomorrow with her old soldier boy buddy Dante, and I’m scheduled to drop her off at his house in Santa Cruz before the rest of us head back over the mountains. While Dante seems to accept Alice’s transition, I’m nervous about his in-person reaction and that of his family. Still, I tuck that anxiety away for the time being as there is too much excitement and anticipation about the day to enjoy.

With Alice riding shotgun, Gwen Stefani sings us through the Valley, over the mountains and down Highway 17, which dumps us into downtown Santa Cruz with twenty minutes to spare. We may have been gone for a year, but Santa Cruz is still my town and I prove it by scoring one of the few unregulated parking spaces downtown. The kids spill out of the car and are rushing towards the commotion a block away when Alice turns back.

“How do I find Davey so we can get into the parade?” she asks, stumbling momentarily in her tall shoes.

“Down to the end of Pacific.” I point west. “Look for someone with a clipboard and ask where the AIDS Project group is staged.”

She grabs Samir’s hand and they’re off. Max and June are already across the street, heading in the opposite direction, towards the clock tower. Her parasol is bobbing behind their heads and his raccoon tail bounces along behind them.

I catch up to them near the Del Mar Theater just as the Dykes on Bikes roll out onto the street to clear the parade route. The sound of their engines makes me tear up. It always has.

The motorcycles are followed by the Grand Marshall, roller-derby girls and a pair of seven-foot-tall drag queens. A group of Latin dancers from up at the college put on a hell of a show and then The Women’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (a huge support system for local cancer patients and those living with HIV) rolls onto the scene with my old friend Mario atop the float, shaking his El Salvadorian ass in short shorts and sporting a giant platinum afro wig. I squeal like a delighted child as he throws a string of glittery beads my way.

Things mellow out a bit when the local gay-friendly churches take the street, another entrance which makes me teary year after year. We’re just a few months out from the upcoming election and California’s Prop 8 vote so there’s a lot of marriage equality support in these groups. I let out a big graceless “Woo Hoo” as my friends Tad and Greg pass our corner. Always calm and collected, Tad smiles and waves his “God Is Still Speaking” sign in my direction.

The churches are followed by stilt-walkers, the San Francisco Cheer Team and a smattering of state and local politicians, including the Mayor in a beautifully-restored Woody. A random group of boys in tutus and girls with tiny dogs follow the political crowd and then I hear a blaring bass and look up the street to see an approaching contingent dressed all in red with the exception of one bright green pirate and a girl in a flouncing black mini and striped tights.

I punch Max in the arm. “They’re coming!”

“I can see, mom.”

It’s this point at which Davey spots Max and I. He jumps out of the parade to grace me with a bear hug and a second set of shiny beads. Then, like a flash, he’s back in and the whole AIDS Project group stops in front of us. Volunteers from the Org run to the edges of the crowd with buckets for donations and to hand out condoms, little red ribbons and more Mardi Gras beads. The music blaring from the flatbed which precedes them is obscenely danceable and those who aren’t working the crowd put on their own impromptu dance show. Right in the middle of them are Alice, Samir and Davey having a grand old time.

When the procession starts up again, I leave Max and June at the corner, moving through the throng, to keep pace with Alice. I don’t want to miss out on the grand finale which is always the Radical Fairies, but it is so rare these days to see her this happy that I want to capture every second of it.

I pass a number of friends, acquaintances and familiar faces along the way, but I don’t stop long in any one place, trying to keep pace with the thrumming beat as it heads towards the clock-tower at the end of Pacific Avenue. I’m up near Bookshop Santa Cruz when I run headlong into another spectator.

“Whoa!” He grabs me by the shoulders and steps back. “Jules!”

The friend and former co-worker into whose arms I’ve tumbled exudes kindness like few people I’ve ever known. With his ginger beard and wide smile, he shines there in the midst of the crowd.

“Jesús!”

I hug him fiercely as a blast of music announces the arrival of The AIDS Project’s group. Jesús turns to see them and I tug on his sleeve.

“You remember my youngest, right?” I’m practically shouting over the music.

“The soldier boy? Of course,” he says, still looking towards the dancers.

I stretch out my arm in front of him and point to Alice who is currently twirling and laughing in the middle of the street. She spots us there at the edge of the crowd and waves in our direction.

“My god,” he says, somehow more delighted than surprised, “she’s blooming!”

With his arm over my shoulder, we stand and watch them. Davey dances circles around Alice and Samir while the volunteers with the buckets work the crowd. It strikes me suddenly that Jesús sees what I see: a happy girl dancing in the street with a cute pirate. Nothing more. Nothing less.

I hope for the day when she passes well enough that we won’t have to think of such things, but I bask in the company of someone who doesn’t have to be convinced, someone who also sees her blooming, and I love him dearly for that.

Davey’s group spills out of formation at the clock-tower and heads for the park one block over where a stage show and festival booths are waiting. I wait though until the Radical Faeries come through with their bright frocks, streamers and all things fabulous. I walk along to the park with an elderly gentleman sporting a woolly beard and a sea-foam gown. We talk about how beautiful days like this are while small children zoom past us with balloons and strings of beads. As we leave one another at the end of the bridge into the park, he nods at me peacefully like an old Rabbi and wishes me a glorious afternoon.

I spot the kids near the playground and head towards them. Max is up a tree, and Samir is navigating the lower branches, intent on joining him. June and Alice stand off to the side beneath the red parasol. Alice clomps over when she sees me, wincing with each step but looking ridiculously happy nonetheless.

“Did you see the faeries?” Alice asks, when I reach them. “Weren’t they great?”

“See them? I walked over here with one.”

“Really? Can you introduce me?” She glances across the park to the Ribbon-covered shelter the Faeries have erected and in whose shade they now lounge.

“I just met the man, but I know someone who can introduce you. Get your brother out of the tree and we’ll head that way. I’m starving anyway.”

We order a mix of Greek and Indian food, staking out a spot beneath a generous tree to eat. As we’re finishing up, I spot Jesús heading towards a dance tent throbbing with trance music. I grab him just before he goes in and he consents to take Alice over to mingle with the Faeries. I flop down in the grass near the other kids and watch them go.

I will never not love this place where my child is accepted as she is, not for who she once was or even who she will someday become, but who she is right now, flouncing through the park, arm in arm with Jesús, towards a group of men in fancy frocks.
[In The Name of Love is an excerpt from “The Complicated Geography of Alice“, a memoir currently in search of the perfect publisher. If you would like to read more, you can find Laurustina.com on Facebook and get notification when the blog is updated and the book is released.]