Common Humanity


This has been the year of common humanity.

Not for our country, here in the USA. Not for the UK. Not for Syria. Not for politics in general.

But for me, personally, it’s been my growing edge.

Given that I’m a hot-headed lesbian  high maintenance actor with a strong activist bent.

In January, my partner and I did an on-line course with Brene Brown on courage. Part of the curriculum was a touch down on self-compassion. We took a test (http://self-compassion.org/test-how-self-compassionate-you-are/), and learned that self compassion is made up of 3 parts: self-kindness, mindfulness and common humanity.

I scored fairly high on self-kindness and mindfulness, and abysmally low on common humanity.

Balls to the wall honest: I’ve always felt I could come to your suffering with love and understanding. But I have had ABSOLUTELY NO FAITH in your ability to come to mine.

My poor sense of common humanity comes from a deep belief in the inability of other people to witness for me and empathize with me. It comes from a bone-deep sense of isolation, and a fear of being judged. And maybe disbelieved.

And, more honest yet–we know that it is trauma that severs the interpersonal bridge. We get hurt enough, we don’t feel connected to anyone.

My interpersonal bridge was nuked, baby. Gay bashing, sexual harassment, being a witness to violence, standing up, speaking, watching offenders go free to offend again, witnessing the moral numbness and denial of communities of the suffering of me and mine over and over again–I have, as so many of us have, plenty of reason for my lack of trust in other humans.

We can only heal in connection. We can only heal by rebuilding the bridge. There is nothing, NOTHING, more important than being able to connect with other humans.

In this year of common humanity, when my suffering was pinged in a way that made me feel so different, I tried to tell someone. I even posted my pain all over FB after Pulse–and I ended up so glad I had, because of the love and humility of straight people in my life who came to me where I hurt.

When I couldn’t post, or speak, or explain, I tried to mentally and spiritually connect with other people wherever–in the Sudan, in Syria–and to know that unrelenting violence has been a part of so many lives, not just mine.

I’m a work in process. But here’s the thing–the feeling of isolation, of having known extreme violence and extreme prejudice, the loneliness, the distrust, the rage, the feeling of being trapped…at its worst, leads to sense of victim entitlement. I’ve had this entitlement, because it’s friggin’ normal to have it. It’s how our brains work. It sounds like this, “You have no idea how I feel or what it’s like to have lived through what I’ve lived through, so you fucking owe me. And seriously, you expect me to care about your garden variety entitled American dysfunctional whatever…workplace, family, etc.?”

Ask my partner how completely SEEN she feels when I go into that space.

Look around and see people competing for who has had it worst.

Common humanity. Some of us have suffered way more than others. It is a fact. Some of us are way more at risk than others. We have incredibly complicated feelings about our level of risk–for example, terrified and angry at people more privileged…or grateful not to be at risk, guilty, and terrified. Pick your poison.

This may sound like a tangent, but for me it isn’t: privilege is about survival. The more you have, the more likely you will be one of the ones who make it. Everyone wants privilege. Everyone who has it wants to keep it. At least a little bit.

So…

Yesterday, I read on Facebook 3 posts by people of color expressing outrage and judgment about the white people who were expressing shock and fear in response to Trump being elected. And I thought, “Enough!”

Yesterday, I read FB posts by white straight men saying that we were only allowed to feel for one day before getting back to work, that feelings were ridiculous, that we should accept Trump and make the best of it. And I thought, “Enough!”

I wrote a post. For common humanity, I said that all responses that do not hurt or judge others are welcome. Judging people for being shocked? For having emotions at all? There’s no common humanity in judging people for their emotions (which are involuntary, we need to remember…we don’t pick what we feel…and trying not to feel what we feel…welcome to the land of addictions).

I’ll say this again–there’s no common humanity in judging people for what they feel.

Feeling exhausted? Like Trump is just one more in a long series of betrayals you’ve had to fight your whole life to overcome?

Welcome.

Shock? Being caught off guard? Believing the polls? Trusting the neoliberals? Believing we could do better?

Welcome.

Wanting to shut down? Or jump to action?

Welcome.

I happen to share every single one of these feelings.

Just don’t tell anyone to be like you, and we’re good.

Common humanity, for me, means setting aside my victim entitlement, setting aside my better-than, my one-up, my one-down, my I-hurt-more…setting aside my compulsive isolation, and trying out trust. It means sharing how hard it’s been, sharing how hurt I’ve felt, sharing my terror, and risking that you might come to me.

Of course, maybe you won’t.

Here’s the thing. For the better part of a decade I ran a multicultural theatre company founded on an event called SLAMBoston, Diverse Voices in Theatre. On the nights of the slams, there was often a coming together, a raucous and sacred space of all voices being heard equally. People left high on belonging.

But behind the scenes, there were always people hating. African-American men hating gay men, white straight people proud of their disengagement with causes, or, alternately, embarrassed and nervous and awkward, queer people ignorant about the struggles of people of color and revealing this without knowing it, people eager to tell members of another group how well they understood by “mansplaining” (women can and do mansplain). There were professional rip offs, complaints about too many AIDS plays, criticism of the model, ageism galore, especially in casting by young directors.

We could come together into the warmth of tolerance, but before and after we often didn’t trust. We didn’t know how to hear and keep hearing each other.

I rode those swings for ten years. The hope and the ugliness, the beauty and the ignorance, back and forth, over and over again.

