Tag: philosophy

Gifts Come in Every Noise and Every Skin

Gifts come in all shapes and sizes.  They come in every noise and every skin.  They come with wine and they come with water.  They come in black and white and technicolor sunshine when you’re blind with sleep.  They wear the morning; words like dew on bitter tongue.  You can’t know what packages they will come in or what spice they will wear when they cross state borders and choppy oceans to reach you, battered and disfigured with the mystery of abuse.  They come saturated with the minutiae of love for you to open and be amazed.

Connectivity is a contradiction between a delicate reaching of mind and sweaty hands, grabbing dirty hands.  It is an endless chain of creation a million hands are grabbing and holding fast to through hurricane and mudslide.  A rope that chafes while it protects.  Connection ignites the the pile of tinder built in the center of our chests.  Connection is matter turning into other matter.  It’s a gift.  What connects is more than voice or note or convenience or weather or place or race or money or language.  What connects us also eludes us constantly.

The best you can ask of yourself is to offer pine-cones when they’re the most beautiful and available objects within reach.  The best you can ask of yourself is to see every object, every light, every voice, every rock, every thorn as a potential gift.  Sometimes for yourself when you’re crimped between the brambles and the quack-grass with the desperate tears of loss.  Sometimes for friends who’ve blossomed in the light of your happiness and broken under the weight of their own sorrow.  There is sugar in tiny mosses and twigs, fairies dreaming something to replace the tears.  And the gifts for strangers may seem the most impossible but it will come to you without thought or heavy head how to give the milky waxy gardenia in your hair to the rent boy passing you, seemingly impervious.

No one is truly impervious who has skin.

Perhaps fortune is thin on the ground these days.  Jobs are scarce.  Money is mean.  no one can afford to lose an inch but we’re all losing miles every minute anyway.  Still, there is something to wait for, something to wake for, something to drink for every single day.  There are always gifts, naked to expectation.  There are always gifts, climbing the graffiti up through the chain-link to open air.  There are always gifts, no matter how they’re wrapped or torn or broken or bruised or flecked or stamped or canceled.

Will you recognize them from your dampened morning pillow?  Will you see them from your window, looking up at you from the alley full of prostitutes and syringes?  Will you accept them with your grace, in any condition, and be thankful to have them at all?


Following the Water

This is ornamentation in my friend Angela’s garden.

According to some lunatics tomorrow is the end of the world.  Sometime after noon.  Ish.  So today is your last day to repent and have a private talk with Jesus.  I suspect Jesus is going to need some serious coffee because, generally speaking, the day before the end of the world is the busiest one for Lords and Deities.  I was reading a Christian lady’s blog the other day and was struck by how often she dropped the word “Lord” and “King” and “Ruler” and “Liege”*.  It struck me how human, how mortal and un-deity-like the words “King” and “Ruler” are.  Like she was just talking about any other despot with a crown.  People really like to throw themselves at the feet of power.  Apparently, even though we live in a world where modern people are less and less enchanted with the idea of absolute rulers who are generally viewed as being exploitative, there are millions of people who really do want an absolute ruler.  They just don’t want to have to give their money to one.  But their soul?  Now there’s real coin.

Won’t I look ridiculous tomorrow when the great Armageddon really does happen and I’m left here in the jaws of earthly hell to die like a mortal human being?  I can live (or die) with that.  I’ve never expected anything else.  I wonder if the ascension will look at all like the northern lights.  I can’t wait to see what will happen with all the different factions of Christianity – will they all be swept up together or will some get first glimpse of heaven and first shot at a place in Jesus’ impossibly huge arms?  Will only the Christians who believed that Armageddon was scheduled for Saturday be taken up?  What about the Mormons who believe in Jesus but have a whole separate plan to rule their own planets when they die?  Will all Christians get exactly what they believe?  Surely there can be no disillusionment in heaven.

