Archive for August, 2014


Trust Issues

I was walking my Akita and Beagle this afternoon, and a slightly rusted blue van with a harried, somewhat disheveled woman pulled up next to me. She said she was lost, and asked if she could use my phone?

Something made me hesitate. She hadn’t asked for directions, just the phone, and she seemed quite rushed and frenzied, and something just didn’t feel right so I lied after automatically reaching into my pocket and said instead that I didn’t have my phone on me. She sped off in the same manner in which she had come up on me from behind.

I felt bad, but I’ve learned it’s important to trust your gut instinct. Still, I hate that we live in a world where we can’t even hand over our phone to a stranger. I live in what is a pretty safe subdivision in the western suburbs of Chicago, and I think the crime rate is fairly low in comparison to other areas, but we’ve had a lot of construction, and re-roofing of houses lately following a storm earlier this year, and there have been a lot of strangers here, there, and everywhere.

I have no proof that she wanted to steal my cell phone, just the gut feeling that “something wasn’t right in the state of Denmark.” This, however, is not the same world in which I was raised. Where I grew up, we rode big wheels, then later bicycles, up and down our streets without fear of strangers, and I believed in the basic goodness of my fellow citizen, yet something has changed in the intervening years.

While on many fronts regarding civil liberties we have made great progress as a nation, we have, as individuals, become more isolationistic. Gated communities have become even more gated to outsiders, and I’m not certain I have an answer to this fear of strangers. Facebook may have brought us closer in some ways to those we’ve never met, but our one-on-one interactions have remained hesitant and untrusting. I’m the first to admit it. I have trust issues.

Spooked

I’m not sure why people are still sometimes afraid of that which is different. My friend Rosie and I recently toured Ireland, and the trip was, for the most part, a great success, but one incident stands out in my mind and continues to haunt me.

Rosie and I ate an amazing dinner at the Market House restaurant which is adjacent to the Abbey Hotel in Donegal, but the restaurant told us that to use the restroom we would have to head over to the lobby of the hotel. I myself have the bladder of a squirrel, and had already made two trips to the restroom during our extended, leisurely dinner on one of the longest days of the year, but after I paid for our meal on what happened to be Rosie’s birthday, she excused herself, and I followed her over to the hotel.

There was some kind of emergency medical technician arriving on the scene, and the hotel clerk looked at me and said, quite distinctly, that the Abbey Hotel was having a “spook” alert. I’m quite certain I did not hear her wrong, and I stood in silent shock, first hand witness to true Irish racism. Rosie is African-American, and I am white, but I’d never before been confronted with true hatred based on one’s skin color. I have, while in the midst of a gay neighborhood, been called a fag by a passing car, but most of the time, I live out my days without directly confronting prejudice. I think part of the reason the quite recent police shooting of African-American youth Michael Brown stirs up so much controversy and strong reaction is that living with prejudice is a reality for a certain subset of our citizens.

During the first five days of our trip, people kind of assumed that Rosie and I were an interracial couple, and we were greeted on the west coast with a kind of curiosity–we definitely stuck out in the very heterogenous white population–but no one said anything, and we were treated courteously. That changed in Donegal, a small fishing town, and I staggered out of the hotel like a drunk, even though I don’t drink. I’m left reminded of the Robert Frost poem, that we have “miles to go before we sleep.”

During my most recent 10 day trip to Ireland, I had the good fortune to visit Blarney Castle and kiss the Blarney Stone (I have the pictures to prove it). I had ridiculed those who rushed to kiss the stone, figuring they were suckers of a good tourist scam, but I have to say that seeing the grounds turned out to be one of the major highlights of my trip. The grounds, including the Poisonous Gardens and the secret wishing well, were beautifully laid out, and we explored the castle grounds over the course of two and a half hours.

As happenchance would have it, the day Rosie and I visited, gay choruses from around the United States were also visiting, including groups from Atlanta and Minnesota, who were also making a trek to kiss the Blarney Stone. A transsexual named Ann introduced herself to us and volunteered to take our pictures, incorrectly assuming that we were an interracial couple, facing the same prejudices she did as a man who lives as a woman. Unfortunately, Ann was not exactly blessed with the ability to “pass” as the other gender, but probably faces a fair amount of prejudice and ridicule on a daily basis. I’ve been told by some that I’m not apparently or obviously gay, and that I can live among heterosexuals invisibly, and this is both a blessing and a curse. At times I’m probably more obviously gay than others, but living in the western burbs of Chicago, I’m careful not to throw my sexuality in the face of others. It’s a Bill Clintonesque “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

I had imagined the Blarney Stone as some kind of boulder or rock outgrowth, and didn’t really envisage it as part of the castle, but it was great fun to stretch out backwards and kiss the stone while being held by a handsome redheaded Irishman. In a strange twist, just before Rosie went to kiss the stone, the guy in charge thoroughly wiped down the wall. It was done with some measure of good humor on his part, and I would have thought, had he been truly prejudiced, he would have scrubbed the wall after she kissed it, not before. We did experience prejudice while on the trip, but that occurred more during the later half of the trip. The Irishman in charge did wipe down the wall after each kisser, but didn’t seem overly concerned with “disinfecting” it, except as some kind of blarney joke. There was a rather ribald humor to the whole expedition, and all the GLBTQ choruses from around the United States dominated the scene, scouting out camp photos in the cavernous rooms as we climbed the stone staircase en route to our thirty second smooch designed to guarantee we would always be blessed with the gift of blarney. I have yet to see how completely I will be blessed with this gift.

I did, however, realize how lucky I am to live in America at this particular time in history. As a nation, we may have “miles to go” yet, but I’m aware that I’m afforded the liberty to “live out loud” if that is what I choose. It may cost me some friends, but it likely won’t cost me my life.