I Became a Mother Again: The Birth Story of Little B

After Rider was born, I had every intention of writing down his birth story, but never followed through. When I was nearing the end with him, I found it intensely soothing to read other women’s stories about how they brought babies into the world. Every story was unique, but the truth about each was that the women telling them would never be the same. People say you forget a lot about pregnancy and delivery – that somehow your mind shuts out all the details and you fall into the same ignorant bliss in which you lived prior to the whole experience. To some degree, that might be true. Those feelings and emotions, however, can never be lost.

This story is mine. And, as my beautiful wife Jamie likes to remind me, I like to take my time with my stories. I wrote this from my heart and, mostly, I wrote it for me. I hope these words help me to preserve the collection of feelings, facts, emotions, details, and moments. I hope I never truly forget this day. For on this day, I became a mother again.

Sunday March 12, 2017

6:42 AM: Rider hadn’t slept past six in weeks so I was overjoyed when I woke up and saw the time. I realized, however, that what had awoken me was some cramping. I got up to use the restroom and tried to analyze a little further what I was feeling. Having already experienced labor, I knew the cramps weren’t contractions – they were more of a constant feeling than a “rolling” one. I was one day past my due date, so technically, she could come anytime. But I was convinced that this was going to go the same way as last time: induction at 41 weeks, birth at 41 weeks and 1 day. I’ll fully admit that I was in complete denial that labor was on its way.

By the time I returned to bed, I could already hear Rider stirring. Jamie was awake so I told her about the cramping. She said she’d get Rider up and dressed, and that I should stay in bed – I didn’t argue. I tried to close my eyes and go back to sleep, but the cramping continued, so I decided to shower. If this really was happening today, I wanted to be damn sure I had one last hot shower before going to the hospital.

7:09 AM: As I got out of the shower and walked around the side of our bed, I felt my first real contraction. I always describe them like little hills – I could feel the pain coming in low, slowly getting more intense; I could feel the peak, the highest point of the pain; and I could feel it slowly lessen, and fade away. This first one was mild – certainly nothing like the sharp contractions I remember from the end of my labor with Rider. At this point, I started to come to grips with the fact that Baby Girl was on her way.

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I had Jamie bring me my camera so I could take final shots of my belly. I had had an idea months prior to document my labor from my perspective. I have these beautiful images in my mind of the moments after Rider was born: the look on Jamie’s face as she gazed at him for the first time; the smile on our doctor’s face as she wrapped Jamie in a giant hug; even the true knot that was in Rider’s chord, a reminder of what a miracle he truly is. All of these images are there in my mind, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to capture similar moments for real this second time around.

Jamie and I decided to text her parents at this point. Our Sunday tradition is to meet at the diner down the street for breakfast, but we obviously weren’t going to make it that day. They grabbed coffee and headed to our place. Jamie got started on making us pancakes, and I got comfortable on the recliner in the living room. The whole time I was moving around after that first contraction, I hadn’t felt much else. But as soon as I settled down, they started to come in more often, and with a little more intensity. By 8:30 AM, I had felt two or three more, only about 8 minutes apart. They were still “mild” by my standards, but I wasn’t talking through them. I would just close my eyes and breathe in and out slowly. I never took a birth class or anything, but it’s what I felt like I needed to do.

8:53 AM: Because it was Sunday, we didn’t want to bother our doctor unless this was real. Since Jamie works in medicine, she fully understands how frustrating it is to be on-call and get ridiculous phone calls about non-emergent problems. I wouldn’t be that patient. However, we were starting to think that NOT calling, was just negligent at this point, so got my phone. I reached her answering service, explained the situation, and waited for a call back.

This is where I mention how much I ABSOLUTELY ADORE our doctor. She is one tough woman and exactly the kind of doctor I need. Jamie and I lovingly refer to her as “The Trunch” after the Miss Trunchbull from the movie Matilda because she could be her sister. Despite our reference to a not-so-loving character, however, she’s wonderfully sweet and soft-spoken. She’s all business when she needs to be, and all smiles when I need her to be. I am obsessed with this woman.

When I got the call back, I explained the contractions and she suggested we head into the hospital to get checked. We finished up some final things around the house, gave the Grandparents instructions for taking care of the crazy toddler for the next day or two, and headed to the hospital, which is only a few minutes away. As we pulled out of the driveway, I started to doubt that this was real. I started to think that I had made a big stink of nothing, and that I was going to be one of those woman that’s just experiencing false labor and that they were going to send me right home. By the time we were pulling into the parking garage, however, I was having a pretty intense contraction that, for me, fully confirmed labor was underway.

