The Authenticity Experiment, the other edition. You probably are too young to remember it. Or maybe you didn’t live in Portland then. Or maybe I am just making assumptions about who you are, how old you are, how long you’ve been in Portland (where the young go to retire). But there was a bad time here. I mean, afraid to walk to your black Ford Ranger pickup in the dark bad time. I mean, triple check the door locks bad time. I mean, can we afford an alarm service bad time. I mean, spit on and called “dyke” right on Hawthorne Boulevard bad time.
Yeah, that’s right—on Hawthorne Boulevard, some men in a red pickup sped by my wife, our golden retriever and me, and shouted “Dykes!” out the truck window and spat at us. I think I remember wiping my cheek and forehead, but that’s probably not true. I mean, that guy would have had to have been a precision spitter to hit me from a moving vehicle. What I do remember is the fear in my body, the way my shoulders came up and cramped, the way my eyes blinked closed and opened and then closed again, the way a shiver ran down my whole body and my pecs contracted hard—heart armor—and how I pushed my dog and my wife away from the edge of the curb, reflexively, toward the relative safety of a cement wall three feet from the street.
It was 1992, worse, at least initially, than 2017, worse than we imagined the Cheeto Administration might be. Lon Mabon and his gang of thugs introduced Measure 9, a ballot initiative that equated homosexuality with pedophilia, necrophilia, and bestiality. The Measure stated, “Every public school shall recognize homosexuality as abnormal, wrong, unnatural, and perverse.” You can’t imagine it now, can you? Now that I am out in the world in a tie and boots, my hair cut short, shorter, shortest, faded up the back with a razor. But back then, in 1992, we were all mostly in the closet. That sounds so strange today—I can hardly remember what we were afraid of.
Okay, that’s not true. I can remember what terrified us. The loss of family, of friends. The terrible fear of hate crimes. In 1992, 81% of LGBT people surveyed across America reported some sort of harassment; 36% were followed or chased; 31% reported physical violence. Two women shot on the Appalachian Trail by a man stalking them for hours. A woman in Central Oregon campground run over by a truck and then almost hacked to death by a man swinging an axe at her tent over and over again. Two women in Medford bound, gagged, and shot in the head. Gay bashing as public sport, gay bashing more acceptable than overt racism.
Every day some new commercial or news story aired. Mabon, the mastermind behind the campaign said, “What I’m trying to get you to see is that this is a war and we must fight it as such.” A television news station interviewed a local school boy who was visiting an Anne Frank exhibit which had traveled to Portland. The boy said, “Jewish people are citizens. You know, it’s totally different when you’re beating up a gay person than when you’re beating up a total citizen.”
We owned a business, we owned a home, my wife worked at a Catholic hospital. Being out in 1992 meant potentially losing your job, or your business, possibly being forced from your neighborhood. Four years earlier, when we’d begun the search for a house, the real estate agent asked us what would happen if one of us were to marry. We allowed as how this wouldn’t be a problem. She asked why. I can remember hardly knowing what to say. “It just won’t be,” I stammered, my flaming cheeks answering the question more articulately than my words. Still, the bank insisted I write a letter proclaiming I would always rent a room from my “roommate,” that I could not foresee moving from the house that would soon become “home” to my wife and me.
This is why we didn’t come out. Even though Donna Redwing, one of our respected—and out—elders said, “Coming out is the most important political act in your life and you better do it now, or you may never have the opportunity again.” This is why a group of us gathered on our front porch late one night, sitting on the swing made with hand tools by my wife’s grandfather, leaning against the wide, white 2×8 rail top, and talking in low voices about when to come out, how to come out, who to come out to, strategizing. And when our fundamentalist neighbor walked by, one of my friends dove under the swing and crouched in the dark corner of the porch, out of line of sight. We joke about it now, laugh in that way that you laugh about old trauma, but you can’t know the fear, the fear of gathering together like that and being identified.
Or maybe you do know what it is like. Maybe you are person of color. Maybe you look “other” to the Cheeto in Chief and his henchmen. The Cheeto is no different than Lon Mabon was—both men fear-stricken bullies, both red heads with bad haircuts covering their bald spots. Today, the target has changed. Now I can wear a tie, while someone else cannot kneel on a small rug four times a day and pray towards Mecca or safely attend a pool party in their own neighborhood. Now, I can write about my wife, my ex-wife, and my girlfriends, and I can tell you that I am a genderqueer butch while someone else must stay quiet about their immigration status or their H1b visa.
“What I’m trying to get you to see is that this is a war and we must fight it as such.” I will tell you, we are not winning the war right now—it’s been less than a year since Orlando, and just last month a shooter opened fire in a mosque, and yesterday the House voted to take healthcare away from 25 million people. And, until we get our stories out there, until we come out again and again, come out about everything—sexuality, gender orientation, religion, race, politics, income—until we come out to everyone, there will always be a war because there will always be an other.
I’ll start. My name is Kate and I’m a genderqueer butch who lights a candle on her altar each day and prays to a higher power called Sophia. Therapy, and bikes and my crazy quilt of friends have saved my life more times than I can count.
So who are you?
The Authenticity Experiment: Lessons From the Best & Worst Year of My Life is available for pre-sale. It helps me and the publisher if you order early and order often.