All heart

It’s a traffic jam when you’re already late

A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break

It’s like ten thousand spoons and all you need is a knife

It’s meeting the man of my dreams

And then meeting his beautiful wife

Lyrics from Ironic by Alanis Morissette

Go home, irony. You’re drunk.

I will remember my late friend Johnny McGee for many reasons, not the least of which being that he is why I have lost my affection for irony. You see, I’ve always been rather enchanted with the concept of irony. It can be funny or dramatic but almost always clever. Irony used to amuse me, but not so much anymore. A few weeks ago, my friend Johnny, a man with the biggest heart I’ve ever known, died of a massive heart attack. Yes, a little too ironic.

Everybody loved this guy.
All photos courtesy of Charlie-Theresa Dodson McGee

Johnny and I met over 25 years ago when I moved to Greensboro from Washington, DC. with my then partner for a new job opportunity for her. Most of our friends thought we were crazy for deliberately moving to a state where gay basher extraordinaire Jesse Helms was a longtime senator. We were certain that we would be the only gays in the village so imagine our surprise when we found the Triad to be teeming with our tribe. I met Johnny – and his husband Bruce – at a meeting of the Triad Business and Professional Guild – a deliberately ambiguously named networking group for the LGBT community. Several Guild members were teachers or worked in law enforcement and were not out professionally for fear of losing their jobs. It was a different world in 1996 and the Guild was created to be a safe space for all.

Johnny and Bruce. These are a few of my favorite men.

Johnny and Bruce were gentle giants who stood out in a crowd so I’m sure they were one of the first couples that we met. This blog post is about Johnny, but it is hard for me to type his name without Bruce’s. They were together for 36 years and I seemed to almost always say their name as one word – Johnnyandbruce. When you met them, you immediately felt comfortable – they were both softspoken and kind. And I would soon learn that they were tremendous advocates for people living with HIV/AIDS in the Triad. They were founding members of Triad Health Project (THP), a local AIDS service organization that continues to this day. THP’s main office number was originally Johnny and Bruce’s home phone number – just process that. Client records were kept securely in a shoebox under their bed and Johnny and Bruce were often surrogate family for people who had been abandoned by their own.

I penned a letter to the editor in honor of Johnny following his death and posted it on my Facebook page to share with folks who might not have heard the sad news. I was overwhelmed by the volume and genuineness of the comments on the post – some from folks I had never met. People used words like legacy, generosity, and compassion. Some recalled Johnny’s wonderful hugs. My friend Susan Ladd, a former writer at the Greensboro News and Record, credited Johnny and Bruce for helping to educate her and the community on the humanity of those living and dying with AIDS. A woman who was a student when Johnny taught high school Spanish and served as a Young Life coordinator wrote that he was “exuberant, loving, always positive and non-judgmental – all the qualities needed to work with highschoolers.” She forgot patience. Johnny had a lot of that, too, but he did not suffer bullies – or bigots – gladly. He was never afraid to be the voice for the marginalized.

When Facebook becomes Wailing Wall.

I find comfort in grieving with others and my aching heart was buoyed by so many folks sharing their thoughts about Johnny, one of the most humble men I have ever met. I spent over 25 years in non-profit development, and I learned early on that some people give for recognition – often the people with the most money – there’s my old friend irony again. Johnny McGee gave a lot in all manner of ways and never once did it for the acknowledgement – so it was fitting that I heard from Bruce later that evening. He messaged me and said, “Thanks for all the kind words in your letter to the editor. Johnny would be blushing all over.”

You know you are a mad baker when your nickname is Johnny Cheesecake.

Johnny was that rare man who was comfortable in himself. He was a big man – well over six feet tall – who was never interested in what was trendy. He could make a cheesecake that could put that factory joint out of business. And he loved his final teaching post at Bennett College, one of only two all-women HBCU’s in the nation – especially marching with his Belles in all white on special days. He was gracious to a fault. One time my partner and I were hosting a cocktail party the night before a big THP fundraiser. When Johnny got his invitation, he called to see if I needed to borrow any of his chafing dishes – plural. I teased him for years that that was the gayest thing anyone had ever asked me. I told him that lesbians and open flames are a recipe for disaster and we laughed ourselves silly.