10:11 AM: We were led into a small room in the triage center where they got me in a gown and hooked up to a monitor that tracked my contractions and the baby’s heart-rate. I could still feel contractions, but the timing was erratic and unpredictable. Jamie pointed out to me on the monitor which line was me and which line was Baby Girl.

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A doctor came in to check me for dilation and stated that I was only about 2 or 3 cm (10 being the goal).

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The monitor must have been quite convincing, though, because the next thing I knew, they were putting a hospital bracelet on me, a coaching bracelet on Jamie, and calling for a room on the labor and delivery floor. It was go time.

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11:37 AM: We settled into our room just before Doc arrived with a giant smile and a plan. There was a huge storm set to cloak the entire tri-state area in [what could have been] feet of snow Monday night and all day Tuesday. She wanted us home before it hit (and we couldn’t agree more) so she would break my water to get labor moving. If all went well, we’d have this baby out soon, and be home by dinner the next day!


When Doc broke by water, however, she found that there was meconium, the dark “first poop” of an infant, meaning the baby had had a bowel movement in the womb. This can be dangerous for newborns because it could lead to meconium aspiration syndrome if the baby inhales it during or immediately after birth. She told us that she’d have to have the pediatrician close by after delivery and that they’d have to clear the baby’s airways right away to prevent aspiration.
After Doc left the room, Jamie and I started to set the stage for labor, for we had learned a few things from our first time through this rodeo. First of all, we brought a little hand-held paper fan. I was sweating out *what felt like* every drop of water when I was in labor with Rider, so we got the fan out and ready. Jamie helped herself to wash cloths and a small basin from the supply closet – I had gotten sick all over myself every other contraction last time, so we wanted to be ready. I also had Jamie add some inspiration to my labor board. A lightning bolt: to remind me of Harry Potter, a bad-ass survivor. The Origin of Love face: a reminder of the power Jamie and I hold as a couple (and how even the gods are scared of our strength and defiance). And the words “Take some sky”: a message from my father to breathe, be in this moment, you got this.


12:14 PM: Labor started progressing pretty quickly after my water was broken. I was mostly laboring on my left side at that point, gripping the side of the bed or Jamie’s hand during my contractions. As with Rider, most of my labor pain was in my back. They say it all depends on the position of the baby, but all I know is that back labor is so not fun. My contractions seemed to linger just a bit longer than the monitor would indicate. Jamie would talk me through each one: “Ok, one is coming in….great job, baby. Keep breathing. Almost at the peak. Now it’s fading…you’re doing great. Almost done…” I would listen to her words and would imagine floating on a wave. The beginning of the contraction would lead me up the wave. I could look out and see the ocean from the top and that would comfort me at the height of the contraction. Then, I could hear Jamie leading me back down. I would count on that time between waves to recover each time. But the pain in my back would stay long into that rest period, making the time between contractions feel so much smaller.


Doc walked in just as I was at the peak of a contraction. When I came back down, she commented on my breathing: “Wow, awesome job. You’re a professional!” It made me feel like a rockstar. Then, she casually asked if I had eaten breakfast. I rambled on about how Jamie had made us pancakes and how I wanted to be sure that I ate something in case it was my last meal for a while. She laughed, left the room, and I had no reason to think anything of it. But Jamie, on the other hand…Jamie knows why doctors ask these questions, because she’s the one usually asking them.

“Uh-oh,” she had said. “That’s not good.”

What? Why not?”

“She wants to know if you’ve eaten because she’s considering a c-section. I think she’s worried about the baby’s heart-rate.”

For the last two hours, I hadn’t paid much attention to the line on the monitor that tracked our little girl’s heart-rate. I was just focused on me. I glanced up and saw that her heart-rate was consistently jumping each time I had a contraction. It scared me. All at once, fear hit me that everything was wrong.

In that moment, I knew I needed to take some sky….and refocus.

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One of the reasons I love my wife so much is that she always seems to know exactly what I need at very crucial times. Without any conversation about it, we breathed together. We refocused. Between each contraction, she would remind me to stay steady. During each, she would speak calmly, helping me to zero in my energy, to aim it toward those never-ending waves of pain that were coming more rapidly now. It was working. Baby Girl’s heart-rate was slowly coming back into the safe zone. That is where we stayed. Deep inhale through the nose, long exhale through the mouth. Eyes closed.

Take.

Some.

Sky.

1:07 PM: One of the nurses came in and had me change positions to encourage labor further. She told me to sit on the edge of the labor and delivery bed so that my feet were planted on the part of the bed that drops down. It was certainly not a comfortable position, but it worked to move things along. In that time, Doc came to sit with us and started asking us questions about our lives. Even though I was sitting there in an awkward position, breathing through contractions every few minutes, it was wonderful to just get to chat. Jamie even shared with her some pictures of our wedding, Day of the Dead themed with a fully choreographed flash mob scene!

