I don't talk about him often. It hurts.
Correction: It is embarrassing, frightening, beyond the realm of decency. I don't know HOW to tell it.
I recently said/did some things that hurt and angered many people who are my online friends. More confusing, I am not sure exactly what I said that was offensive, and the more I tried to explain, the worse it got. (Has that ever happened to you?)
I hit the wall, I said to myself. Yes, this is it. It's been relatively easy up to now... from this point onward, it is difficult.
I have always liked Abraham Lincoln's phrase, the better angels of our nature. As a child, I imagined my better angels flitting around my head, protecting me from harm. I saw them not as my imposing, scary, big Guardian Angel, but as friendly tiny angels, almost pixies. As I grew older, I imagined the Main Better Angel looking like Tinkerbell on Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, which we were too poor to watch in color, so we watched it in black and white. (When I first saw Tinkerbell in color, I was dazzled beyond description.)
I prayed about the situation described above, since I was confused and didn't have a clue. What did I do? Why is this happening? I don't understand, I said.
Tinkerbell flitted above my head, into my consciousness, trilling and twittering at me: Why are you so hard on yourself?
I don't know what I did wrong, and don't know how to find out.
You've come a long, long way, you know...Tinkerbell flitted a minute. Maybe you should talk about your father?
(((cringe)))(((panic))))(((shame))) I can't.
People won't think I am cool, they will think I am backward. They won't like me! They will see everything filtered through these facts, once they are known.
Do you see how you sound? Like somebody coming out. Exactly like that.
Yes! I thought, it does sound that way.
People are already mad at you, and probably already thinking you are backward, Tinkerbell fluttered over my head, so why do you think that will make a difference now? Tell the story, because it's true. Truth is always good.
Yes, I know. But...
The truth shall set you free!
Or at least, I thought, closer to freedom than I currently am.
My better angel/Tinkerbell vanished, and I went digging through the family photos. Okay, it's time.
If you do a search for the word FATHER on my blog, chances are, I have never used the word. There is a reason for that.
My parents were divorced in 1959. I was two years old. My mother tells me that she did not know the extent of my father's racism when they married, and I believe her. The 50s were designed for American white people, even dirt-poor hillbilly and/or shanty Irish white people. In fact, such people have historically clung to whiteness like the proverbial life raft. It was often the only privilege they had.
My parents rarely saw black or other nonwhite people. Segregation technically did not exist in the north, yet was everywhere. Whites often did not see or interact with nonwhite people; they were kept apart in virtually every way. The very subject of race was exotic and strange to them. By the time my mother learned that my father was an extreme racist, she added it to the increasingly long list of things she despised about him. They screamed at each other over everything. My grandmother liked to tell me stories, her favorite involving my mother (who was born disabled) taking a piece of a vacuum cleaner to my father's head.
I don't know the chronology, and have tried hard to put it out of my mind. But I do know that my parents continued to sleep together, long after they married other people (plural). Their love/hate relationship, I understand now, was primarily about the sexual electricity between them...hotter than a pepper sprout. (This extended, as far as I know, even into the 70s.)
When my mother remarried, as she did constantly (not for long), my father would become angry and not visit me, or allow me to visit him. This wounded me beyond telling, I can say now. I was continually furious at both of them for not being like the other parents.
I would go for years without seeing him, and then he would re-appear like clockwork whenever my mother got divorced. He always seemed to have a new Chrysler. He lived in a small town in Indiana, where he continued his protected, segregated life, long after the rest of the world had seemingly caught up. He was more and more shocked by what he saw, when he visited the cities. Going to hell in a handbasket, he announced.
I don't remember when I became conscious, which is scary in retrospect. I do know that I eventually was startled, alarmed, and finally... the pieces came together. But I have to say, I was probably 10-11 years old before that happened. The racism was imbibed, the prejudice, the xenophobia, given to me much earlier. Of course it was. Deborah Mathis once wrote that racism was like an American family heirloom, passed from parents to children, a birthright. Her words shook me, because it was a birthright I did not want, although...I did want my father.
I looked like him, talked like him, had the same gestures, the same laugh, the same coloring. Whenever we hadn't seen each other in a good long while, we would mostly just stare at each other. Our physical and behavioral similarities were hypnotic and striking. He was a large Jackie Gleason-sort of man, taking up far more space than anyone else in the room, a clown and a lover. I desperately wanted his love and his attention, and I never got either one.
