A Poem For Pulse by Jameson Fitzpatrick

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A Poem For Pulse

Last night, I went to a gay bar
with a man I love a little.
After dinner, we had a drink.
We sat in the far-back of the big backyard
and he asked, What will we do when this place closes?
I don’t think it’s going anywhere any time soon, I said,
though the crowd was slow for a Saturday,
and he said—Yes, but one day. Where will we go?
He walked me the half-block home
and kissed me goodnight on my stoop—
properly: not too quick, close enough
our stomachs pressed together
in a second sort of kiss.
I live next to a bar that’s not a gay bar
—we just call those bars, I guess—
and because it is popular
and because I live on a busy street,
there are always people who aren’t queer people
on the sidewalk on weekend nights.
We just call those people, I guess.
They were there last night.
As I kissed this man I was aware of them watching
and of myself wondering whether or not they were just
people. But I didn’t let myself feel scared, I kissed him
exactly as I wanted to, as I would have without an audience,
because I decided many years ago to refuse this fear—
an act of resistance. I left
the idea of hate out on the stoop and went inside,
to sleep, early and drunk and happy.
While I slept, a man went to a gay club
with two guns and killed fifty people. At least.
Today in an interview, his father said he had been disturbed
by the sight of two men kissing recently.
What a strange power to be cursed with,
for the proof of our desire to move men to violence.
What’s a single kiss? I’ve had kisses
no one has ever known about, so many
kisses without consequence—
but there is a place you can’t outrun,
whoever you are.
There will be a time when.
It might be a bullet, suddenly.
The sound of it. Many.
One man, two guns, fifty dead—
Two men kissing. Last night
is what I can’t get away from, imagining it, them,
the people there to dance and laugh and drink,
who didn’t believe they’d die, who couldn’t have.
How else can you have a good time?
How else can you live?
There must have been two men kissing
for the first time last night, and for the last,
and two women, too, and two people who were neither.
Brown people mostly, which cannot be a coincidence in this country
which is a racist country, which is gun country.
Today I’m thinking of the Bernie Boston photograph
Flower Power, of the Vietnam protestor placing carnations
in the rifles of the National Guard,
and wishing for a gesture as queer and simple.
The protester in the photo was gay, you know,
he went by Hibiscus and died of AIDS,
which I am also thinking about today because
(the government’s response to) AIDS was a hate crime.
Reagan was a terrorist.
Now we have a president who loves Us,
the big and imperfectly lettered Us, and here we are
getting kissed on stoops, getting married some of Us,
some of Us getting killed.
We must love one another whether or not we die.
Love can’t block a bullet
but it can’t be destroyed by one either,
and love is, for the most part, what makes Us Us—
in Orlando and in Brooklyn and in Kabul.
We will be everywhere, always;
there’s nowhere else for Us, or you, to go.
Anywhere you run in this world, love will be there to greet you.
Around any corner, there might be two men. Kissing.

– Jameson Fitzpatrick

How a Sodomite Helped Us Win Our Independence in 1776

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No. This is not a photo of the Baron von Steuben. But…I made you look. God Bless America. (Pinterest)

To appreciate the contributions Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (1730-94) made to the American Revolution, consider this: Before his arrival in Valley Forge in 1778, the colonies were on the path to defeat. Without his leadership, our modern America might still be the British Colonies.

The Sodomite Soldier

Before von Steuben arrived at Valley Forge, the Revolutionary Army was a loosely organized, rag-tag band of men with little military training or discipline. The military fumbled through the beginning of the war for independence lacking training and organization. Gen. George Washington and the Continental Congress knew that, without help from additional seasoned military experts, the colonies would clearly lose.

Since Washington himself was the best the colonies had, they looked to Europe for someone who could train the troops. To that end, Washington wrote the colonies’ representatives in Paris, among them Benjamin Franklin, to see what he could come up with. Franklin, a renowned inventor, was treated as a celebrity in the French court. This would be pivotal in achieving his two major objectives in France: winning financial support for the American Revolution and finding military leaders who could bring a semblance of order to the Revolutionary Army.

