DESERT LIVING

What kind of crazy person moves to Arizona twice in one lifetime, both times during the month of July?  That would be me.

 

My first stint in the dessert consisted of two years in Tucson, about ninety miles south of where I now sit.  I came here for graduate school, moving six weeks before classes started in order to house and dog-sit for former professors of mine whose kids I’d babysat in college.  They generously let me stay in their beautiful home while they spent a six-month Fulbright term in Santiago, but with them gone I didn’t know a single person in Tucson.

 

That summer was hard, as I’d known it would be—but there’s knowing and then there’s experiencing, and the former doesn’t really prepare you for the latter.  For weeks, the only person who knew me by name was Bob, the yoga instructor whose classes quickly became both sanity maintenance and a reason to leave the house.  My only friends were Penny and Dillon, the pups with whose care I was entrusted; I loved them both, but Dillon, the boxer, and I grew especially close – both of us snugglers, he could sense my loneliness, and took to jumping up into my bed at night.  Sometimes I still dream about sleeping with one arm thrown across his big barrel chest.

 

I was a recently graduated religious studies major and soon-to-be MFA student at the time, so it shouldn’t surprise you that I took the opportunity to read all of the desert literature I could from Terry Tempest Williams to Edward Abbey to the Desert Fathers of the Third Century.  Though writing across space and time, there were threads in all of these writings that united the authors’ meditations on the landscape—its punishing, harsh exterior, its unexpected and breathtaking beauty, and the resilience it demands of its inhabitants.

 

Perhaps it will seem a little melodramatic to extend my own metaphor here, but I gotta say, those desert clichés feel pretty on-base even the second time around.  My current circumstances are very different; far from moving here alone, I moved with my mom and my child (with my wife to follow once she moves her father into assisted living and readies our Houston house to put on the market).  Instead of knowing no one and being friendless, one of my best friends in the world now lives a mere five minute drive from where I live, after seven years of long-distance friendship.  As before, I will be entering a new school community, but this time as a faculty member instead of a student.

 

And still—it’s hard.  It’s hard in ways that have surprised me, and by which I feel somewhat embarrassed.  After all, I have buried a parent, weathered my spouse’s cancer diagnosis and treatment, adopted a child, and written two books; I have done challenging things, things that feel more justifiable to me in their difficulty.  But here I am, using a TV tray for a desk, eating peanut-butter-filled pretzels out of a bowl and watching the summer lightning storm play against the sky, and wishing this were maybe a little bit easier.

 

But I didn’t choose this for easy, or simple, or routine.  I chose it precisely because I knew it would challenge and stretch and expand me, which it is.  During my first summer in the desert, my friend Kate sent me the following excerpt from Anne Carson’s brilliant work Autobiography of Red; thirteen years later, I find myself leaning on that final line once again:

 

  1. SCREENDOOR

 

His mother was at the ironing board lighting a cigarette and regarding Geryon. Outside the dark pink air was already hot and alive with cries. Time to go to school, she said for the third time. Her cool voice floated over a pile of fresh tea towels and across the shadowy kitchen to where Geryon stood at the screendoor. He would remember when he was past forty the dusty almost medieval smell of the screen itself as it pressed its grid onto his face. She was behind him now. This would be hard for you if you were weak but you’re not weak, she said and neatened his little red wings and pushed him out the door.

 

SIX

Dear Shiv,

This week, you turned six.  Six feels like a big deal—suddenly, we need two hands instead of just one to hold up the right amount of fingers to reflect your age.  And this birthday feels even more significant, of course, because it’s happening right on the eve of our family’s big move.

This kind of change, the kind we choose, reminds us that we live into an unknown future, that we can’t predict what comes next.  It’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking otherwise when we are going about our usual business, but the truth is that life can change in an instant, in all kinds of ways and for all kinds of reasons well outside of our control.