I am writing this blog in the hope of more common humanity. Not to let go the politics and the intellectual understanding of minority politics, but to bring more heart to the mix for everyone. More willingness to take the risk of the “I-Thou,” rather than the demand that you pay for my suffering and listen to me first. Rather than demanding you follow the lines of privilege and make me feel better about always coming first.

No one is first. We can’t keep competing and come together.

“I-Thou” in all personal encounters is the way of happiness. Of peace.

I trusted a woman to grow in the last 6 months, and she did.

So did I, by giving her the benefit of the doubt.

The benefit of the doubt. The risk. The opening of the broken heart.

Oprah says, “We are more alike than we are different.” She is a woman of great common humanity, and she fights for her own as well as for everyone.

It’s not a popular thing to say. “We are more alike than we are different.” I fear being attacked for saying it, because, well, I’m not Oprah. I am, among many other things, white.

I’m going to say it anyhow.

Multiculturalism asks that we listen to each others’ different experiences, different cultures, with the utmost respect. We need to do this.

But common humanity builds the foundation of compassion, of witnessing, that makes this sharing meaningful and healing. A bridge must go both ways, no matter how hard this is.

I believe you are not unknowable to me.

And though I am a woman and double minority, though I have experienced more than my share of violence and prejudice, I believe I am not unknowable to you.

But we attack. We suffer, and this makes us angry. We are at risk. We feel powerless, and we flail around, trying to get safe.

You are not unknowable to me. I have the bandwidth to hear you with the best of my compassion, with the depth of my own suffering, with my highest intelligence.

I can know you, and I want to.

Common humanity.

I am not unknowable to you. I have the courage to tell you my story. I have the hope that you will listen, and you will help me rebuild my bridge.

I will help you build yours.

We are more alike than we are different, and we can ALL experience this, if we listen, if we make room.

Common humanity trumps politics. If we have courage, faith, the willingness to listen. One to one. Communication instead of rhetoric.

Mind you, I say all this while continuing to research jobs in Canada, New Zealand and Europe.

I say this while donating to my most passionate causes.

I say this while struggling to make room for everyone I truly love, many of whom have had it easier than I have.

I’m jealous of them.

But I love.

This is my common humanity.

 

 

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I Want to Be Peace…or Politics on a Daily Basis


For me, politics in this election started with Bernie Sanders. I was so excited by him! But as I argued with people on Facebook, I started to realize that some people knew a great deal more than I did about the political system and our governing history. I started to realize that I had very strong opinions that were based on only partial knowledge. I was convinced I was right, and I didn’t have all the facts.

This embarrassed me.

Plus, I hate to lose arguments.

More education seemed like a good idea.

But as I read about Hillary Clinton’s voting record, her work internationally with women and children, as I read the horse race who-is-more-likely-to-win stats, as I read, for the first time (I’m embarrassed to say), Noam Chomsky, I started to notice that I was far from the only person who had strong opinions based on far too few facts.

Most people seemed to fall in the camp of I-am-right-though-I-do-not-really-know-my-facts-and-don’t-want-to-learn-them-from-you-unless-you-agree-with-me-about-everything. (Me on a very bad day, I have to admit.)

The rhetoric heated up. Name calling, explicit or implicit. Blogs that told only a small piece of any story. Misinformation. Quotes from the Huffington Post that contradicted other quotes from the Huffington Post. Siting of political web sites. Accusations of voting tampering. Accusations that anyone who believed there had ever been voting tampering was a conspiracy theorist.

It seemed that the hotter the temperature, the less facts mattered. It seemed it was all about who could be more insulting. Courtesy and basic respect fell by the wayside. Swearing and name-calling became a way of winning. Tone! Sometimes, it was humor. Sometimes, just attacks.

My own pseudo Buddhism started ringing in my head, so I tried to understand, to find compassion for all these shouting people. The common denominator was clearly emotion. Rational discourse was rare, and especially rare if people disagreed.

We are all so scared right now. The world seems unsafe. Survival. Opportunity. Care. Safety. How can I protect me and mine?

On my best days, I want to speak to this. I’m not a political theorist. I’m an artist who seeks the center of the human experience, who writes about being an outsider, who writes about loneliness, absurdity and redemption. I believe in social justice, but mostly I believe in the power of kindness. I believe in welcome. I believe in truth and witnessing. I believe there is nothing stronger than love.

I occasionally find these things in FB political discussions if you can believe it…but rarely. I love it when it happens, when I am humble, when I learn, but much more often I’m doing my own version of heating up the fire by posting as many different points of view as possible just to freak people out. Or make them think. (It’s unclear.) This entertains the imp in me, but doesn’t necessarily help anyone. Because people are so scared they can’t listen to anything but that one answer that the emotional voice in their heads says is going to fix this dangerous world.

An answer they’ve found based on…well…emotion. More than anything else, that’s what we do. We call ourselves thinking beings, but we are emotion first. We really are.

This morning my partner showed me a clip of Trump demanding a baby be removed from an auditorium. She crowed with delight at what a jerk he was. I’m looking up at her and I’m like, “Um, I think this is funny.”

I thought it was funny that he talked about loving babies then did this reversal about of course he doesn’t love a baby crying when he’s trying to speak. His communication wasn’t at all skillful, but I understood exactly how he felt (having had my own crying baby experience while performing), and his bluntness made me like him. Of course I don’t want him to be president, but I totally got and get his appeal. His supporters say, “He tells it like it is.” And he does. No filter, no finesse, but there’s an honesty in that. There’s a relief. If you’re pissed off and scared and not thinking.

