Love is Love: A Story in Three Parts – II

Part II

Karamo. Tan. Jonathan. Bobby. Antoni.

If these names are not familiar to you, I kindly suggest that you rush off to Netflix and binge-watch the first 3 seasons of Queer Eye. I’ll wait.

Back? Let’s just enjoy this for a moment.

The Fab Five

Like pretty much everyone, I guess, I’ve been a bit obsessed with Netflix’s Queer Eye reboot over this past year. I’ve always loved a good makeover show for that promise of transformation: Your style was dismal and your house was tragic, but now we’ve fixed all the things!!

And Queer Eye hits the mark, every time, not just on those superficial things like fashion, design, and guacamole, but it actually manages to dig deep into what drives people and what’s damaged them too. The people on the show have suffered serious losses, and genuinely need help to find their way forward. And often these transformations take place not in urban areas, but in small-town USA, where the Fab Five are uniting formerly un-united areas of America in the era of Trump’s special brand of hatred.

Sure, there are times when the show is a bit too perfect and on the nose. We know when Karamo gets serious that it’s time to reach for the Kleenex. We’ve been conditioned, we know.

Everyone cries when Karamo hugs them. There’s just no getting around it.

For me, though, there was one episode of Season 3 that stood out: Episode 5. I didn’t just cry; I wept, big, copious tears.

The star of this episode is Jess. She’s a young, black, lesbian woman who was disowned by her adoptive parents at the age of 16 after she was outed by someone at school. At 23, she was struggling to find her way in the world, alone, without the guidance and support and love she might have expected from her family.

Early in the episode, she says, “I was hoping that despite all the stuff I heard as a young girl at church, they would realize, ‘Hey, that’s my kid, so of course I’m going to love them.'”

While I watched, immediately the thought of Joe (See previous post) and that conversation from all of those years ago popped into my head. Do people STILL really disown their kids for coming out? In 2019? The sad answer to that is yes.

Tragedy befalls all humans. We have no choice in the matter. We lose people in so many ways, to illness, age, horrific accident. But to CHOOSE this tragedy is something I can’t wrap my head around. To choose to never see your beloved child again, to make them homeless and family-less in one fell swoop: it’s a huge act of cowardice. When the truth is, that we have choice in whether or not we question the precepts of a religion.

In the course of my deep dive into everything Karamo and Queer Eye, I came across this conversation:

This is Karamo Brown and author Tara Westover of Educated fame discussing family, love and change. This is a good watch. As you may know, Tara was raised by survivalist Mormons in rural Idaho, and was never sent to school. Despite growing up in a family with extremely radical views, she went on to study at Cambridge, though in the process of gaining an education, became estranged from her family, as they couldn’t accept the ways in which her perspective of the world have shifted.

She tells Karamo:

When I went to Cambridge I had appalling views about gay people. I did. I’d grown up with them, it was what I’d been told, and I went to Cambridge and I was spewing these things, and someone took an entire night and argued with me about it. If someone hadn’t talked to me, seen me as a human being, a complete person, and said, ‘I don’t know why you think this awful thing, but I think you’re more than that,’ I never would’ve changed my mind.

And Karamo’s response:

Connecting with other people, taking a moment to empathetically listen to them, to challenge them to grow is what we can do, to share our stories and to make sure that we find common ground.

All of those years ago when I met Joe, I didn’t have the right tools to try to shift his perspective, as Tara’s friend did for her. I hope though, that now, as an adult, when I try to educate my kids about the world, I’ll teach them to keep questioning, not just others but themselves as well. Holding a rigid space for your own beliefs doesn’t permit empathy for other humans and their experiences.

At the end of the day, it’s all about love. We want love, we want support, we want empathy.

Karamo Brown

Naturally, I was curious about what happened to Jess after appearing on the show. A lot, as it happens. Some very kind people started a GoFundMe to send her back to college, which now has collected over $90,000.

Her Instagram is amazing. She looks beautiful and is having lots of adventures. She had this to say on one of her posts: “I am just so grateful for you all. Thank you for letting me into your hearts and accepting me with warm arms. Thank you for showing your children my story. I am happy to start that discussion. I am happy to let my struggle be the catalyst for change and acceptance. That’s why i did it.”

I’m wishing everyone in the LGBTQ+ community in Toronto a happy and safe Pride Weekend!

Love is Love: A Story in Three Parts – I

Part I

Our story begins, long ago, on a train platform. It is dark and chilly, because it is just before dawn, on a fall morning in 1998. This train station is in eastern Germany, and there are three people there waiting for a train to take them to Prague. 

Two of those people are me and the good friend I was travelling with.

