Friday, June 23, 2017

My Superhero Husband Fights Homophobia in Coney Island

Last weekend, David and I decided to check out the annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade.  We hadn't been before and both had heard great things.

When we got up that Saturday morning, it was pouring rain.  David and I had not had a Saturday morning where we were able to sleep in and not go running to some appointment in months.  We listened to the rain and talked about our plans for the weekend and the coming weeks (also jam packed with parties, events, work, etc.).

As the downpour continued, we checked our weather app on our phones a few times.  It looked like the rain would stop just in time for the parade.  I was hesitant and thought maybe we should just stay home, but David insisted.

We grabbed some sandwiches and hopped on the F Train.  In less than 30 minutes, we got off the train into a sea of costumed people all standing in the station waiting for the rain to pass.  David grabbed our camera and started shooting right away.  We both have cameras and started our own photo company as a side gig.  David has been modeling and it helps for us to be able to light and take our own shots for his portfolio.  We have moved beyond beginner and are starting to get some paid gigs.

After getting photos of most of the people in the subway station, we decided to brave the rain and find a place to watch the parade.  As we jogged through the rain, we noticed a spot that had some openings.  David and I approached the group.  We saw a pack of photographers.  David asked me if he could go into the barricades and shoot with them.  I pointed out that they all had press passes and said he could try his luck.

David proudly marched in through the barricades with his camera around his neck.  I didn't find out until three hours later that one person kept telling the police officers David needed to leave because he didn't have a press pass.  All of the other photographers seemed to welcome him as a member of the unique pack of artists.  The other thing that happened surprised me.

It is important to understand that the Coney Island Mermaid Parade is a parade that celebrates art, uniqueness, culture, fluid sexuality, and people from all walks of life.  The people in the parade are of all genders, sexuality, colors, shapes, and sizes.  Over and over again, people in fabulous costumes would stop to get their photo taken by the group of photographers, and these photographers would utter quietly to each other that the person was a "homo" or "fag" and decide not to shoot them.  This was especially prevalent among the men that these photographers perceived as gay. If the subject was a woman, especially one who was scantily clad (there were quite a few of them who wore very little), it was fine.  They were happy to shoot some tits and ass.  David was surprised and a bit hurt by this.  When he told me, I was too.

So, what does my superhero husband do?  He goes above and beyond to photograph every person there.  David decides to spend extra time on the few men who these ignorant photographers thought were gay or gay looking.  David has no idea, just like me, whether someone is gay or not.  We frankly don't care.  We celebrate all people and their fabulousness.  Bring on the costumes, cover us in glitter, sashay all you want and we will say....yaaassss mama, you go girl, bring it dude, and whatever else we can to embrace you for who you are.

The only group we knew were gay included our friends.  We were ecstatic to see them there.  We are proud supporters of Gays Against Guns (GAG on that, will you).  I'm proud of David.  Although confronting the photographers would have resulted in his removal from the photographer section of the parade, at least he was able to show some love to people that the homophobic old fart photographers (who all happened to be male) were to insecure to photograph.

We can all do something to show our love for people different than us.  Even Jesus said:

"Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

If you want to look at all of the photos that David took of the Mermaid Parade, check out our the Shoen-Ukre photo share website:

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

So which one of you is the husband and which one is the wife?

Last night, my husband David and I had the privilege to speak to a class on sex, ethnicity, race, and gender at the School of Public Health for the State University of New York at Downstate (SUNY Downstate).  We were invited by the professor of the class who is on the board of the organization where I work.

David and I were there to talk about our story and how we fell in love. The students were there to learn about gay relationships in a setting where they could ask questions without fear.  One of the questions we were asked, which we have been asked a lot by small kids, was:

I understand that you are married, so which one of you is the husband and which one of you is the wife? 

Now it's easy for a gay person to get offended by this question.  David later admitted that he was offended saying, "why would someone even ask that, don't they understand?"

As I looked at the class, I related that the same question had been asked by my four year old nephew who had been the ring bearer in our wedding.