Here’s my heresy for the day: people here in the liberal Northeast are just as scared and filled with emotion as people in the Heartland. People in the Heartland see themselves in Donald Trump–in his take-no-shit-tell-it-like-it-is attitudes. In his paternalistic promises. I understand his appeal. Of course I don’t want him to be president. That doesn’t mean I can’t see, with compassion, that to which he speaks. I don’t need to look down. I get it right from where I’m sitting.

I watched the DNC because my partner was so into it, and I was genuinely moved by the video about Hillary Clinton. In it, she reminded me of women I’ve met in the last year, all of whom are white, straight and privileged. I understood how they saw themselves in her. She represents them, she is them, and they look at her and see all the sexism they have ever faced. And, let’s get real…Hillary has battled vicious misogyny her entire public life.

I don’t know if I want her to be president. But that’s not the point, is it? I get how women see themselves in her, and since I have lived with misogyny, since I have been a victim of violence against women, since I have been sexually harassed in the workplace when I was very young, I understand the emotion, too. I cried when they did the shattering of the glass ceiling. I cried when Chelsey talked about her pride in her mother.

I have these emotions. But I don’t see myself in Hillary. I’m white and female and a feminist, but I am also strongly queer-identified, have been poor and on food stamps, among other differences. I don’t see myself in white, straight women in general. I feel like an other when I’m around them. Pulse made this incredibly clear. Right or wrong, I don’t think white, upper middle and upper class women have it so bad. Most of them have never worked for my rights as a queer person, and they don’t ask about my life either, so I have a ton of emotion about the barriers between us, barriers I don’t think they see. Hillary flip-flopped on gay marriage like a crazy person. I have EMOTION about this.

I can’t escape my own emotion. I’m human.

We feel way before we think. We feel…and then we think to justify how we feel. I can’t help this more than anyone else can.

But I want to be peace. I’m terrified about the world. If I run, can I run far enough? These are my old questions. But with the shootings, terrorism, economic fears, bigotry, police persecution of African-Americans, laws targeting LGBTQ in the South…somehow we’ve passed business as usual and with climate change there may be nowhere to run to at all.

I want to be peace.

And, old strategy of mine, welcome any time…I want to know. I want to understand. I want to learn everything I can. I believe in education as an answer.

I wish we would stop, consider other points-of-view, before we post, before we speak.

I want to be peace.

I don’t always know how to find peace, though I have studied, though I have, as the Indigo Girls have sung, gone to the temple, the mountain, the ashram, the ocean, the doctor, the poetry, the bodies of women, men and trans people, though I have loved, though I have raged, though I have gone quiet, though I have sung my one and only song, with no idea if anyone would want to listen.

I want to be peace.

Feel and do nothing about feeling.

Think and do nothing about thinking.

Until I am moved by something wiser than passion, fear or anger.

Until I can simply love, listen, hear.

Until my song is compassion, and nothing else.

Priest Kid, a queer mother/daughter novella about Episcopals…early pages


PRIEST KID

By Lyralen Kaye

 Prologue

My mother’s sermons smelled like oranges. Lying in my single bed on Sunday mornings, I woke to the smell that seemed to waft up from the clean white pages in the manila folder she used to carry them to church. A folder she never changed, even then interested in recycling.

I’d go downstairs to where my father leaned his weight onto an actual orange, squeezing juice for me into a glass measuring cup, but it seemed as if the smell lifted us all —my mother in her car, driving alone to the church, my father and I following in his, a half hour later.

The smell placed me next to my father in the second row pew where we always sat, my fingers sliding over the shining wood as I tucked my skirt around my bare legs. Each week I refused the joke books and tic-tac-toe my father offered and instead watched my mother on the raised platform of the chancel, her dark curly hair falling over the Episcopal vestments patterned in gold.

And when she ascended to the pulpit, and began to speak, her words opened around me like tiny packages filled with that bright, sweet scent. Standing in the light of the stained glass, my mother explained the world. She lit up with grace—because she possessed it, the real thing, that dignity, that power—and she’d look down once in a while and meet my eyes, letting me know the biblical quotes and poetry, the small jokes and lessons, were just for me.

And then it was over. A quick hug from her before she went to the line of waiting parishioners if I was lucky. If not, I watched them gather around her. The Sermon on the Mount all over again.

I went back home with my father where he’d watch football or grade papers and I’d go up to my room to read and wait, curled on my single bed, hoping there were no baptisms, no deaths, no marriages, no Bible study classes to keep her from me.

My mother, the love of my life, who I waited for, and received like a blessing, late at night after her visits to prisons, to the dying, to the homeless, and then early in the morning before I left for school and she went to her office at the church.

Not like other mothers.

So determined to do right by everyone.

And I can’t even say she forgot me, ever. She squeezed me in after school and before Eucharist, on evenings when she could leave her responsibilities alone. I don’t think she ever forgot to try.

But still, I waited, hours and hours, maybe that whole first part of my life.

Not for my father, who made me dinners, who tucked me in. But for the parent who always had a list of people for whom she needed to be that shining figure of grace.


Chapter One

 When I head home from Stanford to visit my mother, the vibration in my body turns up, until my cells sing like notes from a 12 string guitar. Too many notes, really. Longing, hope, the prayer that peace will come, that I will be like her, that I won’t, that she’ll tell me what to do, that she’ll listen, for once, without comments or questions.

