I’ve got Pride

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When I was a little girl, we rented out a room in our large Haight-Ashbury flat to generate extra income. It was always rented to a young gay man, probably because my mum, a single parent, felt it was the safest & most sensible option. Their room was right next to mine in the front of the house & included a sitting room that we called the “library” because it had floor to ceiling bookcases, big puffy pillows on the floor & comfy nooks to settle in for reading or taking a nap. It was a common area in the house, but was mainly for our renter’s use, though I could often be found perched on the big overstuffed chair, peering out the window to observe the view of the always entertaining corner of Haight & Ashbury Streets.

If I wasn’t day dreaming, I had my nose buried in a book, such is the life of an only child in a household with no TV. Inevitably, our housemate would slide open the French doors that divided their room to the library & slowly, gently, tenderly, carefully, our friendship would unfold.

The men who lived with us all referred to themselves as my “fairy god-fathers” – their term; not mine. As a child, I didn’t understand the tongue in cheek we’re-taking-our-power-back meaning. Once I did, I both grimaced & grinned.

We had about five young men live with us over the years. This was in the late 70’s – early 80’s, before gay people could easily adopt kids or were even really allowed to think, dream about becoming parents in some cases. I was the only child in their circle of friends & was often invited to tag along to their ever so glamorous soirées, Oscar parties, holiday fetes & any other over the top event that might just really be a Tuesday night but always seemed like so much more to me. These outings gave my mum nights off from mum-ing & me, adventures to be fondly remembered decades later.

I often found myself sitting crossed leg in the middle of one of their friend’s exquisitely decorated antique filled living rooms in the Castro district on a priceless oriental rug, beading necklaces or playing with antique paper dolls (theirs, not mine), Judy blasting in the background, watching a group of lively young men gossip & flirt & dance & share stories about their hopes, dreams & fears.

I heard them talk about how they had escaped to SF from places like Iowa, Kentucky, Texas, so that they could live & love freely. They had all been disowned by their families for being gay. They had to create their own families & I was privileged to play the role of the little sister, niece, cousin they had to leave behind or, on an even deeper level, the child they never believed they would ever be able to have. It was from them that I learned my lifelong mantra: friends are the family we choose for ourselves. And love is love. Sorry Lin, but they said it first.

Of course, I was much too young to really understand the implications of all of this, but what I did know was that I felt so grown up & cherished in their presence. I knew there was something special about these men; to me they were worldly & fancy & sparkly & they knew a little something about everything. And most importantly, they taught me what they knew.

From them, I learned about music & fashion & art & literature & Broadway & why black & white movies of the 40’s were the best movies & that you must always bake with butter, never margarine & that cookie dough is calorie free & the power of the LBD & that one must always dress up when going downtown & the difference between Barbra Streisand & Barbara Stanwick; Bette Davis & Bette Midler; Oscar the Grouch & THE Oscars & the importance of wearing sunglasses, even in the fog, to prevent wrinkles, darling.

They were men of great style, class, elegance, intellect, wit, charm, creativity, beauty & fun. They were incredibly cultured & had exquisite taste. My memories of my time with them run deep:

Going to the “Nutcracker” every Christmas Eve.

Having high tea at Liberty House.

Lip syncing & dancing to the Andrew Sisters “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”. I know all the words, still, to this day.

Taking in the Christmas decorations downtown at Macy’s & I.Magnin’s  & ending the day with a cable car ride to Ghirardelli Square for hot chocolate with extra cherries & whipped cream.

Lengthy sermons on the essential need for dust ruffles & monogrammed stationery & silk dressing gowns.

To a young child, these experiences leave a mark; a permanent mark of rainbow colored glitter sprinkled on her soul.

To my child’s eye, mind & heart, these men were magical. They were my playmates; the most delightful big brothers to a shy, often sad & lonely little girl. They were fun & silly & played dress up & Always let me be Cher to their Sonny. A major sacrifice on their part, to be sure!

They told me I was a glittering gem & that I was “fabulous” & they meant it in a REAL way, not a “hey girl hey” way, tho we had those moments too. They treated me with respect. They didn’t patronize or pander to me. They expected me to keep up my end of the conversation, regardless of the topic or my lack of knowledge about it. Local politics or Best Dressed at the Oscars; my opinion mattered to them. They didn’t baby me. They treated me like an equal. But that didn’t mean that they didn’t spoil & coddle me. They made me feel special & valued & respected. Perhaps because society didn’t offer them the same respect as gay men, they felt compelled to make sure I was always treated as a whole person. For a young girl of color, this went far in developing my sense of self & worth & pride in being who I was.

