Friday, March 30, 2007

USAFA Gay Alumni Association

I've always wanted a bumper sticker that says "USAFA Gay Alumni Association."

It may be just on the horizon.

I got a call the other day from a guy whose goal it is to organize such a thing.

What is USAFA you might ask?

It is the United States Air Force Academy, that venerable but incredibly sexist and homophobic institution that asked me to resign my post as a "cadet-second-class" a few hours after my final of seven four-hour final exams on that unforgettable day in December of 1990.

I got this email a couple of weeks ago:
Hi [Blogauthor],

My name is [cut for confidentiality purposes]. I'm a 1985 USAFA grad and I'm gay. I got your contact information from SAGALA. I'm doing preliminary work to develop a network or organization of gay USAFA alums. Navy currently has one. Air Force and Army do not. So I'm wondering......

Would you be willing to chat with me on the phone for 20-30 minutes? The main reason for the call would be to learn how you think an organization like this could benefit you and the gay USAFA community as a whole and what privacy concerns you may have or you think may exist for other individuals to participate.

About me

I live in SF with my partner (Mike) of nearly 13 years. I flew ugly (I say with affection) cargo planes and then got out in 95 to try the business world. A couple of years ago I started thinking about our school again. Since I missed my 10 year reunion, I decided to go to my 20th and, well, Mike was an amazing sport----he went with me. Last year I went to a conference hosted by the AOG (The Graduate Leadership Conference) at the Academy to tell us what's going on at USAFA - especially in light of the sexual assault and evangelical proselytizing that had been all over the press. Best part was the tour of Jack's Valley during BCT. I have pictures if you're interested. I then realized that our school could use some help in a number of areas. So recently I decided to focus on an area that is quite important to me, and I suspect it may be of interest to you too.

The idea

I've found there is real interest and a real need to form a network or organization of LGBT USAFA Grads. But the issues of building the structure of this network are complex - especially if it is to effectively serve both civilian and active duty grads, and if it is to leverage whatever support we are likely to find among the broader Academy communities and constituencies. My initial thoughts are that the primary focuses of this network should be:

1) Support (personal and professional including perhaps even mentorship)

2) Visibility and Advocacy (I'm not really sure what these should mean yet - what do you think?).

------Confidentiality, privacy and safety will certainly be an important prerequisite for some grads (both civilian and active duty) in order to participate, others will be at the other end of the spectrum (i.e. WAY OUT).

I'm two and a half weeks into this idea and I have realized that the most important current task for me is to speak with a significant number of grads to understand what folks want or need. So I'm hoping we can talk and exchange some ideas.

Can we schedule a call?

Best regards,

[Incredibly Efficient and Determined Man]

USAFA 1985


So, I talked with him after clarifying that I was/am not, in fact, a USAFA alumni.

The conversation was fascinating. He wondered how such an organization could help me and what I thought an organization should be about and should provide for its members.

I had to say that I didn't think that such an organization would help me in any specific way. I do not think of myself as being attached to that institution, formally or informally, but have to admit that the experience and the deep wounds that it caused affects me at both a conscious and subconscious way on almost a daily basis. I cannot even describe to you what it was like to apply to such an institution (you not only have to be accepted into the school, you also have to be interviewed and recommended by a senator or house representative in order to attend), survive the first year (academically, militarily, and physically), orient your life's goals around the military's peculiar occupational ladder and then, on the eve of receiving your class ring (mine was ordered and paid for... you get it at the end of your junior year when you become a "firstie" or a first-class-cadet) be told that since you've been outed as a lesbian, you have to leave and start over somewhere else. Tomorrow.

It was both the best and the worst thing that ever happened to me in my entire life.

During the call, the guy wondered who I thought should be considered members in the organization. Should it be limited to grads? to gays?

Other than some of my immediate friends with whom I attended USAFA (many of which have subsequently come out) I never really considered the gays and lesbians that made it through and then continued to be GLBT military members. And I never really considered men in this situation. As I told the guy, my stereotypes of the occupation itself (appearing to attract a mainly gay female clientelle rather than a gay male one) and the guys that I went to school with there (clean cut, square jawed) led me to assume (in a sexist and homophobic way) that the majority of GLBTs associated with USAFA would be women.

What struck me though was how important all of the stories around this issue are to such an organization. On one hand, it is people like me -- people who got kicked out of the military -- that you hear about. People who were so obviously discriminated against. On the other hand, those that aren't actually removed from their position continue to live in fear and dread that their cohorts will learn the truth about their personal lives. He told me that there was not one person he talked to that didn't refer to deep wounds inflicted while cadets and afterwards in the military.