I could be the subject of my own psych dissertation. Really. Mommy issues. Give me a break.

But I can’t help tracking the way she looks, from that first moment in the airport terminal. Tonight will be no different: I’ll search for her face, try to catch her before she sees me. Will her bones hold the suffering she sees every day, will the skin and muscles pull her face into heaviness? Or will she have been able to set it aside? It’s not whether she’ll light up—she always does—it’s the effort it will cost her. It’s the dimming of her on holidays, or any time the people she serves falter, need, cry. Where do I go, wanting home, if she hasn’t found a way to arrive?

I thought about skipping Easter. I’d already skipped Christmas—not a popular decision—and it seemed easier to miss again. The wish and the hope—I wanted to skip them. Because no one with compassion could bring her one more problem to solve, right? And I had nothing to bring her but the mess I was making of my life.

I bought the plane ticket the week before, my finger hovering over the mouse for a long moment before I clicked. My father demanded to pay and I let him. As I always did. Because then he could do his Dad thing, puffing up a little, getting protective, getting into the my little girl, I’ll do anything for you.

Annoying and sweet.

I twist my too thick hair into a braid before I walk off the plane, down the long tunnel of hallway, over the thin carpet and linoleum, under the fluorescent lights, down to baggage claim, where he waits, hands in his pockets, the familiar blue-button down.

He’s alone. She didn’t even come.

My first published short story, circa 1990: Butch and Beehive


I’ve had reason to go searching through older writing. And yes, this is dated. We’re no longer so closeted (thank whatever/whoever). We’ve embraced all genders. We understand looksism and lifestyle porn, even though we still believe it. I’m just wanting to say hello to the 27 year old Lyralen who wrote this story. I kind of like her. I remember sitting in a writers group in Cambridge, MA, with the half of the group who loved this story fighting with the half who hated it. Volume started to rise. People leaned forward so much they were almost standing. The teacher finally stopped the free-for-all and asked me what I thought. I said, “If it’s causing this much controversy, it’s ready to be published.” The very first place I sent it to was Phoebe. They sent me an acceptance letter that I received on my birthday…the birthday that ended an extremely hard year. As the Grateful Dead said, “Keep on truckin’.”

 

Butch and Beehive

First Published in Phoebe , Volume 2, Number 1, Spring 1990

The hostess always seats them in my station, which makes me wonder if she knows. Every time she leads them through the dining room, I cross my fingers behind my back like a child, hoping for a continuation of this silence, the protection I need no matter how it constricts me.

Beehive and Butch and what the other waitresses call them. They’re sporadic regulars here. Butch is fat and her hair is greasy, her face round a soft with small eyes and mouth that turns down. She wears suit coats and walks with her feet pointed out: she looks like she could fix a car, shoot a good game of pool, laugh loudly from her belly.

Beehive is skinny and she wears polyester pant suits, dangling earrings, and pancake make-up. She must have had terrible acne as a girl: her face is pockmarked and deeply scarred. She has dyed black hair which she wears teased into a bun that reaches six inches above her head. When you look at her you can see an entire history: family, grade school, high school, secretarial jobs.

I believe that in grade school the other children shot spitballs at her and snickered when the teacher called on her for questions whose answers she didn’t know. They hung signs on her back. KICK ME, the sign would say. Some children did kick her. She would turn around with terror sprawled across her birdlike and scrawny face. The abuse was so familiar that it took hours for her to realize that the sign was there. It need not have been.

Later, in high school, when the acne came, she sat home every weekend. No one asked her why she never had dates. She lay on her bed on those nights, trying not to think about her mother’s shame. Perhaps she dreamed of foreign countries, exotic people, reading romances and waiting for an adulthood where such things might happen to her. Then she might forget the sounds of this daily life: the giggles and whispers, the boys barking and calling her a dog. She would wear silks, and layers of chiffon. She would drink champagne, sit on balconies overlooking the ocean, gamble in Monte Carlo. She didn’t know that her body would always reveal her childhood, that her posture would be permanent; the shoulders curved forward over her breasts, the hanging head.

Maybe she has told Butch these stories. When Butch smiles her face is so gentle that I know she would console her lover. I would have protected you, Butch must say. This is true. I believe Butch herself has a story of solitude, a lonely kind of caring for others. She looks tired of being strong. She might have had a father like mine, a man who drank and yelled. She took his blows while her mother and sisters watched. Then she wore a thin veneer of toughness out into a world that would always see it as strength. There she learned that it was a curse to be stronger and smarter than most boys. But she didn’t mind enough to pretend to be different, mostly because she already knew that she liked women best. The problem was getting them to like her. It was a problem that didn’t last long. The few friends she made lasted, drawn an held by the tenderness in the way she listened. Still, she too dreamed. She wished for a way to tell women what she wanted, a way to draw them from their fascination with men. It made her wince when one of her friends would say, “I wish I could talk to him like this.”

But now Butch listens to Beehive. I like to watch them, I like to imagine that the true strength in Butch is her softness. This gives Beehive ease. Sometimes it is enough, when Butch loves her, so that she feels small parts of her history falling aside.

When I first go to their table my voice is soft, and I know that I am trying to let them see that I understand. They are sitting across from each other in the booth they always wait to get, the air between them charged with excitement to be out. Their heads lean forward so they are almost touching, talking so intensely that they barely look up to order their drinks. Butch orders for both of them without taking her eyes from Beehive’s face. I try to move away quickly, but Beehive smiles at me, demurely, like a young girl. Suddenly we are involved in the simple conspiracy of feminine women. I don’t want to smile back. It’s hard that they are so ugly, so stereotyped and visible. When I do smile I am trying to cover the deep and insulting pity I really feel. I wish I wasn’t so sure that Beehive has been with men and that her feelings were like mine.