My dad always slammed me for being irritatingly literal.  I’m only literal-minded when it suites me or amuses me.  He never did get that subtlety.  I actually think being too literal with faith is seriously problematic but I do love to imagine people’s religions being just as literal as they take it.  In reality I believe that religion makes a lot more sense if it’s mostly metaphoric.  It becomes much more respectable and reasonable and believable (to me) when the bible is taken as a general guide, like Aesop’s Fables, where the stories aren’t literally true (mice and lions hanging out together?) but illustrate important concepts of moral and ethical conduct.

I am only just now realizing how switching between the literal and the metaphorical in my everyday language has caused others to misread my actual beliefs and observations.  I don’t do it on purpose.  I am scarcely aware that I do it at all.  My humor is sometimes lost on people who take me too seriously.  Because I’m such a heavy and serious person so much of the time.  I have said it before, it bears repeating, I am a person built of contradictions.

For years now I’ve been fighting hard for change in myself, forcing my own hand with such horrible self recrimination that it’s no wonder it’s proved so ineffective.  I’ve been fighting against the current and have paid with exhaustion and diminished self esteem.  In spite of that one accusation that I am narcissistic**, I am only as self obsessed as a writer has to be in order to see into the hearts and minds of other people.  If you can’t see into your own self you can’t see into anyone else.  I’ve spent so much time hating what calamity made of me.  That’s putting distance between me and my responsibility for myself.  I’m the one who’s made me what I’ve become, not calamity.

It’s so easy to shine a spotlight on the things I hate about myself that have been revealed in the past six years.  It’s easy to see how much I fell apart.  How I’ve become physically disgusting to myself.  How my self discipline in all things has become a ghost I try constantly to put my hands around and curse as it slips away again, melting into the shadows of the past.  How I’ve come so close to crossing the line into alcoholism in order to cope with all the uncopable stresses out of my control or that could be in my control if  I could only put my hands on my old strength, the same strength it took to crawl out of teen-hood into adulthood.   It’s so easy to count all those crimes against myself and punish and punish and punish.

Self flagellation is not attractive.  I have to give myself credit for having continually tried to make change in myself.  For never giving up on finding my strength again.  I haven’t been sitting idle for six years.  I’ve continually and exhaustively asked myself to step up to the plate and take control again.  All of this has helped me to grow as a person.  I have grown philosophically and mentally.  I have evolved.  These years have not been static or stagnant.  They’ve been fertile in ways I hadn’t let myself count.  Because I’m a shit.  I’m counting them now.  If I hadn’t gone through everything I’ve been through I may never have found the key that let me open up my own path to the fiction I always meant to be writing and previously repeatedly failed at.

Max is doing much better and that’s made a big difference, so that’s a huge stress that’s been lightened.  My mom has brought energy to our life and to our garden that we’ve been missing.  So that’s changed.  It doesn’t look like much on the outside, there’s still a lot of chaos here in our tangled up yard.  Quitting Kung Fu classes that require me to use up absolutely all my energy for maintaining my own madness in public has allowed me to relax a little more.  To be kinder to myself because I’m not subjecting myself to a big group of people every week who have, without meaning to, made me feel so awful for being so huge.  So I am exposed to less reason to feel shame.  I guess there’s been a lot of change.

I have not been sleeping so well lately but it seems indicative of other change.  Instead of being tortured by it I am just allowing it to be what it is.  If I don’t get any real sleep until 6am and have to sleep in until 10:30 am like a slob, it’s okay.  I have a job with the kind of flexibility that allows me to make my daily schedule how I need to make it.  So why curse and fight the strange sleeping patterns I’ve been experiencing?  I’ve been getting more exercise lately but I’m not letting myself agonize over it or hold myself to a specific goal.  “More exercise” is as specific as I’m letting it get.  I’ve been eating better.  Less cheese snacking late at night.  Less cheese in general.  Lighter breakfasts.  Less food.  Not starving or dieting by any means.  Just less.  Because it feels good to eat less.  I have no specific food goals except to not over-indulge.  I have been drinking less beer and changing up my routine, which for an OCD person like myself, is pretty difficult.