Maybe now you can understand why the idea of Johnny McGee succumbing to an attack by the very thing that defined him is just too much irony for me to bear.

I’ve thought a lot the past few weeks about how best to honor Johnny. I know he would appreciate memorial gifts to Triad Health Project, but more than that, I think Johnny would want us all to simply be more kind. So, I’m going with a new mantra, with no sacrilege intended – WWJD. What would Johnny do?

Easy answer – the right thing with a ton of heart.

To scale drawing of Johnny’s heart.

Shit just got real

black-lives

 

Maybe there’s a God above

But all I’ve learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who out drew ya

And it’s not a cry that you hear at night

It’s not somebody who’s seen the light

It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

~ Lyrics from Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen died yesterday and this Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year continues.

Funny. I thought losing my job would be the worst thing that happened this year.

Not even close. Losing my country is a hell of lot worse.

I thought Wednesday morning would be my low point but just like all those worthless tracking polls, I seriously miscalculated. Yesterday was worse. Reality is setting in. President-elect Trump.

I have tried to avoid all television (thank you Baby Jesus for Netflix) – even MSNBC, that bastion of liberal news. Nope. I can’t even take Rachel Maddow. It’s too much like looking in the mirror – I can see the pain on her face. I know I should avoid social media, too, but it is comforting to mourn with others. I know there has been a lot of hate chatter on Facebook but I weeded my FB garden of most of that so my feed is mostly filled with folks who feel an awful lot like me these days. In other words, awful.

Get over it. Move on. I hear you but I’m not there yet. Not even close. This wasn’t like my favorite team losing the big game or not getting the house I put an offer on. This was a rejection of almost everything I’ve spent most of my adult life working for – equality – for women, the LGBT community, people living with HIV/AIDS, people with disabilities – you get it, people.

Yesterday there were several disturbing stories circulating on mainstream and social media about post-election bullying and intimidation that seemed to be empowered by Trump’s election. Students in a middle school in Detroit chanted “Build the wall” to Latino students who were seen crying. Some of these incidents cut close to home. In Durham, a wall was spray painted “Black Lives Don’t Matter and Neither Does Your Votes.” The Ku Klux Kan announced a Trump victory parade in Pelham, near the Virginia border. And very near my home in Winston-Salem, a lesbian couple with children came home to find a sign on their door that said, “Lesbian Bitches You Are Sick Get Out Of Our Neighborhood – Trump Train.”

lesbian-sign

A sign of the times.

So this wasn’t from some “libtard” website – this really happened to people I really know.

And just an hour ago my sister told me that one of her oldest friends, a woman who grew up right next door to us in our little hometown of Harrisonburg, Virginia, was riding her bike this morning on a path in Boston when a man wearing a Make America Great Sign and holding a bullhorn pulled right in front of her and screamed in the bullhorn: Have you read Hillary’s emails? She almost fell off her bike. This happened today in Boston. Boston! Not Podunk, USA.

So forgive me if I’m not ready to move on just yet. On Tuesday, our nation empowered this dangerous extremist behavior by electing a man who ran on a platform of misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia and racism. No one should be surprised or shocked.  What we saw during the campaign is exactly what we are getting in this new America.

Is this the change some of you were looking for? Not so great if you ask me. And sadly, anyone who is “different than” may pay dearly for any of your buyer’s remorse. (See moral bankruptcy.)

I’m not naïve enough to think that if Hillary had been elected everything would be sunshine and roses in America today. No, it would probably be even more dangerous had she won since Trump had already planted the seeds for a contested election. It’s irrelevant anyway because this toxic genie was let out of the bottle when  Republican voters made him their nominee for the most powerful office in the land.