I think after high school she met a boy in church. At first she was bewildered when he called, and she endured the sudden awkwardness of his gropings, wondering how she could feel so little love, gratitude, so little of anything. Everyone was shocked when she left him, including herself. Almost immediately she had an affair with her boss, a married man who small and balding. He must have been gentle with her, like a teacher. He made few demands, an helped her to move into an apartment. Their affair lasted for many years, until she left the job. After that, he stopped calling. It surprised her that she didn’t mind this. She was already friends with Butch.

What Beehive can’t stand are assumptions. She still works as a secretary: and the people in her office believe that her life is lonely and pitiful. She has no trouble keeping her woman lover a secret. Sometimes she feels rage for this and she thinks of bringing Butch to the yearly Christmas party. She always backs down, and the anger remains…anger that people don’t every come close enough to guess that her life has held both drama and passion; that for her Butch’s small chunky hands have a touch soft enough to draw out her pain and leave her without trembling.

I carry another round of drinks to the table. Every time it’s the same. By the fourth round they will begin to argue. Beehive drinks at least four rum and cokes and she wants more, but Butch wants her to eat to counteract the liquor. Beehive is so thin that one drink must make her head swim.

“You’ve had enough,” Butch says.

“Oh, honey, just one more, then we can order.”

“You’re smashed already,” Butch spits out in disgust. “And you do this every time we go out. Last Thursday at Helen’s you were drunk by the time we’d play two hands of cards.”

“I was not. You think you know everything.”

By this time they have the attention of the tables around them. It’s so familiar, the argument that must repeat itself throughout their life together. I am remembering the argument my parents used to have whenever the family went out to eat. My father would drink manhattans and after a few he’d start putting his arm around the waitress. My mother always voiced her humiliation in code phrases: “Larry, don’t you think you’ve had enough to drink?” “Larry, I want to go home.” The same phrases, leading to the same fight in the car ride home. My mother would sit in the back with the younger children. I would sit in the front seat next to my father, watching the road. I was always ready to tell him when to slow down, when to stop. By the time I was ten I knew all the traffic rules. And now, when my lover and I go to restaurants, we often fight, using the cues we have developed. “What do you mean I’m not being reasonable.” She says to me. “You’re not being reasonable.”

So watching Beehive and Butch, I just can’t stand it and sometimes I even feel strongly enough to walk up to the table on some pretext, knowing my presence may silence them for a few minutes. That’s what I do, carrying a clean ashtray I go over and take my time covering the old one, removing it, putting the clean one back down.

“I’d like another drink,” Beehive says.

I’m caught and I look at Butch, who glares at me.

“Would you like to order your food now also?” I ask.

“Yes,” Butch practically shouts.

“Bring the drink first,” Beehive tells me.

“Maybe I’d better give you a few minutes,” I say. The I rush away so they have no time to answer.

Their fight continues—and it is escalating. Butch has raised her voice and Beehive beings to ssshhh.

“SSSSSSSSHHHHHHH!” says Beehive.

“Don’t shush me,” yells Beehive. “I’ll talk as loud as I fucking want to.”

I stand at the small waitress station near the bar, alone. I don’t want to talk to the other waitresses now. But one walks by, carrying a tray of drinks.

“Dykes,” she mouths. “You’d think they’d at least want to keep it down so no one would notice them.”

I flinch. Bigot, I want to call her, but can’t. She has passed by and I am left with silence, my choice. You’ve never fought with your boyfriend in front of other people, I want to say. But I have no right to these words. Part of me thinks she is right. Butch and Beehive are braver than I am.

Butch is getting out of the booth.

“Then find your own way home,” she yells. It is the parting shot she takes before stomping to the door. This is a technique of fighting I also recognize; the grand exit, a bid for control.

I watch Beehive, seeing the lovers I’ve walked out on, catching the missing scene in a film I’ve seen over and over again. She stares down at her drink for a long time. She cries, the tears leaving oily tracks in her make-up. She sucks the ice cubes, one by one. The next time I got to the table she orders a drink. An another. She drinks there for an hour, maybe more. At some point she looks up and am I struck again by her fine dark eyes that are unmarred by tears and are the color of unlit charcoal.

Beehives eyes are very Latin, probably Spanish. Perhaps she has gone to Spain. She would have gone alone, and it is like a dream, a memory she has never shared. I believe this. I can see her there in the heat, held by the dark-skinned gitanos, the poverty, even the dirt. She went years ago, in her late twenties, and she remembers the music and dreams that she was a flamenco dancer in some past life. Her fingers are long and graceful, like the women who dance, turning their hands. Maybe she feels that yearning in her cigarette-stained fingertips. She certainly looks at them, long and hard, while she waits for her lover to return.

The waitresses here believe that Beehive has no money of her own because when Butch comes back she always pays the tab. Then they leave.

I know that their fight will continue and I think that there are two ways that it can go. On some nights when Butch comes back Beehive looks up an expression of such relief that it becomes love. I imagine on these nights that they go home and Beehive fumbles around the kitchen making dinner, trying to pay for her rescue. Butch is grudging about making up, about forgiveness. She gives Beehive a lecture about her drinking, maybe insists that they both go on the wagon for a time. Beehive agrees, but she is thinking of Spain, bottle of vino tinto, and the wonderful loneliness of the beach in Cadiz.