The trips from Ohio to Indiana always started out the same way. The radio. Inevitably, a black performer on the radio. I would hear it, maybe sing along, and then... oh. No. "Don't sing that shit," he would snap at me, and then... the stream of consciousness would start...yes, you know why the world is going to hell, don't you? You know why. N-ggers, sp-cs, g-oks, k-kes, and on and on the list would go. I would try to tune it out, try to imagine myself in a little bubble, protected from his evil talk. When I got home, my mother, all hopped up on speed, would extensively interrogate me about WHAT HE HAD SAID TO ME. (Did she think she could undo it?) Of course, I could never agree with things he said, since my mother had taught me opposite values, and yet... I wanted his approval, his love, so desperately, so much.
Left: from Stanley Kubrick's 1971 film, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. (the way I felt while trapped in my father's automobile, for hours.)
The car trip was usually interminable, at some point becoming actually painful and excruciating. I would feign sleep, I would try to change the subject. I would compulsively stop at rest stops, I would burp, fart, eat, do anything... but he would always bring it back to that subject: race, bigotry, the Mexicans (who were migrant workers in Indiana during the summer), the blacks, the 'slopes' (Vietnamese). He could see very clearly that I wanted to change the subject and he wasn't changing it. I needed indoctrination; obviously, my mother had fallen down on the job. Worse, she was teaching me what he called "that racial equality shit." I felt like Alex in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE; forcibly indoctrinated, my ears unwillingly blasted, my eyes propped open wide. I don't want to hear this, I just want you to pay attention to me. And like Alex, I was indoctrinated, brainwashed, changed utterly, in ways both apparent and unapparent.  The subliminal along with the blatant. I heard it all. There is no racial or ethnic stereotype I was untutored in.
I would say to my mother, nothing. He didn't say anything.
My father was proud of a sign he claimed was once at the edge of his county of birth in Indiana: N-gger, don't let the sun set on your ass.
"What do you think of THAT?" He eyed me carefully.
I grunted and rolled my eyes in a superior, hopefully-urban fashion. But that wasn't enough. On and on he would go, in a stream-of-consciousness screed. Finally, he would start the jokes, many that I remember to this day. The family heirloom that Mathis describes, is a fact. I recall Christmas, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, sliced turkey, mashed potatoes, cousins, stuffed stockings, games, racial jokes. I remember Ed Sullivan, I remember Yoko sitting by John in the video of LET IT BE:
"Why'd he marry a goddamn g-ok, anyway?" he shook his head, amazed.
As they do with everyone--memories bubble up without consent ...I can not erase the details of my life, which are laced with racism and with judgment. I hear certain songs, see certain movies... I hear my father's endless racial rants, as surely as I remember his haircut, his Chryslers, his facial expressions, his choice of alcohol. This is part of the narrative of my life.
Even so, nobody said this about him in rural Indiana. It was simply part of the conversation, the air one breathed. You didn't call anyone a "racist" as if that mattered, or as if it constituted a serious criticism... Nobody offered the common-sense, gee-whiz observation that "BT is a pretty racist guy!" as they would now.
Because in that time and place, everyone was. Thus, nobody took notice.
Left: the cover of the Jackson 5ive's album MAYBE TOMORROW.
In my piece on having a black name , I mentioned racist incidents in the classrooms of my childhood, only to be told that such things could not have happened. I realized most people apply the morality of NOW to the morality of the past, and that it is important to tell the truth, tell how it really was. But then, nobody believes you, thinks you are exaggerating, or that your family was the worst. I assure you, my father was not the worst, he blended right in. There are indeed pockets of this country that even in the 70s, forbade children to listen to Motown or read books by black authors. In my father's house, these things were NOT DONE, and to take them on, was to take on my father.
I finally went to the wall for The Jackson 5ive. He would not allow me to bring the record into the house. I screamed, you need to get out of the stone age.
He decked me. I didn't argue again.
