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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 distasteful phase to end.

Nobody’s asking you to wave a rainbow flag, Mom. Just to let your granddaughter know that you 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 an 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 Georgia from her support group 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 a few minutes ago. Is Grandma Jo 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. “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, 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?

(Pride and Shame is an excerpt from Jules Vilmur’s upcoming memoir “The Complicated Geography of Alice” due out December 2014.)

Santa Cruz Pride Festival 2013

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Radical Faeries SCMouse and I returned to Santa Cruz yesterday with our friend (and Ashlie’s step-mother) Mary for the Santa Cruz PRIDE parade and festival. It’s an event I’ve enjoyed for nearly a decade, though 2008 was hands-down my favorite year. “In The Name of Love” is an excerpt from The Complicated Geography of Alice which captures that experience. Ever since, I’ve returned each year to celebrate and mourn. The festival always takes place in the first week of June, near Ashlie’s birthday but this year, it was ON what would have been her 21st birthday.

It always feels like a kind of homecoming, passing the Leonard Building (no longer the home of The AIDS Project, but still handsome and familiar) on the way to Pacific Ave., where the streets are lined with familiar faces and every imaginable color has exploded into the street. I always cry. I always laugh. And now, I always see her there.

Down at the end of Pacific this year there was an open air / impromptu dance circle. I stood and watched them for a long time, letting myself see her there – silly, grinning and dancing in the midst of the strangely beautiful crowd. It is always good to see friends, however briefly, and reconnect with my hometown. But I come back every year because I can still feel her here – where she is happy and laughing even as she dances away from me.

{Photo Note: I’ve always been fascinated by the Radical Faeries. Ash was too. But it’s Mouse who snapped this shot and for whom the gracious fae are smiling.]
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[This guest post comes from Margaret Barton-Ross, a volunteer cook at Camp Ten Trees in the Pacific Northwest. Please make her feel welcome and spread the word about this great camp for LGBT families.]

It had never been my lifelong dream to cook in a summer camp, but after my daughter spent several summers volunteering her time to cook for the two week program known as Camp Ten Trees, I began to think it would be an interesting thing to do. And it had been a long time dream of mine to “drive” an industrial size Hobart mixer.

Camp Ten Trees has that very mixer in its kitchen. In August of 2008, I realized my dream of driving the mixer and was part of the kitchen staff at Camp Ten Trees.

I have long been a supporter of this non profit camp located in northwestern Washington. Camps tend to be special places to those who attend them. Camp Ten Trees has become much more than that for many of the campers who return year after year. The camp strives to develop “a camp community that honors creativity, individual choice, and community living.”

This camp exists to provide a safe environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LBTGQ) youth and their allies and for children of LBTGQ families. Camp Ten Trees has become home for these children and youth. Many of them say they spend fifty one weeks a year in the world, waiting for one week in the summer when they get to come home. For them, camp is home because they are safe and, after all, isn’t that what a home should be?

Read the rest of this entry »

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I am totally over the moon for My Family!™ a company founded in 2010 by Monica and Cheril Bey-Clarke to address the needs of children in the LGBT community. In an effort to spread the word about their books, I asked Cheril to whip a little something up for me to share with you and she consented, resulting in the following interview with My Family!™ author Claudia Eicker-Harris. (Make sure you check out the endnote for this post to get the discount code for My Family!™ products offered especially for Laurustina.com readers.)

1.       Your new book Freddy and Frieda’s Traveling Tales targets babies to pre-school aged children. What is it that attracted you to writing for this group? They are so open and accepting when they’re little and when they start asking questions they want honest, straightforward answers. As long as you tell them the truth, they’re happy with your answers. I think it’s this simple honesty that I love and that I have tried to reflect in the book.

2.       What do you think motivates children to read? I think children (and all humans actually) have an inherent thirst for knowledge and want to be independent thinkers. Reading gives them the freedom to choose, the freedom to learn and to think for themselves.

