On Dying and Living

Let’s start with the basics. You need death to come into your life to know about mortality. Once you accept your own mortality, then you understand you are dying. And with the knowledge of your own movement toward your final breath, you can start living fully. I believe you can only start living then. You can become completely engaged in this thing called living. You can have the fear of the unknown but the experience of joy. You can be fully alive. You don’t have to have a near-death experience to appreciate life in all its fullness, but it helps. It can serve as a reminder of all the lessons that have been laid out before you and forgotten.

It may sound morbid, but it helps if you learn that you almost died as a baby, if your father was gone before you had shaped memories, if your elderly mentor dies when you just become a teenager, or the little girl across town is hit by a car and doesn’t survive, your math teacher and one of the school’s favorites dies of cancer as a young man, a schoolmate’s mother kills herself, or your cousin is killed in Vietnam.

It may sound weird, but it helps to know that one human on one planet in a vast universe which itself is a small speck in the whole of creation is a miniscule molecule of dust that can be swept away at any moment. It helps to know that being a human is a miracle—that this one tiny human in this one present moment of time is real and alive and can feel and think and create. Whoa. That is amazing.

These things affect you. They shape you. They make you aware that life and everything in it can fall through your hands like sand at a beach. Everything is tenuous, tentative, transient. But everything in this moment is in your hands and you can keep it from slipping through and you can grab it and be. Your being is a miracle, and you can let that miracle slip through your hands and go to waste or you can make something of it. You can experience so many things in life. You can give of yourself in so many ways. You can love.

This is important. You can love, and that is the most amazing thing of all. That is one of the few things that will outlast your tired body when it is ready to depart. It is the thing that will stay with those you leave behind who meant the most to you. It is the thing that will stay with those you touched emotionally throughout your life, even if your paths only intersected for a day, or maybe even just a minute.

Likewise, you can also leave negative energy behind. You can be so afraid of the vast unknown beyond this life that you resent that you are even here. It is up to you to make that choice between positive and negative, love and hate, but I can tell you that love is the better choice. You can wrap yourself in it like a blanket and it will warm you when you need warming. That blanket can be shared with others and even when you are gone those who shared in your love will still hold it and pass it on and keep making the world a better place. The more love you give, the more of it you get back. Far better to be a millionaire in love than in meaningless dollars or things. Far better to leave behind positive energy than an estate that will crumble and fall as the years and decades pass.

Does anyone who ever lived really want to spend their lives working away day after day in a job they hate, or at the very least one they don’t care about, making money for someone else who doesn’t share it in any kind of equitable way? It’s different if you’re doing something you love and getting paid a decent wage for it, or if you’re working for yourself. So few of us get to do that. We spend the better part of our lives trudging through a work week just to pay the bills. What kind of life is it to work eight hours a day, come home and eat, watch inane programs on the television, and then go to sleep so you can do it all again the next day? So you can do the things you really want to do on the weekend or on the two-week vacation you are given to escape it all for a brief respite?

Is this all that we aspire to, and no more? How many people do this for decades and die before they can even retire to enjoy what little may have been left had they survived? Look around you. There are people experiencing life in the here and now and not waiting for it to come to them, not waiting until they feel too old to do it. And there are those who despite their age are living more fully than those who are decades younger. It is a matter of choice.

It is because they understand that life is precious. They understand, and they have understood for years, that it could slip away at any moment and they do not want to be on their deathbed with regrets. They don’t want the “but if I had” or the “I should have” or any of those kinds of epitaphs on their tombstones. They want “I lived and I loved” to be carved into their markers when they are gone. They want those words in the hearts of those who knew them when they are gone.

It is truly not that difficult. It is not a task to live, to experience the world around you. It is a path of joyous discovery, and it is open to all who want to pursue it, regardless of wealth, ability, or anything else. Some of the most alive people out there are in wheelchairs and some are among the healthiest among us. Some are anxious and some are assured. Some are scared and some are fearless. It is simply a matter of deciding that you want to experience life.

I speak of this from some experience. I learned of death and the sacredness of life at an early age. At two years old I almost died after contracting scarlet fever, meningitis, and the mumps in a two-week span. My mother told me of this years later. My father died months before this, just after I had turned two. I have no memories of him. I have no memories of my grandparents, who were all gone before I was old enough to formulate memories. I have no memories of my oldest brother who died before the rest of us were born. I lived with the specter of death as a child, and in a strange way it was a gift.

The earliest memory that I’ve always had was being carried to the bathroom by our neighbor, Dr. Garland. I don’t know if it’s a real memory, recreated from things my mother told me, or if it was something based in reality, but altered in some way. Memory can play those games. Dr. Garland was the town doctor and he lived across the street from us, so it was no problem for him to walk across the street for a house call. I know that he visited regularly during that sickness, but I don’t believe I ever went to the hospital, so maybe it wasn’t as bad as my mother feared. Still, childhood diseases such as those could lead to complications or death if uncaught or untreated. At the very least, I was at serious risk and at some point recovered and went back to being a curious toddler.

In third grade I was in the hospital again and one of my classmates sent me a hand-made card with pictures on it of my nurse, flowers, and my grave. Yes, I was aware of mortality, both mine and others, at an early age, and it shaped me. It made me realize that there is nothing guaranteed in this thing called life, and that was one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. Because, really, once you realize that, and only when you fully realize and accept that, can you start living.