Franklin learned of a “brilliant Prussian” military genius, Lt. Gen. Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, who had a string of successes across Germanic Europe. But there was one problem. He’d been asked to depart many of those states and countries because of his “affections for members of his own sex,” according to biographer Paul Lockhart’s The Drillmaster of Valley Forge.

This became urgent in 1777 when von Steuben literally escaped imprisonment in what is now Germany and traveled to Paris. There, Franklin was interviewing candidates to assist Washington back in the colonies when his fellow Colonial representative Silas Deane brought von Steuben to his residence for an interview in June.

During the process, Franklin discovered von Steuben’s reputation for having “affections” with males and the issue became pressing, as members of the French clergy demanded the French court, as in other countries, take action against this sodomite, whom they considered a pedophile. They had decided to make their effort a crusade and run him out of France.

Lockhart’s biography tells of von Steuben’s being summoned from Paris for Karlsruhe, at the court of the Margrave of Baden, for a military vacancy. But, Lockhart notes, “what he found waiting for him at Karlsruhe was not an officer’s commissioner but a rumor, a horrible, vicious rumor” that the Baron had “taken familiarities with young boys.”

Those allegations were fueled by von Steuben’s close ties to Prince Henry and Frederick the Great, also “widely rumored to be homosexual.”

Benjamin Franklin: Smuggler & Scandal Fixer

Von Steuben returned to Paris, and Franklin had a choice here — and he decided von Steuben’s expertise was more important to the colonies than his sexuality. While it can be debated how much a part Franklin played in the recruitment of von Steuben, one cannot doubt that one of the most informed people at the French court would know of the allegations against the baron. With that knowledge, and with von Steuben about to be jailed, Franklin, along with Deane, wrote what must be the nation’s first example of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as they mutually signed a recommendation letter to Gen. Washington that embellished von Steuben’s military expertise and titles and suggested he had been recommended by various princes and “other great personages.” Most surprisingly, it remarked that “his distinguished character and known abilities were attested to by two judges of military merit in this country.”

The judges of character that Franklin referred to were two of the four involved in the plot to bring von Steuben to America, along with Franklin and Deane, and personal friends of the baron: Pierre Beaumarchais, author of the “Figaro” plays and an arms dealer who supplied arms for the ship von Steuben eventually sailed on, and Claude Louis, Comte de Saint-Germain, the minister of war under Louis XVI.

What the letter didn’t mention was that he was about to be arrested and appear before judges in France.

Franklin, working with Deane, decided von Steuben’s “affections” were less important than what he, Washington and the colonies needed to win the war with England. Deane learned of von Steuben’s indiscretions — and that the French clergy was investigating — from a letter to the Prince of Hechingen, which read in part:

“It has come to me from different sources that M. de Steuben is accused of having taken familiarities with young boys, which the laws forbid and punish severely. I have even been informed that that is the reason why M. de Steuben was obliged to leave Hechingen and that the clergy of your country intend to prosecute him by law as soon as he may establish himself anywhere.”

The proof of Franklin and Deane’s knowledge lies in the letter to Washington recommending von Steuben and their quick action to secure the baron from France. So in September 1777, von Steuben boarded a 24-gun ship named Heureux — but, for this voyage, the ship’s name was changed to Le Flamand, and the baron’s name was entered onto the captain’s log as “Frank.” And he was on his way to the colonies.

The Baron Whips the Boys into Shape

Washington and Franklin’s trust in von Steuben was rewarded. He whipped the rag-tag army of the colonies into a professional fighting force, able to take on the most powerful superpower of the time, England. Some of his accomplishments include instituting a “model company” for training, establishing sanitary standards and organization for the camp and training soldiers in drills and tactics such as bayonet fighting and musket loading.