Six years ago, your Gigi and I were on the cusp of another big change; we stood in the room as you came into the world, red and swollen and, blessedly, healthy.  You had been promised to us but were not yet ours—for legal reasons, we could not assume guardianship of you until forty-eight hours after your birth, and we were keenly aware that the situation could shift from what we’d hoped for to what we feared at any time.  Though we could not keep from falling in love with you, we reminded ourselves that you did not, existentially, belong to anyone but yourself.  And we made a promise that, should we be lucky enough to take you home, our parenting would honor your individuality.

There is a version of the chicken-or-the-egg? debate when it comes to child-rearing; which is more powerful, nature or nurture?  I am no expert, of course, and can base my conclusions only on my own experience, but there’s no doubt in my mind that you came to us with the person we now know as Shiv cocooned inside of you.  We did not create that Shiv; the miracle of genetics and the magic of grace did that.  But, like a geode waiting to be exposed by the right conditions, I also believe that our work to provide a particular kind of environment for you has allowed your true self to shine more fully than it might under other conditions.

This work isn’t always easy—we live in a society so attached to its gender roles that you’ve already learned that it’s easier for you to pass as a “she” than to be a “he” who wears dresses as well as shorts.  But there’s never even been a question in my or your Gigi’s mind that we would help you carve out the space required to live as freely and authentically as possible.  We both understand what it means to possess a truth deep down inside of you that others question the veracity or legitimacy of; we both know what it means to have to fight through a confusing tangle of what you’ve been taught and what you feel in order to come to a place of true self-expression.

The thing is, Shiv, you are way ahead of us.  You know yourself better than almost anyone I know, including many, many adults.  You know what you like, and you like what you see when you look in the mirror, to the extent that a part of me envies you.  But a much bigger part of me is awed by your bravery, your refusal to conform even as you begin to understand more and more what the costs can be.  And as you refuse to turn your hurt into unkindness, as so many in this world do.

We cannot control the rest of the world, and for this reason, some would urge us to be careful, to protect you by having you dull your shine.  And I understand that impulse—I truly do—but I cannot support it.  For your birthday, I asked a friend and former student to create a piece of artwork that will hang in your new bedroom in Phoenix, using the following quotation from James Baldwin:

 

“You have to go the way your blood beats.  If you don’t live the only life you have, you won’t live some other life, you won’t live any life at all.”

 

Six years ago, your Gigi and I were entrusted with the care and protection of your one “wild and precious” life (to quote Mary Oliver), but that life is ultimately your own.  Already we are so proud of how you choose to live it.

 

I love you for always,

Mama

ATTACHMENTS

I feel a little silly admitting it, but I’m sad to be leaving Houston restaurants behind.  Not as much as people, of course, but when you live somewhere for a decade-plus, you become attached to not only the food, but the feel of a place, all of the meals you’ve had there, the various phases of your life that can be measured in, say, orders of the #86 coconut curry tofu from Huynh or cups of chai consumed at Pondicheri.

Over the course of this summer, I’ve been trying to visit favorite haunts for a final time, as much as expenses will allow.  In appreciation of the places that have come to mean so much to me and my family, I present a completely biased, somewhat arbitrary list of places I’ve loved in Houston.  Note: I have not included restaurants of days past, simply in interest of time, but I routinely miss date nights at Foreign Correspondents, solo dim sum outings at Yum Yum Cha, & the bread service at Haven, which, to this day remains my favorite bread service of all time.

 

COFFEE SHOPS/CAFES/WRITING SPOTS:

One of the ways that my Jill and I built writing time into the school year was to have her pick Shiv up from school on Wednesdays so that I could go straight from work to a coffee shop and get a few hours’ worth of writing in before heading home to do Shiv’s bedtime.  As a practice, it worked remarkably well, and had the added bonus of giving me a bit of alone time out in the world, a rarity for me since becoming a parent. 

