Friday, September 18, 2015

Secret Message

On July 7, 1984, in Bangor, Maine, Charlie Howard, a gay man, was killed by three teenage boys who threw him off a bridge. They pled guilty to manslaughter and served approximately two years in prison. (Subsequently, one of them spent some time speaking to young people about why homophobia is bad.)

In 1984 my family was living elsewhere in Maine. We heard about the killing that summer. Later on we moved to Bangor. The murder of Charlie Howard is only a prelude to my story about the Bangor Public Library.

It was a nice little library. I haven't seen it since Stephen King donated huge amounts of money towards its renovation. I'm sure it's still nice. When I first started going there, I hung out in the young adult section. Then at some point I discovered the adult fiction room, which was downstairs.

One day I was browsing the shelves and I found a gay novel. Or possibly a lesbian novel. I don't remember exactly which book it was. But I quickly realized that someone had chosen to purchase this book for the library and put it on the shelf. This book and others like it. My recollection is that I had been exploring the adult fiction section for some time - as much as a year - before I found this book. Either I hadn't noticed it before, or conceivably someone had suddenly made the decision to start providing these books. Someone put them there for us to find.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

On the Full Moon of August 29, 2015

“It was completely silent . . . all you could hear were the fire alarms in people's houses dying away, the burglar alarms dying away.” Charmaine Neville, on the aftermath of Katrina*

Oh moon
for such a long time you've been with us
Oh moon
for thousands of years people have said
Oh moon
when you look down on us
what do you see?

Oh moon
the battery in the fire alarm ran out
the battery in the burglar alarm ran out
the 'uninterruptible' power supply ran out
Oh moon
when do you run out?

Oh moon
please stay with us
in all your faces
dark and light

* I am trying to find a source for this quote. I saw it on TV. Right now all I have is this audio track, with reference to the fire alarms around 21:08.

Monday, July 6, 2015

"And should one live in such a body?" - Ta-Nehisi Coates

I have been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog for quite a while. To say that he has educated me would be an understatement. Today I'm going to reflect on this excerpt from his book Between the World and Me, bearing in mind that I come at this from the perspective of a white transgender person.

He starts off by invoking the American Dream:
I have seen that dream all my life. It is perfect houses with nice lawns. It is Memorial Day cookouts, block associations, and driveways. The Dream is tree-houses and the Cub Scouts. And for so long I have wanted to escape into the Dream, to fold my country over my head like a blanket.
That dream never meant anything to me. My white privilege insulated me from many things, but poverty was not one of them. I grew up in the country, now I live in the city, but I still don't know what any of those things he mentions are.

Then he addresses his son:
That was the week you learned that the killers of Michael Brown would go free. The men who had left his body in the street would never be punished. It was not my expectation that anyone would ever be punished. But you were young and still believed. You stayed up till 11 p.m. that night, waiting for the announcement of an indictment, and when instead it was announced that there was none you said, “I’ve got to go,” and you went into your room, and I heard you crying. I came in five minutes after, and I didn’t hug you, and I didn’t comfort you, because I thought it would be wrong to comfort you. I did not tell you that it would be okay, because I have never believed it would be okay. What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.
When I read that, I remember that many transgender people, mostly women of color, have also been killed in this country and their killers have never been punished. In many cases their deaths are not even investigated. And the question of whether or not it's okay to kill trans people has not yet been debated on the news. Of course, when it is debated the conclusion is much the same, whether it's a dead trans person or a dead cis black person: they were doing something wrong and their killers were justified.