A Resolution for the Real World of Twenty-Fourteen

I am usually not a believer in New Years’ Resolutions. It’s way too common for someone to set a goal January first, and forget about it by January thirty-first. It’s also a bit irritating that one can hope to wipe away the past years’ laziness with the turn of a new one. But as the clock ticks down to midnight on Twenty-Thirteen, I find myself setting one very honest, very serious goal.

A few weeks ago, one of my 7th Grade students came to me and asked if she could talk privately. I have acted as a kind of mentor to her for the last year or so. She had some major problems at home and her attitude towards elders and authority figures landed her in a lot of trouble as a 6th Grader. Last year, she ended up repeating Grade 6 – that was when I got involved. She began coming to me for extra help with homework, tests, projects, etc. She also began seeking advice from me about family relationships and some of her friendships. So, when she said she needed to speak with me, it didn’t alarm me – but I also wasn’t at all prepared for this particular conversation.

I knew something was up when she began to appear nervous. This girl does not get nervous. She is confident and strong – never nervous. I asked her if she’d rather write down what she needed to tell me and she nodded. She quickly scribbled a note on a post-it and handed it back to me. The note read, “I am kinda dating a girl.”

Yikes.

I found myself in a situation that I both feared and desired. I feared it because of the many ways this conversation could go South – or how my part of it could be misconstrued. I feared it because of the paranoia that she’d find out about me. But I desired it because this was why I became a teacher. This was what I wanted – to help kids. To be there for them when no one else seemed to be. To be the mentor and elder that they could trust.

She expressed her own fears to me – that she didn’t think she was gay and that she didn’t want people to call her “a lesbian”. I did my best to lend her my thoughts. It went something like this:

“I don’t exactly have a traditional view on sexual orientation and the labels that go along with it. To me, nobody and can label  you unless you give them permission to do so. If you do not consider yourself gay, then you’re not. However, perhaps you should worry less about the label and more about finding whatever it is that makes you happy. Your generation seems to be much more open about exploring gender identity and sexual orientation than previous generations. All that means is that perhaps you don’t know what makes you happy just yet – and that’s perfectly OK. I tend to look at humans like atoms – like in Chemistry Class. Atoms want to find others to bond with, to be happy. When they bond with another atoms, it’s because they have found balance. Maybe humans are the same. We bounce around, discovering the world around us until we find the atom that perfectly balances us. To me, the balance is all that matters – not sex or gender or labels.”

By the end of the conversation, I felt liberated. I was so proud of the fact that I was able to help her with that particular struggle. She thanked me for my help and left saying that she felt better about the whole situation. I figured that was the end of it. I was very wrong.

Later that week, that same student showed up with three more friends that had questions about their own struggles with identity. I sat there realizing that these 4 students are just the tip of the iceberg. I work in a school of 925 pre-teen adolescents. They have questions. They have fears. They have pain. There is a void in my school, and likely thousands across the country, where a safe place should be – a club or group of some kind to give these students a place to talk.

That is my goal. My New Years’ Resolution.

I did some research and found an organization called the “Gay-Straight Alliance”. To be honest, I can’t believe I didn’t get on this sooner. I feel ashamed that I have been a Lesbian Teacher for 8 years and am just now getting serious about something like this. If it weren’t for that particular conversation with that one student, I am not sure I ever would have gotten serious about it. But now I am. I am going to create a Gay-Straight Alliance Club.

Perhaps somewhere through the creation of this club, I can find a way to come out to my students. Perhaps by giving them a safe place to talk and discover, I will see that the best place for me isn’t in the closet.

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Why gay and trans rights really are equivalent issues

Thank you!

A Feminist Challenging Transphobia

I have a foot in two worlds, and this gives me unique insight into the connections and crossovers between the experiences of the trans and LGB communities, which I wanted to reflect on in this blog.

We don’t fully know what makes people gay or trans, but the science is suggestive that both could be manifestations of hormonal fluctuations while we’re “cooking” in utero – so I have come to think of gay and trans people as cakes and cookies – lots of the same ingredients, some different. I tend to think we have more in common than not, and that we are stronger together as an inclusive queer community.

I have been trying to get my head round the odd estrangement between gay and trans communities ever since a “friend” of mine linked to an article about why there should be no “T” in “LGB(T)”. I refuse to give…

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5 Lies Hollywood Told Us About Snow

I grew up in Southern California and, even though I had seen snow in the mountains when I was a kid, most of what I learned about snow came from movies. When I moved to the Northeast 11 years ago, I was in for a rude awakening. Here are some of the lies spread by the movie-makers…and believed by at least one naïve Californian.