But sometimes the fight goes another way. When Butch comes back to the restaurant Beehive refuses to look up from the table, and speaks in monosyllables if at all. On these nights Butch stops at McDonald’s on the way home to make sure that Beehive eats. Then she puts her to bed and they promise each other that they’ll stop doing this, hurting each other, fighting in public. They won’t go to that restaurant again for a long time, if ever. They rarely fight at home: it’s something about coming out of the house into a world that stares anyway.

Before they leave Butch always puts a one-dollar bill on the table. The check that Beehive has run up is usually thirty dollars. That pretty much means that these two women cost their waitress at least ten dollars in tips. Everyone hates when they come in. I hate it too, what they remind me of, the playground scenes that hold them prisoner, that they were not attractive enough to outgrow.

One night though, they came in and they didn’t fight. I was proud of them. During the meal Butch looked up at me and smiled. My heart leapt in my chest as if at some kind of accomplishment. They still left only two dollars…and for the first time I wondered why: whether it was ignorance or hostility. I wanted to know if Beehive would ever tell Butch about her dreams of passion, of Spain, of flamenco. I wondered if she would learn, as I had, that it was a dance made for partners who passed each other in slow turns…a dance in which you faced the man, but if your partner was a woman you were supposed to give her your back.

Erasures (for all the women breaking silence since Brock)


Erasures

A short-short story

By Lyralen Kaye

 

Cute. That was how it started. She was adorable, sweet, perfect. Then pretty. Good enough to eat. Round cheeks, blue eyes, dark hair, upturned nose. Strangers held her in their arms. She chortled, gurgled, smiled, played “I’m so big”.

Then she was older. Ten, say.

“You’re so pretty.” Her father’s hand in her hair.

“She’ll break hearts.”

Like that.

*                        *                        *

The world a maze of men’s hands, touching. Hair, face, pinched cheeks, pinched bum, the words: baby fat, who wants to hug a picket fence? The words: come here. Or, go give the nice man a kiss. Or, I don’t know what’s the matter with her today.

*                        *                        *

At twelve, thirteen, and fourteen she has no breasts to speak of. Fried eggs on an ironing board, Band-Aids for a bra, slightly larger than mosquito bites, her chest a constant topic of conversation. She does not stuff. She wishes she were a boy.

But she raises blue eyes to her father’s face and asks: for trips, for money, for friends to sleep over, for lobster dinners out, for that pair of jeans, for another ticket to a concert. He gives the girl whatever she asks for.

*                        *                        *

Pounds lost and gained. Dates unrepeated with boys she does not like. And then suddenly, at eighteen, she is beautiful. Older men follow her with their eyes. Her body is curved, and she wears cotton dresses, sheaths over the slender planes of her body, and, thinking of liberation, no bra. When she walks down the street, there are whistles, catcalls. Sometimes she smiles, sometimes she clenches her fists.

*                        *                        *

At work she is fired twice for refusing to stay after hours. Male teachers give her A’s, then casually mention their private retreats in the mountains, in the desert, by the sea. Her body is cold under their hands. When she climbs on top, she can feel something, hot and heavy as a blow.

*                        *                        *

At twenty-five she sues the boss that puts his hands on her body, settles out of court for enough to call it a win. She wears loose clothes, carries mace, goes to marches, pays her own way, sleeps only with women. But sometimes, when her lover calls her pretty, she turns, her eyes a field of accusation and pain. She drifts beyond all reach; she comes back crying. In the world, she watches how she walks, watches how she smiles, trying to erase cute, erase pretty, change the definition of beautiful.

 

My Mother and the Nun


My Mother and the Nun

Written in 1997

By Lyralen Kaye

 

My mother was 37 when she fell in love with a woman, the same age I am now. It was 1974, I was 14, and the woman my mother fell in love with was the principal of her children’s new grade school, a nun in the rather modern order of Saint Francis, who also happened to be her boss.

As if this wasn’t complicated enough, I had become infatuated with a girl at the same school, an Italian madonna with dark sloe eyes, olive skin, and wide hips–a girl whose body felt soft against the hardened muscles of my swimmer’s arms whenever I found an excuse to hug her. I had had crushes on other girls all through grade school, but at 14 sex was exploding in my body, and for the first time, I felt a crush as warmth, desire to touch.

Of course, I told no one.

I wonder now if my mother was discovering the same feelings, but that June, as I graduated from grade school and my mother applied for the job as secretary to the principal, all I thought about was being accepted by this new group of friends.

Then, though she hadn’t worked for 15 years, my mother got the job.

*                        *                        *

That summer, she and I fought all the time. I wanted to hang out with my friends on summer days, to sit beside my Italian friend at night and light my cigarettes from hers. My mother wanted to keep me home, wanted me to go to the pool with her and the other children, wanted me to become a life guard, something she herself had never been able to do.

“I’m not you!” I screamed at her over and over again.

I had always been unpopular. This summer things had changed. I had changed schools, and I knew I had a chance with the girls, even though the boys still didn’t like me. My mother was my adversary, the one who stood in my way.

*                        *                        *

Just before school started for the following year—high school for me, yet another new school—Sister Joyce, my mom’s new boss, and a group of other nuns came to our house. I watched, incredulous, as my mother sat among them, a child’s eagerness spreading across her tense features. What was she discovering? I knew she would tell me nothing, so I watched, memorizing everything about her.