I used this structure to do a bit of exploring of various spots that might serve my somewhat specific purposes: 15-20 minute drive from my school, offering some type of food alongside beverages, quiet enough so as not to preclude the ability to write, open between the hours of 4-7 pm (a harder qualification to fill than you might think), and affordable, which I designated as $25-30 total for a beverage and a small meal, plus tax and tip.  These are the places I ended up visiting most frequently:

 

  • Pondicheri: anyone who knows me knows how much I love this place. I must have written fully half of my book either upstairs in the bake lab or downstairs in the restaurant (though the latter definitely pushed my affordability window, and they changed their afternoon/evening hours, so I usually only wrote downstairs if I was there for breakfast or brunch).  Both spots boast excellent soundtracks and friendly, welcoming staff who eventually recognized me because I was there all the damn time!  You get one free chai refill, which is very civilized, and the baked goods upstairs are unlike any you can find elsewhere in the city—Indian-inspired flavors with a distinct Houston twist, and none of them are too sweet, which I truly appreciate.  This is also a great place to take friends (see photo above), because they have gluten-free, vegan, and dairy-free offerings.

I recommend: the chai (obvs) – it’s the only chai I’ll pay for in this town –mawa cake (especially if you’re cardamom-obsessed like me) & chocolate-olive oil cake.  Shiv & Jill are big fans of the chocolate-orange brioche buns, which are only available on weekends.  When I bring those home, I am a hero.

 

  • Local Foods: Local (as my students refer to it) has become ubiquitous for good reason – it’s consistently delicious and affordable. I usually ended up at the Village location to write, but we’ve had date nights and a couple of family dinners at the Upper Kirby location.  Their portions are very generous, as are their pours of wine, which this lady appreciates.  It’s the kind of place you can hang around for a while and not feel like you’re in the way, and the menu has enough variety that I could go several weeks in a row and not get bored.  The nightly specials are almost always worth having, and the $5 happy hour wine option is an extra bonus.

I recommend: pork banh mi, Mintade, chicken posole, and when it’s in season, the farro/shrimp salad.  Shiv is obsessed with their homemade potato chips!

 

  • Fellini: this Rice Village spot quickly became a favorite, once I discovered that make an excellent cappuccino. It’s never too crowded, so I was always able to find a table, and when the weather allowed, I could enjoy one of their outdoor patio tables.  Another place with excellent, friendly customer service and their pastry case is a joy to behold.  I would often start my afternoon here and then walk across the street to Local Foods when I wanted to eat dinner, but Fellini offers paninis, salads, and wine if you want to hang around here.

I recommend: mini cannoli, pignoli cookies, and tiramisu if you are feeling particularly decadent.

 

  • Blacksmith: I have a soft spot for Blacksmith, since it’s where Jill & I went immediately after giddily obtaining our marriage license in the summer of 2015. Once the barista learned the reason behind our flushed grins, she insisted that our order was on the house and put double hearts in the foam of my flat white.  Of course I’m going to be a loyal patron after that!  Because of their hours, I only visited here on days when we had some sort of early dismissal from school, or I would put an hour or so here before heading across the street to Mala Sichuan (see below).  Great music and people watching; one of the few places where Montrose still feels relatively Montrose-y.

I recommend: biscuit with marmalade and jam – I am a good biscuit maker myself, and this is the only biscuit I pay money for.  Also, if they have donuts, get one.  Shiv recommends the hot chocolate, with a plain croissant for dipping.

 

  • Mala Sichuan: while it may seem an unusual choice for a writing spot, the nice folks at the Montrose location were always very accommodating of my laptop + chopsticks set-up. Sometimes this girl just needs some SPICY FOOD in her life, and Mala does the trick.  I could get myself a nice glass of white wine, fill my spice craving, and end up with plenty of leftovers to take home (which Jill always appreciated).  On a purely aesthetic note, the restaurant’s interior is killer – lined with dark wood and featuring a gorgeous, two-story mural that covers an entire wall.

I recommend: red oil dumplings, dan dan noodles, mapo tofu, sautéed baby bok choy

 

  • Huynh: I’ve long loved this cozy, family-run restaurant. They’re exceptionally friendly, affordable, and consistent.  Because I would get there early, they’d often seat me in a booth, giving me plenty of room to spread out.  This is another place where I’d end up with leftovers to take home, always a bonus.