But before, long, I was so longer able to participate in the conversation. My contractions were speeding up, and the pain was nearing its height – the level I remember from the end of labor with Rider. I had started to moan with my exhale – a deep “oh” from way back in my throat – to help stabilize me during the pain. I used each exhale to visualize the baby making her way lower and lower. It’s an exercise I’ve used most of my life as a pitcher, and now it was going to help me give birth.


1:44 PM: Throughout my labor to this point, I had kept my camera in my hand, snapping pictures whenever something caught my eye that I wanted to document. At 1:44, I took one last picture of my view of my belly, and handed my camera to Jamie. I needed all of my strength focused on Baby Girl.

The nurse rolled me onto my right side and pulled out a giant “peanut ball”. It looked just like a therapy ball, but in the shape of a peanut! She put it between my knees and said that it would help open up my hips and pelvis to keep the baby moving to where she needed to be. Well, this thing worked like a freakin charm, because just one contraction later, I was feeling the pressure.

And I mean PRESSURE. When I was in labor with Rider, I remember getting to a point at the end where I felt like I couldn’t NOT push. Basically, my body was forcing me to “bear down”, a sensation that I couldn’t stop.

I was still on my side when it started and Doc was standing at the foot of my bed. “Are you pushing?” she asked, sounding pretty shocked. I wasn’t able to answer right away. All of my energy was focused on breathing through and trying not to push (which is a feeling unlike any other and one that I don’t think I will ever be able to properly explain). I finally choked out, “I’m trying NOT to.” It felt like only seconds later, another contraction hit, and this time, I felt that familiar burn of what they call “the ring of fire”. Baby Girl was crowning. I closed my eyes to focus – I would only open them one time, just briefly, before she arrived.

Again, I was fighting not to push. I could sense the room around me preparing for delivery, but I don’t recall anyone giving me any actual instructions yet. So I stayed on my side, eyes closed, straddling a giant peanut, stutter-breathing through pain and pressure. I tried to say, “crowing!” to Jamie, but the word came out all garbled.

“What did she say?” I heard Doc ask Jamie.

“I have no idea,” Jamie responded. “Babe, what was that?”

“Pain….” I finally got out. More stutters to fight pushing. “Pain-like-crowning!” Now they got it. Baby Girl was coming.

I was flipped onto my back. Eyes still closed. They checked that my cervix was fully dilated and I was given permission to push with the contractions. They pulled out handle bars on the sides of the bed and leg-holders where I could rest my legs between pushes.

Eyes still closed.

My first push was a complete waste. I thought my body would remember how to properly push from last time, but I could feel that I wasn’t doing it right. Jamie was at my right side, reminding me that I could do this. The nurses were there instructing me to focus my energy toward the baby.

Eyes still closed.

I took some little breaths, raised my hands to my armpits, and pushed them back down past my hips and toward my knees, repeating this another couple of times. I felt like Mr. Miyagi and I might have looked really silly, but I could feel the energy in my body change. I was ready to push again.

Eyes still closed.

The second push was money. That “ring of fire” pain grew more intense, and I knew I was doing it right. It was at this point last time that I felt fear. I remember pulling back on the push, suddenly afraid of what pushing a baby out would feel like. Not this time. I was ready for that fear this time, and instead of pulling back, I pushed straight through it. Baby Girl would be here in just minutes.

This is Jamie’s favorite part of the story (up to the point that she got to see our little girl, that is), and one of the reasons why we adore our OB so much. I heard Doc speaking to me about the next push. I still had my eyes closed, breathing slowly, and was concentrating on what she was saying. But she needed more.

“Cali. CALI. Look at me,” she said sternly, but calmly. I opened my eyes for the first time since that first tinge of crowning. It took my eyes a moment to adjust, but then I locked my stare with Doc’s. She was completely calm, but I could tell that she really needed me to HEAR what she was about to say.

“After you push her head out, you are going to hear me say ‘STOP.’ I need you to stop pushing at that point so I can clear her airways. Do you hear me?” I gave her a firm nod, still looking her right in the eyes so she knew I understood. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this moment was proof that our OB is, flat-out, our hero. Because of the meconium, our little girl’s airways needed to be cleared immediately to avoid aspiration; it was crucial for her safety. Doc conveyed this with just a look and a few strong words. Again I say it – HERO.

I closed my eyes and found my focus once more. It took two more pushes before I heard Doc tell me to stop. Baby Girl’s head was out. It was almost over.

3:08 PM: Just before the next contraction came, I heard Doc tell me to give one more strong push. When I could sense the wave coming in, I gave it my all and felt, in a giant rush, our little girl come out.