They also showered me with gifts, some that I still have to this day:

A beautiful hand-woven throw that made on an old-fashioned loom.

A hand beaded necklace with an antique tiny bell at its center. Too tiny now for my adult neck but still cherished.

A beautiful white cake stand from Tiffany’s; an odd gift for a 10-year-old girl, you might think, but as the gift giver said when he handed me the HUGE blue box, “Sweetie, if I’ve taught you nothing else, please remember this: the light blue box is always the BEST box!”

I still have those treasures, but I no longer have my fairy god-fathers.

They all eventually succumbed to HIV/AIDS. They were all in long-term relationships. Their partners died too. By the early 90’s they were all gone.

These men were the first & most prominent adult male figures in my young life; in truth, the only father figures I had growing up. I know for a fact that it is because of my time with them that I am the person, the woman, the friend, the activist, I am today.

They didn’t live to see the many strides & advances that the LGBTQ community has made. If they were still alive today, they would be at the front of the line continuing to fight the good fight for the strides still to be made.

But they aren’t, so I do it for them. It is the least I can do to honor their legacy & repay them for all they have given me.

My description of these men might seem almost disrespectful in its seemingly stereotypical depiction of gay men, but these were the men I knew, as I knew them, when I knew them. This was who they were, at a time when the gay community in SF was thriving & carefree; when the pulse of the disco beat of the day seemed to ring in sync with the beat of the cultural awakening that was taking the world by gloriously gay rainbow storm on the streets of SF.

I am so lucky that I spent my formative years as their fairy goddaughter, wrapped up in the glow of this historical time. But my golden carriage turned into a pumpkin well before midnight of my young adulthood dawned and my fairy god-fathers vanished with it.

I am a better human being because I knew them. THIS, I know for sure. My fairy god-fathers may be gone, but their rainbow colored fairy dust flows in my veins forever. They had their Pride. And they gave me mine, too. xo Lulu

Peacefully Protesting While Pissed

Wednesday, November 9, 2016, 6pm…The day after.

The plan was to get home, put on some sweats, face plant into a vat of chocolate and have Anderson Cooper tell me it was all a bad dream.

But that’s not what happened.

I went to bed on Tuesday, November 8 in tears, my head aching, my heart broken, my spirit shattered. Donald Trump was President Elect. I simply could not believe it. COULD. NOT. BELIEVE. IT.

My devastation was not so much fear around what kind of President he would be (cause personally I think he’s more liberal than he’s led his followers to believe & cause half of what he’s told them he will do once in office simply can’t be done cause, ya know, The Constitution and stuff).

No, my angst was due to the damage already done because he ran a campaign based on fear, hate, sexism, racism, xenophobia and the notion that you can just “grab” whatever you want in life. And when the Republican nominee for the highest office waves those flags, it emboldens others to do the same.

I’m not naïve. I know there are people in this country who are bigots, homophobes and ignorant buffoons. But for the most part, they keep their sick, twisted thoughts to themselves. Trump’s antics emboldened them; gave them a perceived legitimacy to their rants and with that, the hoods came off. And that terrified me.

Of course not all of his supporters are racist, bigots. Many of them are good people. But here’s the thing: if you KNOW that he is endorsed by the KKK & you KNOW that he mocks the disabled, Latinos, war vets & you KNOW that he degrades & demeans women…and you STILL vote for him…you are cosigning on that behavior. Period.

So I cried. And woke up the next morning & burst out into tears before my feet even hit the floor. I cried as I listening to Hillary’s concession speech. I cried on my way to work. I cried all day at work. I was having trouble processing my emotions. I was gutted. And exhausted. Cause crying takes a LOT of energy…at least the way I do it.

So by the end of the day I just wanted to get home…so I could cry some more.

On the bus, listening to my music (lots of Marvin & Donny & Mavis & Sade), sort of zoned out. The bus stopped at a major intersection and we just sat there a bit longer than a normal red light would warrant. The driver announced, “Folks, looks like we aren’t going anywhere for a while. Traffic is blocked”. Lots of deep sighs and groans from my fellow passengers. I am sure I was the loudest.

