How the Salvation Army helped me.

November 20th, 2014|Categories: Writing|Tags: , , , , , , |

My house burned down when I was 10 years old. It was March, and while it burned, I spent a chilly recess discussing with my best friend all our plans for a late birthday slumber party I was planning on pitching to my Mom. My brothers were across the school yard; Dad was at work; Mom was at her best friend’s house with our new puppy. My cat, fish, and all our earthly possessions were trapped inside when the coffee pot shorted, and fire and smoke took away everything my poor, working, 33 year old parents depended on to comfort and care for their three children. The fire devastated the house, wounded a fireman, curled the corners and fused together all our photographs, sent my brothers’ toys careening out into the front yard, and made everything that did survive smell like something that carried with it a story. The event is an important mark in my history that changed my life, and is the beginning of my intense memory recall. My young mind sensed that everything needed to be chronicled, absorbed, and processed. When we were allowed to walk through the house a few days after the fire, I already had trouble remembering how everything was supposed to look, although now I remember it all the way it was, except the smell. All my memories smell like smoke.

We trudged through the downstairs, not allowed to visit the upstairs that had once held our most important possessions: clothes, toys, beds, trinkets. The foundation wasn’t safe, Dad had fallen through the floor during an examination and no one could creep up the stairs. Everything was gone. I had recently moved into a downstairs bedroom and was the luckiest of the three, my room was only water-logged and smokey. Most of my possessions survived with a story to tell; my brothers lost everything. My sweet beta fish boiled in the heat, but a fireman saved my cat, who had used the cat rest my Dad had built for him in my bedroom to escape after the heat burst the windows. The fireman found him curled in a tight ball, pressed against the outside of my bedroom wall, little tufts of fur singed from the heat he escaped. We were only allowed to see the damaged house once; after that it was torn down and my Dad rebuilt the home his father originally built. It became a play house for my brothers and I. As the walls reformed, we would run from room to room, delighted to see our new safe haven take shape. The smell of fresh wood, plaster, carpet, and paint never fully disguised the odor of the one wall that remained, that Dad worked from. It remained, just as every possession that survived remained, with that distinctive scent of smoke and flame. The day we last saw the original house I took with me a photo of Jesus pasted to a rectangle of wood that I had hanging on my wall.

Help came from unexpected sources; help didn’t come from expected sources. The church that my father was raised in did little to help; the school that my brothers and I, and my father attended offered help, then never delivered; of my Dad’s 6 siblings and their spouses, 2 of the families helped. The people who helped most where the poverty riddled men who worked alongside my Dad on construction sites. In my experience, when a person is devastated and tragedy overwhelms their lives, the people who help most are people who know what devastation, poverty, and tragedy feels like. These men would work 16 hour days with my Dad on the weekend, often for free, to help rebuild our home. The charity and kindness infused the home with a sense of comfort that the fire stole. I have those men, and the Salvation Army to thank for my family’s recovery. My 10 year old self may have sought comfort in that lacquered photo of Jesus, but I have been a devout non-theist for decades, and I still support the Salvation Army, and a couple other Christian charity organizations. They aren’t the only charitable organizations Su and I support, but the Salvation Army is one I will vehemently defend, because they contributed directly to saving my family’s life.

It’s difficult to fully comprehend how much you lose when you lose your home. You can sit in your house and look around and imagine what you would save if a fire struck, but your brain won’t allow you to understand what would happen if everything vanished. I can’t fully comprehend it because I was so young when it happened. Now that I’m the age my parents were, I think about all I’ve amassed; all that Su and I would lose if our home was taken from us. That’s just the two of us in a rented apartment with a cat. My parents lost a second generation family home that my father had spent his entire life inside. Ten children total were raised in that home; it was thick with possessions, necessities, and memories. When the fire took it all away, the Salvation Army instantly provided my family with enough food and clothing to completely remove those concerns from the equation. My parents’ already tough life was suddenly compounded with more struggles: the realization that their home owner insurance was shit; that they had no house; that everything they owned was gone; that they could have easily lost their pets, children, or own lives if the coffee pot had defaulted in the evening or on a weekend instead of a Wednesday afternoon. They struggled with all this in addition to their every day struggles: sending three children to school and working thankless jobs. While all this was muddling their young, terrified minds, the Salvation Army came and provided their base needs: food and clothing. Problem solved. It was so much too. There was enough clothing that I was able to go through it and pick and choose what I liked best. I was a vain pre-teen, and losing my clothing was a terrible loss. The day after the fire I had to wear one of my unattractive cousin’s blue and yellow striped sweater, and I still remember how hideous I thought the shade of yellow was. I was exhausted, confused, and stuck inside strange clothing that clung the wrong way, plus I imagine I looked like an advertisement for tragic Scandinavian children, all wide-eyed and confused in patriotic stripes. The Salvation Army gave us so much food that we had cans hiding in corners of our new pantry for years after their necessity or expiration. We were provided with such plenty. As a child I was simply grateful for the distraction – weird new canned vegetables to taste and a pile of gently worn clothing to tear through! As an adult I understand that the Salvation Army removed a terrible burden from my parents, and I’m tremendously grateful.