The caller told me that he remembered an African American man talking about the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama* (the first all-black military aviation program) and the issue of segregation in the military and that he dreamed of standing up in Arnold Hall** and talk about being a former gay cadet and military officer.

Now that is a dream in which I'd love to take part.

*In May 1943, the first group of Tuskegee-trained pilots was sent to North Africa to join the Allied forces. They were headed by Capt. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., who would later become the first African-American Air Force general. The accomplishments made by the 99th Fighter Squadron, especially in it's collaboration with the all-white 79th Fighter Group in October 1943, helped pave the way for integration in the Air Force.
**Arnold Hall is the cadet social center. It contains a 3000-seat theater, a ballroom, and a number of lounge and recreation facilities for cadets and visitors. It is named after General of the Air Force Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, commanding general of the United States Army Air Forces during World War II.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

In Good Company

Both Alison Bechdel and LesbianDad recently lost their pets.

Here is LesbianDad's moving post about her loss. In her blog she referencs another moving post by Chris Clarke about the death of his dog Zeke.

Here is Alison's post about her beloved, Julia. Here is an episode from her comic strip, Dykes To Watch Out For, where Mo loses one of her kitties and in another strip there's a reference to "Vanessa" (Mo's cat that passed). Mo is "worried about Virginia. [She] think[s] maybe it's not so much that she misses Vanessa, but that she's feeling survivor's guilt."

Her academician partner, Sydney, responds: "Mo, she probably has a hairball. I hate it when you anthropomorphize."

I thought I noticed Hazel walking through the house yesterday looking for Emma.

Now I think she was just looking for food.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

So Long Sweet One, See You in the Next Go-Around

March ? 1991 - March 25, 2007

Ready or not, life with a toddler and a primary-schooler goes on in its whirl-o-wheel fashion.

In the words of Kahlil Gibran, "[f]or life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday."

Today, and I expect tomorrow at least, I won't be quite ready.

We had to put my long-time companion, Emma, down today.

Today, I am struck, again, by those inordinately powerful discrete moments of life and death. One moment, Itsy was in BioMom's belly, and then next, Big was a new individual entity that altered our lifes forever.

I am similarly struck by how my life has again taken a right-turn today, moving on without her.

Below find a few notes from our extremely empathetic, Seven and her pal, 4of4.

Thank you both, for giving me some love and perspective.

[Note a few things in the pictures, the tears in the "Emma, the end" and the sticker with the note "come back."]

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Overheard in Minneapolis Part III

A boy in Seven's first-grade class told his mom that "[Seven]'s mom likes sports."

I think you might know where I'm going here.

"Which one?" She asked.

"Which one what?" Said he.

"Which one of [Seven]'s moms?"

This, apparently, led to an entire conversation about how one goes about acquiring two Moms.

Or, what I will come call it, the "Bizarro Birds And Bees" conversation (or "Triple-B C" for short).

This mom, a friend of ours, is currently expecting, after conquering some fertility issues, so she had a leg on which to stand in the conversation as they, too, "went to the doctor who helped them get a baby in her stomach."

Apparently she avoided the extra step we needed to take that involved the Internet and a credit card.

I'm worried, though, that Seven might get a whiff of the details from this newly-informed friend. She literally, has not asked us any of the relevant details of the "Triple-B C." Not even as BioMom's belly swelled with the weight of her impending brother.

And it's not that she's unaware of at least some of the details. She gets the whole "seed-egg" thing. She just seems unconcerned with the relevant details.

I guess I can conclude that she's just not a detail-oriented person, her mind focuses on the forest, not the trees.

She does, however, make illogical genetic conclusions on a regular basis. Big's and BioMom's eyes are blue, Seven's and mine are brown-ish, so she assumes that's from me. Or the fact that both BioMom and I sport glasses leads her to believe that both she and Big will also need them some time in the future.

I can just imagine her taking her genetics pre-req at the University and getting to the whole "big-B/littleB" thing when the lightbulb goes off.

Although. . . with my Dad having had blue eyes, and my Mom having had brown, it is not impossible that, combining with BioMom's baby blues, that we could have had, in theory a brown AND a blue eyed kid....

If we can just skip over the logistical details....

