Good Lighting

Our cottage in Maine is not so much appointed with furniture as it is with light.  The sunrise paints great blocks of yellow rectangles and sunset’s final kiss leaves a rosy blush at the end of the day, which is generally when I ask Paul to take my picture.  The light is gentler then and as the years progress, I have begun to appreciate good lighting.

If there is anyone else who appreciates good lighting, it is our utility company.  Paul has completed no end of “lighting projects”.  Seems there isn’t a spot that could not benefit from a little more illumination; the space above and below the kitchen cabinets, the area behind the TV, the wall above the sofa and even the margin below our bed.  Dark corners don’t stand a chance in our home. When I say that Paul lights up my life, I mean it quite literally.
On a recent cool September evening as we sat by the communal fire pit, our neighbor Michelle leaned back in her Adirondack chair, warmed from the fire as much as from a glass of wine and mused out loud, “We just love looking up at your cottage; it always has such a nice glow with all of those open windows.”  She paused and smiled while gazing into the fire and then added, “By the way, where did you get that dresser in your bedroom?”
The heat in my face was less from the fire and more from the blood rushing to it as I mentally rewound the tape from past nights’ bedroom activities, damn Paul and all of his lighting. But I understood what she was saying.  There is a comfort in a lamp’s glow or a flickering television when viewed from the outside on a dark night.
It says that there is life here.  Someone you love has left a light on for you.
As the fire danced and the children screamed and squealed while chasing an unfortunate frog, I began to think of this past summer, of the shortening days and lengthening nights.  Soon enough the long days of summer would be memories and I was not so keen to let them go.
So I catalogued them in my mind: the marsh bisected by a river of silver in the early morning fog, the walk along the sandy trail while the crickets chirp in the beach roses under the fierce midday sun, the splintered sunlight, like millions of diamonds sparkling on a blue velvet ocean, the slanted light on Paul’s face when I meet him at the train station on a Friday evening. 
These are the little lights that I leave on for myself, to illuminate the dark corners of a cold winter’s night. 

This is good lighting.
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Would You Die for Love?

“I would go ape shit on anyone who ever tried to hurt you.”  Paul says this with an aggressive conviction that shocks me.  It doesn’t surprise me that he would protect me, or that his love for me runs so deep. The shock comes from a silent understanding that passes like a current between us.  The very reason someone might hurt me is because of our love for each other.

He said this to me the night before I testified in front of New Hampshire’s Judiciary Committee to oppose the repeal of marriage equality.  I was doing something that most Americans will never have to do.   I was fighting to keep my marriage legal.

To speak about something as personal as love and family in front of an impersonal governmental body is daunting.  To speak in front of elected officials that called me diseased, sick and a pedophile was almost unbearable.  Several times I voiced my disapproval for being called these things, only to be told that I should remain quiet and respectful of those speaking.  But how do you remain quiet when someone calls your husband sick and immoral?

I didn’t.  I started this blog.  Since then I have received many e-mails from others who wanted to tell me their story.  Recently, I received an e-mail from a film maker, Wajahat Ali Abbasi who is filming a movie about the true story of two Iranian boys executed by public hanging in 2005 for the crime of loving each other.

My first thought after receiving this e-mail was “This is another part of the world, it couldn’t happen here.”  But then I thought about our politicians who spew lies and hate about me; about the pastor from my home state of North Carolina who called for gays to be executed; about one of my own family members who called me sick and will not speak to me; about the former class member who hurled a homophobic epithet at us during our high school reunion.

De-humanizing a population makes it possible to extinguish them.  In eight countries, including Iran, being gay is punishable by death.

When I asked Wajahat what the motivation was for making this film, he told me of his friend, a twenty year old bright boy with a promising career.  This boy came out to his friends and family and experienced daily relentless bullying.  He became afraid of leaving his home.  One day while returning from college he disappeared.  Two days later, his body was found.  His murder was declared a suicide.

The film, Sin, is Wajahat’s attempt to tell the personal story, to put a human face on the two boys who were blindfolded and hung in July of 2005.  You can view his Kickstarter funding page here.  The trailer is at the bottom of this post.

I learned some sobering facts while researching this post.  One of them is that because I am gay, I am forty one times more likely to become a victim of a hate crime.  The question is not would I die for love, but will I?


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How to Dance

When I was in the eighth grade, my mother registered me for a dance class.  She was certain it would give me the confidence that I lacked.  Perhaps secretly, she also hoped that it would make me like girls.  What she didn’t understand was that the confidence I needed would not be gained by learning how to count steps, but more so by simply taking them.

Each week I would join fifteen other gangly teenagers, mostly girls twice my size, in Miss Isaacs’s basement. We mastered such dances as the fox trot and cha-cha; steps in the 1970s that guaranteed we would never be asked to dance more than once. 

On the day of our final class Miss Isaac glided into class with sparkly high heels on her plump little legs and tilted her frosted haired head to one side.  Anticipation climaxed during her pregnant pause.

“Today, we will learn how to boogie!”  She finally said.

She punctuated this statement by placing a hand on her hip and pointing the index finger on her other hand to the sky, à la John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.

With a scratch she placed the needle on the record player and proceeded to tell us that in order to truly master disco it was necessary to move our hips to the beat.  If you were a skinny, pimpled, closeted gay boy in 1970’s North Carolina, I can assure you that moving your hips to the beat was something you most certainly did not want to do, lest you get beat up.   Probably the only thing worse was watching Miss Isaac move her hips to the beat.  My attempt to dance without revealing my true identity was like watching a dog walk backwards, equally awkward and laughable.

