We are Orlando

My heart has been pretty heavy since the news hit about yet another massacre in the States. I have been quiet and reflective; not sure I was going to say much of anything publicly. After all, I did not know any of the victims and we all already know that it’s a horrible tragedy.

However, I reconsidered that because there is no part of my life that isn’t touched by this. I live in the bay area of California, where Harvey Milk served when he became the first openly gay politician before he himself was massacred. There has never been a single time in my life that I have not had at least one gay friend.  At various points throughout the last couple of decades, I have worked at nightclubs – both gay and straight. My sometimes boss was (is) a flamboyant and wonderful gay man. Last year I took my six-year-old faery goddaughter to the Gay Pride parade in San Francisco right after gay marriage was legalized by the Supreme Court so she could witness a happy moment in history. A little over a month ago I attended a lesbian wedding. Last week I spent time talking to a friend about whether or not she wanted to explore a same-sex relationship. And last night my heart broke as I held up a candle, raised my voice in song and marched with thousands of others through the streets of San Francisco.

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Why Hedwig is so important

I flew to New York a few weeks ago and am only now catching up with the writing. My head has been so full of things to remember and talk about that the thought of beginning it has been overwhelming. All of it was such a whirlwind that it’s still all jumbled. I finally made a decision though and I am going to start with one of the highlights – Hedwig.

I think it is pretty safe to say that Neil Patrick Harris is amazing. Casting him and allowing him to elaborate and expand as Hedwig was not only brilliant for the money-making aspect of the production, but it also makes random television-watching humans want to go see the play. This is super important particularly now with all of the states that are tackling gay marriages and the bigoted reactions that we as a nation are all dealing with. That being said, these are not the reasons I was at the show. I flew across the country to see it, because as I said, Neil Patrick Harris is amazing. Hedwig is one of my favorite soundtracks of ALL TIME. I’m actually not really into musicals and I didn’t gush over the movie of Hedwig at all – however the music is brilliant and I had a feeling that this production would knock it out of the park. I was right.

My best friend is also in NYC for a seminar, so truthfully Hedwig wasn’t the only reason I went across the country. When I made him get a ticket, I think he was humoring me – knowing that it’d be OK but really he was there because I insisted. Due to poor planning, we were not sitting next to each other and instead I was sitting next to a woman from who knows where in her sixties or seventies. While we were waiting for the show to begin, I couldn’t help but overhear her loud complaints about being dragged to a “silly play about disgusting drag queens”. She was not shy with her opinions about “the gays” and that she “may not be able to tolerate that young Doogie Howser fellow after being forced to sit through this” by her granddaughter.

I was appalled. I looked around and emotions were mixed. Those who had heard her were either horrified and speechless like me or they were kind of silently nodding along with her, as if they were all there by some force that was not their own and were uncomfortable and disappointed by their very surroundings. I could not fathom paying so much money and traveling from wherever they came from to complain before it even began. I could not understand choosing that play to go to if you were truly so bigoted and against the characters. I was  totally confused by anyone who would say that OUT LOUD in this show.

And then I remembered. People love Neil Patrick Harris. They were going to sit through a play that went against their morals just so they could see him. They may hold it against him if it is bad, they may use him as an excuse to their friends or family as to why they were there, but they were going to go. It was a very strange realization.

I was no less appalled. The lights went down and I picked my jaw up off the floor – just to let it fall there again – but this time in a good way. Neil Patrick Harris’ Hedwig is the most beautiful train wreck to ever grace the Belasco theatre. The funny banter with the audience is crass and perfect. His acrobatic song performances have a life and a swirling energy of their own – and his ability to draw the crowd in to his every single word is breathtaking. In the more poignant moments, a sold out crowd was so quiet that you could have heard a pin drop – not even a shift in the chair or a cough could be heard. The theater was utterly transformed into Hedwig’s world – a world of the most heartbreaking pain and challenging taboos ever imagined. It was at once much more serious and much more irreverent than I ever expected – and I expected a lot.

I cried nearly all the way through the show…and I am not usually that woman. I looked over at my friend who had only bought a ticket to humor me and he was on the edge of his seat throughout the whole performance while occasionally throwing a fist in the air or bursting out with a belly laugh. The show was magic.

I had forgotten about all of the people around me – including the woman who had been so terrible before the lights went down. During the last number, the phrase “lift up your hands” repeats over and over – and many of us did just that. Because I was already familiar with the play, I knew the ovation would come 20 seconds later so I got to my feet to raise my hands. As I did, I looked at this judgmental, bigoted woman next to me and nearly fell over. She had tears streaming down her face and her hands in the air, just as riveted to the story as I was, and when the lights came on she jumped to her feet clapping furiously and reaching for her kleenex.