3.       Can you tell us a little about your journey to publication with My Family? I initially self-published ‘Meet the Families’ on Kindle as ‘I know Children’ under a pseudonym. I then sent the link to a few LGBT sites to get some publicity and to see what the reception was like. My Family picked it up and contacted me to see if I could get them in touch with the author, which was actually me! We bonded immediately and we haven’t looked back since! It’s been really amazing to work with such like-minded people who are so enthusiastic about my work as well as theirs.

4.       What is Freddy and Frieda’s Traveling Tales about? The series about two field mice who travel the world in the author’s (my) luggage and meet all sorts of children and families. They are totally non-judgmental and merely state facts and tell us who they have met. In this way they introduce children and adults to a variety of families in a simple and non-biased way.

5.       Do you anticipate writing for older age groups? Yes, but probably not for adults.

6.       How do you think books that showcase children with a trans parent help children understand? I think books like this will give parents an opportunity to open the doors to discussion. Very young children may not necessarily walk away with a full understanding, but will certainly have a foundation of knowledge and insight on which to build their future understanding. Even if they don’t understand, children will begin the all-important journey to acceptance.  

7.       Do transgender people still struggle more than others in the South African LGBT community? There are very few publicly transgender people. Generally they keep to their own communities. I think it is very difficult for them to integrate into broader society.

8.       When did you first realize you wanted to write LGBT-inclusive books for children? It’s not very unique, I’m afraid. I’ve always been a writer, but until my wife gave birth to our baby girl, Eva, I hadn’t ever written for children, only for corporate companies and for theatre. I started telling Eva stories at night and I realised that they had an effect on her; when her friends started listening to the stories and enjoying them too, I decided to start writing them down.

9.       Do you have a job outside of writing children’s books or is this the only work you do? This is all I do now, although I do write, edit and proofread educational text books, which I still see as children’s literature. I love doing both! I am still a partner in Creative Directions – the event company that my wife and I started 11 years ago, but am not actively involved in the day to day running of the business.

10.    Where can our readers find out more about you? www.claudiaeicker-harris.com

My Family's array of multi-cultural products give children of same-sex parents a sense of normalcy, while promoting the celebration of our differences and the importance of family values. For a limited time (through July 31st) Laurustina.com readers can receive a 20% discount on My Family!™ products (including free shipping within the continental US) by entering the promo code "trans". I especially love their coloring books . I encourage you to check out their site, share it with other LGBT families and support their vision by adding some of their books to your shelves.

Tessa Masterson Will Go To Prom; A Review

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I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of “Tessa Masterson Goes to Prom” because, well … I'm cool like that. Stop laughing. That shtick got me this far, sweetheart. The point is, I got to read it before you did and therefore, get to tell you how kick-ass it is.

A simple plot summary might suggest that “Tessa…” is merely a ripped-from-the-headlines retelling of the events surrounding Constance McMillan's 2010 Mississippi prom controversy. However, in the deft hands of Brendan Halpin and Emily Franklin, Tessa's characters come alive and the story becomes something unique, specific and utterly delightful.

Set against the backdrop of conservative small town which is slowly disintegrating, Tessa and her best friend Lucas struggle with questions of honesty and love. The poignant relationship between the pair, best friends since early childhood, was for me, a reminder of that bittersweet moment in time when romantic interests first overthrow the deep bonds of friendship in their emotional importance.

The big messages here are those of acceptance and loyalty. It's not hit-you-over-the-head stuff, but clearly woven through the unfolding events in a manner that should be accessible for both the intended Young Adult audience and the adult readers who love them. As a cultural commentary, I can only hope that this lovely little book will feel dated within the next decade, and be read then as a peek into what it was like BEFORE.

Halpin shines here (as always) with his ability to create teenage characters who walk, talk, think and behave like teenagers. It is one of the things which drew me to his work initially and one of the things which keeps me coming back.

Tessa Masterson Will Go To Prom” has taken up residence on my bookshelf, and not the casually overstuffed bookshelf in the bedroom, but the Here-To-Stay shelf in the living room. In this house, that's saying something. Mostly, it says, “These are the books we DON'T want the dog to pee on.” but in the story of our lives, that's kinda important.