Except that when you let go of the fight and simply float down the river it’s amazing how far you’ll get and how close to what you’re looking for you’ll come without tearing yourself open.  Anyone who has known me a long time, or who has been reading my blog for a long time, will recognize this as part of my continuing cycle.  I forgive you if you don’t see anything new in these crumbs of change.  It’s not important that you see what’s changed.  It’s not important for you to be impressed.  Because it isn’t about you at all.  Except for how we all tend to mirror each other without meaning to and you may find that you’ve been following your own cycles and rivers and if you’ve been fighting against yourself, against the tide, against inevitability and against the suffocation of perceived helplessness, then this is about you too and you’ll see the small change I’m enjoying if you look in yourself.

What’s important is that I have been reclaiming self discipline during a time of stress, of change, of uncertainty, of Armageddon leering down at me.  What’s important is that I’ve been recognizing the small triumphs.  The inner victories.  The ones you can’t really see from the outside.  I have been drawing my boundaries in the sand and not crying when the water washes them away.  I draw them in the clouds instead.  Until the winds blow them away.  Instead of feeling futile I draw them in my spirit because no one can wipe those lines away without me letting them.  What’s important is that I’m not pounding my head with the same damn two by four every day.

If tomorrow is the end of the world I’m at peace with it.   How about you?

*Okay, not liege.  But with all the talk of Lords and Kings it’s what jumped next into my head.

**I only pulled that old insult up because it still amuses and confounds me.  It has long since lost its sting.  It’s just that it’s got a permanent place in my head now and though it no longer hurts it has become part of my story.

Laundry List

Remember the other night when I was all hateful towards my country and denounced it which would have been very difficult for me and my family if this was 1952?

Yeah, nothing’s changed since then because that was last night at roughly 2:30 am.

I am a woman of no country and I pledge no allegiance except to non-violence and to the education of the mind to seek an ever greater understanding of just why humans suck so much.

One of the important things to do when recalibrating oneself to a place of greater balance is to answer dark with light.   When I heard about the attacks on Libya yesterday and looked up as many news reports as I dared to read and was blowing angry steam out my ears and shouting the walls down, I stopped and asked myself how productive it was for me to sit around blowing smoke out my ass and pounding the walls.  It’s not very productive as it turns out but it proves I’m alive and thinking and have a conscience.

After Max said:

“You know that Germany and Japan are just waiting for us to use up all of our money and weapons and when we have nothing left they’re going to get revenge on us.”

I decided to take a fierce walk.  This was slightly hampered by my old lady fat calves that are still trying not to eject themselves from my legs after I pulled them well over a month ago.  I didn’t allow this to stop me.  I stopped to stretch my calves about every ten feet and may have been walking with a slight limp but I was out there breathing the fresh crisp air and I’m not going to lie, it didn’t save the world.

While I was walking I was feeling impotent.  Yes, even people without penises may feel limp and useless.  I noticed so much trash strewn around and was reminded that I missed my Kung Fu school’s trash pick-up event.  I’m not sorry.  I don’t need to be around lots of people right now.  That’s kind of the whole point of my direction at this moment in time.  Still, it made me look sharp at those soggy dirty flattened Kool-aid boxes, candy wrappers, plastic bottles slightly crushed (which always makes me feel a little weepy right after feeling angry at the eejits who dropped them) and suddenly I was picking them up.  With my bare hands.  I’m not going to tell you I enjoyed touching such disgusting trash.  I will say that picking trash up on my fierce angry walk was therapeutic.

It might not bring peace to the world but it reaffirms that I give a shit and I can get my hands dirty to make this world a better place.

I took another walk today and the calves felt a little less jumpy and twingy.  It felt so good.  I really love walking.  I love jogging too but walking is my favorite form of exercise of all time.  It takes me outside myself and exorcises demons.  When I got home I practiced double sticks and hubud with Philip.

So here we are.  Into the morning hours again.  I am sad about the world and don’t revoke anything I said yesterday.  Still, I think I have shifted the anger a little and come right back to this place where I understand that this is just a part of being alive.