This is not to say that every moment has been filled with wonderful experiences and that there have not been days of drudgery. It is not to say that every moment has been happy and that there has been no depression or anxiety. It is to say that the existential realization of one’s own grip on life is slippery at best can help you to make choices that lead you to fulfilling moments here and there, that lead you to positive emotions, and that lead you to take some chances on adventures and new experiences that you otherwise may have been too afraid to try. If we don’t know—which I don’t, and you don’t, and nobody does—when we are going to leave this sphere of existence, then why not take that trip that you’ve always wanted now, why not jump out of an airplane now, why not write that poem or paint that painting, or whatever it is that you have always wanted to do but were afraid to, because honestly, you may not get the chance to do it tomorrow. That is the realization I’m talking about.

I have survived a great deal in my life. I’m a tough son-of-a-bitch, and I am stubborn, and I have a strong will to live because there is so much I want to do yet, because there are so many things I have not seen or done that I would like to, and because I don’t want to get to the end of this phase of my existence without having experienced what there is to experience and without having lived at all.

I am a survivor. I survived my childhood illnesses. I survived almost eight years of childhood sexual abuse, I survived car wrecks, and alcoholism, and desperate attempts at suicide when I was not ready to live. I survived a massive heart attack with 100 percent blockage of my left coronary. I survived stage three colon cancer. I am proud of being a survivor of so many obstacles thrown into my path. But I wouldn’t be proud of it if I let it all go to waste. I wouldn’t be proud of it if surviving all of those things did not lead me to a fuller life, if I hadn’t moved from surviving to thriving. I am thriving.

The thing is, you don’t have to almost die to start living. You can do it now. You can decide that your life as it is right now is not enough for you. You can decide that you want to start doing things you may have been afraid of before. You don’t have to wait for death to knock at your door to open it, walk past your brush with death, and start walking a new road.

I jumped out of an airplane after my heart attack. I took a helicopter lesson and actually flew it for several minutes. I sang in front of a thousand people at a rally despite a life-long fear of singing. I wrote a book, and another, and another. And I did a lot of other things before that heart attack, like acting in plays, driving over a hundred miles an hour, waking up in a tent with snow on the ground in the mountains of Colorado and more.

But I am not you and you are not me. Decide what it is you want to do and do it. Find another job and quit the one you hate. If you want to learn to crochet, by all means, learn to crochet. If you’re no good at it, who the hell cares? Do it because you want to do it. Go back to school and get a degree. Try out for a play. Go camping. Stand out in the woods in the middle of the night and listen to the sounds of night creatures. Adopt a pet. If you’ve always wanted to travel, figure out a way to do it. You can travel in your own town if you want to—it’s amazing how many of us don’t even know the incredible things that we can experience right where we live. There are tiny towns that have city bands—join one, or go listen to it if playing an instrument is not for you. Learn something new. Do something new. For God’s sake—for your sake—live before it’s too late. Don’t waste every precious day you have.

Most important, don’t forget to love. It will outlast you. It will affect those you loved and they will affect others and those people will affect others and in that way you will never die. I believe we will all die and leave this plane, but I also believe that we are energy and energy doesn’t die—it simply transforms—and in that way, too, we will never die. We will move into Heaven, or be reincarnated, or become part of the light and energy of the entire universe. Our bodies will decompose and become nutrients in the soil and help trees and other living things grow, and in that way also we will never truly die. Death is nothing to be afraid of, and once you know that, too, you can live more fully.

Love, also, is truly everlasting. It will move through generations and it will never die. We are mortal, and we are immortal. We are small beings and we are larger than we should be. We are dying every day of our lives; we are moving toward that inevitable end of life as we know it. But in our dying we are living still, we are giving still, and we are loving still. It is what we have in this moment and there is, indeed, joy in that.

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The Time to Act is Now

On Wednesday, an electronic traffic sign in Orlando, Florida was tampered with and the electronic message was changed to read “Kill All Gays.”

This is America today. This is what Florida Governor (and soon-to-be Presidential candidate) Ron DeSantis and other fascist politicians around the country have unleashed. When I was growing up, gay people had no rights. We could be fired for no cause, harassed by police, arrested for gathering together, targeted for violence, and more. Little by little we fought–not for special rights–but for equal rights, to be treated like our fellow citizens. We gained ground but have never been fully equal. And it is equally difficult or more so to maintain progress as it is to make progress.

Tampa and one other Florida city just cancelled their pride parades because of Florida’s new anti-LGBT laws. Tampa’s event has drawn about 20,000 people a year. We shouldn’t be cancelling Pride events. We and our straight allies should be showing up to march and gather in larger numbers than ever. The last thing we should do is return to the closet. I will not go back in the closet. I will fight to keep what rights we have gained and I will continue fighting to gain more until we are truly equal, for my fellow queer friends and especially the transgender part of our umbrella, as they are being attacked more than the rest of the rainbow umbrella.

The same story can be written about our black friends and other minority communities. Gains have been made, but they are tenuous. With so many radical right-wingers in positions of power, with a Supreme Court farther right than we have ever seen, with so many of our fellow citizens following their lead, no rights, no liberty, no security is safe. We must fight to keep what we have gained in all of our communities and fight harder to gain more ground until all are equal. We are in this together. Those in the privileged classes must join in as well. We have to work together to do this. One community can’t fight for its own rights and ignore the struggles of others or we will all lose and the haters and fascists will win, and none of us can afford that.