1. Snow is pretty and white. Sure, the first few hours after a snow storm are gorgeous. And if you’re lucky enough to see snow cover rolling hills or a group of pine trees, it’s especially majestic. But in the urban world in which most of us live, snow is dirty. The plows send loads of oil and grime mixed with chunks of white into piles that line the streets and parking lots. After just a day or two, the once white blanket is nothing more than grey mush.

2. Don’t eat the Yellow Snow….Oh no, wait. That one is true.

3. Snow Angels are fun. We have all seen the movie scenes of people smiling as they make snow angels, giggling as they flop around in the pure white puff. It’s totally bogus. My Freshman year of College, after the first snow storm, I was so excited to go outside and play. My team mates and friends all made fun of “the silly California girl” as I wrapped up for some fun. As soon as I found a fresh spot, I threw myself down on my back and started flapping my legs and wings. Within seconds I could feel the cold snow on my back where my jacket had been tugged up by my arms. I felt crystals on my neck, slipping between my hat and scarf. And since I didn’t have proper boots, my shoes were filled with snow by the time I stood up. Not only did my “Angel” look nothing like the one in the movies, but my playtime was cut short by the unexpected frost-bitten sensation coursing through my body.

4. Snow = Snowball Fight! I always thought a good, clean snowball fight was standard practice when it snowed. One thing they never share in movies is that it takes a special kind of snow to make a snowball. Sometimes, snow is too heavy and wet. Sometimes it’s too soft and powdery. Only rarely does one some across perfect snowball snow. Even then, throwing a ball of flakes packed into a make-shift baseball is quite difficult. In my experience, the snowball exploded over my own head mid-throw more often than it found its target.

5. It only Snows at night, when children dream of a White Christmas. I always imagined waking up on Christmas Day and racing to the window to share with the rest of my house, “It SNOWED!” I had this idea in my head that snow was made by magic. Unfortunately, it is much more common to utter the words, “Ugh, it snowed. Can I use your ice scraper?”

Vows 11.29.13

On November 29, 2013 I married my Soul Mate. I mean “Soul Mate” as literally as someone can possibly take it. If anyone were to express to me that they do not believe in Soul Mates, I might kindly respond with, “Well, then you haven’t had the chance of witnessing it yet.”

Our Wedding was everything we wanted it to be. It certainly wasn’t the kind of Wedding most people dream up – but to us it was absolutely perfect. Neither of us can think of a single thing that went wrong all night. Frequently during the reception, we stole small conversations with each other, pausing to take in the Beauty of our friends and loved ones all there to celebrate and support us. The room was so full of Love…I can still feel it.

We chose to write our own vows, selecting works of Music and Literature to quote. I read mine a hundred times before the ceremony, trying to prepare myself enough so I wouldn’t cry. But the words are so powerful, so true, and so meaningful…my voice quivered and cracked throughout the whole thing. I have heard some people say that their whole ceremony is a blur – not mine. I am so lucky to have every moment tucked away in my memory. I hope those emotions I had standing up there holding Jamie’s hands are as strong in 50 years as they were that day.

I am still flying sky high…

“I have chosen most of my vows from my favorite book, The Alchemist, by Paolo Coelho.  The book is about a journey to discover dreams and fulfill life’s desires. I know without a doubt that that is what we are doing here today. This is my Personal Legend. You, J, are my treasure.

“In the book Coelho says, ‘If you can concentrate only on the present, you’ll be happy – you’ll see that there are stars in the Heavens. Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we’re living right now.’ I feel that way each day I am with you, and vow to do so the rest of our lives.

“There are people in the World that don’t believe in the love we share. ‘But maybe people who [feel] that way never learned the universal language. Because when you know that language, it’s easy to understand that someone in the world awaits you, whether it’s in the middle of the desert or in some great city. And when two such people encounter each other, and their eyes meet, the past and the future become unimportant. There is only that moment, and the incredible certainty that everything under the sun has been written by one hand only. It is the hand that evokes love, and creates a twin soul for every person in the world. Without such love, one’s dreams would have no meaning.’

 “’Cause I understand you, we see eye to eye/ Like a double rainbow in the sky/ And wherever you go, so will I/ Cause a double rainbow is hard to find’*”

*From Katy Perry’s song “Double Rainbow” from her new album Prism

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My Cinderella Story

When I was 9, my Father signed me up to play on a Softball team that his friend was helping to coach. My Father always took our family to baseball games and I loved them – but I was never really into playing sports. I had danced since the age of 5 – tights, leotards and fringe were all I knew when it came to competition. A new challenge, however, sounded like fun.

I got a Rawlings Ken Griffey, Jr. Signature Series mitt, sliding shorts from the local Big 5 Sporting Goods and a pair of Nike High-Top cleats. I was scared out of my mind when I showed up to the first practice. Everyone else seemed like they knew what they were doing. The Coaches were using words like “grounders”, “shag” and “back-up”. I was lost. Over the next few weeks, I slowly became acquainted with the lingo. I felt myself improving and I was proud of my progress.