The Salvation Army is a Christian organization, and because many Christians have issues with homosexuality, there have been incidents of discrimination towards homosexuals needing assistance and seeking employment. This fact should not be ignored; the issue of Christian prejudice against homosexuals should be dealt with proactively through education and patience. What should not be done is a boycott against the organization as a whole. The Salvation Army is notorious for the great amount of help it delivers to the poor and homeless, especially around the holidays. I grew up poor, and when you grow up poor, you grow up around people who are even poorer. I saw entire families supported by the Salvation Army while I was growing up. My brother and sister-in-law are very poor and the Salvation Army provides so much for their family at Christmas that sometimes they’re able to give toys and food to other people in need. That must feel awesome. To accept charity is to acknowledge the full realization and definition of the word humble. You have to admit that you can’t do something that other people can do, and then let someone else do what you can’t. It’s humiliating and demoralizing; what good organizations like the Salvation Army does is remove that humiliation by just giving. That’s all they do, they give.

Those red kettles that hang next to the volunteer every December, thanklessly ringing a bell and wishing you all a Merry Happy while you pull up your collar and rush to your car, the money inside actively goes to help people in need. Your pocket change is the smallest amount of charity you can give. The Salvation Army makes it so easy for you that you have to put forth no effort beyond digging in your wallet for some quarters or a five dollar bill if you’re feeling generous, and you get to walk away knowing you did something to help. Sure you didn’t sort through disgusting donation bins to pull out warm, clean clothing for the addicts who are living on the streets, or make sandwich after sandwich for the homeless who depend on the one meal these organizations provide every evening. Maybe you didn’t donate your clothes when you went through your closet, or make a cash donation online to any number of charitable organizations, but you did put some change in a kettle. That is a good thing. Any bit of charity helps. I know this, because I’ve received it, and it all helps. Every penny. Of course more is better, of course giving as much as you can give is best, but some change clanging in a bucket is great too.

Please don’t allow the poor or homeless, struggling to keep a home, or keep warm without a home this winter to suffer because the Salvation Army is a religious organization who has been known to discriminate against homosexuals. I am an atheist queer making this plea. I promise you, if you give to the Salvation Army, what you give will help. Let’s make helping the gay homeless a whole separate issue that should not be focused directly on the Salvation Army, because there are gay teens out there right now, homeless because they were kicked out of their homes, addicts because they weren’t able to properly deal with the struggles surrounding being gay. There are homosexuals who are in cold weather shelters who are going to be abused. The abuse homosexuals suffer doesn’t stop at the discrimination from the Salvation Army, or Christian organizations, but it is not condoned by giving to the helping faction of these organizations. When I give to the Salvation Army, I know what I give will go to delighting a child the way I was 25 years ago after my family lost everything.

All that being said, if your believe strongly against giving to any organization that is religious, or that has been known for discrimination against homosexuals, don’t let that keep you from donating your time or money to other organizations. While it’s true that most large charity organizations are Christian, there are other options. I will list a few below. Remember time is as generous as money. Donate clothing, toiletries, blankets, toys, food, and time if you can’t afford cash. Spread the word to others who are boycotting the bucket that there are other options. Keep your generous spirit. It feels as good to give as it does to receive.

The organizations listed below are Canadian and British Columbia based since that’s where we live, but they’re all wonderful projects worthy of donation. Charity Village is a great site that lists many charitable organizations. There is a section on the site for LGBTQ charities. Many homeless shelters run blanket drives throughout the winter where they accept warm clothing and blankets for cold-weather shelters, and for homeless on the streets. Schools and stores often do toy drives and canned food drives, as well. Ask at your local grocery store how to donate to your local food bank, or look on your city’s community website for shelters or low-income places seeking assistance. Ratesupermarket.ca offers a list of places to donate here. (and also is the source for the adorable image used with this post)

A Loving Spoonful – A Loving Spoonful is a volunteer-driven, non-partisan Society that provides free, nutritious meals to people living with HIV/AIDS in Greater Vancouver.