There have been some really well written pieces about post-election grieving but I came across one of the best on The Huffington Post website yesterday – I am Sitting Shiva for America written by Vanessa Zoltan, a chaplain at Harvard University.  Shiva is the Jewish practice of grief. It is a seven-day mourning period where family members gather in one home to receive visitors. Zoltan is sitting shiva for a lot of beliefs that died in the wee early hours of Wednesday.

You can read her blog here but here’s a bit of it:

shiva

We’re going to need more than seven days, folks.

I will take action. And man oh man, will I. But for a week I am going to wear my, “Nasty Woman” shirt because while sitting shiva you are not supposed to change your clothes. And for this week I am going to refuse— patently refuse hope. Hope (for me. I am only speaking for myself) this early will be a denial of all that has been lost. Hope this early will be because it’s easier than being mad and reckoning with all that is lost (hope for environmental policy reform, peace for millions of my fellow-countrymen who now fear being deported, what I believed the American experiment stood for, friendships that I can no longer take seriously because of their vote, and on and on).

I wish I could sit with her.

I did sort of sit shiva yesterday with a dear friend from Israel. She’s been an American citizen for about 10 years and voted for Obama twice and was a Hillary supporter. She’s my age but she’s always had a very maternal aura with me – loving and nurturing.  She’s a mother and a grandmother and she’s my Jewish sister/mother. She knew I was hurting and she took both of my hands in hers and looked me straight in the eyes and said, in her marvelous accent, “Everything will be okay.” And when we said goodbye, she said she was going to kiss me like her mother used to kiss her – a series of very rapid pecks on the check. She smothered me with those kisses and told me she loved me.

And it was the safest I have felt since early Wednesday morning.

On my drive back home from seeing her – about 40 minutes in the car – my phone “pinged’’ several times – notifications of messages coming in. (Chill, I did not text and drive.) I often listen to MSNBC in the car on my XM radio but since that’s radioactive now, I turned to old faithful – NPR. Don’t you know they were doing a story on the election. I’m glad I didn’t shut it off immediately because it was an interesting piece about a couple in Massachusetts. The wife is an attorney who voted for Hillary and the husband is a fireman who voted for Trump. They, like most of America, are trying to find some peace in all of this carnage. They didn’t have any pearls of wisdom to share and honestly, at one point, it sounded like the wife wanted to sock the husband. Anyway, it made me feel less lonely for a few minutes.

When I got home I looked at my phone. I had a FB inbox message from one of my dearest friends in the world – a gay man who I have loved for 20 years. We have the most wonderful “odd couple” relationship and we’ve always said that if we weren’t both gay, we would have made a great couple. We both are yellow dog Democrats who love sports and sarcasm. Yep, we’re a match made in Provincetown. Anyway, he has been beyond inconsolable this week and thought getting together for dinner would be good medicine for us all. Only he said it in his uniquely charming way that seems to almost always make me laugh and tear up at the same time. He wrote, “I love you so much and this shit show is reminding me to take stock of the things in my life that are important and you are high on that list.”

jeff-and-addy

My gay husband, Jeff.

Now you see why I adore him. And he’s right – it’s time to be with people who nurture and restore us.

 

The next FB inbox message was from a friend who is a young mother of two pretty fantastic daughters. She always takes her girls to vote with her and they were all super excited about the historical prospect of voting for the first woman president this year. When she told her girls on Wednesday morning that Hillary lost, they both cried. Her youngest daughter then immediately asked her about marriage equality. I told you these girls are fantastic.

“Will the marriages for everyone stop, Mommy?” Gulp. Then this little supershero said, “If they do, I will make beautiful art and I will give people marriages.” Sign me up.

My friend shared all of this with me to reassure me that as she said “love seeds are planted everywhere and our family plans on increasing the active ways we love others.” Gee, I wonder why those girls are so fantastic. (Their dad is pretty great, too.) She closed her message with some words that actually penetrated the veil of despair that I have been wearing since early Wednesday morning. She wrote, “You are loved. We will stand by you.”

Maybe all the hallelujahs aren’t broken. I’m clinging to them today.