The white male braggadocio of the men in my father's family was pretty typical of the times, particularly when a gaggle of these guys all got together. One favorite topic was always the same: that (real? mythical?) time they kicked some black man's ass.  The black man in question was always really big, like Jim Brown, they would say. (I could tell they unwillingly admired Jim Brown, since he was one of the few black men they would mention by name.) It was years before I understood that this was to make themselves look like bad-asses, and it was impossible to know how much of their stories were true; they contradicted themselves constantly, piling more and more on in an effort to look like the baddest white man of them all, John Wayne in The Searchers. Who knew what was real? I told myself, that didn't really happen. But I was scared, and at least once after overhearing their stories, I vomited.
After my marriage to a Jewish man, my father cut me off. After our divorce, he briefly talked to me again. (I will save the story of our bizarre reunion for another time, since it threatens to turn into a monster-sized digression, complete with cocaine abuse and rampant alcoholism: Fear and Loathing in Fort Myers, Florida. ) The short version: Down and out in California, I had burned all my bridges and had nowhere else to go. With trepidation, after years of a stand-off, I called my father. Desperate. I figured, this is the LAST POKER CHIP, and I cashed it.
He asked me where I was. He would send me a plane ticket.
"You know what they said in the Air Force? Everybody in California is either a hot rod or a queer."
Ah, a new obsession had taken hold.
I spent many years in radical feminism, as many of you know. I listened to radical feminists talk about transgendered people as traitors to the cause ("upholders of the gender binary!") for decades, literally. I read books and attended festivals in which this prejudice, transphobia, was acceptable, and just like my father's hatreds, it was part of a segregated and protected world-view. I imbibed it for a long time, as I imbibed the words of my father. It was remarkably the same--my father lived in a white rural enclave, where the actual subjects of his hatred had become almost mythic. Similarly, the trans women considered the Bogeyman, were not crashing the gates that I could see. Where were they? Why are they so dangerous? I held to the party line that trans women were in fact men invading women's spaces, yet also knew that exclusivity is usually the result of being exclusive. For example, my father, finally surrounded on all sides with modernity, put his extreme racism under wraps as he grew older and properly understood that such talk was no longer tolerated in polite company. But the queer-hating took its place, with a vengeance.
THIS, I realized, is the same as it was before: he doesn't actually know any of them, does he?
I didn't see the similarity. Not at all. I had never met a trans person, and you know what? To my knowledge, I still haven't. NEVER. I discovered that I worked with one trans woman, long ago, after the fact.
At the time, I was not aware, not being deemed one of the safe people to tell.
And now, we come full circle to your humble narrator, spittin image of her daddy, terrifyingly enough.
Because, yes, that does scare me. But there is more.
There is a quiet, haunting scene in the movie The Brooke Ellison Story: After Brooke is injured (and becomes paralyzed), she has a dream of dancing. This is not presented as a bleeding-heart, disability-sympathy story, but as a simple matter of fact. She is spinning, spinning, spinning...the dream slowly disappears and Brooke wakes. And Brooke Ellison knows: she is not going to do that. That will not happen.
And I have always wanted to spin. I have wanted to spread justice and righteousness, I have stormed statehouses, demonstrated against presidents and political parties; I have been teargassed. I have carried signs, signs, signs, more signs than anyone should have to carry. I blog about human rights. That is my version of dancing; I would like to SPIN. That is what I wanted. To LIVE the Social Gospel; to spread the Word. I wanted to do it well.
And at some point, like Brooke, we have to say: that is not going to happen. I do not have the ability. I can do something else, but I can't do that.
I have hit the wall, as I said.
For some of us, brainwashing, conditioning and indoctrination runs very deep. I honestly find myself wondering how I have come as far as I have (Better angel/Tinkerbell always reminds me!) with such a background. The fact that I can hear Christmas carols and think of racist jokes from my father, usually amazes the priests I have told. They blink in amazement. They reinforce my feeling that yes, that is rough. That was harsh. (One priest told me he considered it child abuse.) I have only overcome much of this conditioning by making it a priority and living in a racially-mixed area/building (whites are the minority in my building and apartment complex). But in terms of transgendered people? I have not made them the priority I should, and still, as of this writing, have never IN PERSON interacted with any trans people that I was aware were trans. 
When I put the ideology of feminist-transphobia aside, I felt a certain freedom: I do not have to hate these people anymore! It is very freeing and for a Christian, a sense of almost-delirious happiness floods in. Hate is unequivocally evil, and when permitted to love, at long last? It feels like a balm to the spirit. And it is. But this balm, this happiness, was about me and how I felt. Not about them.