We all filed off the bus & then we could see what was blocking us from getting home: thousands of people marching up Market Street. At first I thought, “Ok, cool. I’m glad they are protesting but I need to get home”. Then I heard the chants directed at us & all the others folks disembarking off of other buses in the area, “Join us! Join us!”.

And so I did.

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I’ve protested peacefully many, many times. As a San Francisco native it’s just sort part of your DNA that you take a stand & fight the power. So me joining this protest was not out of character. To be clear: I am only interested in peaceful protests. I’ve never been involved in anything other than that.

So in that moment, I headed straight for the marching crowd. And as I did, the folks in that area let out a huge cheer as it became clear that myself and several others from the bus, were joining them. I fell into line next to a few super adorable college age girls. They smiled & fist bumped me. “Yea! Right on!” they cheered. I looked them in the eye & said, “I need this. I really need to be with all of you. I am just so….” and then I burst out into tears, the emotions of the day and the moment and the movement overwhelming me. The girls wrapped me up in their arms, hugging me tight. “We know, we know” one of them said. And then we linked arms & kept on marching.

The crowd was about 3000+ strong. Totally peaceful. All ages (tho I would say most were aged 18-25, those glorious millennials who felt the Bern & showed up for Hillary in record numbers). There were families with children. There were people of every race. This being San Francisco, it was a crowd that represented every walk of life. The beautiful array of humanity that makes our city by the bay so vibrant and unique. And contrary to what Trump tweeted out, none of us got paid.

I think what struck me most was how every step of the way people joined us, people like me who came across the march by accident, on their way home from work, leaving the gym, walking the dog. People who had not PLANNED to march felt the surge of energy that summed up how they were feeling and it compelled them to take action. Every time they joined in, the crowd cheered, high fived, hugged them.

It was a spontaneous demonstration (no pun intended) of decency and compassion. There was NO violence. There was outrage and passion but it was controlled and focused and empowering.

At one point someone had a piñata in the form of Trump floating above the crowd. Someone yelled, “Get it!”. Someone else yelled, “Burn it”. But a huge roar of “No!!!” went up from many of us. We are NOT going to behave like that. Instead…and is was actually sort of funny…people were shaking their fists at it & just yelling “Boo!” in its direction. It was as if they needed a focal point upon which to address their rage. That little paper puppet got a lot of it!

We marched for about eight long blocks, approaching the iconic intersection of Castro and Market Streets where a HUGE crowd had already assembled. I’ve stood in that intersection in times of good and bad, when Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone were assassinated; when protesting the Iraq War, when campaigning for Obama. And so there I was again, with my people, in my hometown.

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People were waving American, Mexican, Canadian, LGBTQ flags. It was almost a party atmosphere; spirits were high and positive. Don’t get me wrong, people were mad, chants of “Not my President” & “Grab Back” & “I’m with her” filled the air but the anger was contained & focused and more than anything, people were energized and uplifted. I heard a lot of people saying, “This is what I needed”, “This makes me feel better”. That’s how I felt. I think we needed to be reminded that there were more of US who voted believing that we are Stronger Together. Election Night rocked us to our cores. It scared us to think that so many of our fellow Americans did not value the same things (and people) that we value. We needed to know we were not alone.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that these types of protests are a waste of time. I could not disagree more. As long as they are peaceful, they are VERY worthy. There is power in numbers. There is power in community. There is power in expressing your feelings. For most of us during that day we had to contain our emotions, our tears, our rage while at work or running errands or tending to young children. We needed a release. We needed to rant and rave and cry out to the heavens. This country has a rich and proud history of peaceful protest marches. And for me it has always been important to say that I “was there” in those pivotal historic times.

The night was unseasonable warm, the sky clear, the stars bright – a perfect night to be out & about, but as with much of life, shoe choice makes a big difference in protest marching and I could tell that mine might limit my political engagement. I stayed with the crowd for about 30 minutes. The crowd was large & loud & more people continued to file in from Market Street. There was someone on the loud speaker leading chants & speaking to truth to power. I heard some folks say the crowd was going to march to The Mission (a couple of miles away). I knew that would be too much walking for me. I felt I had done my part, my tiny part, but now it was time to go.

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I hugged a few new friends goodbye, took one last look over my shoulder at the sea so humanity… and headed home…where I put on my sweats, face planted into a vat of chocolate…while Anderson Cooper told me it was not a bad dream…it was all true:

Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States of America.