According to the New York Public Library, (“The Papers of Von Steuben”) these were his achievements:

  • February 1778: Arrives at Valley Forge to serve under Washington, having informed Congress of his desire for paid service after an initial volunteer trial period, with which request Washington concurs.
  • March 1778: Begins tenure as inspector general, drilling troops according to established European military precepts.
    1778-79: Writes “Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States,” which becomes a fundamental guide for the Continental Army and remains in active use through the War of 1812, was published in over 70 editions.
  • 1780-81: Senior military officer in charge of troop and supply mobilization in Virginia.
    1781: Replaced by Marquis de Lafayette as commander in Virginia.
  • 1781-83: Continues to serve as Washington’s inspector general, and is active in improving discipline and streamlining administration in the Army.
  • Spring 1783: Assists in formulating plans for the post-war American military.
    Continue reading

Finding Chandra: A True Washington Murder Mystery by Scott Higham & Sari Horowitz

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Finding Chandra: A True Washington Murder Mystery

As covered in episode 16, Chandra Levy, an intern at the Federal Bureau of Prisons, disappeared in 2001. Her remains were found a year later, igniting a firestorm of speculation. Among the suspects investigated in the wake of her death was an immigrant from El Salvador and congressman Gary Condit, who had been having an affair with Levy. Higham and Horowitz paint a vivid picture of the hysteria surrounding the case and trial.

Your First Trans Friend: A Beginner’s Guide from True Trans Soul, Ashley J. Cooper

Your First Trans Friend: A Beginner’s Guide

So, your friend is trans! That’s pretty cool. I’m sure you’re happy for them, and I know you probably have so many questions you want to ask. Your friend is being re-defined in front of your eyes, and you must know more. I get it.

Being someone’s only trans friend is a big responsibility. We often become people’s de-facto Trans Ambassador, we are bombarded with questions upon coming out, and we have to clear up misconceptions spread by pop culture and the media, all while also navigating our own new public identity and the feelings that come with it. We know you mean well, but it can be a lot.

There’s a do/don’t list a mile long when engaging with your newly-out trans friend, and I wanted to talk a bit about some common ones that I’ve noticed in my first few months as a wee baby trans lady.

Ask us questions about ourselves

It’s completely understandable to want to know more about your friend after they come out. Questions like “how did you choose your new name?”, “how long have you been struggling with this?” or “how did your parents react?” are innocent and come from a good place. Please be patient with your friend as well. They may be being bombarded with these types of questions in the weeks following their coming out, and sometimes it’s nice to just have a break from it all. Don’t take offense if they don’t feel like talking about it when it comes up.

Don’t ask about genitals

I know what you’re thinking: “Well, obviously.” You’d be shocked. Maybe you wouldn’t. Anyway, in short: do not ask about our genitals. Do not ask if we are going to “get the surgery.” You wouldn’t ask a dID friend about what’s in their pants, so don’t ask it of your trans friend.

Correct yourself if you accidentally misgender us

Look, I get it. Force of habit is a thing, and if you have known this person for a long time, switching pronouns on a dime is not always easy. Most trans people are willing to be patient while you do a little mental re-sorting, and if you slip up and use the wrong pronouns, all we ask is that you correct yourself. You might feel bad for doing it and think it would be awkward drawing attention to it, but bite the bullet. Your friend noticed. Even if they didn’t say anything, they noticed. They catalog that shit. The more you misgender them and don’t make an attempt to correct yourself, the more they question whether you consider their identity valid.

Listen and learn if you are called out

Transphobia and trans misogyny are deeply embedded in our culture. You might think you’re immune, but you’re probably not. This means you’re going to slip up and say anything that might be considered transphobic or shitty. It happens. Intent counts for a lot, though, and if you’re being honest in your goals as a friend and ally, you’ll listen, absorb, and learn from your mistakes, instead of doubling down, dismissing, or trying to pull “it’s just a joke.” Whether it’s a big mistake or a small one, your friend will remember how you handled being confronted.