Overheard in Minneapolis Part II

Big, pointing to our (ahem) full-figured cat: Ball!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Parting Shots

Here are a few shots of Big prior to his first haircut (this coming Saturday). He's wearing Cousin's son's sweater. He has a similar photo when he was that age behind the ladder as well.

He was so active during the photo shot that I am surprised we got any pictures of him that aren't blurry or with drool on his chin!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Unconditional Giving

When I'm at my worst, as a parent, I see the game as zero-sum.

Instead of seeing giving and loving as eternal springs that increase their output as you increase your giving, the only neon sign flashing in my face is "NO VACANCY." I start to see the limits of my energy and compasion, pieces of the pie that I choose to give away, but sometimes keep to myself, relishing their intense flavor.

In economics there is a metaphor for what are called "Commons Problems" called the Tragedy of the Commons. Imagine for example, a small herding society that shares a few acres of land on which to graze their sheep. They've figured out how long each herder can allow their sheep to graze without "eating up the seed corn" so to speak or without over-grazing to the point where the grass/corn won't grow back.

The problem? Every individual has an incentive to graze a little more. Make their sheep fatter, but not enough more to be noticably to the entire group. Sure, if one person over-grazes, the pasteur will probably remain intact. If EVERYONE over-grazes, the common land will certainly be ruined.

Hence the commons problems.

I sometimes feel over-grazed.

BioMom and I are different that way. In part, I think it is because she spends less overall time with the youngsters. In part, I think it is because she is a bit more extroverted than am I, doesn't need/want as much alone/rejuvination time.

When I don't get enough time to myself, everything begins to look like a request. It's like all I have is a hammer and so I can only see nails.

The other day we were at Grandma and Grandpa's welcoming them home from a recent adventure. We were heading out to lunch and Seven had requested to ride with them. On her way out of the car, however, she hesitated. She reached back in and found some strange insignificant item -- the kind that finds itself in the backseat of my car, snuggled between the two car seats. I suppose it was some short string-like item, a part of a whole that no longer existed in our world. She told me that it was her pet. Her REAL pet. Her pet that needed caring to.

Of course, it was all make believe. She's been on a pet kick lately. Not that she wants to lend a hand in caring for our three cats, mind you. But various inantimate objects in our house have been identified as "real" pets as of late.

She turned to me as she was leaving and said something that made me realize that she was asking me to take care of this newly identified and now, apparently, highly needy, family addition. ". . . [I hadn't been listening prior to this] and he needs water twice per day, and here's his treats. . . and don't forget to take him on a walk!"

At that moment, so depleted was I, I turned to her and said: "Why don't you take him along with you? I just don't think I'm up for taking care of him today."

Even make-believe seed corn gets overgrazed. Aristotle said it best: "That which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it."

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Overheard in Minneapolis

Seven to BioMom: Do you want to know my passion?
BioMom (excitedly): Yeah!!!
Seven: MAKEUP!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Macalester At Midterm

So, it is midterm break at Macalester and I thought I'd sum up my experience so far as a visiting adjunct at this highly-selective liveral arts college.

I should say that I've been quite curious for some time about such a school. When applying to colleges myself, I had no idea that such schools existed. I had no idea what the tradeoffs were for kids choosing colleges at the time. For me it was a question of money. What does the school cost and what will the school pay me to attend. (I ended up at a small military technical institute where, after two-and-a-half years of study I was asked to leave due to my sexuality... But that is a different story). When applying to jobs after finishing up my dissertation, I got an interview at Middlebury for a similar short-term position that I am holding now and was lucky enough to be offered a tenure-track position that strictly dominated the insecure, short-term position. So, here I am with six years of a small, public midwestern institution under my belt, comparing it to 7 weeks at this little college in St. Paul.

So the question is, is it worth FORTY-THREE-GRAND (in 2007 dollars) to send your kid to such a place (assuming they can even get in the door).

My short answer is: yeah. It probably is. (They have great financial aid packages).

My long answer gets at the "why" of it all.