I recommend: the aforementioned #86 coconut curry tofu, with broccoli added.  I usually order a pot of jasmine tea on the side—perfection.

 

  • Siphon: this Montrose spot can get crowded, but it’s the kind of place where everyone has set up shop to work and is nice about sharing plugs, juggling space and chairs, etc. I like patronizing this business because they buy cajeta from our friends Lisa & Christian, and carry our friend Becky’s baked goods in their case.  And every barista I’ve ever had here takes pains to make sure they know how to pronounce my name before calling it aloud, which may seem like a small thing, but IT IS NOT.

I recommend: the empanadas here are excellent – really flaky and filling, they come with a really good-and-garlicky chimicurri sauce for dipping; add a house salad and you’ve got a light meal.

 

  • Paulie’s: this restaurant gets great light, which is not a requirement, but is definitely a bonus. They also serve both coffee drinks and wine, and also have a great tea selection, something too many restaurants neglect altogether.  Given my timing, I often found myself eating with older couples or families with young kids, but the restaurant is big enough that I could always spread out and find myself a table.

I recommend: the shrimp BLT, and the eggplant parmesan when they have.  Also, I am not usually an iced sugar cookie person, but the shortbread cookies here are famous for a reason – they are as delicious as they are adorable.  The staff is also great to work with if you want to place a custom cookie order; the cookies they did for my friend Megan’s bachelorette weekend were a huge hit!

 

DATE NIGHT SPOTS:

Some of these include places I/we have taken my mom, or are more like “date afternoon” spots, as Jill and I have discovered that happy hours can make our date outings more affordable.  And some of these choices are quirky/unconventional, but hey, we are people who visited the National Museum of Funeral History for our 16th anniversary.    

 

  • Coltivare: this is a splurge spot for us, but so worth it. What I love about this place is how the ingredients truly are treated with respect and allowed to shine – I’ll often eat something here and think How did they make ___________ taste like that?  If the weather is nice, sit outside and enjoy a view of the lovely garden with one of their distinctive and delicious cocktails.  Their pizzas are also fantastic, and many times Shiv and I would call in a to-go order (which you pick up by knocking on a side door, which feels SUPER sketch) and take the pizzas to my friend Megan’s house, meeting her after work for a different kind of date night!

 

  • Helen Greek Food & Wine: another worthy splurge, I absolutely love the aesthetic of the Village location’s interior – it reminds me of a New York restaurant, which I personally find charming. I appreciate that the menu is limited – they do a few things, and they do them really, really well.  Because of their vegetarian offerings, I’ve brought my mom here as well.  I adore their meatballs, and the loukoumades are like the best doughnuts holes you’ve ever had in your entire life.  The wait staff is super-knowledgeable and will help you navigate the all-Greek wine list, which results in fun discoveries.

 

  • Hugo’s: this is a family favorite, particularly because they have an entirely separate vegetarian menu for my mom to order from. I rarely end up ordering an entrée, because their small plates are so interesting and a wonderful way to try and share a bunch of things.  Funny story—my mom and I have had a subscription to the Alley Theatre here for the last several years, and only once have we ever walked out of a show at intermission.  We decided to go to the bar at Hugo’s instead!  If you find yourself in the same position and it’s the right season, order a blackberry mojito.  You won’t be sorry.

 

  • State of Grace: we haven’t been here as often as I’d like, but the few meals we’ve had have been so memorably delicious that I had to mention it. This is another restaurant whose interior transports me—in this case, to New Orleans.  They carry an amazing oyster selection, which Jill and I appreciate because we are raw oyster people, and their bread service is probably my second-favorite to the aforementioned, bread service at Haven, which is now long-gone.  I also recommend State of Grace’s Sunday Supper, which is ridiculously affordable for the amount of food it offers—a really nice way to celebrate a special occasion.

 

  • Night Heron: I lived literally one block away from this location in college, back when it housed Café Artiste; my house-mates and I used to walk over in our pajamas and bring our own coffee mugs. Now, it’s hard to recognize this swank-but-not-pretentious spot with its bright-red patio umbrellas and international music soundtrack.  Jill and I found the happy hour here fed us well for a very reasonable price, and we both loved the frosé, which is super-refreshing and a perfect balance of tart & sweet.  Also: get the crispy potatoes.