That right there is why reviving Hedwig right now, in this day and age of discrimination being written into law, is so vitally important. That is why casting someone like Neil Patrick Harris as the star is genius. This woman went from one extreme to the other in 100 minutes – but would never have been there at all except for who was starring. By the end, she didn’t see a “disgusting drag queen” – she didn’t even see Neil Patrick Harris – she saw a broken person sing his way out of the darkness. She saw a tale of love that every single person deserves and should be lucky enough to find – and she was fully engaged. It was amazing to see.

Now I don’t know how long that feeling will stick. She could have woken up in the morning and been the same person she was before she ever sat through that show. I like to think the next time she describes someone of any other proclivity that she will not use the word disgusting. I like to hope that she may not vote against “those people” ever again in her life and that she will always remember that play.

I know for a fact I will. My friend and I both were unwilling to leave the theater when it was done. He was more choked up and emotional than he ever thought he’d be and was blown away by the production. We let everyone walk out before we stood up again, choosing instead to talk about sexuality, gender roles, the white hot love people can feel and empathy for the broken among us who might never get that chance. When we walked out of the building, we sat on a concrete bench outside to continue the conversation and 45 minutes later when the stars came out a side door, I was lucky enough to tell them ALL that they were stunning and amazing. I know that everything is about Neil in the press and most of this post is too – but every one of those musicians works their fingers to the bone for that show – and they all deserve praise. One can’t happen without the other. When I walked away with almost all of their signatures (dammit Lena!) on my playbill including Neil Patrick Hedwig’s (as we have rechristened him) it felt like a dream and it does even now.

If I could, I would fly right back and see it tomorrow and the next day and the next because it truly is that good. I would also try to tell them about that woman – to let them know that they truly changed someone for a brief moment because I think it is important for people to know when they’ve gone above and beyond. I would have that night if it had been possible. And yet now, as I write this, I realize that they changed more than just her because witnessing her transformation due to their show gave me an extra bump of emotion, an extra inch of tolerance and a tiny bit of hope where there was only frustration before.

I guess I’ll go ahead and add that to the list of why Hedwig is so important right here, right now.




Summertime…not so easy


I know I am but summer to your heart,
And not the full four seasons of the year;
And you must welcome from another part
Such noble moods as are not mine, my dear.
No gracious weight of golden fruits to sell
Have I, nor any wise and wintry thing;
And I have loved you all too long and well
To carry still the high sweet breast of Spring.
Wherefore I say: O love, as summer goes,
I must be gone, steal forth with silent drums,
That you may hail anew the bird and rose
When I come back to you, as summer comes.
Else will you seek, at some not distant time,
Even your summer in another clime.
Edna St. Vincent Millay

Goodbye Westboro

Lately I have been hearing about nothing but the impending demise of Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church. In case you have been living under a rock for the last few years, the congregation of said church likes to go to military/children/gay funerals, parades, and concerts and picket them with very un-christianlike signs, that I won’t stoop to repeat here. As the news of the coming death of its hate-mongering leader spread, I have seen everything from celebration to compassion and all that goes between and as much as I don’t want to give that man any more fame or google hits, I had to work out my own feelings about it.

Throughout the last few years, I have been disgusted, heartsick and righteously angry with the tactics of this man and his followers. I have gone to funerals just to protect mourners from them, should they show up. I have rejoiced with a good majority of people I know when hardened bikers have shown up as an honor guard and a buffer to do the same. I hoped someone would either have a serious breakthrough with them or  in my less cordial moments, a serious face breaking. I laughed hysterically when the Satanic Temple recently gave them a taste of their own medicine. However, I have mostly wished with all of my heart that they would vanish into obscurity, taking their vitriolic hate speech and venom with them. I begged the universe to stop giving them press or feeding into their agenda so that could happen. The universe did not listen though, and the press clamors over the church and spreads their message of hate with every article they publish about them. Now with the leader ailing, it is no different and the stories continue.

Now, I am no saint. I am no christian either. I attempt to be a pretty decent human and I try not to hold grudges – but I will say that if the christian idea of hell really exists, some people should have reservations there, particularly those who have built a life and an empire on intolerance, cruelty and hate. This includes everyone from Adolf Hitler to Ian Paisley and Fred Phelps. Those who use religion or politics to further fuel their poisonous bigotry should be held karmically responsible for it. That is not our job though. It is important to remember that almost every faith or doctrine from fundamentalist christianity to pagan witchcraft encourages kindness and cautions against harm. Westboro, its members and particularly its leader(s) missed that lesson deliberately, and I despise them for it.

However, I don’t want anyone celebrating my death, dancing on my grave, spewing hatred at the mention of my name or condemning my life – and therefore, I am uncomfortable with those who are planning to do that when Phelps finally passes. Rejoicing at another human’s suffering or death is just what that church did – and to do the same is as cringe-worthy and wrong as they are. It leaves a terrible taste in my mouth and is even more disheartening, after all – I expect it from haters but not from those that are normally decent and compassionate humans.