From a teaching perspective, it is a sweet gig. Why?

a) Right now I am only teaching two courses (their regular load is two courses in one semester and three in the other, which is less than my current load of three/three).
b) In total, I have 37 students. This is compared to the 110-130 students I normally have. So, when they say that they want you to learn their name, it is nearly no effort. You just do. And I am terrible with names. AND about fifty-percent of the students are international, which makes the names that much harder (for me), yet, I know about 85% of them. As a comparison, I usually get about 10-15% of the names at my normal place by the end of the semester!
c) About a week into teaching, the administrative assistant asked me: "Do you have a precept?" I'm all: "What is a precept?" A precept is a really smart kid who does all the grading for your problem sets, etc. Not only that, but you get a little email sent to you from the kid with an Excel attachment containing the results. In comparison, this would save me 10-15 hours of work at my normal job. At least. And, after reviewing his work, I trust it.
d) When I do grade, I spend MUCH less time on basic knowledge stuff. For example, I graded some essays for one class and I never even once wrote in the margin a little blurb about "how to write an essay/paragraph/paper/topic sentence." Secondly, in my intermediate microeconomic class, I could avoid a calculus review (although, as it turns out, they probably needed it).

What this translates into is that as a teacher, you can spend more time teaching. If I were to teach these same courses again, I could put much more effort into the style and content of my teaching than I normally can, given the constraints I face. I used to think that the elite liberal arts colleges were perhaps better because they hired Ph.D.'s from the ivy leagues, but now, (while I acknowledge that some of that is undoubtedly true) I think that that is the least of the benefits. They have teachers that have energy to teach.

In terms of the student atmosphere, I think that that, too, is probably worth the cash. I'm not sure they're THAT much smarter on average than the students I teach. There is probably a small shift in the distribution of ACT/SAT scores (to the right). And, I'm sure they drink and do drugs as much as the next college kids -- maybe even more because they don't work (i.e. have more time) and probably have more money.

The difference is in the culture of the institution. The students, generally, study more. A great deal more from my initial impressions. More students read chapters and do homework prior to coming to class whereas at my regular institution, I am lucky if they get to reading/homework the night before the exam. As an example, I was going over what I perceive to be the pinnacle topic in terms of difficulty in the Intermediate Microeconomics course: The Slutsky Equation.

I was using the treatment from the Varian book because I think it is more intuitive while they had purchased the Perloff text which has a little different presentation.

One student, after class, pointed out this difference to me and asked if he was misinterpreting something.

I can honestly say that I would never have been that on-the-ball as a student. And this and similar events happened enough times over the course of the last seven weeks to tell me that some significant percentage of the students are studying.

In addition to studying, they study more together as students of a particular major. This lends itself to a high degree of collegiality among cohorts.

In addition, as mentioned before, a large portion of the students are international. This contributes to an incredible atmosphere to the campus and enhances everyone's experience.

Maybe I'll drop it all and go back for another undergraduate major!

Or, maybe I'll just save for Seven and Big. One can only guess how much tuition will be in 2017.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Its My Party And I'll Cry If I Want To

For the typical first grader, I suspect that their birthdays are a bit like weddings.

You look forward to them for at least 364 days.
You invite too many people.
You eat too much cake (read: alcohol for the adult).
You end up with a headache.
You're in bed by 8 p.m.

For the brother of the first-grader (bride), however, especially when you get your first shot at a juice box, the event is a blast!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Irregular Newsletter: Month 15

Well, Big, you've come a long way, baby!

Now, according to the book "Your One Year Old", we're heading up the short-but-treacherous hill to 18 months.

You have begun, I must admit, to show signs of the tell-tale tantrums of the one-year-old. Although you're usually Steady-Eddy (given no impending tooth breakthrough), once in a while you turn into an angry tomato. The other night I was helping (then) Six with the piano. She, as of late, has been needing a bit more individual attention and this was the perfect night and event for that (or so I thought). I hooked you up with few books and some favorite toys and set out to work a bit on piano with Six.

You freaked.

You freak-freaked.

It was as though it was beyond your imagination that she and I would be focusing on something OTHER THAN YOU!

BioMom walked in to the home of the screaming banshee that night. Let's hope that is not a harbinger of the future.

Mastered Word List (i.e. things that you say that we a) recognize and that you b) say regularly in regard to that particular thing or event):

"Ball!" or "Bop!":

"Kitty": this is barely recognizably and, thus, probably shouldn't have made this list. It is also usually pronounced in an exaggerated whisper.

Various beginnings that end with "GEE": a reference to your sister

"Doo" or "Doo Doo": This was initially in reference to trains, but now is in reference to any vehicular object or any object with wheels

"Cow": actually in reference to cows. And no, we don't live on a farm. And also no, there is no "moo" where that came from.

And, according to Mof4, "Flower" and her son's name "CJ."

Notice the absence of any parental moniker.

Mastered Activities:
Eating with a spoon and fork (although "mastery" is a stretch and includes getting food all over yourself. But in a good way).
Poking sister in the belly-button (to my great horror) during their bath.
Making your parents melt with your darling two-bottom-toothed smile.