My older brother and his wife were so shocked that he asked it and then tried to apologize and cover it up.  I raised my hand to stop them as I hugged my nephew Christopher and explained:

"Uncle Eric and Uncle David are both husbands.  We don't have to have a wife or a mommy in our relationship to be happy."  

As I relayed this story, I realized that there are probably many reasons why someone would ask this question (or think it but not dare ask it).  One of the biggest reasons is that we as gay people are fighting to not be assigned a gender and a role all of the time in our relationships.  

Society has said that a marriage must have a man and a woman, a husband and a wife, or one who is nurturing and one who is not.  In my own family, my dad works a job outside of the house and brings home the money while my mom does all of the cooking, cleaning, organizing, laundry, raised the kids, sewing, gardening, ironing, shopping, and other household chores.  

In glbtq organizations, we frequently ask people which pronoun they wish to use and how they want to identify.  

Unlike earlier times in my life, I was reminded that not everyone wants to fit on the traditional gender/role spectrum.  

I chose to respond in a way to hopefully help this student understand:

"David and I both identify as men.  We are both attracted to other men.  We are both husbands in our relationship.  Every relationship is different. In some, there may be a relationship where one of the couple identifies as the wife and the other as the husband.  Other relationships have a partners who identify as dominant and submissive, masculine and feminine, top and bottom, or male and female."  

"As gay people, we want to be seen as two people who love each other and are in a committed relationship.  We want you to stop assigning a role to us and let us love each other in a committed way regardless of the role we play in our relationship." 

"David and I consider ourselves masculine, but we sometimes can be feminine too.  We both cook, we both clean, we both care for each other, do the laundry iron, and even both are sexually versatile. That's us, but you can't apply who we are to all gay relationships."

That was just one of the interesting questions that we were asked, but it was the one that affected us the most.  It was clear that people in the class came from all walks of life and had many different levels of experience with gay people.  We were honored to be able to expose them to our life and to try to provide them with experiences that will make these students better health care professionals when they graduate so that they can work alongside us to make our community safer and healthier for all individuals regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.  

Saturday, June 10, 2017

A reset. Organizing and de-cluttering

Saving things for future use is in my blood.  I grew up on a small dairy farm in northern New York.  The barn and house were both built over one hundred years ago.  They both always had something that needed fixing.  My parents are/were very careful with money.  We tried to reuse things and save spare parts and extra cloth, rope, pipe, grease, etc for when it might come in handy.  Because of this, my amazing mother is a master at making an abundance of random things fit in small spaces, logically, in ways that you can find them, but also look attractive to the outside world.

I'd like to think I'm really good at this too.  I'm no where near the master sensei level that Momma Shoen is, but I try really hard.

Having grown up this way, and having this skill, also means that when my house/home/apartment/car is a cluttered mess of things, I go a little bit crazy.  I love my husband, who appreciates this art/skill, but has yet to master it.

I say this because during the past two months, our apartment has gotten out of hand.  Although David, my husband, has kept the floors swept, the rugs vacuumed, the shower, sinks and toilet scrubbed, and the kitchen in order, there are little things everywhere.  Surfaces were covered in books, papers, boxes, things we needed to put away, etc.

Yesterday, I had one glorious day to myself.  I needed to feel like my house was in shape again so I could focus on the rest of my life and getting that in order too.

I started by getting the laundry and dry cleaning dropped off to be done at the Chinese laundry on our block.  I then put up two separate shelves that we had been holding onto.  Then I took the things off of the floor and end tables and put them on the shelves.  I emptied three baskets and re-organized things in a way that made sense.

Next I tackled our bedroom.  Both of us have two bureaus.  The tops of the bureaus are gathering spots for mail we need to respond to, papers we need to file, our watches, wallets, sunglasses, receipts, cameras, headphones, chapsticks, photos, hair products, etc.  Twice this week, one of us had knocked a pile of things on the floor as we tried to get ready for work or find something.

To tackle this task, I put an old blanket on my bed and took everything off all four bureaus.  I then moved them, swept around them, wiped them down with a clorox wipe, and then began the organizing.  