Signs proclaiming death to any group of people are unacceptable and cannot be tolerated. But the fight can’t start when those signs appear–that suggests it may already be too late. The fight needs to be in the city councils, school boards, county governments, statehouses, and Congress where conservative right-wing draconian policies and laws are introduced and passed. We have been lulled to sleep and we have let the fascists set the agenda. We need to take that power back immediately. Each law that is passed against gay people, that strips civil rights away from the African American community, that dehumanizes immigrants, that takes power back from women and others gives haters the signal that it is okay to unleash violence upon those groups. If it isn’t stopped now, we may not only lose what rights we have gained, we may lose much, much more.

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The New Wild West

Wow, Texas. Such progress. A bill just passed out of committee in Texas because two of seven Republicans either have a conscience or decided that right after another mass shooting in their state they didn’t want to risk losing votes from the large majority of citizens who want some kind of common-sense gun control. Whatever their reasons, they should be encouraged to do it more. As a result, with an 8-5 vote, the bill advanced out of committee to the Legislature where it will undoubtedly fail.

The bill does three things. First, it does not ban the sale of assault style weapons; it just bans anyone under 21 from purchasing one. What will the 18-year old Texans do if they can’t get their assault weapon upon their 18th birthdays? Second, it prohibits the sale of firearms to intoxicated individuals. This at least will prevent someone from getting drunk and angry and then buying a gun to kill someone in a drunken haze. Of course, they can probably use the weapon they already have on them with no permit necessary and worry about buying a shiny new gun later. Third, it bans firearms sales to those with a protective order against them, one of those common-sense gun laws.

Should it do the impossible and work its way through both houses of the Texas Legislature and get signed by Governor Abbott (excuse me while I stop laughing here) it would at least be a step in the right direction as the state has continued to pass pro-gun legislation after every major mass shooting in the Lone Star State. The reality is that Abbott will veto it if it gets to his desk. The reality is the Senate will reject if it comes to the Senate. The reality is the House will kill it quicker than a gunman with an assault weapon can kill fellow citizens in another random attack.

To no one’s surprise, the NRA’s legislative division immediately released a statement portraying the bill as an attack on the freedom and rights of 18-year olds’ right to bear arms. They can serve in the military; they get to vote–why can’t they buy a weapon designed to kill a lot of people at one time? Give me a break–there is no need for anyone to have these mass killing machines. What about everyone else’s rights? What about the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? These crazed assault rifle attackers are depriving others of their lives, liberty, and happiness.

We are so far beyond thoughts and prayers in the dystopian landscape we have created. Owning a pistol for one’s one protection or owning even several hunting rifles is one thing. Most people, even if they don’t like guns, would not argue with that. Owning a weapon that is not used for hunting animals other than humans is so far beyond what the Second Amendment intended that it’s embarrassing that we even consider the argument. The old West was not as wild and lawless as Hollywood would have you believe, but if Texas wants to be a modern lawless wild West where their own citizens are under assault every day, it is their choice. We can only hope that other states and the federal government care more about us than that.

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All Decorum is Gone

This is bullshit, Tennessee, and everyone knows it. Your actions on Thursday exposed the fact that there is no such thing as decorum anymore. You did not expel Justin Jones and Justin Pearson from the legislature because they broke the rules of decorum in your statehouse. You expelled them because they are two powerful, eloquent young men who conscientiously represent the district that elected them. You expelled them because they are young and what you might refer to as upstarts, or uppity. You expelled them because they oppose your radical conservative agenda. You expelled them because they spoke out against the proliferation of your beloved guns and your warped perception of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. You expelled them because they were elected from Nashville and Memphis, cities that have gotten too liberal for your tastes. You expelled them because they are black. You expelled them because you are still beholden to your slave-holding ancestors and your own racism.

You also expelled them because you are afraid of losing your own power, because you know that the slew of draconian laws you continue to pass are unpopular with the public and you are trying to force as much of your right-wing neo-fascist agenda through the legislature as you can while you still have that power.

You failed to expel Gloria Johnson, who participated fully in the same way in the same protest because she is white. It should be noted, though, that you failed to expel her by only one vote. It’s clear that those who voted for her expulsion did so despite her being white because she is a woman. Your misogyny and your racism have been laid bare for all to see.

In 1866 six representatives were expelled for tying to stop the passage of the 14th amendment, which granted citizenship and equal protection to African Americans. A representative was expelled due to a bribery scandal in 1980 by a 92-1 vote and in 2016 a representative was expelled for inappropriate sexual interactions with 22 women by a 70-2 vote. That is it. That’s the entire history of expulsions in your history and never before has anyone been expelled for violating house decorum rules. This is bullshit, and you know it.

What you didn’t know and are coming to learn quickly is that despite the threats to our democracy in the last couple decades, Americans know when they have been gerrymandered. We know when politicians are acting out of self-interest and maintaining power. We know political retribution when we see it, no matter how ridiculous the narrative behind it. We know when it is time to react and to protest more fully than anything you have seen before. We know when it is time for a backlash not only against the legislature in Tennessee, but against all the Ron DeSantises, Donald Trumps, Sarah Huckabees, and scores of others who have snaked their way into positions of power in order to shove a far right-wing agenda down our throats. We know when it is time for rules of decorum to be thrown out the window. We know when our backs have been pushed so far back against the wall that there is no choice but to push forward. We know that every action has an opposite and equal, and sometimes greater, reaction.

You inadvertently made heroes out of the Tennesse Three and particularly out of Jones and Pearson. Your time is running out. The young people coming up will not tolerate your racism, sexism, and extremism and some of us older folks will be happy to join them in that struggle, as long as we have, and as long as it takes.