 

  • LA Crawfish: we love crawfish. For the past few years, our Valentine’s Day date has been pounds of crawfish plus BYOB champagne at the LA Crawfish location near our house; we also take our dear friend Courtney here when she’s visiting, as she left Houston for places where crawfish is not a thing.  (We are, I now realize, doing the same.  )  Our friend Christian tipped us off to the garlic noodles, which are addictive, and I like the crawfish fried rice doused in hot sauce.

 

  • Kata Robata: we have a long history with this place. When Jill was being treated at MD Anderson, there were very few decent food options nearby (this was pre-Rice Village revitalization).  If you’ve ever spent a lot of time in the hospital, you know that simple things like a nice restaurant and sunlight can go a long way, so we several times found ourselves at Kata for lunch.  Though dinner here can get very expensive, lunch is super affordable; they have bento box specials, sushi specials, and DELICIOUS ramen.  That ramen was my comfort food while Jill was sick, and the day that we learned Jill wouldn’t have to do radiation, we went straight to Kata and sat on the back patio to celebrate.

More recently, we’ve hit up Kata’s super-generous happy hour, which allows us to fill ourselves up and splurge, but not too much.  This is where we introduced Shiv to sushi, which was maybe a mistake.  He’s also a big fan of the salmon carpaccio, and we all love the fried fish collars.

 

  • 100% Taquito: Jill and I go way back with this place, and we recently returned for old time’s sake and I was reminded that their guacamole is my favorite version, outside of my own. Jill loves their elotes, Mexican-style corn off the cob, with crema, chili powder, and lime, and I have many fond memories of their tortas serving as a cheap college dinner.  Also a fan of the shrimp sopes, and the frozen margarita is solid, and comes in a not-small cup!  We did some World Cup watching here the other day, and the atmosphere was so fun.

 

  • 13 Celsius: I love, love, love this wine bar so much.  It manages to be intimate and feel special without being snobby or pretentious, as I find most wine bars are.  The staff are knowledgable and always happy to recommend something based on my clumsy attempts to talk in wine-language, and Jill and I find that some wine and a cheese plate is a wonderful satisfying combination to fuel conversation or just quiet time together on the sweet back patio.  Also, they have half-off bottles on Sundays, which is the perfect excuse to get together with a couple of friends and day drink.

 

FAMILY FAVORITES:

Though I’m excited to explore new restaurants in Phoenix, one of the things that I’ll miss is having a list of reliable restaurants where I know everyone in our family will enjoy eating.  We are lucky to be in the position where eating out a few times a month is feasible, but a restaurant meal for 3 or 4 is expensive enough that we tend to return to the places we know we can count on.  These are our tried-and-true:

 

  • Dolce Vita: beloved by all, our family has spent much time in this remodeled house and on its patio. From the crazy-good pizzas to the delicious vegetable sides (we especially love the beets), this is the place where Shiv ate mussels for the first time, and once ate as much food on his own as Jill and I did combined!  Our favorite pizzas are the Margherita, Siciliana, Romana, & Melanzane.

 

  • Fluff Bake Bar: owned by our awesome friend Rebecca Masson, this midtown spot is one that Shiv will often request when offered the opportunity to have a special treat. It’s become a tradition to head here after attending performances downtown, or to fuel up at one of the Saturday morning bake sales before heading downtown for a protest.  Shiv swears by the birthday cake, while I love Becky’s financiers and black-and-white cookies.  We usually take a peanut butter cookie home for Jill!  Bonus: parents can get coffee drinks OR beer/wine drinks here, plus there’s a courtyard in the back for running off sugar!