My eyes SHOT open immediately to find Jamie to my right. “CAMERA!” I shouted. She snapped out of her adorable gaze at our daughter, grabbed my camera off the table, and handed it to me. I started snapping frantically, afraid I would miss something.


Doc had told us that once she got the chord cut, Baby Girl would have to go immediately to the warmer to be looked over by the pediatrician.

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I didn’t worry about framing the pictures perfectly, or getting the lighting right. I just point-and-clicked my way through the next several minutes. Doc walked our little girl to the warmer and returned to the foot of my bed to continue to tend to me. That is when she looked up at us with a giant grin and asked, “So? What’s her name?”

Jamie and I had decided to keep Baby Girl’s name a secret (even from our families) until she was born. This was the first time we were going to say it. We both looked at each other with huge smiles, and then back at Doc. “Birdie,” we said in unison. Doc’s grin got even bigger. “My nickname was Bird as a kid,” she said with a beautiful air of nostalgia. The moment was perfect.

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Jamie made her way over to the warmer once the pediatrician had checked on Birdie’s breathing, and I’m sure dozens of over things.


As the nurses and hospital staff bustled around, all at once cleaning up the room, assisting Doc, recording information, and tending to Birdie, Jamie stood beside the warmer and bonded with our daughter for the first time.


I tried to capture the magic of those moments with pictures, but the feeling in my heart will always just be mine to cherish. She is one incredible Mother, and my perfect partner, and watching her gaze into the eyes of our daughter in that delivery room, I could feel that our family was complete.


* * * * *

Looking at these photographs now gives me such joy. That sense of accomplishment that flooded me just after the birth of both of our children comes rushing back. I hope on the days that I am doubting myself, or my body, I can pull myself back to the strength of those days, and remember what a powerful being I really am.

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Blue Star Experience

I went to the most amazing workshop today.

A colleague from work stopped me on the way into the building on Tuesday to let me know that the Coordinator of the LGBTQ Center at Montclair State University would be at the Boys and Girls Club in our town to give a seminar on sensitivity and awareness of LGBTQ youth in our schools. I wanted in immediately. It was very last-minute to put in for a Professional Day and get myself signed up for the workshop, but I am so glad I was able to quickly put all of the paperwork through because today was the best eight hours of professional development I have ever completed in the 8+ years I have been a teacher.

Even though I consider myself very educated on gender pronouns, gender and sexual preference spectrums, and trans-related issues, I was very excited to learn as much as I possibly could to be a better educator and role-model for my students that may identify as LGBTQ. When we first got to the workshop, the instructor, Brian, had us write our names followed by our used gender pronouns on a name tag. Mine said, “Cali – She/Her/Hers”. I understood right away what Brian was trying to do – open up a conversation about how not everyone identifies with the perceived gender pronouns. For example, some people who are outwardly female may use the pronouns “they/them/their”. But what was interesting was that some of the other professionals there didn’t get it right away. I noticed some of them even omitted the gender pronouns  from their name tags – perhaps confused or maybe unsure of the point. It gave me a bit of a chuckle that so many people at the workshop had no idea that traditional gender pronouns are not utilized by everyone. For once, I felt the privilege in being gay. I felt more “normal” in today’s conversations than many of them appeared to feel. I loved that feeling.

We went around the room and introduced ourselves with three prompts: Say your name, Give your used gender pronouns, and Explain why you signed up for this seminar. There were about 30 others there today from all over North Jersey. Most were administrators or guidance counselors – I think I was only one of two classroom teachers. Four of us identified as LGBT or Q – everyone else would have identified themselves as “straight”. We did quite a few exercises and activities throughout the day that were incredible, but one of them hit me so hard that I can’t get it out of my head.

Brian handed out stars to each of us. Some were yellow, some were purple, orange or blue. Mine was blue. First we were instructed to write our name in the middle of the star. Then, Brian told us to write a different thing on each “arm” of the star: On the top, we put our best friend’s name. The next arm we were told to write the name of a family member(s) in which we usually confide. Next we wrote a community to which we belong (for example “Church” or “School” or “Soccer Team”). On the fourth we wrote our dream job. And on the last arm of the star Brian said to write our hopes and dreams. My star had Jamie as my best friend and my father as my confidant. I wrote “LGBTQ” as my community and “positively influence kids” as my dream job. My hopes and dreams said, “Get pregnant and have babies.”

Brian had us all get up and form a circle. Like I said, there were about 30 of us. I began to glance around at the different colored stars and spotted 2 other blue stars like mine. I saw about 8 orange stars and about the same number of purple stars. There were a lot of yellow.

Brian told us that for this exercise he was going to ask that nobody leave, and nobody talk. He asked us to remain completely silent and just focus on the importance of his words. I can’t remember each word exactly, but it’s burned well enough into my head to recount the following.