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The Little Bloody Schoolhouse

The earliest recorded school shooting in American history was at the University of Virginia in November of 1840. A law professor was shot and killed by a student.

The first incident in which more than one person was killed by gunfire in a school was in 1893 when four people were killed due to a fight.

Most deaths from guns in schools in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century were the result of fights or students’ anger at teachers or headmasters.

That changed in 1940 when a South Pasadena principal, Vernon Spencer killed five of his co-workers in two different locations, perhaps the earliest mass school shooting by an individual in our country’s history.

Between these incidents were many others where one or two people were killed in school settings, including an incident in Harford City, Indiana in 1960, in which another principal killed two others and then killed himself.

Things changed forever in 1966 when 12 people were killed and 31 others were injured by a sniper in the clock tower on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin. The shooter, a student named Charles Whitman had earlier killed his wife and mother, then shot and killed three people in the main campus building before positioning himself in the tower and firing down upon passersby.

And it just keeps getting worse. The following doesn’t include any in which “only” one or two were killed, and there are more of those than the tears that have been shed about this violence.

Rose Mar College of Beauty. Mesa, Arizona. 5 killed, 2 wounded. 1966.

Olean High School. Olean, New York. 3 killed, 11 wounded. 1974.

California State University-Fullerton. Fullerton, California. 7 killed, 2 wounded. 1976

49th Street Elementary School. Los Angeles, California. 3 killed (including the shooter, by suicide), 12 wounded. 1984.

And it keeps getting worse.

Spanaway Junior High School. Spanaway, Washington. 3 killed (including the shooter, by suicide), no wounded. 1985.

Moses Montefiore Academy. Chicago, Illinois. 2 killed prior and 3 killed at the school (including the shooter, by police), 2 wounded.1988.

Cleveland Elementary School. Stockton, California. 6 killed (including the shooter, by suicide), 32 wounded. 1989.

University of Iowa. Iowa City, Iowa. 6 killed (including the shooter, by suicide), 1 wounded. 1991.

Indiana University. Bloomington, Indiana. 3 killed (including the shooter, by suicide), no wounded. 1992.

Lindhurst High School. Olivehurst, California. 4 killed, 10 wounded. 1992.

A reminder this doesn’t count incidents with “only” one or two deaths.

It keeps getting worse.

Frontier Middle School. Moses Lake, Washington. 3 killed, 1 wounded. 1996.

San Diego State University. San Diego, California. 3 killed, no wounded. 1996.

Pearl High School. Pearl, Mississippi. 1 killed prior, 2 at the school, 7 wounded. 1997.

Heath High School. West Paducah, Kentucky. 3 killed, five wounded. 1997.

Westside Middle School. Craighead County, Arkansas. 5 killed, ten wounded. 1998.

Thurston High School. Springfield, Oregon. 2 killed prior, 2 at the school, 25 wounded. 1998.

Keeps getting worse.

Notice the time between them keeps getting shorter.

Columbine High School. Columbine, Colorado. 15 killed (including the two shooters, by suicide), 21 wounded. 1999.

Appalachian School of Law. Grundy, Virginia. 3 killed, 3 wounded. 2002.

University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. 4 killed (including the shooter, by suicide), 0 wounded. 2002.

Red Lake Senior High School. Red Lake, Minnesota. 2 killed prior, 8 at the school (including the shooter, by suicide), 7 wounded. 2005.

Shepherd University. Shepherdstown, West Virginia. 3 killed (including the shooter, by suicide), 0 wounded. 2006.

West Nickel Mine School. Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. 6 killed (including the shooter, by suicide), 5 wounded. 2006.

Getting worse.

Virginia Tech. Blacksburg, Virginia. 33 killed (including the shooter, by suicide), 23 wounded. 2007.

Louisiana Technical College. Baton Rouge, Louisiana. 3 killed (including the shooter, by suicide), 0 wounded. 2008.

Northern Illinois University. DeKalb, Illinois. 6 killed (including the shooter, by suicide), 21 wounded. 2008.

University of Alabama-Huntsville. Huntsville, Alabama. 3 killed, 3 wounded. 2010.

San Jose State University, San Jose, California. 3 killed (including the shooter, by suicide). 0 wounded. 2011.

Chardon High School. Chardon, Ohio. 3 killed, 3 wounded. 2012.

Oikos University. Oakland, California. 7 killed, 3 wounded. 2012.

There are so many we tend to forget all but the worst.

Sandy Hook Elementary School. Newtown, Connecticut. 1 killed prior, 26 at the school (including the shooter, by suicide), 2 wounded. 2012.

Hazard Community and Technical College. Hazard, Kentucky. 3 killed, 0 wounded. 2013.

Santa Monica College. Santa Monica, California. 2 killed prior, 4 at the school (including the shooter, by police), 4 wounded. 2013.

Marysville Pilchuck High School. Marysville, Washington. 5 killed (including the shooter, by suicide), 1 wounded. 2014.

Delta State University. Cleveland, Mississippi. 1 killed prior, 1 at the school, 1 later (the shooter, by suicide), 0 wounded. 2015.

Umpqua Community College. Roseburg, Oregon. 10 killed (including the shooter, by suicide), 9 wounded. 2015.

UCLA. Los Angeles, California. 1 killed prior, 2 at the school (including the shooter, by suicide), 0 wounded. 2016.