I’m going to make a very long list:

  • I’m not Theda Bara which may surprise a few dimwitted people.
  • Chapter 18 is a pox on my soul.
  • I will never understand what induced rational human beings to explore civet glands as a source of delight for odorizing themselves.
  • I miss my friend Lisa E very much and wish she’d move back to Oregon.
  • My mother tried to kill me today with a curry full of giant chunks of fresh ginger.
  • I miss Chelsea and Sid and Sharon too.  They’ll all be asking why the hell I don’t call them if this is true.  I’ll just pull a blanket over my head instead.
  • I love Craig Ferguson except for his obsession with puppets.  I have to wonder if it’s his unholy love for puppetry that is responsible for his many marriages.
  • Max got into the charter school we were hoping to get him into and I’m so excited about it.  He’s excited.  Well, he’s excited to leave his current school.  He’s mostly excited that it’s spring break.
  • I read that the highest temperature ever reached in Vancouver BC was 93 point something-or-other.  Why was I not born and raised there?  I would never get a heat rash there or kill an innocent bystander just because the unbearable heat made me do it.
  • I still don’t believe in Armageddon or the Apocalypse.  But I’m starting to worry about the fact that I don’t believe in these things.
  • I watched the Golden Compass with Max last night and Philip told me it is an atheist fable and while I don’t quite see the atheism in the movie plot I have to admit that it thrilled me to finally have the atheists represented in fables.
  • Charlie Sheen has been developing creepy hair and I’m very sorry to see it.
  • I think the country I formerly belonged to is a lot like Charlie Sheen.  WINNER.  (aka: asshole)  (aka: unhinged) (aka: always a john, never a man) (aka: snorting the big delusion)
  • I have been wondering lately how come I have heard so many people speak of the missionary position as being boring.  Why is it that with sex you’re either boring or you’re exciting?  I like to think of the missionary position as being classic.  It never goes out of style.
  • Speaking of sex, I wrote something in Cricket and Grey that I can never say out loud without my skin crawling off my bones and I marvel at how I’ve left it in because it’s a phrase others use liberally and happily: “making love”.  One of my characters uses this expression and it caused me a lot of pain but for the sake of authenticity I left it in because I know it’s what this character would say.  Unlike me.
  • When you read my books you must remember that while I may have writ them in my own blood, they are not me.
  • The word “unguent” is repulsive and attractive at the same time.  It’s greasy and healing.  It reminds me of incense and also anointing.  Which reminds me of devils I don’t believe in.
  • I have actually literally written in my own blood.  It’s a queer thing.  It’s distressing.  When people talk of signing their name in blood I always remember what it feels like to actually do this.
  • I still have some very disturbing evidence of my open armed youth.  I have a playing card covered with blood and ripped to pieces, a page in an old sketchbook splattered with it, and somewhere (because I know I haven’t gotten rid of it) is a picture I drew with my own blood.  Do I destroy these so that my son never sees them?  I have not been able to let them go because I think my soul is trapped in these bits of blood saturated paper.
  • I grapple with revealing the truth.  I grapple with my desire to protect my son from painful truths and my belief that hiding truths is more damaging than revealing them.  I couldn’t bare it if my son looked at me with fear the way so many others have.
  • Or looked at me with horror, which is even worse.
  • What kind of horse am I?
  • I found a piece of paper with a grocery list, the times of Max’s last therapy session, and a drop of blood splattered and dried darkly on it.  I have no idea where the blood came from but seeing it felt portentous.
  • Max has only gotten a couple of mild bloody noses in the last six months.  We don’t talk about it out loud for fear of the evil eye.
  • Yes, we don’t  believe in God yet we’re superstitious as hell and are forever knocking on wood and not saying things that might then become untrue for having been noticed.
  • My cat Pippa has a slightly crooked chin that is so adorable I can never take her seriously.
  • I miss my chickens but I’m glad not to have that one extra responsibility right now.
  • Sweet salad dressing offends me deeply.
  • I have known my whole life that I would be responsible for my mother one day if she didn’t die young.  She’s here now.  I want her with us.  We love her here.  She’s scared for her health and her future.  I’m scared too but it isn’t for any dreary sense of obligation that I will care for her no matter what happens.  It’s just because I’ve always loved her so much it hurts and she’s always been so much more vulnerable and vibrant than me.
  • Pippa loves beer.
  • I love uniforms even when I don’t love what they represent.
  • If I get cancer I will have to simply let it do it’s thing because I can’t afford to be treated.
  • I have a beautiful signature.  I don’t say that because I’m an insufferable proud bitch.  It apparently gives lots of pleasure to clerks everywhere.  They tell me so.
  • Please be kind to yourself tonight.  Tomorrow.  Now.