There was tension, that day. Joyce’s past familiar—I would say lover, but I doubt in convents they can afford to be so open—spoke sharply to my mother, biting out each word. But Joyce smiled with love, and my mother, always shy, sat in the warmth of that smile like a loved child who knows she will be cherished, who knows she has been found.

“Weird”, I thought. “Really weird.”

Still, I understood what was happening. The night before I had hugged my Italian friend in the tent in our backyard, and now I looked for reasons to cry so she would hold me.

“Oh my God, I’m gay,” I’d thought when her hand touched my shoulder.

I tried not to think that my mother was, too.

But not thinking didn’t help me.

*                        *                        *

I started high school only a week later, at an all-girl Catholic school twenty minutes from where we lived. I was glad to be away from boys and what they thought of my mind (too sharp), my face and body (they called me a dog), my neediness, my inability to protect myself from their anger and cruelty. I had no true interest in any of them outside of a friendly competition, but I wanted a boyfriend the way I wanted to smoke cigarettes, proof against mockery, against being different, against something completely visible that only I couldn’t see.

*                        *                        *

My memories of that year are a slide show: my mother’s deepening interest in Sister Joyce, their kisses, their bodies changing in relationship to each other, to all of us children, and to the space of the occupied world. Contrasted with this was high school, a respite, a brief fragment of peace: no barking, no name-calling, no notes hung on my back, no circle around me on the playground, tightening like a noose.

I return, playing the same scenes over and over—my growing friendships with other girls, the polyester uniform and green and gold saddle shoes we wore, the demerits I was just beginning to acquire. But with all these memories, there is one that stands out in stark relief; and it is a memory of my mother.

The night is a Friday. My mother works for Sister Joyce five days a week, and, with typical efficiency, she makes Joyce’s life easier in every way she knows how. But work is not enough; they have begun to see each other after school lets out, and on weekends. That year, their first, Sister Joyce begins to come to our house.

On this particular Friday the family has eaten dinner, Sister Joyce is over, and I want to attend a basketball game at my school. So the three of us—Joyce, my mother, and I—get into the station wagon. I sit in the back seat and stare out the window, spacing out like a good adolescent, answering only the questions they address directly to me, which are not many. They are absorbed in each other. My mother’s hair has been cut short, and though her face is a perfect oval, feminine and pretty, her predilection for long shirtwaists and tailored clothes, combined with the new hair, conspire to make her look like a nun. Later, I will learn that lesbian couples have this tendency, to blur styles and to resemble each other, but at 14, as we turn toward the convent to drop Joyce off and I look at my mother’s short, frosted hair, I don’t think of this at all. I think, Get it over with, will you. I don’t want to be late.

We pull into the driveway of the convent, and Sister Joyce says a short good-bye to me, a long one to my mother. The car is dark, only the lights of the dash shining dimly upward toward their faces. When Joyce bends toward my mother, her short veil falls forward, but not enough to obscure my view. Unselfconsciously, without shame, she kisses my mother on the lips. I see their four lips as simple physical objects. I watch as they press together, smooth out; I see my mother look into Sister Joyce’s eyes. And in that one moment the world changes. The skin on my body begins to tingle; I can feel each separate pore. And I am frozen; when Joyce gets out of the car I can’t move, not even to get in the front seat with my mother. She has to yell my name three or four times before I get out of the car, slam the door, and place myself on the vinyl as far away from her as possible.

I sit there, my thoughts moving so fast I can’t catch them. My body is still tingling, but I am aware of my legs as unattached; I must order them to cross and uncross. My mother is a lesbian and I have had exactly three months free of mockery, free of boys, and maybe that is all I will ever have. Because I am a lesbian too, and I don’t want to be, I don’t want to be like her, I don’t want to be made fun of, or to be different, and I am, I am different, not just smarter, or too needy, or too scared to punch one of those stupid boys.

I may be mocked for the rest of my life.

I may be just like the mother who has never defended me against my father, who tells me I’m pretty, but when she thinks I don’t notice looks at me as if she’s trying to understand what’s wrong; who is cold, and feminine, and tense, and beginning to soften.

I say good-bye to my mother when I get out of the car, and then I slam the door as hard as I can.

The lights inside the boys’ gym are bright, a shock after the dim underwater glow of the car. Cheers, and screams, and noise, lots of it. A group of girls calls to me, and I climb through the stands to welcome, but I am floating through the lights and the noise, up somewhere in the vaulted ceiling, and I have to watch the other girls to know when to stand or cheer. Mostly, I’m quiet, and my mind is occupied by lips, meeting. I have never seen my parents kiss, and when my father reaches out to hug my mother, or pinch her, or tease her, she frowns and moves out of reach. Just as I do.

In the middle of this, one of my friends grabs my shoulders from behind, and, in the excitement of the game, hugs me. I have never been so tense. I think the girl is a lesbian, like my mother, like Joyce, and she had better leave me alone or I will deck her.

The next week, at school, I avoid this girl. I can barely say hello, and we were starting to be close. I can’t call her, can’t talk, won’t make plans, and though I know, even at 14, that this is cruel, even wrong, I can’t stop myself. I want to. I am not an unkind child. But I think if that girl touches me again I will die.

It takes me three years to apologize to her, and when I do, I can’t explain.

