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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?

(Want more? Get the book NOW.)

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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One day before Alice’s sixteenth 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 that fills out one of the few parts of his face not cluttered with piercings. It’s his first Pride Parade, and he’s stoked.

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 puts 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 Salvadoran 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 that makes me emotional year after year. Having grown up in a Fundamentalist Evangelical church, it is still a pleasant surprise to see open and affirming churches practicing what Jesus preached. We’re just a few months out from the upcoming election and California’s Prop 8, banning gay marriage, is on the table, so there’s a lot of marriage equality support in these groups. I let out a big, graceless “Woo Hoo” as my friend Trace and his husband Gage pass our corner. The king of serenity, Trace 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 surf wagon. 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 me. 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 that 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—the Radical Faeries—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, following 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!”

Jesús!”

With his ginger beard and wide smile, he shines there in the midst of the crowd. 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.

I practically shout over the music, “You remember my youngest, right?”

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, 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. I love him dearly for that.

Jesús and I walk to the end of the street, watching as the groups begin to disperse. Trace and Gage find us, then Max and June come past, arm-in-arm with an elderly man sporting a wooly beard and a seafoam green frock. They’re moving on to the park with Samir where a festival is waiting when I spot Alice, skipping towards us, trailed by her old friend Dante in full soldier garb.

Can I stay with Dante for the weekend?” she asks when she reaches us.

Can you what?”

Please!”

I don’t – “

Don’t trip, Mom. Dante’s cool. His mom and sister are cool. It’s all chill.”

From somewhere behind us comes Dante’s mom, a small Hispanic woman with soft features. She steps right up to Alice and examines her. “Sweet Mother Mary, look at you! You’re skin and bones.”

She shot up six inches,” I say, “and only eats chicken sandwiches.”

Dante’s mother laughs. “Then you must let her visit so I can feed her.”

I laugh too. I also worry and wonder if they’ll get along the same, but then I think how that’s exactly what I told Helen—that her boys would get that Jordan and Alice are one and the same.

All my finals are over,” Alice says, “and my birthday is tomorrow. What better way to spend it than here with my brotha from another motha?” Alice strikes a gangster pose and bumps fists with Dante. They grin at me hopefully.

They’re not going to take no for an answer, are they?” I say to Dante’s mom.

They’re young. It’s summer. Let them have their fun. “

Ok then, but…”

Nobody hears my conditions, though, because the Radical Faeries are rounding the last block, and pandemonium has broken out. Also, Davey has dashed up the street and caught me in a bear hug. I walk to the park with my Santa Cruz boys. Small children whiz past with bright balloons. Once we cross the bridge into the park, 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. Dante leans against the tree as if holding it up for the others. 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.

They’re always awesome. I think Jesús knows some of them.”

We glance across the park to the Faeries lounging in the shade of the ribbon-covered shelter they have erected.

Would he introduce me?” she asks.

Maybe. Get your brother out of the tree, and we’ll find out.”

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 always love this place where my child is accepted for who 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.

(Twitch is an excerpt from Jules Vilmur’s upcoming memoir “The Complicated Geography of Alice” due out in Dec 2014.)

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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.