Ye olden fashions of the 90’s.

The other person was an American guy. I’ll call him Joe. Joe asked us if he was on the correct platform to catch the train to Prague. In my memory, he is wearing a cowboy hat, but it’s possible this is a mental embellishment. Once we realized we were heading in the same direction, we fell in together as young travellers so often do, and my friend and I joined forces with him and eventually the group of friends he was heading to meet. Adventures ensued, but those are not what this story is about.

Train rides give you long, meandering hours to talk with people, and as we rattled along on that post-communist beast that lurched from side to side, we three talked of many things. Where we were from, who we were, where we were going. We were all from North America, we spoke the same language, and we were the same age. We had common ground, and later, we also had red wine, so the conversation flowed.

As the day went on, I began to understand though, that our world view was worlds apart. He mentioned in passing that he was Christian, which meant that he went to church, asked himself what Jesus would do, and would not say “Goddamnit” in polite company. He was, overall, what many would call a “good kid.” He was friendly and open in that American way that other nationalities mock, but are secretly jealous of. He’d probably been raised by good people in a middle-class American household. Like so many the world over, perhaps like all of us, he’d been raised with Christian beliefs and had never been taught to question those beliefs. They just were.

For me, religion was undefined, I had attended church as a dutiful child but stopped going many years before.  I did say Goddamnit and Jesus Christ and worse. I, too, was a good kid, struggling to be better. But I’d also grown up in Toronto, and as anyone who’s spent any time here knows, Toronto is a liberal place. It’s a city where the cultures of the world live side by side and try to get along. A city where we are free to vote as we like, dress as we like, and marry whom we like. It’s a city that is covered in rainbows just now to celebrate Pride Month.

Rainbows fly to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community in Toronto

In the course of this hours-long meandering chat, James said something that disturbed me and has stuck with me for all of these many years.

He told us that he didn’t know anyone who was gay. I remember smiling and saying that most likely, he just didn’t know that someone in his circle was gay yet. He insisted that this was so, and then added that, in any case, if one of his friends or family came out to him, he would have to stop speaking to him. Forever. My friend and I were incredulous. What do you mean, even if it was your best friend, or your brother, you would stop speaking to him, really never talk to him again? 

Yes, he said simply, without a trace of remorse. He explained that according to his faith, homosexuality is “wrong” and everyone knows that. So it was a given in his world, if someone came out, they would be shunned and that would be it.

Jesus Christ and Goddammit I thought to myself.

We spent some time talking in circles, my friend and I trying to convince our new buddy that his views were intolerant and bigoted. She and I fancied ourselves as open-minded arty types, so very liberal, yes? CERTAINLY we could talk him round to our way of thinking with a few incisive arguments.

In the Toronto world we lived in, any declared religion was viewed with skepticism at best. In our circle of friends and acquaintances, poeple were freely experimenting with sexuality – some were coming out, some were not. Some were on the fence and others were refusing labels altogether. In other words, there was a great spectrum of behaviour around sex and attraction that was deemed normal. While definitely not perfect, Toronto was a safe space for many to be authentic and live without fear of being victimized.

Ultimately, we couldn’t convince Joe. Some things are so deeply engrained, that it takes more than a couple of hours of idle chit-chat to chisel them away.

The train pulled into Prague. And when we parted, we were friendly, but not friends.

This conversation happened over 20 years ago, but it has stuck, because that was one of the first times that I remember meeting someone who so openly expressed homophobia and defended his position.

I thought that the world has moved on since then. But has it?

Stay tuned for Part II


The Halfway Mark

In November, we lost my grandmother.

I say lost as though she were an umbrella, temporarily misplaced, when we know that I employ this euphemism to avoid saying that she died. It’s an inescapable fact: she is now dead.

For all the members of my family, this seemed – and still seems – a most impossible thing. She was woven into the fabric of my existence and into the very concept of who I consider myself to be. We thought she would endure forever, being at the time of her death, a venerable 103 years of age.

More than a century ago, when the 1900’s were still young, she was born into a world without televisions or computers or space travel.

In my mind, she was an English woman of a certain age. That is to say, cheerful, brave, and eminently no-nonsense. Those who have had a beloved British granny know, after those ladies survived the war, nothing could faze them.

Even before my birth, she was already a widow. Whatever sadness she felt at my grandfather’s death, I never knew, because her mantra was Keep Calm and Carry On, far before that was the irritating meme it is today.

She took up art in her retirement, and created, knowing that her works would never be masterpieces or bring fame, but painting for the love of it. She lived alone for many decades, in her house of watercolours and comfy chairs and tea and toast.