*                        *                        *

In all the years of my adolescence, the closest my mother and I ever came to talking about her relationship with Joyce was during a fight. Even when I walked in on them kissing in the king size bed in my parents’ bedroom, even after Sister Joyce had taken up residence in that bed most weekends, and my father, in his slow push toward the front door, had started sleeping in the den, we didn’t talk. But during this one fight—I was 17 by then, and dating boys to prove I was not who I was—I yelled at my mother, “At least I’m not a fucking lezzie!”

I remember the shocked vulnerability on my mother’s face. I remember it because our fights were endless by then, and she never gave in. Neither did I. But when I said that she stopped fighting, told me we needed to talk, that she loved Joyce but … and suddenly she could say nothing. What could she say and not lie?

I wanted to know if they got genital. I told myself that was all I needed to know.

*                        *                        *

Once my mother told me that she didn’t like to talk the way I did, to analyze and have deep conversations. I hated her for saying it, and more for it being true, but I was also grateful. It was an honest thing to say, and it let me know that I was alone in my searching, that she could not help me.

*                        *                        *

Ten years after my mother first fell in love with Joyce, I came home from Europe with hairy legs. I was twenty-four and had already had my first serious relationship with a woman; my mother had left my father, but Joyce had been transferred to another convent because of rumors about their relationship. She and my mother no longer spent weekends, talked on the phone, or took vacations. Their relationship had ended.

Of course, I had told my father and the older kids I was bisexual—as I then called myself—four or five years earlier, but I hadn’t told my mother. She found out by reading letters I sent to my sister.

One night, when we were alone in her townhouse, sitting on the couch, she reached over and tugged at the hairs on my legs.

“You bisexual,” she said. Then she gave me one of her shy smiles.

I was the one who didn’t know what to say. “Maybe I am,” I finally answered.

“I know.”

There was this strange silence.

“Well, what about you and Sister Joyce?” I asked.

“We were soul mates,” my mother said. “I’ve never had a friend like that before.”

It was the most she had ever said, the most she ever would say.

*                  *                  *

Now she is married to a man, and last June I married a woman. I am the same age she was when she fell in love with Joyce. She did not attend my wedding, but I was thinking of her, and the ways that I have always completed her life. I thought of the answers I wanted and she couldn’t give me, the answers needed by an unpopular 14 year old girl, and I wondered whether marriage, or writing, or even activism has helped me to become a woman who is less her daughter. Sometimes, in this vast intolerant world of ours, I think I am still sitting in the back seat of that station wagon watching a kiss, knowing what it will mean for the rest of my life; and I am afraid. Then I remember the softening of my mother’s face, and I know that my marriage is the furthest thing from silence. Last June I bent into a kiss of my own, and it was my choice, and it is my answer.

 

 

I found this yesterday, and decided to enter it into a contest. Still my true story, after all these years.

Originally published in Girlfriends Magazine and an anthology of stories by children of LGT parents.

Feel free to share.

 

Run from Fire, Reviewed


I am very grateful to the anonymous reviewer on the Black List who made me feel my whole writing life was worthwhile, following a downer of a week. And to Nitza, Kyle, Elizabeth and Terry of the Writers Lab, who plucked me out of the universe and gave me the opportunity to become a screenwriter. And to Tina, who spent half her life working to end violence against women…and then helped me figure out the knots in this story. Okay, so there’s a long list of people to whom I am grateful. And they help with this: Every artist has to believe in herself whether or not anyone else does. Some days, there’s manna from heaven.

For today, just this day, here’s mine:

RUN FROM FIRE by Lyralen Kaye

Era:

Present Day

Locations:

Essex County, MA

Budgets:

Medium

Genre:

Crime Drama, Family Drama, Crime Thriller

Logline

An advocate for rape victims is put to the ultimate test- when she breaks a local fireman’s reign of terror, his violence turns to her, and changes her from advocate to client.

 

Strengths:

This script is phenomenal. Colleen is a brilliant central character– ultimately utterly believable, with a troubled heart who will always put her clients before her own well being. And this script then puts that kind of a character to the ultimate test. It is extremely hard to read, but in the best possible way. The pacing is fast and slow in just the right places– the emotions are visceral and raw. Jeremy is the perfect counterpart to her almost Don Quixote complex and when their relationship nearly breaks it feels completely real. The quiet-turned-loud racism of Essex County is pitch perfectly considered in this script and skewered precisely. There is an anger in this script that is palpable but it drives the reader through it. The stage directions are well considered– when something as specific as the rape of the protagonist occurs, it must be described carefully so any actors involved know the level of emotional and physical commitment required for such a scene and there is just enough here to inform but not dwell. This is heart pounding realistic drama at its best. The flashbacks are just right– raising the right amount of dramatic questions about the past at the appropriate times and paying them off at just the right times. The title is evocative & thought provoking, considering the content.

Weaknesses:

There is very little to fix in this script. It could possibly go with a bit of a dialogue trim– the writer could have a read through just to make sure individual bits of dialogue don’t feel awkward in the mouth, but that’s a fine tuning thing. There’s only one line that really clanged in the entire script– the “Black Lives Matter” line just rang a little false, but the overall intention in the scene is good. Really, these bits are all related to specific taste. By the time this script would be shot, they would be solved. Wonderful job.

Prospects:

RUN FROM FIRE should be made. No question. In the sea of ultra-macho Massachusetts police corruption stories, this one, with an utterly watchable and complicated female protagonist who any actress in the mood to win an Oscar would jump to play, deserves to stand above them all. Now.

Pages:

111

 

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