I never really learned how to dance until about five years ago when I met Linda.

Linda and I travelled the world together in my last job.  If you are a woman, Linda is the type of woman you want to be.  If you are a male, you want to be near her.  If you are her manager you count yourself lucky to have someone so smart on your team.

We often found ourselves together at software conferences hosted in different cities.  The final night always involved a celebration for the participants who were primed with alcohol and music.  Every time Linda was on the dance floor, dancing the way I wanted to dance; hands above her head, her blond hair swinging to the beat.

It took a trip to Singapore for me to agree to finally dance with her.  On Saint Patrick’s Day in a city as far away as we could possibly travel in an establishment nick-named the “Four Floors of Whores” I danced with Linda for the first time surrounded by Asian prostitutes and “Lady Boys”. It was as far away from Miss Isaac’s basement as I could get.  Even then, I was self-conscious.

But there is a moment when the desire to dance truly hits you.  It can come in the car, or while you are doing the laundry or when you are walking down the street.  Or it can come in the moment of drunken clarity in the flashing lights of a Singaporean nightclub when a friend so happy and giddy with life tells you “My husband is the love of my life and each day I find I love him more.”  At that moment, you have to decide whether you will sit it out or finally learn how to dance.

Tonight, I am sitting in the basement of a bar one hour west of Boston watching Linda dance.  It is her fiftieth birthday party; she recently lost her mother and just decided to quit her job.  But you wouldn’t see any of that if you saw her dance.  She is holding her husband’s hands as the music washes over her. I turn to Paul, raise my hands above my head and ask him if he wants to dance.  Linda taught me something Miss Isaac never did.  In order to learn how to dance, first learn how to love.



City Kitty

There is a rat in the middle of the street.  It is less of a rat and more of a suggestion of the shape of a rat. I don’t know what has happened to the internal structure of bone and guts that used to make it three dimensional, nor do I care.  I cross the street, walk into the deli and pick up my dinner. On the way home, I cross the street and step over the rat shape suggestion while eating a French fry. It is at this point that realization dawns on me. I have become a city person.

When we purchased our city condo, we did not plan on a major renovation of the kitchen.  The plan was to put a few coats of paint on the walls and spruce up the hardware.  In other words we would put some lipstick on it and be done with it.  But then the home inspection took place.

“Yep, you got yourselves some city kitties,”  the inspector said pointing a flashlight in the area under the sink.

“There are cats under the sink?” I asked while stooping down to catch a glimpse of cute little kittens.

“Eh, no, but there are rats, mice, what have you,”  the inspector said unfazed.  I jumped back.  Disgust and terror were etched into my face.  We closed on our condo at 10 am on a Friday morning; by Friday evening we had ripped out most of the kitchen revealing a hole in the wall.  It was not a cute little cartoon mouse hole with a door, but a jagged gaping cavern big enough for a rat caravan to drive through, whooping and hollering with their sharp yellow teeth and beady red eyes.  We sealed every opening meticulously and replaced all cabinetry, countertops, appliances and flooring.  Any surface that might have been a dance floor for nasty little tap-dancing rat feet was dumped.

But the rats still live outside of our condo. It is one of the things you learn to accept as a city person.  You seal off your kitchen and then you seal off yourself.

When I walk down the street I stare into the middle distance effectively eliminating eye contact.  When approached by strangers asking for directions, my first assumption is that they are crazed religious zealots that will try to usher me into a nondescript white van.  My second assumption is that they are crazed religious politicians looking for sex.

I have learned to ignore the soft spoken homeless man who asks me for change every morning. When I enter an elevator alone, I press the “door close” button quickly ten times with the hopes that the door will close before the woman shouting “wait” is able to enter. When a car does not stop as I cross the street I bark like a territorial dog “It’s a crosswalk, you asshole!”

I think about this and weigh the pros and cons of city life in my mind as I walk a block to have my hair cut.  Sophia greets me warmly and says “We do it short?”

“Yes, buzz the sides and scissors on top,”  I answer her.  She is a middle aged Moroccan woman with dark curly hair and deep brown soulful eyes.  I close my eyes, prepared to shut myself off. The phone rings and she apologizes to answer.  The conversation is short, but she seems worried.

“All is well with your family?” I ask.

“My son, he is young and foolish.  He is in hospital in Atlanta, because he do stupid thing.  He jump off fence and break his leg.” She frets and I can see the worry in her eyes.  “So far from home. You are from the south, I know people there are kind like you,”  she phrases this as more of a question.
“Yes, people are very kind there; he will be well taken care of,”  I reply and her eyes lose some of the worry.  We pass the rest of the time as she cuts my hair speaking of her home in Morocco, of her native languages of Arabic and French.
“You and your friend must stay in my home if ever you go to Morocco.  Is very nice, you will like it,” She says.
"And you must stay in our home in Maine,”  I reply.
When I leave, I switch to my rusty French.  “Merci, Madame, bonne soirée.”
 “Et vous aussi,”  she says, surprised by the gesture.
As I walk down the sidewalk, the T screeches around the corner. I know that I will never go to Morocco and Sophia will never visit me in Maine.  But, it doesn’t matter.  I’m back where I need to be.

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