North Park Elementary School. San Bernadino, California. 3 (including the shooter, by suicide), 1 wounded. 2017.

It’s amazing how many of these cowards take their own lives after wreaking their destruction.

Rancho Tehama Elementary School. Rancho Tehama, California. 6 killed (including the shooter, by suicide), 18 wounded. 2017.

Aztec High School. Aztec, New Mexico. 3 killed (including the shooter, by suicide), 0 wounded. 2017.


Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Parkland, Florida. 17 killed, 17 wounded. 2018.

Santa Fe High School. Santa Fe, Texas. 10 killed, 13 wounded. 2018.

Saugus High School. Santa Clarita, California. 3 killed (including the shooter, by suicide), 3 wounded. 2019.

Oxford High School. Oxford Township, Michigan. 4 killed, 7 wounded. 2021.

Robb Elementary School. Uvalde, Texas. 22 killed (including the shooter, by police), 18 wounded. 2022.

Central Visual and Performing Arts High School. St. Louis, Missouri. 3 killed (including the shooter, by police), 7 wounded. 2022.

University of Virginia. Charlottesville, Virginia. 3 killed, 2 wounded. 2022.

Michigan State University. East Lansing, Michigan. 4 killed (including the shooter, by suicide), 5 wounded. 2023.

Covenant School. Nashville, Tennessee. 7 killed (including the shooter, by police), 1 wounded. 2023.

And this doesn’t include the many shootings at schools when less than three were killed. It doesn’t include shootings at stores, churches, malls, movie theaters, and any place where people may gather. And it’s going to keep getting worse UNTIL WE DO SOMETHING, AND WE NEED TO DO IT NOW! We can “thoughts and prayers” our way to heaven or continue living in a hellscape where no person is safe. We need to petition, vote, march, write letters, make phone calls and not stop until some kind of sanity is returned to this culture of violence in which we try our best to live.

Sources for the events/numbers listed:



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Trans Position

Every day, every single day, a different right-wing politician introduces yet another bill in yet another state (or federally) that will in some way take away the rights or dignity of transgender people and make life harder for a group of people whose lives are already too hard. Every day another ignorant politician tries to gain points with their holier-than-thou electorate by introducing legislation to criminalize drag in every form. And every day I weep for my trans and drag friends who must suffer the indignity of yahoos who profess to be Christians but who have no empathy and no trace of the Christ they profess to love and follow.

This has to stop. Come on, people. Trans people have been with us forever. We just didn’t have the means for thousands of years to treat them in the ways that we do now to help them become fully who they are in God’s image. Now we do, and we have for decades, and suddenly there is a backlash because our society could deal with a handful of people they considered freaks, but can’t deal with the possibility that their owns sons might be their daughters or their own daughters might be their sons. It’s more important to force people to live their lives as a lie than to be their authentic selves because it makes too many people uncomfortable.

Every day, every single day, trans people, especially black trans women, are already in danger of getting maimed or killed because they have the courage to step into themselves and be themselves with pride. These inane, hurtful bills, make that possibility even graver. Trans people and drag queens are not out to seduce children. Anyone with a brain who is awake in the least knows that the vast majority of child sex abusers are straight white males. While the right-wingers would have you believe that transgender people are taking over the world like battalions of aliens attacking from another planet, the reality is that there are not that many trans people in our midst and certainly not enough to fight these battles on their own.

Those of us who are allies must do what we can, as loudly and boldly as we can, to stop the hateful rhetoric and dangerous legislation that is aiming to eradicate those trans souls among us. Call or write your legislators, join a march, publicly declare your allyship, speak up against hateful and damaging speech when you hear it, reach out to the trans community and ask what you can do to help, be a friend. But for God’s sake, don’t let these assaults continue without doing something–anything–to help stem the tide. Every trans person I have met in my life has been a gentle, beautiful person who is just trying, like all of us, to live, to love and be loved, and to be as happy as possible. In a world such as this, it is all any of us want and it is our duty to help protect the minorities in our midst from the tyranny of those who attack them.

Wishing peace and love to all.

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The McCarthy Fiasco

The reality of the fiasco that was the election of Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House comes down to this–McCarthy wanted power and control, but also wanted his name in history as his legacy. It was about ego and little else. Instead of a legacy in a long line of influential and powerful Speakers his legacy will more likely be that of one of the weakest Speakers in history. He will mostly be remembered for the fifteen rounds of votes it took to secure the position and it will be shocking if he is able to wield any kind of influence on the intransigent activist wing of his party.

By the time it got around to the final round of votes, it wasn’t about what was best for the country or even for McCarthy’s own party, which has devolved into a dysfunctional group of insurrectionists, clowns, anti-government activists who got into government positions to destroy it from within, and a handful (maybe?) of civil servants who actually do care about the needs of the people. He didn’t care. He stubbornly insisted on continuing the fight until he had given up almost everything. It was a classic Faustian bargain, provided he even had any morals left to bargain away.

While the Democrats and those who did not like McCarthy or want him to be Speaker ate popcorn and enjoyed the show as he lost round after round, in reality it was not that funny. With each round, McCarthy had to give up more and more, until he essentially promised away the power of the position he wanted so badly. He will be nothing more than an impotent figurehead and caricature as a result. The real winners were the radicals who want to upend the government and held him hostage until virtually all of their demands were met. Matt Gaetz was smiling much more broadly after it was over than the new Speaker. One can only wonder what promises were made to secure the final tally.