Separate gender and sexuality

It’s weird that so many people conflate these two, but with some exceptions where the person comes out sexually in addition to their trans identity, someone who likes guys is still into guys, and someone who is into guys and ladies probably still is. A friend once said to me that they thought “a lot of trans people were gay.” While there is certainly a decent queer population within the trans community, that’s not what they meant. They assumed I, a person they perceived previously as male, would be attracted to men now that I’ve come out. This thinking erases our gender from the equation. As a woman, being attracted to men would make me straight. As a woman, I am engaged to a wonderful lady, and have no interest in dudes. Therefore: super gay. Our sexuality is no more complicated than that of CIS people.

Remember who we are

We tend to be more than happy to discuss trans issues and matters of importance to trans people, but please remember that we are still the same people we were before we came out, and while some things have changed, we still have a wide range of interests, and we exist beyond our gender identity. Trans issues are totally relevant to our interests, but we also still want to geek out over how fucking awesome Ian McShane is in American Gods, ok?

Deadnaming

This is a big one, because mileage will vary drastically from person to person, but it is always pretty important. Similarly to misgendering, if you find you’ve accidentally referred to your friend by their deadname (the name they had when you met them, but no longer use), simply apologize and correct yourself. Where deadnaming can be a bigger offender is when you share this information with people who either don’t know your friend, or are just meeting them. Many trans people have very complicated, often negative, associations with their deadname, and tend to want as few people as possible to know it. There is no reason for that information to be shared with others, so please respect your friend’s need for privacy and don’t bring it up unless they do first.

Avoid turning us into spokespeople

Like any minority group, trans people, especially when they’re the only one in their social circle, will find themselves, from time to time, being asked to make a blanket statement that reflects all trans people. You see this happen all the time in POC communities: “Well, celebrity X said this, but friend Y said that. Which is it?” For some reason, the concept of individuality goes out the window for members of minority groups, and we must be a monolith, lest we be accused of ‘infighting.’ The fact of the matter is there are few universal truths that are undisputed, and your friends, for the most part, can only speak to their own feelings and experiences. Even this list is based on my own experiences and the experiences of other trans people I’ve spoken to or are friends with. Someone you know may disagree with it, and that’s totally cool.

Invite us into gendered spaces

Guys enjoy having boys-only nights. Women enjoy hanging out with their ladyfriends. Sometimes you just want to chill with people who can relate to your experiences on a fundamental level, and oftentimes the easiest way to do that is to make a point of specifically spending time with other people of your gender. If you’re friends with a trans man, invite him to your pub night with the boys. If you’re friends with a trans woman, invite her out dancing with your girlfriends. Nothing makes us feel more accepted than being included.

“Welcome to womanhood”

This one is specific to trans women, but it demands a bit of attention. When I was newly-out, I would hear this statement constantly. It was never said in a way intended to hurt me, but it always did. When I make a comment about how I couldn’t get my makeup right this morning, or that I feel like someone is not taking me seriously, reminding me that I have spent my entire life socialized in the wrong gender is not going to improve my mood. I know what you’re trying to say is “I can relate”, but framing it in this context just makes it worse. Try to find another way to say the same thing.

This is by no means a definitive list. Friendships are complex things, and just as there are no two friendships that are exactly alike, there is no complete set of rules that will work for everyone. This list is merely meant to be a starting guide to illustrate some of the ways you can respectfully engage with your friend who, if they just came out, is probably super fucking overwhelmed and just wants a little love and understanding.
Transition is a learning experience for everyone involved. Listen, learn from your mistakes, try not to be an asshole, and things should be fine. However, it’s worth repeating the word learn. No one expects you to be perfect from day one, but there’s a statute of limitations on how long something like misgendering is perceived as an innocent mistake before it becomes a sign that you’re not trying.

Don’t be that person.

In closing, keep bein’ rad, and thanks for being our friend.

View story at Medium.com