At the end of the day, I had organized not only our living room, but also our bureaus in our bedroom, and the storage section of our car.  This made me feel so good.  Waking up today, I look at every part of apartment and smile.  There is still more than can be done (there always is), but just getting the things that were bothering me the most organized helps me focus on what else I can do.

My short directions for getting organized:
1.) Determine what you need and what you don't need (donate or throw out what out what you don't need).
2.) Make sure you have appropriate space for all you have (if you don't then you have to get rid of other stuff).  I find that having a basket, box, or container to put like items in helps them stay together.  I use twist ties, rubber bands, boxes with the lids cut off, mugs, hooks, etc. 
3.) Set out everything that you anticipate going into one certain area (a shelf, a bureau, a box, etc).  
4.) Put like things with like things.  Consolidate when possible (half used lotions can be poured together, etc.)
5.) Clean the space before you put things back.  You don't know when it will be empty again
6.) Decide what things are most important and should be most visible.  It helps to know which things you use most often.  
7.) Start with the big stuff and then put small stuff in.  
8.) Don't be afraid to be creative.  It's ok to stack things on top of each other and to store things under beds, tables, etc. Use hooks, magnets, string to tie things, and thumbtacks to place things on walls of cabinets or hang them from the top inside instead of just stacking things from the bottom and relying on that limited space.  
8.) Don't try to tackle all spaces at once.  It gets overwhelming. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Worth every penny - A trip north

My parents have been extremely supportive of me for most of my life.  They don't always agree with my decisions, but they have proved over and over again that they love me.  The last time I saw them in person was at Thanksgiving until just two weeks ago.  Now that I'm in Brooklyn, it takes almost a full day to drive and see them.  There are no airports near by.  I decided, in spite of worrying about money right now, that I was going to see them on Memorial Day weekend.  Fortunately, my husband David agreed to join me.

It was worth every moment of the 6 hour trip up and the 9 hour trip back to see them.  I know they won't be around forever.  None of us will be here forever.  On our way up, David and I stopped halfway to surprise my older brother and his kids with a visit.  We are blessed that the kids love David and he is good with them.  He plays with them so I can catch up with my older brother.

David and I stayed at a cute little hotel in Potsdam, New York.  We met mom and dad at their favorite Mexican restaurant for dinner and were able to talk.  I wasn't ready to go to bed, so David and I followed them to the farm to chat some more.  Mom, David, and I talked until I couldn't keep my eyes open any more.  I then said I needed to go before we fell asleep.  As I left, I was reminded about how different the sounds of home are from the sounds of Brooklyn. There isn't much to see, but you can hear the wonderful noise.  

The next morning, David and I got up early and drove back out to the farm to cook breakfast and eat with mom.  She, of course, had been up for hours and already baked muffins.  It was so relaxing and rejuvenating to just sit on the bench in our country kitchen and chat while watching the birds at dad's bird feeder.  I needed that recharge after some stressful months at work.  Sometimes only a mom's love can do that.  

In the early afternoon, I finally brought David to meet my grandmother.  Although I came out to her in our Christmas card, she had yet to meet David.  She was even more welcoming than I anticipated. It was a pleasant surprise.  David was very quiet, as he normally is meeting someone for the first time.  Still, I'm happy to have crossed that bridge and don't have to hide him or me from her anymore. 

That night, we had dinner with Dad and Mom again and then breakfast the next morning with just mom.  David and I loaded up a cooler of home grown beef, co-op butter, home-made applesauce, home grown berries, and everything else my mom foisted on us.  It made for a lovely week of fun cooking when we got home.  

As I drove back to Brooklyn, David and I listed to the cast recording of Come From Away.  I realized that I have much in common with the Newfoundlander's (I am an islander) in the show.  We both come from places that are a bit rough around the edges and not as modern as other parts of the world. We love, we give, we work together, and we survive there.  I hope that Newfoundlanders feel the same way I do when they go home to Gander or the surrounding towns. 

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for helping me recharge and bring a bit of home back with me to Brooklyn.