Brian started to read from a piece of paper. “You are now all members of the LGBTQ community. You identity in some way as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning. This is now your ‘coming out’. You start by confiding in your best friend. If you have a blue star, your best friend is supportive and understanding. They tell you that they will be there to support you and that they do not consider you as any different than before. If you have an orange or purple star, your best friend tells you that this changes things for them. They don’t understand this part of you. They need time to deal with it and cannot be emotionally or physically available right now. If you have an orange or purple star, fold back that point of the star to symbolize this. If you have a yellow star, you have lost your best friend. They do not understand and never will. If you have a yellow star, tear off that point of the star and drop it to the ground.

“You continue by coming out to your closest family member. If you have a blue or orange star, your family has accepted you. They have told your that they will support you no matter what and have followed through with that promise. If you have a purple star your family is struggling with your announcement. They have mixed feelings and are not fully supportive. Some of your family members have not shown support at all. Others claim they need more time to process this. If you have a purple star, fold back that point of the star. If you have a yellow star, your family is not at all supportive. They have told you that you are no longer accepted as part of the family. Tear off that point of the star and drop it to the ground. ”

The exercise, something that started as just a colorful star visual, got really real for me. We all could see where this was going. As Brian read more and more, our fates began to fall into place. My blue star remained untouched. My best friend, father, community and profession stayed intact. Meanwhile, pieces of the orange and purple stars were being folded away or dropped completely. And piece by piece of the yellow stars were piling up on the ground like confetti. They were supposed to be symbolic of our support groups – friends, family, work, dreams. But the yellow stars were turning into empty, pointless shapes. I felt my eyes well up with tears as Brian got to the last one.

“Your hopes and dreams are deeply rooted. They are in your soul. If you have a blue star you have the confidence and support to push for those hopes and dreams – to achieve your inner-most desires. If you have an orange or purple star you work as hard and you can to mend relationships and control your life, but you have to put your dreams on hold. They are not as important to you as they once were. If you have an orange or purple star, fold back that point of the star. If you have a yellow star, you have disregarded your dreams completely. You have turned to alcohol and drugs to cope with your life. You fall into a deep depression and let go of all hopes, dreams, and desires. You become one of the 40% of people in the LGBTQ community to commit suicide. Tear up the remaining part of your star and drop it to the ground.”

And as all 12 people with yellow stars tore up their paper, I lost it. It hit me full force how many in my community have that yellow star experience. Friends of mine popped into my head – friends that I had to see struggle with coming out, fighting constantly to stay afloat in a situation that so desperately wanted to drown them. And as I looked down at my hands, clutching a perfect, 5-point star, I was grateful. I was overwhelmingly grateful to have had the Blue Star Experience for real. I have friends and family and a community that support me. I have an administration that backs me up. And I have hopes and dreams that are still very much alive for me. But those broken pieces of orange, purple, and yellow stars are still so fresh in my mind.

The man next to me had an orange star and after all was said and done he had one point remaining. When we regrouped to reflect on the exercise he held it up and said, “What if, for many of our students, we are the only point on the star they have left.” And that is what I will remember every single day that I get to work with these kids.

I will never, ever forget that.

Ludovic Bertron

Ludovic Bertron

I’m Tired of Living in a PC World

I’m tired of living in Politically Correct World.

There I said it.

I know I’ll get some backlash from people in my community for this post, but I have sat on this piece for too long.

Tensions have been high in recent LGBT news following the Great T-Word Scandal of 2014 and despite my strong opinions on the matter, I stayed away from Social Media battles relating to the issue. Because as much as I hate personal freedoms and individual rights being slammed, I hate even more the division it all causes in our very own community.

However, last week I stumbled across an article, the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, and realized then that this post was long overdue.

The article title caught my attention right away: “‘Cards Against Humanity’ Co-Creator Publicly Apologizes for Transphobic Card”. I own the game and know well that it is intentionally rude and politically incorrect, with a tagline on the game that reads “A party game for horrible people”. The game is similar to the clean, politically correct game of Apples to Apples, where players play red cards (e.g. Lobster) in their hand to best fit a green card category (e.g. Expensive). In Cards Against Humanity, a black card is drawn and revealed that has a fill-in-blank sentence on it. Players choose a white card from their hand, cards that only have words or phrases on them, to complete the sentence. Of course the goal is to be the player to make the funniest combination – like in MadLibs. The game is not exactly everyone’s cup of tea – the kind of game some never admit to enjoy. To further prove this point, I drew one black card and one white card at random: “This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but with: Throwing a virgin into a volcano.” Let the laughter ensue.

