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If I had to offer a terse summary of the Town Hall meeting last night here in San Francisco, I’d call it an information-gathering session, with a couple of hundred folks throwing out ideas left and right.

The meeting broke into smaller groups, so that everyone’s ideas could be heard, a move that brought out my flee-for-the-hills instinct. Writers like to sit on the side and observe. Oh and judge. But I stuck it out for the greater good. Here are a few notes, though I don’t do shorthand, so, you know, I might have missed a couple of things.

First off, Marriage Equality, last night’s most visible host, is using these town hall meetings all over California to gather up the ideas and collected wisdom of people as they figure out what steps to take next. To that end they’ve created an online survey which anyone can fill out with suggestions. After taking everything into consideration they will announce the next major steps in January.

Marriage rights as an issue has galvanized The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence like nothing before. One sister commented that they see the lack of gay people represented in the No on 8 ads and commercials as a failure, and are committed to raising awareness of gays and their stories, especially in the communities that voted yes on 8. Field trips to Fresno and Orange County, for example. No word yet if they will do so in full habit.

This idea, that gays were not well represented in the No on 8 ads, was a common refrain throughout the meeting.

On that note, and inspired by Harvey Milk, everyone is urged to come out, come out wherever you are. Use the holidays to start a conversation with someone whose views you may not share. Start A Conversation is a website with tips on how to do just that.

Another idea that was brought up often, and inspired a lot of nodding and clapping, was the building of coalitions among all communities that face discrimination. We can’t take our allies for granted, nor can we expect their support if we’re not willing to show up for their causes as well.

Upcoming Events:

Day Without a Gay: December 10, 2008

Tech Meeting: A gathering of techies and their less-skilled friends to discuss the creation of a central website/clearing house of all of the mountains of information regarding the Marriage Equality movement on the web. A cursory Google search will show you the reason why this kind of site is needed. Perhaps modeled after Obama’s website, which was a central clearing house for all of the various local communities organizing for his campaign. Sat, December 13, 2008, 2 pm, Citizen Space in San Francisco. I’ll update this listing when I get more info.

Nationwide Food Drive for Equality: reaching out to both our supporters and to organizations and individuals that opposed us by donating to faith-based food pantries. Underway now until Light Up the Night

Light up the Night
: December 20, 2008: a nation-wide series of peaceful candlelight vigils in shopping districts to bring attention to the cause

Equality Camp: modeled after BarCamps (An ad-hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. It is an intense event with discussions, demos, and interaction from attendees) to “bring together the Netroots, Grassroots, web 2.0 experts and technologies and all stakeholders to create an information system to achieve marriage and equality for all.” This event defies easy summary, or rather defies my skills to do so. Check their website for more details. January 3, 2009.

A March from San Francisco to Sacramento. Just a casual walk over five days or so in March of 2009. Nothing strenuous.

At this point there is no Main Organization, no Fearless and Charismatic Leader to follow into battle. In other words, if you have a good idea, “fucking do it,” our hostess suggested.  Find the group or the action that best fits your style and interests.

A Room or Two in Some Quiet Place

Last night for dinner I made black bean chili and cornbread for the first time ever, and since asparagus was on sale at the grocery store, I pan-fried some for a side. The Manly Fireplug raved about the meal while shoveling down the chili. I’m always surprised when I cook something that turns out well, since I never did much cooking before I met the Fireplug, aside from boiling some pasta. Neither of my parents cooked all that well, and so I’m teaching myself as I go along, with a couple of cookbooks for direction and more than a few mistakes under my belt. Cooking for two is far more pleasurable than cooking for one, and it satisfies something inside me, to give that to him, and to surprise myself now and then with a good meal.

I’ve been reading The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, one of those hard-to-classify books that I might never have read if I hadn’t stumbled across a profile on the author, Lewis Hyde, in the Times, and read the book’s praises by David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith, Jonathan Lethem, and Margaret Atwood.  Essentially the first half of the book explores a few dozen cultures, throughout history, that are gift economies rather than marketplace economies. The second half of the book explores how the creation of art parallels these cultures, and explains why art cannot be given its proper due in a culture “increasingly governed by money and overrun by commodities.” The book opens with a quote by Joseph Conrad, which summarizes his argument:

“The artist appeals to that part of our being…which is a gift and not an acquisition – and, therefore, more permanently enduring.”