The losers will be the American people. This will lead to a handful of extremists determining the course of the next Congress. If McCarthy does anything they don’t like, they can now easily remove him or block anything they don’t like. Expect virtually nothing to get done and what little does get done will not be to the benefit of the majority of the nation. McCarthy gave up his power and he sold his soul. What he bought is infamy.

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Club Q

(edited to reflect new information; 11/21/22)

Once again, my people have been attacked. Several members of the queer community were shot and killed at Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colorado late Saturday night. On Sunday’s Transgender Day of Remembrance, news came out that at least one of the people killed in the mass shooting was a transgender man, so we add another name to the list of more than 30 transgender people killed in the United States so far this year. There is a month and a half to go. A day later it appears two of the victims were transgender, one was a gay man, and two were allies, so we will also add those names to the roll call of queer people killed by hate. Others are still in critical condition at area hospitals.

As a gay man I am filled with deep feelings of sadness today. Memories of the Pulse Nightclub massacre flash back into my head. Memories of my murdered friend, Earl, rise up. Memories of Matthew Shepard, Billy Jack Gaither, Harvey Milk all come back. We have seen this story. We have witnessed this hatred before. We live in a world where there are no safe spaces for queer people because hatred against us is tacitly, and oftentimes blatantly, encouraged, often by politicians and others who should be protecting the rights and dignity of all.

As a queer person in 2022, I should be afraid to be out and open about who I am. But I will not be cowed by cowards like the shooter in Colorado Springs. I will not–ever–go back in the closet out of fear. I kicked that door down and will not go backwards. I spent the first 21 years of my life living in fear of what other people might think, how it might affect my employment, how I might suffer violence by being open. I will not go back. This is who I am and if you don’t like it that is your problem, not mine. A big fuck you to pretend Christians who say I should die, to anyone who says I can’t bring it out of my house, and onto the street. That’s where I differ.

Instead, I demand better of our supposed leaders. I demand common sense gun laws. I demand the equality that is promised in our Constitution, and I will fight to my last breath to get it. On this day of another mass shooting and on this Transgender Day of Remembrance, I recommit myself to continue working toward equality, dignity, and safety for all.

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It’s the night before the 2022 mid-term elections and I am nervous. And, to be honest, frightened.

There are countless races with so many election deniers, QAnon adherents who really believe that Democrats and Hollywood stars are all part of a cabal of blood-drinking baby killers, Christian nationalists who want to create a theocratic state where anyone who disagrees with their morals and interpretation of the Bible should be ostracized, jailed, or killed, and famous people with no political experience and no commitment to anything but Donald Trump and power.

The problem is that in the past these extremist candidates would not have made it out of the primaries, regardless of which party they were. This time around, they won their primaries and appear to be in position to win races they couldn’t have won in the past and shouldn’t win now. In the old days, I didn’t fear candidates winning whose viewpoints didn’t match mine because I believed in checks and balances and that worked so well for years, but checks and balances don’t lreally exist anymore. While there were always liberals and conservatives, they managed to work together for the good of the people. Society would fluctuate between the two somewhere closer to the middle where most of us live. Now there is very little middle. In the old days, there were certain unwritten rules that politicians of different parties lived by that didn’t allow for radical upheaval of the norms. But these slates of candidates have no respect for tradition, anyone who disagrees with them, the government itself, or the Constitution they will be sworn to uphold and respect should they win.

It is all about power. It is about gaining power and maintaining power in order to fulfill what they believe to be God’s agenda, though many of them who proclaim to be Christian clearly don’t follow their own religion. They only use it to manipulate voters who sincerely do believe. They know if they claim to be Christian, they can get votes even if, as Trump said, he could kill someone on 5th Avenue in New York and still people would vote for him. The pursuit of power creates a blindness to hypocrisy, and that is what is truly scary.

My hope, of course, is that none, or at least a very limited number of these extremists actually win their elections. My fear is that the millions upon millions of dollars of ads that outright lie or minimally distort the truth have genuinely hurt the chances of good quality candidates who deserve to win their races. Here in Wisconsin, the airwaves have been saturated with misleading ads about Mandela Barnes, a good man who has been characterized as a dangerous radical and not so subtly tied with high crime in ads in which the racism is barely hidden beneath what they are saying on the surface.

If enough of these people win, I fear we are done as a nation. I fully expect that they will pass laws rubber stamped by conservative courts that will take away rights instead of expanding them. Perhaps it sounds a bit paranoid, but as a gay man I not only expect our right to marriage to be challenged or simply taken away, but laws to be passed to recriminalize homosexuality. It wasn’t that long ago that queer people could be arrested just for gathering in small groups, and there are those would love to see those laws reenacted. There are many who openly believe that gay people should be killed according to the Bible. Likewise, there are many who are openly racist, and a great number of them who signify their racist tendencies with dog whistles, letting their supporters know where they stand while pretending that their words are misunderstood and harmless. These people would be happy to return to the days of Jim Crow. We already know after the overturning of Roe v Wade that most of these extreme candidates are happy to return to the days of criminalized abortion and that is the first step in putting women back in their place in the home.

This is a critical juncture in our nation’s history and our country’s future. Every vote is essential. I will vote tomorrow because it is my right and duty as a citizen of this great country. If I want to make sure it stays a great country I must vote. In the last mid-term election around 50% of voters cast their ballots. Those who don’t vote may get what they deserve, but unfortunately so do the rest of us. If you love your gay neighbor, friend, or family member, if you believe women should have the right to choose, if you want persons of color to be free and equal, if you want to keep this a great and free country rather than a totalitarian theocracy, this election is truly important. It’s not a matter of getting the likes of Dwight Eisenhower or someone like John McCain anymore. It’s a matter of getting extremists who want to take your vote away, along with your rights. Please vote, for all of us.