She took pleasure in her quiet routines: morning stretches, gardening and a cryptic crossword. She was deeply connected to her children and grand-children and would always ring us up to come help with some task or another.

A few days before this lovely lady died, I turned 43. I am now, obviously and impossibly, a grown-up. I am middle-aged. Which I guess means, that I’m in the middle. My life is, most likely, at the halfway mark, although likelihoods and I don’t always see eye-to-eye.

What if I should live to be 103? That means I have SIXTY more years of living to do.

Aging isn’t easy, that I know. I look in the mirror and spot yet another crease in my face or grey hair sprouting. I look tired, mostly, even when I’m not. There are times that I feel that I have yet to do or accomplish anything of any great merit. Oh, especially when social media shows me how fucking awesome everyone else’s existence is. #soblessed !

Although not likely, I’ve got a possible six whole decades to live. Decades to see my children grow, and not just survive, but thrive. Decades to see unlikely-but-not-impossible grand-children to arrive. Again, to likelihoods I thumb my nose with a hearty, “Screw you!”

I’m taking my next page from my grandmother’s book. I’ll create for the sake of the act, love my family members well, and take solace in the quiet daily routines that bring me the most happiness.

There is still time yet for all of my lofty goals and grand ambitions. My glass is half full, full of myriad, swirling possibilities.

As to my grandmother, I know her spirit roams a sunny meadow, an easel at her side, in the bright company of all those she loved who passed before her. Be at rest, sweet lady.

This is not a portrait. She didn’t like this painting much. In fact, it hung on the landing of her basement stairs. I have always loved it.

In memory of: Clarice Elizabeth Dalzell Spencer née Kenworthy. 1915-2018

KonMari Your Life

Just when we all thought that our cultural obsession with Marie Kondo had finally tapered off, she’s suddenly all over my newsfeed again, thanks in large part to her new Netflix series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.

Yes. I’ve been watching it too. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I’ve spent the last month cleansing and yoga-ing – why not throw decluttering into the mix too?

Of course, I approached the show with a wee bit of skepticism. I, like over 7 million other people, read her book a couple of years back. At that time, I found her process way too prescriptive. I remember thinking, “There’s no way I’m spending hours folding shirts into little standing bundles.”

But I love a make-over as much as the next person, so decided to have a look. Firstly, the show could be carried by Marie herself just speaking in Japanese. There’s something incredibly gentle and soothing in listening to her talk. I’m thinking of developing an app that features recordings of people quietly speaking Japanese. It could be used to soothe nervous fliers or cranky babies or insomniacs.

Otherwise, the series is pretty formulaic. Each episode features a different family. We viewers get to be properly horrified by the amount of stuff other people have. (You know you’ve got a problem when you’ve can’t find the pool table.) Then Marie walks them through her steps and categories. There is a lot of talk about sparking joy. Then lots of tidying is done. There are tears. Everyone is happy.

Last week, as I waded through yet another mountain of laundry at home, I decided to try her folding method with just Lark’s little shirts. As an experiment. My daughter’s room is tiny, with no space for a dresser, so anything I can do to maximize storage is key.

I’m terrible at origami but this I can do.

Well, well, well. Once I put everything away, I was so pleased with how easy it is to see her things, that I immediately did my son’s drawers too. He loves it. It actually increased the available space in their drawer and we no longer have that unworn T-shirt that is forever neglected at the bottom of the stack.

Now let’s wait about 6 months and see if this sticks.

(Hear Marie Kondo being interviewed on CBC Radio)

5 Bits and Pieces for Parents

The Internet is full of parenting hacks, some of which are amazing. Many others wander off into completely ridiculous territory. For example, “vacuum ponytail.”

Way GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
Memories of Flowbee, anyone?

By no means do I consider myself to be an expert in the arena of parenting. I’m just muddling through and trying to figure everything out like the rest of us, but here are some useful bits I’ve put together along the way.

Keep Band-Aids in your wallet. So. Necessary. And then you look like a rockstar when you pull them out over a scraped knee.

Repurpose a small bottle for juice or yoghurt in lunches = no juice box/container headed to landfill AND less sugar for the kids.

Photo credit: Kat Kuruc of Boakview Photography
Tape a large piece of paper to the floor, and leave out a box of crayons for your kids to colour or draw whenever they like.

You probably keep a basket by the door to store mitts, hats, sunscreen, etc., BUT also keep extra pairs of socks in there. My kids are always taking off their socks, which I always seem to notice just as we are rushing to go out.

Keep cups in a low cupboard or drawer so that your children can help themselves to a drink from a young age.

I’d love to hear some of your best parenting hacks and life solutions too – post in the comments!