Show me your blood, and I’ll show you mine.

I don’t know what kind of dreams a McBurger would inspire.  I don’t know what it feels like to wait in a line in my car to order my dinner from a window behind which an adenoidal teen writes barely coherent notes.  Would it sound like music?  Would it make me feel the wheat shaft brush against my shin as the dry shushing of the grass talks to the fall wind?

When I was five, one of the few memories I have that clings to the skin of my life is of eating a beet straight from my mother’s garden, covered in a sheen of thin soil and tasting like more than a Russian joke of body odor.  I ate it like it was candy.  I was probably as dirty as the beet.  Dirty fucking hippie kid.  Another early memory is of eating an onion raw in front of a baby sitter who looked at me with the same look everyone reserves for carnies; mixed awe and horror.  I ate an onion like it was an apple.  I was somewhere  between five and six years old.  I only know this because we’d left the commune but we still lived a few doors down from the house that caught fire.

I have few early memories.  These are potent earthy markers.

What if every memory was suspended from the pollution of other people’s memories?  Would they be more corrupt or more pure?

I don’t know.  I have so few answers.  There are so many questions they crawl up the walls to the ceiling while I dream of human-consuming worms, house fires lapping up baby dolls with revolving faces in dark play attics, the great tundra of the school grounds across the street whose bushes hid the answers to life in pulpy copies of Playboy and Playgirl, the darker meanings lost on us children.  The presence of evil felt but never expressed.  Wonder and eyes glued to inconceivable contortions of the life we thought was real.

Snails and salt.  Vacancy.  Sometimes the horror of what we found in the bushes was more bearable than the horror in our own homes.  Sometimes the bushes were the safest place to wait for life to evolve, to take us into the future where something was more possible than nothing.

Life is nothing but blood and more blood.  How much you pump, how much you consume, how much you need, how much you’ll lose, and how much you’ll share.  It’s life.  It’s the visceral manifestation of your soul, however you like to lay that out: on bible pages mod-podged to your forehead or pinned to a frame like dead butterflies caught mid-flight and pickled by formaldehyde and ozone.  Life is nothing more than skin and blood and I’ve spilled my share.

Our lives can be measured by how much blood we have to make, how much we have to lose, and how cut up we are in the process of dying before death.  It’s one long continuum of beating veins and active arteries.  I feel the pressure of it in my temple, pulsing like a light tribal drumbeat; I want you to walk away now.  Leave this livid pallor to the rest of us.

None of it matters much if you find your way back to the dirt.  To the beets with the bloom of soil on the surface your teeth grind past and forgive for the sweet-sick taste of bloody earth.  It bleeds all over your fingers and your mouth like a plague of love as frightening as locusts.  You will remember past the Peter Gabriel nightmare in the attic because what shines is this other remembrance, this second life no one can ever say they saw or they’ll have to show you their own blood too.

It all echoes in the underpasses where ghosts like to drift with needles and razors and maggoty boxes of noodle-roni.  It all lives in shadow where the cars are afraid to park, where unspent rage finds purchase in the oil spills and the exhaust drips of tired dry asphalt.  You’ll never see it.  You’ll never know it’s there.  You’ll never see the blood because if you did your whole life would unravel from the navel outwards.

So show me the dirt.  Show me your veins.  Show me your blood and I’ll show you mine.

Can I ask: Who are you?