So, when I saw the title of the article, my first thought was, “What could possibly be so terrible in a game like that to coax an apology from one of its creators?” I mean, isn’t that the point of the game? To gather with close friends and safely laugh at horribly disgusting terms and pairings that are not well-accepted in public? Isn’t that like going to Dick’s Last Resort and complaining that the waiter was rude?

And if the article title wasn’t enough to spark my curiosity, there was this accompanying picture:

fusion.net

fusion.net

The card read “Passable transvestites.” No way could this be the card that made such a fuss. NO WAY could people be so incredibly self-involved to expect that even in a “game for horrible people” all must bend so as not to hurt feelings and stir up politically correct social anxiety. And yet, that was exactly the case.

In the article, I found out that Tumbler user “horriblewarning” (strange irony there) is the owner of the original picture. He says he and his friends were playing the game and collectively felt that this card was wrong and transphobic so they had a little fun with it. They burned it, took a few photos and posted it to Tumbler with the caption “DEATH TO TRANSPHOBIA”.

Now, to be clear, I have no real issue with horriblewarning (Jonah, 19) and his friends not liking the card. To me, everyone has a right to an opinion, and if that was there’s, fine. I even have just a mild annoyance at the dramatic post online, but this is the Age of Social Media after all.

My problem is with the insane angry-mob-like reaction the post received. All of a sudden, the post was spreading like wildfire as users screamed for justice and apologies for the “transphobic card”. Are these people serious? Do you honestly expect to sweep the world and remove any politically incorrect humor in existence? Should I call up Joan Rivers and let her know that her comedy will no longer be allowed on this planet? Should we gather up every “A priest and rabbi walk into a bar” joke and ensure that they never again see the light of day?

And let’s focus on the card, once more, shall we? “Passable Transvestites”. If the LGBT community (or whomever) is really all that pissed about this card, how about a vocabulary lesson: Transvestite means any person who is dressing like a member of the opposite sex or gender, typically for emotional or sexual satisfaction. The terms Transgender or Transsexual are not interchangeable with Transvestite.

And this is my point – because of all of the uproar about transphobic slurs and the use of the word “Tranny” and the “She-Male” game on RuPaul’s Drag Race, we are too sensitive. We can’t even see a play on words as funny anymore (“Ooh, Girl. You’ve got She-Mail”). Is it really true that after all of these years fighting for LGBT rights, we want to pick a fight over words? This weekend marks the 45th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City. Every year, we celebrate the progress we’ve made and look to further that progress. In the last few months, that progress has felt slow to me, as more and more members of my community turn on each other, on allies, on artists, and on the future. How is it that we have decided that policing others’ individual rights is more important than fighting for our own?

The truth is, there will always be things that offend us – some more than others. If we are able to deal with those offenses on a small, one-on-one basis, there will be no need for massive public slayings of people who seem to have mis-stepped. Being the community that needs a red carpet laid out across a politically correct universe seems a little silly coming from a group of people that started as outcasts and rebels, don’t you think?

The Secret Life of Bianca Del Rio

First of all, if you haven’t heard of Bianca Del Rio, Google her – immediately. And it’s completely okay if you find yourself sucked into the YouTube vortex for hours because you can’t get enough. Guilty.

Bianca Del Rio, born Roy Haylock, was raised in New Orleans but is now a staple in the New York City drag scene, quickly gaining fans and followers around the world. She has referred to herself as an “Insult Queen – like Don Rickles. Only in a dress. And prettier and not as old.” Bianca is currently a contestant on the Sixth Season of Ru Paul’s Drag Race on LogoTV. Fans of the show have been getting small glimpses of Bianca’s “Rolodex of Hate” as she fires line after line at her fellow contestants, former competitors, Drag Race judges and even Ru herself. If you have ever seen her live onstage, you know that nobody in that audience is safe, and any cowardly soul that dares call out from their “safe place” behind the lights will be quickly read for filth right then and there. She is loud and brash and  doesn’t apologize one bit for it.

“If you don’t wear a wig, they call you a nasty, hateful Queen. But if you wear a wig, they call it hysterical. So it’s kind of like the packaging to get away with murder.” *

reganwrite.wordpress.com

reganwrite.wordpress.com

However, what many might not realize (even though it is absolutely evident on the show) is that Bianca Del Rio isn’t always the Brazen Bitch she plays on stage.  As the episodes of Drag Race peel back the layers of Bianca, we see more and more of her soft side. As much as she may deny it, Bianca is clearly full of heart. I have seen Bianca live a few times since I am right outside New York City, but last night I was fortunate enough to see an even more intimate side of the “Queen of Mean”.