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In Defense of Joe Biden (and America)

Joe Biden is not the most exciting, dynamic politician we have ever seen, but his heart is in the right place. He believes in the Constitution and he believes in the promise of America, even though he rightfully acknowledges that promise has never been fulfilled as it should be. I believe, like him, that the far-right-wing MAGA Republicans who have dominated their party the last several years are an existential threat to the United States. They have thrown out all the unwritten rules that the country has lived by for years. Those unspoken yet important things, such as graciously conceding an election, confirming most judgeships and political appointments unless there was a major reason to withhold it, and more allowed us to keep moving the country forward, inch by inch, through compromise, honest debate, and parties working together for the good of the country and not just for the good of individual pocketbooks, their own specific belief systems, or the people they agree with only.

This country is not a theocracy and was never intended to be. The founding fathers understood that as human beings we have myriad belief systems and that allowing one religion to govern over all others would diminish or destroy any possibility of equality for all. Understood, despite their lofty words, the founding fathers were wealthy landowners and a powerful elite who did not allow women to vote, owned slaves, and were hypocrites, but the ideals they set forth are worthy goals that we continue to strive to achieve.

About a week ago Joe Biden called the far-right wingers in the Republican party “semi-fascists.” While those who were most guilty and most deserving of the label screamed the loudest about the President calling them such a horrible name, he was right. My only qualm with it was his use of the prefix “semi.” People like Donald Trump, cultist followers like Marjorie Taylor Green, and their ilk are fascists, plain and simple. They want a leader in complete control, probably for life, who will give them everything they want politically. They believe they are above the laws because the laws don’t fit their concept of what America should be or their brand of Christian ideology. They espouse violence, both overtly and subtly, to achieve their ends. They are racist, as they always have been, but their bigotry, which used to be well-hidden to other white people, is now on open display. They proudly express the belief that the country should be a Christian theocracy, but, of course, with their specific extreme version of Christianity and not any others. They are truly the American Taliban. And finally, they are absolute nationalists.

In his speech last night Biden called them out and named them for what they are, the threat they are to equality and democracy, and he said that, “We do ourselves no favor to pretend otherwise.” Many of us have stated this for years and have not pretended otherwise and believe that it is about time that politicians who are appalled by them finally speak out. Last night, Biden gave his clarion call and made it clear what a threat these people are to our election system, which has never before had anything but minor issues at a local level (and also didn’t in the last Presidential election), but which may have many issues if the MAGA Republicans running for offices that oversee elections actually win, giving them power to subvert the will of the people.

After the speech the pundits immediately started talking about how the speech was a campaign speech to try to ensure the Democrats stay in power in November rather than a Presidential speech. But they are wrong on that. To me, the speech was akin to John F. Kennedy standing up to the Russians during the Cuban missile crisis. It was like Franklin Roosevelt encouraging the nation during a world war. The difference is that this time the threat is from within our own political framework. Last night, it was the man at the helm of the Republic in a time of crisis naming the enemy and asking true American patriots to stand up and resist the radicals trying to take over the country to make it in their own image and their own concept of God’s will. Even if it were designed as a political speech, the words and the ideas expressed desperately needed to be spoken. It was truly a patriotic speech about the absolute need to work diligently to prevent these dangerous people from gaining any more ground. This does not mean that all Republicans are bad. It doesn’t even mean that all people who voted for Trump are bad. It is in reference to those who would undermine our Constitution and democracy for their own gain and to satisfy their lust for power.

Immediately, those who were most guilty (again), started crying foul. They tweeted, screamed, and made the rounds on news shows accusing Biden of painting half of all Americans as fascists. The reality is that is not what he said. He was very specific that he was talking about the MAGA wing of the Republican Party and that old-line Republicans were not the target of his words. He was not attacking half of America. In the most recent Gallup poll on party affiliation (July, 2022), 29% of Americans identified as Democrats, 28% as Republicans, and 41% as independents, and those numbers have been fairly consistent for several years. The MAGA adherents are a loud and active segment of the Republican party, but they are a small and vocal minority even in that party. They have gotten more reasonable Republican leaders to cow-tow to them out of fear, not out of sincere belief in what they represent. They have managed to secure powerful positions within the party and temporarily control it, but they do not represent most of the party and they certainly do not represent most Americans.

It is time–it is past time–that these nationalist, bigoted, loud-mouthed usurpers are called out for what they are–a threat to the very existence of this country and our democracy. This is what Biden did with his epeech. If my liberal friends are unhappy with the country as it is now–and there are lots of reasons to be unhappy and much work to be done–they do not even want to imagine what it would be like if these MAGA supporters take power of all three branches of government. We have already seen the results of Trump’s first four years in power with the overturning of Roe v. Wade and other draconian court decisions and legislative destruction of the last decades of progress toward our promised future. If they are not stopped, we are in for an unimaginable future. Those who are in minority groups–people of color, queer folks, and others–know that the slow erosion of rights will become an all-engulfing landslide of repression. We must shore everything up now. Biden was right to call on us to do so.

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The Self-Made Conservative Warrior

Tim Michels, the Republican candidate for governor after winning the primary last night, has had some of the most obnoxious and irritating ads of the campaign season (unless you’re a far right-wing ideologue who loves far right-wing talking points and stretching of the truth). Let’s look at just a few things.