He uses Walt Whitman, along with Ezra Pound, as examples of artists who viewed their own creations as gifts to a community larger than themselves. And this quote, which also draws from some of Whitman’s diaries, moved me:

“There is a spiritual path in which the soul ascends in isolation, abandoning all creatures. But this was not the path for Whitman, so hungry for affection and so present in his body. As he grew older Whitman did in fact find a form for his ‘adhesive nature:’ he managed a series of long-lasting, basically paternal relationships with younger men, Doyle being one of them. But to judge from his letters, he wanted more. He wanted to ‘work and live together’ with a man; he wanted to ‘get a good room or two in some quiet place…and…live together.’ He never got it. When he presents himself to the world as ‘like some perfect tree,’ we will be right, therefore, to feel a touch of perfection’s loneliness.”

By reading this I am made more aware of my good fortune, that I have found such a companion. The Fireplug’s favorite story of mine is The Danger of a Twelve-Year Old Girl, which makes sense because the story is pretty much all about him, and since even the Fireplug admits that he can be a tad self-centered. When I reread the story now, however, I am struck by something: that we no longer “teeter at the brink of break-up on a weekly basis.” Something over time has changed, the Manly Fireplug has we both have stopped resisting, and we have settled into something far more comforting.

Even before Prop 8 we had agreed on a long slow engagement, as we still don’t even live together. The insanity of San Francisco real estate throws up a minor obstacle to that goal, though we are headed in that direction, towards that room or two in a quiet place, or at least in one of those sleepy, far-flung, less expensive neighborhoods.

And after we’ve moved in together and measured again our happiness, then we can plan a wedding, which I hope, by that time, will be legal. Obviously I’m driven by a selfish motivation to fight for our civil rights, for how much sweeter will that wedding be, knowing that we in some small part, along with our friends, made it happen?

But my own wedding plans aren’t the sole motivation. I want to fight for something that we can give to each other, and to those who will come after us. I guess it’s as close to a reason I have for keeping this blog for so long. It’s not self-expression I’m after, so much as a desire to give something to others, to give back to the brotherhood that came before me and paved the way, to hopefully make others feel a little less lonely. A lofty ambition, sure, but false modesty won’t do.

I’ll be attending that Town Hall meeting tonight on Marriage Equality and will post an update tomorrow with notes from the discussion. The Fireplug, who works late tonight, will eat leftovers.

Publication Launch

“Miss Michael in the Mirror,” a true story I wrote for my blog, will be included in Fourteen Hills, the literary journal published by San Francisco State University. I’ll read from “Miss Michael” at the launch for the journal’s latest issue, along with four other writers. The event is free; however if you don’t fork out for a drink everyone will think you’re tacky, and I’ll pretend like I don’t know you.

Oh who am I kidding? I’d do anything for seven minutes of adoration. Come on down. Get cultured. Meet the Manly Fireplug.

Press Release:

“Beautifully designed, impeccably edited, Fourteen Hills in one of those handful of literary journals doing the important work of keeping American writing alive and new” –George Saunders

Fourteen Hills Fall 2008 Release Party

Please join us for the release of Fourteen Hills vol. 15.1, an international literary magazine that publishes innovative poetry, fiction, short plays, and literary nonfiction. Fourteen Hills is San Francisco State University’s literary review, committed to presenting a diversity of experimental and progressive work by emerging and cross-genre writers, as well as award-winning and established writers. Contributers have included Peter Orner, Robert Glück, Pam Houston, Lydia Davis, Mary Gaitskill, Denise Levertov, Robert Creeley, and Ray Bradbury.