You have a penchant for at least two things:
Balls and anything long and sharp ranging from pencils to ski-poles. You would prefer any dangerous-looking object to any toy in the house.

We have gone ahead and scheduled that first hair cut for you, and a picture session prior to that hair cut to remember your long, luxurious mullet.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Happy Birthday SYO

No longer "Six", she is now an unbelievable "Seven"!

Last night we were awoken no less than three times by those dependent on us in the family.

2:00 a.m. The first was by my eldest cat. She is clearly suffering from some brain ailment. We had hoped that it was a treatable infection but now, well into the second round of medication, her left side seems still increasingly unresponsive. She has been one of my best friends and confidants for the last 16 years and I am not taking this early and untimely decline well. At 2:00 a.m. she needed help into her relocated-to-our-bedroom litterbox.

4:00 a.m. The second was our practically 15 month old son who must be growing some new fangs. He's been moaning and needy for the last couple of days. We had to skip the "Moovin' and Groovin'" class for which we were scheduled because he was so completely out-of-sorts. In its stead, he sat on my lap, letting me cuddle him over an episode of Blue's Clues, a cup of vanilla soy milk, and me finishing up Harry Potter #2 in a vain attempt to catch up with Cousin as she whips her way through the series in preparation of #7's release this July.

4:45 a.m. The third was our lovely birthday girl, in to announce the day and that she could no longer sleep having woken to a couple dozen high-float helium rainbow baloons and a sign attached to a string which, apparently, was going SOMEWHERE important, that read "Follow Me!" Yeah yeah, our fault. But when would we have put that in their room other than the night before? With complete understanding, we made an exception to the "no-kids-in-bed-for-sleeping" rule, and I suffered through her relentless agitation until 6:45 when she could stand it no more.

She followed the ribbon throughout the house (never adopting my cynical attitude: "I can see, from the top of the stairs, that the ribbon obviously goes down and back up, so why follow it all around the basement?") to its culmination at her new bike (recycled from BioMom's neice but new to her!).

She was ecstatic.

I took BioMom out to lunch for "Labor day" and we're off to Seven's school this evening (again, we were there this morning to read and eat the requested Ho Ho's) for a Sloppy-Joe/Show What You Know night.

Wish you could all stop by and enjoy an ice cream with us in celebration.



Tuesday, March 06, 2007

White Trash

So, the other day we were out to lunch at this incredible Indian place that happened to be near to Costco which we had just joined because Big is eating us out of house and home. We were beginning to consider tithing to our local up-scale grocer as Big's preference for the $4.99/pack of blueberries (which he would eat almost entirely in one setting) made itself known, when someone said "Hey! Join Costco!"

Anyway, at lunch they had these white paper table cloths over the entire table which Big immediately began to tear and rip as soon as his pudgy little fingers could it. BioMom and I exchanged a look before I simply tore away all portions of the "cloth" within his reach. When she got back with his selections from the buffet, I proceeded to pour it on the table as a preventative gesture to save him from tossing the plate to the floor.

The SYO turned to me and said something to the effect of that being "So White Trash!"

Me: What?????? What did you say?

We have MRM#1 to thank for the lovely addition to her vernacular.

What is simultaneously incredible and frustrating about her is that she actually understood the context and used the term correctly. In her explanation, she said that putting food on the table in such a "fancy restaurant" was inappropriate (unfortunatley, she did not extend that analysis to herself in terms of a) not putting her elbows on the table, b) chewing with her mouth closed and c) not using her fingers to eat the yogurt dip).

What she doesn't understand is the time and place for such "humor" as it was presented by MRM#1.

She's lucky that Donald Trump wasn't in the room at the time. On this week's episode of The Apprentice (yes, it is actually a show that I watch) he fired someone for referring to himself as "White Trash" saying that he wouldn't want anyone who thought of themselves that way working for him.

Fortunately for Six, the Union of OurSpawn prevents firing at will. At least until they're 18.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Snow Day

We're all home digging out. Making snowpeople. Keeping warm.

It is just lovely.

Six, however, would prefer to be inside. Big, not really understanding how much fun a foot of the white stuff can be, would also rather avoid it. I think he gets the joy of sledding, but after a time or two, he seems freezing, having removed his cumbersome gloves to get more snow in his mouth.

Even from the inside, though, it is beautiful and a welcome relief from the day-to-day.