 

  • Giacomo’s: one of the first restaurants we ever took Shiv to, he just appropriately requested it for his sixth birthday dinner. We love everything about this cozy spot, from the friendly staff (who remember Shiv and make him feel special) to the affordable bottles of wine to the favorite small plates that we look forward to ordering: gnocchi alla Romana, eggplant involtini, gamberi al diavolo, ratatouille, mozzarella in carrozza.  All of the pastas are divine, but our favorites are the tortelli di bioleta (Jill’s favorite), cavatappi al cinque formaggi (Shiv’s favorite), and the paccheri pucchini (my favorite).  We’ve always finish off our meal with scoops of gelato, and an affogato for Jill.

 

  • Good Dog: I wouldn’t have expected this to become one of our favorite spots, but with two locations close to great Houston parks (Heights location/Donovan Park; Montrose location/Levy Park), we end up here often. It’s kid friendly (coloring sheets and crayons) but also grownup-friendly (great beer selection), and the food is consistently great.  The irony is that we actually never order hot dogs here!  Shiv’s obsessed with their tomato soup, which comes with a mini-grilled cheese, and I am always trying something new, from their thoughtfully-composed salads to tasty sandwiches like a fish po-boy or roast beef.  Shiv wishes to recommend their lavender lemonade, while I am a big fan of the mint limeade.  And the Heights location has a resident kitty on the patio!

 

  • Morningstar: it’s probably best that we live nowhere near this place, because their doughnuts are the best I’ve ever had.  I am not even a doughnut person, but I crave their sea salt & olive oil doughnut – to me, it is the Platonic ideal of what a doughnut should be.  We have a family tradition, whose origins are somewhat indeterminate, of buying Morningstar doughnuts when we an out-of-town visitor arrives or when a family member comes back into town – an opportunity for celebration, I guess.  I’ve also enjoyed doing writing here a few times, and their shaken beef salad is delicious!

 

  • Pico’s: another restaurant that Shiv has been frequenting since a young age, all four of us enjoy dinner here, and have our standard orders: my mom gets cheese & onion enchiladas, Shiv gets the same, but kid size, I order shrimp Tampico, and Jill gets the ceviche. (We can also recommend the spinach quesadillas, smoked salmon quesadillas, chiles en nogada, & cochinita pibil.)  We order guacamole for the table, and then Shiv proceeds to eat basically all of it.  With a spoon.  Since he could sit up in a high chair.  I adore the house salsa, and their Perfect Margarita (which comes it its own shaker) really is perfect.  Shiv would like to add that there are musicians who play inside the restaurant, starting around 6 pm, which is part of why Shiv loves this place so much.

WHAT I’LL MISS

One thing I feel like I’ve learned over time is that you can’t really experience things before they happen.  That may sound patently obvious, but oftentimes we’re called upon to report our feelings related to an event that hasn’t yet happened.  Whether it’s a graduation, a marriage, a birth, a death, or a cross-country move, you can’t know what you’ll feel until you feel it.

 

I am starting to feel things.  With all of our major logistics in process, my list of immediate tasks has gotten a bit smaller, leaving me with time and space in my day to actually experience my experience.  We are beginning to have “goodbye” meals and coffees and playdates with our people here in Houston, who are, of course, what we’ll miss most of all.

 

The daily-ness of life’s goodness is impossible to quantify, the moments that lodge in our memory often unexpected and somewhat mundane.  When I think about leaving Houston behind, what I feel sorry to be leaving behind comes to me mostly in sensory flashes: grackles shaking their feathers in the puddles that form in the HEB parking lot after the rain, the sensation of being so close to Rice campus and the four years of undergraduate memories it contains, driving home at dusk from our friends’ farm and watching the big Texas sky change colors, the view out the window onto the backyard of the house where Jill was living when I fell in love with her, where we brought Shiv home from the hospital, where we’ve thrown Diwali party after Diwali party.  The kitchen where I really learned to cook.  The oven that’s churned out a ridiculous quantity of baked goods.  The couch where our now-gone dog, Dolly, and cat, Reece, would huddle protectively around Jill during her long slog through chemotherapy.