Part of the vibrant literary heritage of the west coast and the San Francisco Bay Area, Fourteen Hills is honored to be an active participant in the contemporary creative community. As a nonprofit press, its staff, editors, and contributors bring readers of the journal some of the most exciting offerings of independent literature. From the postmodern to the traditional, Fourteen Hills is a testimony to the fact that independent, innovative and experimental literature is alive and thriving.

Please come support your local literary journal as we celebrate with excellent food, tasty drinks and talented writers!

Readers will include: Barbara Jane Reyes, Craig Santos Perez, Michael McAllister, Dustin Wells, and Jeff O’Keefe.

No admission charge, but bring $$ for the new issue. Raffle tickets will also be for sale for fabulous prizes, including:

Private Tour and Barrel Tasting for 10 at Periscope Cellars, $48 BART Pass, 3-month Rhapsody To Go Pass, Handmade Stationary goods from Yellow Owl Workshop, Free 30-minute Psychic Reading with Jeff Alvarez, Gift Certificates for Zzas Wine Bar, Dolores Park Café, West Portal Bookshop, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, Starbucks, and more!
Bollyhood Café

3372 19th St @Mission

Wed, December 17th, 2008
7 pm

Birds of a Feather

My gay fathers, now retired, split their time between a house in the Carson Valley of Nevada, and a condo in Palm Springs, both of which make for good escapes from San Francisco. Last year the Manly Fireplug took off for Philly, to visit his own family for Christmas, and I drove down the long, dry, stretch of Interstate 5, Finley curled in his little doggie seat beside me, the windows rolled up against the thick cloud of air pollution that had settled in the valley, until I reached Palm Springs, where I crashed in their spare room for a few nights.

There’s not a whole hell of a lot to do in the desert. Too cold in December to lay out by the pool, and none of us golf. So we played a few games of Scrabble, where I got my ass handed to me by my father, who worked as an editor for thirty years, and who uses every “Triple Word Play” square with relentlessness and skill. His humility, upon winning each and every game, does me no good, and merely feeds my resentment and my primal desire to one day Trounce. Him. Good. When not playing Scrabble we took long, slow walks around their neighborhood off Ramon Road, or watched game shows as Finn chased their little Maltese from one end of the condo to the other.

Every time I visit, when we have a moment alone together, my father asks about my health. He means of course the virus in my blood, the virus that neither he nor his partner have, the virus he only found out about a few years back, when a strange dream about my mother woke him, and led him to the computer and, after a few clicks, to my blog, and the words that I had so far kept from him. Words from which I wanted to protect him and the rest of my family. And each time he asks I tell him the truth, that so far I’m one of the lucky ones, with no viral load and no meds, and though there’s nothing to worry about I think he still worries about his son, who should, if there’s any justice in the world, outlive his father.

Always an awkward moment, that talk, every time. I’m careful with my voice, my words, the casual shrug of my shoulders. The truth is that I do have it easy, compared to others, and that there’s nothing much to worry about. Still, that question pulls me from the corner to center-stage where I stand, separate from him. Always an awkward moment, for I shouldn’t have the virus, for I had all the facts, unlike him, long before I ever had sex. In that spotlight I see the consequence of every mistake I’ve made, for this path through life that I’ve willfully taken, a path that diverged from the calm and measured one he himself has traveled, a practical and guarded path, that has kept him safe.

So each time he asks I reassure him of the truth, longing for the awkward moment to pass, for when I can step away from center stage and rejoin him and his partner, and return to my place as just a member of the family.

The days around that Christmas run together in my memory, a sort of pleasant, lazy haze of a weekend. My clearest memory is from my last morning there, when they took me out for brunch at this popular local restaurant, the kind of place that has brassy waitresses and little containers of Smuckers grape jelly in dishes at every table.

My father’s partner gave his name to the hostess, and we sat there in the lobby for a few minutes, gazing around at the small crowd waiting for tables, at the families and the couples who had wandered in after the holiday for brunch, all of our faces lit from the bright harsh light of the pasty cases nearby.

We didn’t wait all that long. The hostess checked her list of names and then called out, in a clear, strong voice that carried across the crowded lobby:

“Dick, party of three?”

If she only knew. She gathered up the menus, and I followed my fathers to our table.