In his ads and on his website, Tim Michels says he is a political outsider. His own website specifically says he is not a politician. Unsurprisingly, not quite true. He graduated with a degree in political science from St. Norbert College and has had his sights on political office for decades. He ran unsuccessfully for the Wisconsin State Senate in 1998, losing to Scott Fitzgerald. He won the Republican nomination for the United States Senate in 2004, losing the general election to Russ Feingold. He has been a financial contributor to Republican candidates. He has served as an advisor for the conservative group, the 1848 project, which ironically was founded by Rebecca Kleefisch, the woman he bested in the primary. Unless he wants to claim he’s not a politician because he’s failed to win an elected office, his claim of being an outsider doesn’t really stand up.

Michels spotlights his military experience, and his ads refer to him as a proud warrior while showing him looking all snazzy in his military uniform. He was never deployed. While I respect his service as the commander of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the person overseeing the Army’s Color Guard and Drill Teams, this does not make him a warrior. A decorated soldier, yes. Warrior, not so much.

Michels also presents himself as a hard-working common man, just like most Wisconsinites. But he isn’t like most Wisconsinites. He isn’t one of us. He is a multimillionaire with so much wealth he has already spent 12 million dollars of his own money to become governor as of August 2, according to campaign finance reports. That’s just through the primary. There are several months to go before the general election. Most Wisconsinites also don’t own a 17-million-dollar mansion in Connecticutt or a nearly 9-million-dollar Manhattan penthouse and most of us don’t send our children to private East Coast schools while living on the East Coast and claiming to be Wisconsin residents. Yes, he grew up in Wisconsin, as a privileged son of wealthy parents, and yes, he owns a home here also, and yes, the company he co-owns is based in Wisconsin, but it seems he is out of touch with most Wisconsinites and with the state itself.

Another constant in the political ads, which he says himself, is that he is a self-made man. This is just simply bullshit. The Michels Corporation was founded in 1959, three years before he was born. Michels joined the family company after his military service (I could be wrong, but I’m guessing he didn’t have to interview or work his way too far up the ladder). Tim Michels’ father ran the business until his death, at which time his mother became CEO and Chair of the Board. She served until her death in 2020, just two years ago. Tim Michels is a co-owner and co-manager of the company, not the head of it. His brother, Pat, is President and CEO. Tim Michels and his brother, Kevin, are Vice-Presidents. To say that any of the brothers are self-made is as ridiculous as Donald Trump saying that he created his own wealth after getting a paltry million-dollar loan from his father. It’s no wonder that Trump liked him well enough to endorse him. Michels Corporation was built and grew under the leadership of Dale and Ruth Michels and what they created was handed down to their sons. Tim Michels is as self-made as a microwave dinner.

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Microsoft Microaggression

Lately I have been working on editing some essays, which I do in Microsoft Word. It is set to give me spelling and grammar hints, which I often ignore because the grammar hints are many times wrong. The Microsoft Editor will ask you to pluralize a word that is clearly singular, put in commas where they are not necessary, and try to change your wording to what it thinks is a more concise way to say something that you don’t want concise, but want precise.

While doing my work, I noticed that it kept pointing out words that it warned me about with the phrase, “This language may be offensive to your reader.” While I don’t have any big problem with it pointing those things out, I sometimes use strong words in my essays to make a point, or sometimes use words in context that are not words I use in my day-to-day life.

As a gay man I have been called a faggot before, so when writing about it I have used that word, as I just did. Offensive words are sometimes unavoidable and sometimes preferable or necessary to convey a point or an idea.

I expected the Microsoft Editor to give me a warning about “fuck” and “asshole,” didn’t really think it was necessary for “bullshit,” and was amused when it caught me using “asshat” and told me it could be offensive. I wasn’t expecting it to try to stop me from using the word “cretin,” though in looking it up in the dictionary it is understandable based on the history of the word. I was surprised when it even thought “damn” could be offensive, though I realize there are some ultra-religious people who probably do find it offensive. As I proceeded to a description about an incident when I was called a faggot I realized that the word was not highlighted, and then I noticed that the word “queer” was not highlighted either.

It struck me as odd that two words that are considered offensive to the gay community, particularly the “F” word, would not be highlighted. Many members of the LGBT community use the word “queer” to describe us, even though many older members of the community recall that as an offensive word, so it makes a little more sense that it wouldn’t be highlighted. I decided to open up a new document and type in as many offensive words as I could think of just to see which ones would be red-flagged by the Microsoft Editor. Interestingly, the “F” word was highlighted in this new document, although it wasn’t in the original document I was editing. As expected, the “N” word was also highlighted, but a few other words that I would consider offensive about certain racial or ethnic groups were not.

Also, the description of the issue was different for the two words about which I was most curious. For the “N” word, the editor explained, “This language is considered a racial or ethnic slur.” For the “F” word, the description changed to this: “This language may imply bias about orientation.” May imply bias? May?! Talk to any queer person and we will tell you that it doesn’t imply bias–it is biased, and it is offensive, even though the Microsoft Editor’s editors apparently did not deem to call it offensive.

Admittedly, this pissed me off (which I’m told may be offensive to my reader). One has to believe that the person or persons responsible for this program made conscious choices about how to word these warnings. They need to review the origin of the “F” word and they need to be clear that it is an offensive word. Frankly, at this moment I am offended by Microsoft.

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