 

A week ago today, we drove down to Galveston, our last trip down there for the foreseeable future.  I relished the smell and the sight of the shore, the brightly-colored Victorian-style beach homes, the feel of the sand, the sight of the gulls and pelicans, the company of friends and the sleepy feeling of being post-swim-and-sun, full of food, and on a breezy patio.  We are so lucky to have had such a good life here.

 

Knowing that I’m about to leave has allowed me to appreciate my adopted home more: making sure to eat favorite foods, see favorite pieces of art, cross things off the “Houston Bucket List,” and to simply pay better attention to what’s around me.  Since I’m not sure quite what I’m going to miss, I am trying my best to soak it all in.

 

To miss something affirms that you loved it, that it has shaped you, that it’s part of your history, a piece of your narrative.  Maybe I won’t miss the traffic or the construction, the humidity or the mosquitoes, the fire ants or the hurricanes, but I will, without a doubt, miss Houston.

 

PROUD

Last night, at the recommendation of several people we really trust, Jill and I watched Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix Special “Nanette.”  If you know us, you know that we don’t really watch TV—we only got a Netflix subscription a few months ago and rarely use it—but I’m so glad we made an exception for this.  Gadsby’s work is like that of no other stand-up comic I know, and I can’t remember the last time I watched an artist be quite so brave on stage.

 

At one point, Gadsby speaks about her own shame in the present tense, a shame that isn’t intellectual, but an emotional remnant, a default piece of programming that cannot be so easily undone as the mind might like.  As I listened to her, I realized that, despite every indication otherwise, I do still carry shame about my queerness.  I tell a lot of lies of omission, particularly in conversations with strangers—“we” instead of “my wife and I,” that kind of thing, and though I had previously convinced myself this was about convenience, I’m not sure that it isn’t also about embarrassment.

 

Pride month just ended, and I’ve been thinking a lot about what it does or doesn’t mean.  I still get an internal thrill to see the rainbow banners hanging in downtown Houston, but while the experience of Pride can be cathartic and important, it’s easy to sometimes feel like we get our month, and that’s it.  Enough talking about that!  You had your month, shouldn’t you be grateful?  There also plenty of important critiques about the commercialization of Pride, reminders that Stonewall was a riot and that being mainstreamed isn’t necessarily a good thing.

 

Three years ago, Jill and I went pretty mainstream—we got married, six days after it became legal to do so.  It was a joyful occasion, every bit of it, but even then I knew that our new access was no panacea.  I worried, and it seems rightly so, that others would decide that it was.  Game over!  All done!  LGBTQ achievement unlocked!  But it doesn’t take much more than a glance at the news to realize that we’re not even close.

 

Even though my family has the paperwork and the legality to back it up, we still encounter all kind of reminders that, despite the clever #loveislove hashtag, our love, our relationship, our commitment, our being, is seen as secondary or derivative or in some way “other.”  I can’t tell you the number of people who have asked, upon learning that I have taken a new job in Phoenix, if Jill would be moving to Arizona, too.  My mom’s neighbor cautioned her not to combine households with us, because, “How do you know they’ll stay together?”  As if we have not been committed and partnered for sixteen FREAKING years and have been raising a child together for almost six.  But you know, just the other day, a colleague referred to my family as a “lifestyle,” so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

 

These examples may seem small, minor in comparison to the legal status we have now attained and the rights we enjoy.  Believe me, I am grateful for the latter—but I’m also mindful that I should have had them all along.  As a nation, we should have learned by now that the changing of our laws does not equal the changing of personal sentiment, habit, or bias.  As a culture, we are still very, very attached to categories of gender; we are still deeply entrenched in our expectations of what is considered a “norm,” and still very much convinced that normal = good.

 

Which is what I really believe makes Pride so important.  We still have it, not because we’re “done” and not so straight girls can dress provocatively while ALSO getting “I’m so woke” bonus points, but because Pride is a difficult thing for those of us who are queer to feel, let alone broadcast.  For some of us, or in certain situations, it is physically dangerous; it can threaten our livelihoods and compromise our health; it can tear apart our families and wreck our support systems.  And for all of us, to some degree, shame is a factor.  Which is what makes being proud such a radical act.