Huffingtonpost.com

Huffingtonpost.com

Feathers, a gay club  in River Edge, New Jersey, held a “White Party” last night hosted by Bianca. We live just down the street from the club and Jamie and I spent many nights in our late early twenties [Hedwig reference 😉] boozing and dancing on the 2nd Floor stage like we didn’t have a future. When we saw that Bianca would be hosting there, we couldn’t pass it up – but when we purchased the VIP ticket that included a photo op Meet and Greet, we didn’t really know what to expect. Let me tell you, she worked her little padded ass off all night, ensuring that she spent real time with the fans that came out to see her. She went from photos, to meet and greet, to performance, to more meet and greet. She even took the time outside the club to sign more autographs and chat with fans. She took shots with us at the bar and listened to peoples’ personal stories. Throughout the night I heard her voice several times how grateful she was to have such opportunities.

It was most incredible to hear about the way she perceives her explosion of fame. Outside after the show, she was talking about what she does and the feedback she’s gotten in cities across the country. She had said, “People scream, ‘I LOVE YOU BIANCA!’ and I’m thinking, ‘A few months ago, you didn’t even know who I was.’ It’s not like I’m curing Cancer. I’m a man in a wig. But if it helps people I’m all for it!” It got me thinking about how she is indeed helping. She is a strong, confident gay man, comfortable in what she does, qualities that I’m certain were not gained overnight. Thousands of teens across the nation, and even across the world, can see her and draw inspiration from her.

When I started the Unity Link club at my school that creates a safe place for my students to gain support and talk, I never guessed that it would develop into a secondary club for teens “struggling” with sexual orientation and gender identity. Now, we have a club that meets every Monday for teens from around the district to gather and talk LGBTQ-related issues – we call it “Oz”. Until a few weeks ago, many of my students had never heard of Ru Paul’s Drag Race nor of Bianca Del Rio. But in one meeting I quoted the famous Jackie Curtis when she had said, “I am not a boy. I am not a girl. I am not gay. I am not straight. I am not a drag queen, not a transexual. I am me, Jackie.” The discussion led to drag queens and eventually I started talking about Drag Race. Well, the next week there was an explosion of energy over the show. Many of the kids had gone home and binge-watched the series, becoming fully educated on their favorites. I found it not at all shocking when a handful of the boys in the group gravitated toward Bianca. She is exactly the kind of example of success they need in a world that is still telling them “no”.

“Everybody is an original. It takes a minute to find ‘your thing’. It’s just finding what your passion is. And not thinking, ‘I need to do that because someone else is doing it.’ But also realize that people are going to compare, people are going to have an opinion. Everybody thinks that they know more than you. But it really is a little journey for yourself.”*

Thank you, Bianca, for being all we need – Bitch, Comedian, Friend, Inspiration, and Role Model. You may not be curing Cancer, but the world could certainly use the dose of laughter and originality you insist on administering, so keep bringing it relentlessly!

dragofficial.com

dragofficial.com

*From an interview with fellow performer Marti Gould Cummings posted on April 23, 2014.

Q is for Questioning

-In the leather-bound diary of a thirteen-year old girl-

Thursday April 3, 2014

5:12  PM

Dear Diary,

Omigod. Omigod. Omigod. I couldn’t even WAIT to get home to write about what just happened! Today after school there was this meeting for this new club at school, Unity Link. They posted all week that the meeting was to discuss LGBT and that is sooooo what I need right now. But I was, like, super nervous to just show up and spill my beanz. I mean, I tell YOU everything, Diary, but I can’t just talk about that kind of stuff out loud, ya know?

Anyway, I went and there were, like, 20 other people there and everything seemed cool. I was thinking, how are we going to talk with these teachers here? But then this other girl named Jahira was telling about how she likes this girl but her parents say it’s a phase and I was thinking, this sounds like me. But then the CRAZIEST thing happened.

One of the teachers started talking about how it’s sometimes hard to be open about yourself when so many people around you don’t get it. And I was starting to think, how would she know. But then she totally said she was gay! She was just like, I want to tell you guys that I don’t want to hide who I am and stuff, but, like, it’s hard at school and stuff. And then she was like, I’m married to a girl. OMG. I was going crazy.

So many people were telling their stories and this one boy Ray was even saying how his sister is gay – that would be cool because then you’d always have someone to talk to about it. And this girl Ash that I have in my science class was talking about transgender and I learned what “cis” means.

OMG it was the coolest meeting ever. We all said how we want to do it again so the teachers said they’d hold another meeting on MONDAY! Finally something that makes Mondays good! I can’t wait!

Mom is calling me to dinner –  taco night! PEACE.