Today I picked 74 eggplants, 3.5 lbs of jalapeno peppers, and 34 lbs of tomatoes (both red and green), and just like every other day I’ve spent picking produce at my favorite u-pick farm, I find complete clarity in the wide expanse of flat fields full of abundance, of promise, and of satiation.  It is extremely primal to be surrounded by food growing straight up from the soil, to pluck it from the earth and carry it against your chest to your home where it eventually placates your winter hunger and reassures you that starvation is still just Tuesday’s nightmare.

I think a lot while I’m picking.  I love it best when I have music with me to help distill everything into notes and guide my meditative thoughts into salubrious channels.  I forgot my music this afternoon which means that I spent a little more time talking to myself out loud than I like the crows to notice.  It was just myself, the crows, and a small crowd of morning doves out there in the autumn fields.  The crazy lady with the birds; can there be a better symbol of my madness than a stand of corn from which a rash of black squawking birds rises in chaos?  I was talking to the green tomatoes about how many ripe, un-frost-damaged red ones were left on the vines like a freak abundance of nature going to waste which I couldn’t let go to waste even though I swore to myself I wasn’t doing any more red tomatoes this season…

The green tomatoes answered back with blemish and blush and between us all the birds cried out against the breeze and the quiet that commenced was like a great peace asking us “Who are you?”

My thoughts were more calm when I began to pick the eggplants, oblate, tight, and smooth with the kind of shine that reflects future sunrise.  I heard myself repeating the question “Who are you?” over and over to every interesting person I’ve ever met that I didn’t have the guts to really ask that question of.  It brought to mind one of the best people I’ve ever met and someone with whom I’ve had the  most honest discourse possible between two people with very different cultural backgrounds.

When I was a design assistant I got to train a new design assistant named Cam who was first generation Chinese American brought up in Oakland.  All my life I’ve had an affinity for Asian people I can’t pinpoint.  Maybe it’s because my hippie parents were mostly Buddhist (my dad studied to become a Tibetan monk in Tibet for a while) with just enough ex-catholic and ex-jewish guilt to keep them from floating off to the Eastern continents.

In a completely unrehearsed and quick fashion Cam and I found ourselves able to meet each other honestly and without offense inbetween our cultural differences.  She could make observations about white people without giving offense, she could show me her view of race, her experience of racism, of cultural divides, and it came from such an honest place, such a raw and real place that it never occurred to me to  be offended and I could do the same with her.  I could ask her if it was just my white-ass misconception that lots of old Chinese ladies smell strongly of mothballs and she would tell me her take- (no, it wasn’t my white-ass misconception, lots of old Chinese women fill their closets with those gnarly chemical moth balls)- we could discuss, without rancour or disrespect, what it means to be first generation Chinese American and what it means to be first generation hippie American.

Cam is a rare and wonderful person who sated my racial curiosities which don’t come from a place of suspicion or bigotry but rise from the genuine desire to ask everyone I meet “Who are you?”

You can’t ask that question without wanting to know what a person’s racial, religious, sexual, social, and cultural experiences and backgrounds are.  You can’t honestly ask that question without wanting a context for a person, wanting to know truly what makes them tick and what drives them forward every day.  We ask people superficially who they are every day but if you really want to know a person you have to be able to know why they love men or women, or why they’re scared of Germans, or how they came to Islam even though their background is white wasp.  You can’t have an honest discourse about who a person really is if you can’t ask the questions you really want to ask without being mistaken for a bigot or a homophobe or an impertinent ass.

I was thinking about this today because I have discovered that someone I know superficially (but haven’t seen in a long time) has undergone a tremendous change and I don’t know how to approach it.  It’s a sensitive issue for which there is no guidebook.  I’m troubled by my inadequacy in a situation that isn’t common enough for Emily Post to have formed a poncy opinion about.  In fact, I don’t think it’s a situation that even existed in her lifetime.