The next year, one of the Coaches suggested I learn to pitch. I was always the tallest girl in my age group and I have unusually big hands – two things that can be very helpful to a softball pitcher (I sometimes now look back and laugh at how so much of my Destiny was dictated by such minor physical characteristics). My Father and I began practicing 5 days a week on new pitches. He even found me an amateur Pitching Coach for a short period of time. By the time I was 14, I had dreams of playing in the NCAA. I had the 1996 USA Softball Team posters all over my walls. I even sent away for a VHS tape pitching tutorial taught by Olympic All-Star Michele Smith.

Michele Smith

In 1998, I entered High School and in the Spring of ’99 I tried out for the Softball Team. Tryouts were grueling. We ran a lot. Threw a lot. Hit a lot. The first two days of cuts were massive – 40 girls showed up the first day and by Day 3 there were 25 of us left (it was Southern California, after all – Fastpitch Softball Capital of the World). On Day 3, I was feeling so confident. The 25 of us gathered around the Junior Varsity Coach for the list of the final 15 girls that had made the team. With each name, my heart skipped a beat, waiting for mine to be called. Until finally, all 15 names were announced – and I wasn’t one of them. At first I thought it was a mistake. I actually went up to the Coach after everyone was dismissed to double-check. She confirmed I wasn’t on the team and said, “Keep working hard and come back next year.” And that was it. My dreams were over.

My Father had to work so I sat on a bench to wait for him to come get me. As time passed, I grew more and more disappointed in myself. By the time my Father pulled the car up, rolled down the window and asked with a big smile on his face, “So? How’d it go?”, I was an emotional wreck. All the tears I had held in came pouring out. He slammed the car into park and rushed over to me. He had nothing but comforting words, but I still couldn’t help but feel embarrassed – like I had let him down. I was lying to myself when I told myself I was a good pitcher. The progress I thought I had made was false. I couldn’t even make the JV Team – what was I thinking?

My Father must have sensed I needed some time. He let me stew in my grief for about 2 weeks until he finally came to me and sat me down for a chat. He reminded me of my dreams – of how for so long I spoke of nothing but playing Softball at the Collegiate level. He reminded me of the girls on my walls upstairs and how hard they had to work to get to where they were. He then said, “If you truly want to give up on Softball, then I will support you. But if you still want to play and if you still want to pitch, you have a choice to make. You can be satisfied with the level at which you currently are…..or….we can get you a better Coach and we can work harder.” It was that conversation that saved my dream. It was my Father’s support that kept me focused on my Destiny.

A week later he had set me up with a new Pitching Coach. We drove 35 minutes each way every 2 weeks for lessons. I learned new pitches from a man who had coached the best pitchers in Southern California. My Father and I threw in the backyard at least 3 times a week. I got stronger and faster. Eventually my Father even invested in shin guards, throwing pride aside for the much-needed protection as I consistently started throwing over 60 MPH. When we were on vacation, we found time to throw. When it was rainy (although rare), we pitched anyway. When I took a two-week trip to France with my French Class, I brought a ball to work on spins and grips.

By the time I went back my Sophomore Year to tryout, I was a completely new Pitcher. I still believe to this day, that if I had made the team as a Freshman, I would have been satisfied with my skill level. I never would have been forced to recognize my weaknesses. I might have played for a few more years – and that would have been it. Instead, I excelled as a Pitcher and made in onto one of the best 18 and under travel teams in Southern California. The team traveled all over the country and gave me exposure to real College Coaches! When I got a letter from the Head Coach of a Division I University on the East Coast, I was over the moon. I was offered a full scholarship and in September 2002, my dream of playing at the College level came true.

I can only describe those next four years as pure bliss. I earned the #1 spot as a Freshman and led our team to the Conference Championship. My Sophomore year I broke the Season Strikeout Record and my Junior Year I surpassed the previously set Career Strikeout Record. My Senior Year I even got a phone call from the Olympic Softball Coach of Holland! I still pinch myself when I think of those four years. I wonder, at times, if it even happened. Did I actually get to do all that? Was that really me?

Last week, I received a call from the Athletic Director of my Alma Mater. It was strange to receive a call from him and I wondered if there was something wrong. His words stunned me: “I just wanted to call and let you know that you will be inducted into our Athletics Hall of Fame in June.” I was speechless. Never in my wildest dreams, especially that day on the bench waiting for my Father to pick me up, could I have imagined that the girl that was cut from her High School JV team her Freshman Year, could receive such an Honor nearly 15 years later.

I have so much to thank my Father for in my life. He is my rock and my hero. But that single conversation on a random day in February of ’99 is by far at the top of my list. He saved me. My entire life had been centered around Softball and the ripples that came from playing. I have my Father to thank for saving my Destiny.