Monday, April 12, 2010

Speaking of Transgenders...

I love to tell my family how diverse my friends are. They love to make fun of me about it, probably because they're small minded. :) They may not believe it, but there are types of people I'm not friends with. The two most prominent have always been transgenders and Jews*.

Last year after pride I complained to my friend LT that I didn't know any transgendered individuals. Characteristically, she ignored me and went on and on about her boring problems. :)

Ever since I started volunteering at the GLBT soup kitchen, I've met lots of transgenders. They're probably a third of the population there. Last night, after dinner and while the nightly life skills session was winding down, a young trans woman named Trisha made a statement about a recent murder (in Brooklyn, I think) of Amanda Gonzalez, also transgendered. She was encouraging everyone to make sure they had a buddy system to keep themselves safe. Trisha has a funny way of stating things**. She said something like "Remember when it used to be that even if you were gay you were in danger, and now everybody's after the trans." What she meant, I think, was that she used to live in a place (South Carolina) where it wasn't safe to be gay, and now she lives in New York, where it's relatively safe to be gay but still not safe to be trans. But she phrased it as if it were the times that had changed rather than her geographic location.

At the opposite end of the circle there was a young man who raised his hand to respond to her. He said that trans women bring violence upon themselves by not disclosing that they're trans to the straight men they're dating. Remember that a third of this circle was trans. The volunteer who was leading the discussion was trans. So his comment didn't go over well at all. In retrospect, the discussion should have stopped immediately but the group leader didn't want to let a comment like that stand. So instead we went around the circle to let everyone have input. Each commenter was louder than the next and the overall tenor of the conversation was progressing toward chaos. Some of the trans women started talking about how the straight men they date don't mind the fact that they're trans. The same young man who instigated the debate said "then they're not straight." And later he also said something like "you can't change who you are."

By the end of it all, half the room was standing up and the discussion leader and the debate instigator were yelling at each other across the room while they were both being held back by four or five people. Before it could come to blows people were luckily able to lead the young man outside.

After, one of the brand new attendees asked me if I volunteered every week. I told her yes and that it doesn't usually get so loud and violent. She said that she was definitely coming back because "that was so exciting."

Anyways, I still have conflicted feelings about transgendered individuals. For the most part I'm very supportive, because they have always been on the front lines of the LGBT civil rights movement. But sometimes I wonder how many of them want to be trans so they don't have to be gay. I think it's at least some, although probably a very small group. And I don't think you should ever blame a murder victim for the murder.

*I do have a Jewish friend now. She writes the last blog on my blog roll, about taking care of her dad, who has Alzheimer's. It's much more entertaining than Francpotatoll. Her most recent funny dad quote: "I suppose, if everyone were satisfied, there wouldn't be much Italian at all, just music, music, music." It's kind of a sad blog though.

**Because this is a family blog, I won't go too in depth into some of Trisha's comments during the group discussion on STDs. Basically, she kept asking if certain things were normal about the men she had been with or signs of an STD. Most of them should have been obviously abnormal and some of them involved copious amounts of blood. It was really a struggle not to laugh at the time, which I guess means I'm pretty immature.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

My Poor Friends

My friends are poor in a different way. They are poor companions on my journey through life. Consider: I've been trying to get a more masculine jawline recently by chewing gum two hours a day. Did any of my so called friends notice this. Did any of them say, "Wow! Joseph! Your jaw is looking great!" No one even so much as offered me a carrot, though I'm sure they all knew how much this would hurt my fragile ego. Poor, indeed!

My Parent's Poor Friends

Sometimes when I talk to my mom, I ask her why all of her friends are more affluent than her. (This may seem weird, but this is very representative of the types of things we talk about). A person's friends have a strong influence on their expectations about themselves and their definition of normal, and to me that means one should try and have poor friends. If one's friends are poor, they are more likely to be comfortable with the amount of money and the number of possessions they have. Of course, I don't investigate prospective friends bank accounts (at least, not that they've ever known about)... but if you hang out at the right places, you can easily meet the indigent. (Trust me, graduate school is one of those places).
But my parents did have some poor friends...

There was one lady my mom knew from church who was very poor. Her name was Kathy. So once, when I was trying to make my mom feel guilty about all her richer friends, I asked her if she still ever talked to Kathy. I don't think Kathy was that old, but because generations are shorter for poorer people, she was a grandparent. (I know this sounds terribly politically incorrect, but so is a lot of stuff on my blog, so deal, people). When we would visit Kathy at her house she was always taking care of several grandchildren, while their parents were off doing who knows what, and her husband was watching television. My mom told me she doesn't talk to Kathy that much anymore because all she does is complain.

When my oldest brother died, my parents took on a strong parental role for many of his friends. He was a bit of a social butterfly, so he had a lot, and they were mostly poor. My parents invited one of them to come live in our house. I was kind of young at the time, so I'm a bit hazy on the details, but the whole thing seemed rather rushed. This guy was probably around 23, and I doubt that he had a lot of prospects. If it had been one of us (my brothers and sisters and I) at the same age and in the same situation my mom and dad would never have invited us to live at home (I think). But because he was one of Jack's friends, that decided it. After about a week of him living with us, my parents were discreetly told that this gentleman was a child molester, or registered sex offender, or something of the sort. To their credit, they immediately asked him to leave.

One Summer my mom was the temporary manager of a soup kitchen while the regular manager was away for a few months (helping a sick relative, I think). This meant we would go there twice a week for dinner. One of the volunteers was named Lura (poorer people often have fairly abysmal spellings of common names like Laura). She was married but her husband was confined to a wheel chair. I'm not sure how, but Lura owned her house outright. Unfortunately, she wasn't aware enough to pay her property taxes, so the government repossessed it to sell at auction. It was a really sad situation and a perfect example of how our society fails the poor and the mentally ill. As a household with so many children, mostly boys, we were often enlisted to help people move. So it was perfectly natural that we helped Lura and her husband move out of their place. Her house was even more cluttered than my high school friend Joanna's house. It was a labyrinth of junk, piled to the ceiling. I guess Joanna's house was that way too, but the difference was, in Lura's house, parts of the junk stacks were alive. Obviously there was her husband, who was set unceremoniously in one corner of the room. But there were also around twenty small dogs, all in crates, barking away. Some crates were on the floor, with papers and boxes and books piled high above them. Some crates were sandwiched between furniture below and boxes above. Some were almost touching the ceiling. The house smelled about how you might expect. As part of her move, Lura had to send her husband to an assisted living facility. My mom was also able to whittle the number of dogs Lura insisted on keeping down to six. (she really did love those dogs, even though she obviously wasn't able to care for them properly) My mom took the rest to the pound. The employees there looked at her really funny, and explained that she'd have to pay to spay and neuter all the dogs (which had never been done previously), but when she explained the situation they were understanding and let her leave them there without paying anything.

I guess writing all this, I realized my parents often did have a lot of poor friends. They weren't really friends, and I always felt more uncomfortable around them compared to my parents affluent friends. But it was probably a good experience to have those types of people around. That still doesn't mean a fellow can't use any and all resources available to try and make his mother feel guilty, though.