The Germans have a word for it. Schadenfreude literally translates to harm-joy. It is a word used to describe taking joy in other people’s pain or sadness. Our country is very good at it. The night Osama Bin Laden was killed there were block parties and insensitive or downright bigoted screams of delight. People love to tear down others, to feel joy when an enemy is vanquished, to use someone else to feel better about themselves. This root feeling of vindication, schadenfreude and lack of empathy is a what leads to us being heartless and cruel – it justifies becoming the very dragon we are trying to slay. It may temporarily feel good but with what consequence? It brings us down to a level of spitefulness that is uncomfortable at best and leads eventually to an intolerant, entitled and thoughtless state where we are incapable of sympathy or understanding.

It is the easy way out. It’s perfectly simple and accepted to join the throngs calling for Fred Phelps’ head or those who are celebrating his death, even before he’s in the grave. It’s easy to give into the mob mentality that he took advantage of for his whole life. It’s much harder to dig deep for a feeling of balance and calm, to refrain from putting even more negativity into the world or to actually forgive another human that is so easy to hate.

I’m struggling with it and I still think that if the archaic idea of hell is available, I’d book him a room. But in this life and the next, and the next and the next, I hope to evolve into a better person, a compassionate person with grace and sensitivity enough to forget that a low road exists – much less that I could choose to walk it. That begins now.

So Mr. Phelps, if your god exists, I hope that he judges you fairly. And rather than wishing you or your followers harm, I still simply wish that you’d fade into the ether – so that your message of hate is confined to the walls of your church and the people who remain in it. I fervently hope that your membership dwindles as reason and empathy infects it and the young leave for a better life. I hope to continue to live my life in such a way that your hateful church would find disagreeable, and I pray to your god and all the rest of them that we as a human race can nurture each other and judge less – learning for once and for all to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and to “do no harm”.


The lost art of Language

Language is fascinating. The spoken word, body language, foreign languages and the dead ones are all so intriguing. We depend on words and communication to live, love and thrive – yet everyone hears and says things differently and those very same words mean totally different things to every person on the planet. My definition of love is not yours. We can read the dictionary for a broad concept, but what I interpret that concept to be may not be the same as anyone else. For instance, when I say I love you and you say it back, we are likely saying two totally different things.

There are bridges of course. Obviously, to say that phrase usually means there are probably deep feelings and an enduring fondness that’s more intimate than average, but when I say those tiny words it is never just a response or a light statement. I mean that I will likely have strong feelings for you for the rest of my days, even if we lose touch or change parameters. I’m saying that despite anything that may happen, if you needed me ever, I would be there. I’m saying that we should sing sad songs in the night over bottles of wine, wander the streets and cemeteries, that we should jump out of a perfectly good plane together or that I may want to hold your hand. It means that I respect you, that it would hurt me if you went away, that I would help you hide the body if you needed it or that I recognize that I have become vulnerable to you and that you are under my skin. I’m saying adventures are ahead and stories are behind and that I hope we will have plenty more. I have your back, your secrets and your bail. Sometimes it means that I don’t like you at all right now but would never leave your side or betray your trust. Sometimes it means that I want to run my fingers along the small of your back or the curve of your head and stare into your eyes for eternity. Other times it means that I don’t have time but I want you to know that I care for you. Yet all the time, it is summed up simply by “I love you”.

Likely, these are not the same definitions that anyone else has, but when they say it to me, these things are what I hear, because it is my definition. It is almost positively not what they meant. There are many people who don’t think about it at all – and that say those same words just because they were said to them, or they don’t want to fight, or that they do in fact, love someone too even if skydiving is not an option or they won’t feel the same in a decade or 3.

So how do we as a whole deal with the fact that every single word means something totally different on a personal level to each person on the planet? We don’t. We go with the shortcuts, the common denominator, the safe responses and the lip service. If we didn’t, and we chose to really explain our own definitions, the entire language would change. Communication would either improve or implode, those in our lives would actually hear what we are trying to convey and relationships may not be so hard – or so easy for some. Instead, we rush into relationships and friendships thinking that we have the same ideals and the same fondness, so it must be the same feelings for each of us…and often times we are shattered, resentful or frustrated when the definitions that we didn’t share don’t match up later on down the road.

The time to pause, to be thoughtful and to reflect on every word is a luxury that most don’t have.  Most people don’t even spell the words out anymore in this OMGLOLROTFLMAO age of truncation and keyboard life. In the days of 140 characters or less, we don’t even have the ability to define ourselves or explore our words. We simply shove our feelings into soundbites and status updates or we expound upon them alone in journals, music, poetry or blogs…just as I am now. Trust me, the irony is not lost and it grows with each keystroke every day.

Still, as I struggle (and mostly fail) to learn one of the most difficult languages I have ever attempted (Irish) I find myself wondering if anyone can master any language at all – even their own. I wonder how many miscommunications and arguments could have been solved instantly. I wonder how many marriages, contracts or friendships could have been saved just by studying ourselves, our definitions and our languages a little more – because we ALL have our own. It may use common words but our language is individual and solitary. The trick is learning it and sharing it with others.