Someone I know and haven’t seen for a long time has undergone a sexual transformation from a female to a male.  I want to talk to him.  I want to acknowledge him and the incredible change she’s gone through to become a man.  Is there a polite way to say “Hey, I notice that you have grown some serious facial hair since we last met and while I liked you quite a lot as a woman I’m sure I’ll like you just as much as a man…how are you doing?”

What do you say?  What is the polite way to approach someone you like and respect who has assumed a completely new identity which is so different from yours?  Where do you start that conversation?

I couldn’t help but wonder if everyone was like Cam and me wouldn’t it be much easier to find our commonality?  Wouldn’t race issues and gender issues be so much less fraught with misunderstanding?

What if I could just say “Hey, I notice you underwent a sex change.  What should I call you now?  Can I ask you questions?  Should I reintroduce myself as though we’d never met or are you essentially the same person now except with the addition of facial hair and possibly a penis?  Who are you?”

What if every person had a chance to tell their story and be heard?  What if every person’s life experience was listened to and respected?  What if we all had a place and we could ask each other questions, personal and poignant questions, not to alienate or divide but to come to a greater understanding of each other?

It feels lonely to me not to be able to ask black people I meet what their experience of being black is.  It isn’t widely invited.  Sometimes I feel that the thing everyone needs to do is to talk about our little gritty details with each other in order to come together.  We have this incredibly connective human sameness and we make the greatest divides between ourselves sexually, racially, and culturally.  Sometimes I think a lot of our division would melt away if we were allowed to ask each other the questions we really want to know.

I worry about people who have undergone sexual reassignment.  I worry about the danger they’re in being so very different.  I worry about the loneliness of not being understood by the majority of other people in the world.  I can’t say how but I understand what it feels like to not feel right in your own skin, to feel you weren’t born with the right body or the right parts.  I am so worried that a person like me, who is compassionate and empathetic to those who have undergone sexual reassignment, can have no clue how to approach the subject with someone I know casually who has gone through this tremendous change.

I am intolerant of many things: willful ignorance, bigotry, smallness, racism, and homophobia.  I am uncomfortable with how much hate rises in my chest when I hear Asians referred to as “zipperheads” which, by the way, I actually don’t understand.

I can’t in all honesty say I am without my own prejudices.  I have a fairly fierce prejudice against organized religion, the more cultish the more fiery the prejudice.  Even so, I have found my way to loving and appreciating many religious individuals.

In the end, I wonder, how much more understanding could we all reach together if we were allowed to really ask each other “Who are you?”

Do you want to know who I am?  Ask.  If you ask with genuine curiosity without malice I will answer you as honestly as I can and not be offended.  Want to know what it’s like being mentally ill?  I would rather I tell you who I am and how being mentally ill permeates my life and have you come away knowing more about mental illness (and me) than you did before.  Want to know what it feels like to be a fat woman who can’t see her own hoo-ha?  I will tell you.  Want to know what it feels like to  be a one-kid-mom in a community of four-or-more I will tell you and I won’t give you the sanitized version.

How can we know how to talk to each other if we can’t ask each other who we all are?  Nothing is obvious.  How can I know what’s it’s like to be a first generation Chinese American if I can’t ask honest questions about race and culture?  How can I dissolve my own ignorance if no one will give me the knowledge to replace the ignorance?  How can I know what it’s like to be a gay male couple outside of San Francisco if I can’t ask you what it’s like?  If I can’t ask the silly questions that you’re tempted to think are too stupid to be worth answering but which tell me so much and give me so much context for your particular cultural and sexual experience of the world.

I’m  more shy than I appear to anyone.  I’m afraid to hurt, to offend, and to ask the wrong questions.  I’m afraid to be willfully misunderstood and contorted.  I want a world of peace but not of homogeneity.

So how do I address the cross-dresser who isn’t gay, the transsexual who is, the Asian who grew up in a very different Bay Area than I did, or the straight Christian who’s actually quite nice but doesn’t drink or swear (WTF?!), or the bipolar woman who punches me in the face but didn’t mean it when she’s on her medication again, or the gay restaurant owner in the conservative little town who thinks his gayness is a secret?

Can I ask: “Who are you?”