 

chowning-girls

These two make me feel less scared for my country’s future. And they may officiate my next wedding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The honeymoon’s over

welcome-to-north-carolina

My wife and I will celebrate our second anniversary next month. We were married in Washington, DC five months before same-sex marriage became legal in our home state of North Carolina. We were tired of waiting and we thought that North Carolina would be one of the last sandbags against the rising tide of gay marriage.

And the Old North State would probably still have been holding hands with Alabama and Mississippi if not for the decision of an “activist” (bite me) judge who ruled on October 10, 2014 that the state’s denial of marriage to same-sex couples was unconstitutional.

2014 was a euphoric year for me and for everyone who supported marriage equality as state after state fell into the “I do” column. I went to more weddings that year than I had since my early post-college days when all of my hetero friends were getting hitched. I remember going to Crate and Barrel what felt like every weekend back then to peruse yet another gift registry. The straights love their pizza stones.

And all of those weddings that I attended two years ago were glorious in their own way, most especially my own.

wedding day

I wanted to marry my wedding day I loved it so much.

I confess that I was cranky (admittedly, not an uncommon state for me) that I had to leave the state that I had lived in and paid taxes in for almost 20 years, the state that my wife was born in, to legally marry the person that I love. That said, we wanted the legal protections and benefits that marriage provided so we had to leave our home to protect our home.

Irony always tastes like metal to me.

So there we were on a sunny late afternoon in spring, standing in front of a minister, a few dear friends and vases of cherry blossoms. It was a wedding that neither of us had ever dared to dream of and it was so far away from the dark nightmare of May 8, 2012 when Amendment One passed with 61% of the vote.

We were surrounded by light and love and I have never felt more affirmed in my life.  And it took 57 years for me to experience that feeling.

Now the state that I live in and pay taxes in has decided to once again legislate discrimination into law in the form of HB2, the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, making it illegal for cities to expand on state laws regulating among other things, workplace discrimination and minimum wage standards.

sign

Protesters at a rally against HB2 in Raleigh. Photo courtesy of Mary Nations.

The Republican controlled legislature has reverted back to the fear mongering tactics that have served many states well over the past several years – you know, the old “God, guns and gays” strategy that Karl Rove and his cronies executed so efficiently. Just make it about everything but the real issues and scare the hell out of people along the way.

Instead of genuine concerns like health care, poverty and education, make it about going into the opposite sex restrooms to rape and pillage our women and children. Make it about transgender folks because, Lord knows, they haven’t endured enough harm from inane misconceptions. And for good measure, shorthand the bill by calling it “the bathroom bill” to sensationalize the matter and divert the true discriminatory intent.

Well guess what, Governor McCrory? We call bullshit on your bathroom bill.hb2meme

HB2 is unconscionable and it is mean and it is wrong.

And I am pissed off.

For the past 11 years, I worked for an AIDS service organization that provided services to mostly very poor people living with HIV. Their needs were great – housing, food and medical care. They also desperately needed acceptance and affirmation and damned if we weren’t pretty good at providing those things, too.

Stigma is still a huge issue for anyone living with HIV/AIDS and HB2 cultivates stigma against LGBT North Carolinians in disgusting ways by promoting fear and ignorance over understanding and acceptance. And, as these bills always do, it marginalizes the least among us – the ones without money or power or position – the ones who are different.

stigma

Art courtesy of a brave soul living with HIV/AIDS.

It seems as if every hour another business is coming out against HB2 including PayPal which announced yesterday that it would not proceed with a planned expansion in Charlotte, costing North Carolinians 400 good paying jobs.

Maybe money is the only thing that will get the attention of the governor and the legislature but that makes me mad, too. This shouldn’t be about money; this should be about basic human decency, which should never be a partisan issue.

The past few weeks I’ve revisited the words of the late great Harvey Milk, as I often do in times of civil strife. His words have a clarity and timelessness that fortify me.

It takes no compromise to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people their freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression. ~Harvey Milk

What’s at stake in North Carolina today goes way beyond party lines. It is time for all North Carolinians to put their principles over their politics and their paychecks.

It is time for all of us to exchange our vows.

“We are not this.”

dante

Amen.