Towards Moonlight

From “The Morning After” Episode of The Fosters on ABC Family

Last Tuesday night my mother, Jenna, comes into the house

I’m sitting in the living room with my other mom, Kelly

Jenna asks us if we could take a drive with her

So we all get in the car

And as we drive, silence creeps along like the cracks of a frozen lake

Our hearts begin to thud slowly…off-beat

And I wonder and then I know

And I didn’t imagine it would end like this

I didn’t imagine an ending at all

But if they were going to tell me about the divorce, what a way to do it

I sit in the back seat and think about how lucky we were to have had this family

Their 20 years of marriage

My 15 with them

I remember all of us driving miles out in the high way until I fell asleep in the back seat

I don’t want this life to end

Jenna starts to talk

She tells me that our car is just 13 miles away from reaching 100,000 miles now

I wonder if this is part of the divorce speech or just a distraction

I feel angry

They should just say it

She tells me the reason we took this ride is so that we could all be there to reach 100,000 miles together as the people who matter in our life

Slowly I realize that this isn’t a break up ride or a divorce ride or a separation ride

This is a 100,000 mile ride

We’re in the car and we’re driving on a Tuesday night

And we’re 99,987 miles in

We stop for onion rings and sundaes

Keep driving, 99,993 miles – Stevie Nicks

99,997 miles – Elton John

When we get to 99,999 miles we hold hands, blast Melissa Etheridge and sing Lucky at the top of our lungs

There are too many reasons that my Mamas found love in each other’s presence

There are too many moments when we are unbreakable and this moment we are one family

Constructing road as we go

Burning bridges behind us

Adding mileage like graceful aging

Driving in our car towards moonlight…

Performed by Garrett, a friend of the Foster family. I didn’t really like the character Garrett until this poem. It’s like he captured a “real family” moment. And showed how a “real family” doesn’t have to be defined just one way.

Why the Country Music world broke my heart…

I grew up in California and, despite the grossly mis-informed stereotype the rest of the states seem to have about California, many of us are actually huge Country Music fans. Every summer since I was about 12, my sister and I would try and see every Country artist that came through our city. One summer we saw 12 artists in just 4 months!

When I was 13, I got a job working at the Iowa State Fair where my cousins lived and raised animals. During the weeks of the Fair, dozens of artists (mostly Country) came to play at the Grandstand, a huge outdoor facility that sat over 10,000 people. By the second or third year that I worked at the Fair, I had figured out how to sneak into the Grandstand to see the best artists. I knew it was wrong but what can I say? I was a mischievous teen!

One year, Country music artist Chely Wright came to play the Grandstand and I snuck in to watch her rehearse. I loved her hair and I remember wanting to look just like her. I never could have imagined, all those years ago watching her sing “Shut Up and Drive”, that I’d relate to her so much as an adult. Or that it would be Chely’s struggle in the Country Music world that would tear my heart to pieces.

Chely Wright

On May 3, 2010, Chely became the first commercial Country Music artist to come out as a Lesbian. I remember when she did, and I remember the minor stir it caused, but I guess I was largely naive to the real struggle Chely faced as she made the decision to be honest about her life. I recently came across the documentary “Wish Me Away“, filmed over the course of the 3 years prior to Chely’s coming out. It includes very personal interviews and conversations, as well as video diaries Chely took in the weeks before the announcement.

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As I watched the documentary, my heart broke little by little. It broke as Chely told her story about being afraid to come out to her Father, only to later realize that there was nothing to fear. It broke when Chely recognized that there would always be people in the world that wouldn’t get the choices she made. It broke watching her struggle with what “normal” is and how to just fit in. And, most of all, it broke when she spoke about the real possibility of being cast out in the Country music industry.

In one interview in the documentary, Chely talks about having dinner with a male Country star a few years back. Rumors of Chely’s sexuality had been circling and this unknown artist flat-out asked Chely, “You’re not gay are you?” After Chely denied it, he apparently responded with, “Well, good, because Country Music won’t have it.” One of her producers, Rodney Crowell, expressed his fear of her being “iced out” of Nashville because of the way the Country Music world views homosexuality. Author and Country Music Historian Don Cusic predicted that many fans might consider it “a betrayal”. While being interviewed by a Birmingham radio station, Chely was told by the DJ to just “Shut up and sing.”

For so long, I have adored Country music and the artists that create it. It breaks my heart to know that so many of those singers I’ve loved for all these years, can’t accept their fellow Country artist just because she’s gay. A few weeks after coming out, Chely appeared on Oprah, who asked Chely if any Country stars had reached out in support. Chely replied that only two had so far.

I refuse to accept that Chely’s brave decision is something that will end her career. I have downloaded each one of her songs on iTunes (even ones I already owned on CD’s) and bought her memoir, “Like Me” for my Nook. Maybe you aren’t a Country music fan. And maybe you’ve never heard of Chely Wright. But perhaps you can help spread the word about her courage. And maybe her story is one to inspire others out there to be as brave as she was.