And now, I have hit the wall. The delirious happiness of falling in love and honeymooning is over, time to pay the bills. And the hard work has proven very difficult for me to do, or even admit that it needs doing.
I realize it is because as stated above, racism became so culturally unacceptable, even my father had to give it a rest, at least in public and among certain folks. But transphobia IS acceptable. The segregation and the unofficial laws remain steadfastly in place. There is no all-out assault to equal the assault on racism. It is different. We are now scratching the surface, and I see how deep it goes. In myself, too--maybe in myself, most of all. And I didn't even know it, as I would have told you at age 15 that I had successfully repelled my father's pernicious influence. Right!
51 years of social conditioning is a long, long time. Perhaps when my father is gone, when I am gone, and there will be freedom, after the old guard and the old ways have finally died. But in the meantime, I wonder how far some of us who have been so thoroughly tainted can realistically ascend, no matter how hard we try. (I still have no transgendered friends in real life, for example.)
It may not be possible. I am not going to spin. That is not going to happen.
And so, I apologize to my transgendered friends for my offenses, for insulting them, for repeating my clueless brainwashed blather wholesale when exhausted and not paying close attention. But where, I wondered, did it come from? How could this be? And I know: there are some things that we will never be able to transcend. Some damage is, unfortunately, permanent. We may compensate for it, we may learn new ways to deal, we may try "recovery" and yes, we may improve. But it is also likely that these things will be perpetually difficult, a constant trial, always confusing. I am willing to take on this trial, but please know, my friends, it is not easy, since I didn't even know it would be necessary in the first place. I thought I had it in the bag! Ha.
St Ignatius Loyola once wrote about the difference between sin's effects on the righteous and unrighteous. He told us to imagine a house. The unrighteous house is loud, there is much going on, much riches and opulence, and the door is wide open. When the thief arrives , nobody notices. He enters and takes what he wants. He does extensive damage and leaves, not discovered until long after.
The righteous house is locked. It is tended and taken care of. When the thief arrives, there is a great clatter and noise, as he pounds on all the windows and doors. He wants in, and to get in, rocks the house to the foundations, rattles the rafters, howls. It is far more noticeable than the thief's arrival at the unrighteous house. It is terrifying and scary, but the occupants of the righteous house don't let him in.
The righteous occupants are afraid to stick their heads out. The fear, the unnerving memory, the echoes of the noise, all remain. And yes, they will remain for awhile.
And so, I apologize too, for my great noise.
 A CLOCKWORK ORANGE was written by Anthony Burgess, a devout Catholic. During Alex's indoctrination (the object of which is to make him non-violent), he is forced to watch violent movies after taking a drug that makes him physically ill. By accident, music by his favorite composer, Beethoven, is playing during the movies. Afterwards, Beethoven makes him physically ill also, as a side effect.
I think this is a reference to "sins of omission" and "sins of commission"--one result of evil is that memory of evil then spreads to pleasant memories, like music, art, scenery, etc.
 Being from an all-white area, my father didn't at first realize that I had what is called a "black" name, but later actually met a black woman with my name. He accused my mother of naming me that just to piss him off.
 The last place this was on public display, that I can remember, was the infamous tape of former LA police officer Mark Fuhrman during the OJ Simpson trial. In tapes played during the trial, Fuhrman bragged about being a cop kicking the asses of 'dangerous black gang members'--and made himself look like a bad mofo while using the n-word hundreds of times. (I recognized the tone of this bragging immediately and had major deja vu.) The actual purpose of these stories (some true, some exaggerated) was to impress the author making the tape, Laura Hart McKinny. Unfortunately for Fuhrman, the whole world ended up hearing the tapes, and it likely cost the prosecution the trial.
 I am aware that I have interacted with transgendered people without realizing it, as we all have.
 Perhaps because we all have a gender, we think we know what gender is, and therefore what it should be for other people. After all, we have found what "works" for us, with a little tinkering and style adjustments, so why can't they?
 This is from Luke 12:39; the Bible often refers to incarnations of evil as "the thief," as did Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix.
 The title of this post is from Sylvia Plath's poem "Daddy."