Covenant House – Covenant House provides helps to youth aged 16-24 who have fled physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse, those who have been forced from their homes, or those who have aged out of foster care.

Vancouver’s Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter – Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter is committed to advocating for women’s equality.

QMUNITY – QMUNITY is BC’s queer resource centre – the hub for the lesbian, gay, trans*, bi and queer community program, training and advocacy.

Kid’s Help Phone – To reach a Kids Help Phone professional counsellor, kids, teens and young adults, from any community in Canada, can call or go online 24 hours a day, 365 day a year.

The Trevor Project – The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24.

Lookout Society – Lookout Emergency Aid Society provides housing to the shelterless and homeless, connections to services in the community, support, supervision, direction and aid to anyone whose needs are not addressed by others, and safe surroundings.

Family Services of Greater Vancouver – Family Services of Greater Vancouver is a community-based not-for-profit organization providing crucial social services to children, youth, adults, and families across Vancouver, Richmond, Burnaby, New Westminster, and Surrey.

Katharine Hepburn & Ginger Rogers in Stage Door

November 18th, 2014|Categories: Classic Celebrities, Film, Writing|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Stage Door is a film from 1937 starring Ginger Rogers and Katharine Hepburn as aspiring actresses rooming together in a boarding house. Based on a stage play of the same title from 1936, the film also stars a 14 year old Ann Miller and Lucille Ball in one of her earliest roles. The story is about boarding house girls gathering to trade career and relationship support and quips while lounging together in a commons area dressed in either gorgeous pajamas or gorgeous gowns. One girl keeps a cat lying on her lap or across her shoulders at all times! She has my life!

Katharine Hepburn is the rich newcomer who has decided to have a real experience by sharing a room in a boarding house. Ginger Rogers is her poor, savvy, no nonsense roommate who detests Hepburn’s upper class ways. I don’t think the creator of the play or the film meant for this to happen, but what results when Rogers & Hepburn start to bicker and tease is a palpable sexual tension between the two actresses that you can CUT WITH A KNIFE! It’s just scene-after-scene of me shouting KISS HER! at the screen. Just looking at the promos sends me. Look at the eyes they’re making at each other! Oh, they are falling in love in spite of themselves! They cannot resist each other’s charm! I can’t either! KISS HER!

The amazing documentary The Celluloid Closet discusses gay subtext in film. There are so few films made with non-tragic gay lead characters, or non-stereotypical gay characters, that queer viewers must find the subtext between film characters. We find the characteristics that we relate, expand on relationships that the film only gives us a taste of, and discover through their behaviour how they’re like us. Stage Door is an easy film for us to fit ourselves inside. Rogers and Hepburn play their characters with a vague distaste in men and an intense interest in each other. They give us enough so that a gay audience is able to believe that maybe they are falling for each other, maybe their animosity will soften into something other than platonic friendship, maybe they do want to push their beds together and make each other moan. This is what we seek, and when we find it, we hold on tight!

Stoker

October 7th, 2014|Categories: Film, Writing|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Visually stunning and thick with sex/death metaphors, Stoker is a challenging, sumptuous film. Not only does it leave you wondering who the villain of the horror story truly is, but you’re left curious what kind of villain is doing the haunting. The movie is a gothic incestuous tale of deranged familial inheritance, classic vampire and serial killer storytelling weaves its way throughout while dark fetishes turn cruel acts of terror seductive and beautiful. Who is the blood nourishing? Why does the evil exist?

The movie begins with death when a wealthy father, Richard Stoker, dies suddenly, and his mysterious brother, Charlie, returns from travelling abroad to care for the grieving mother and daughter Richard left behind. Matthew Goode is both charming and frightening as the lecherous, deranged Uncle Charlie, and nobody plays a fragile porcelain doll as well as Nicole Kidman, who delivers a chilling monologue in the final act of the film that reminds me why I pledged my eternal devotion to Nicole, way back in 1992. It also proves that first-time writer Wentworth Miller is an outstanding talent. The performance that held me most captive though was Mia Wasikowska as India Stoker, the morbid mourning daughter. I’m hard on Mia. I think she’s been given acting opportunities based on performances that haven’t met her potential. I could see it blooming in her performances in Alice in Wonderland, Jane Eyre, and Lawless, but it never sparked until Stoker. In this film, she proves herself as strong a performer as her contemporaries: Carey Mulligan, Jennifer Lawrence, Rooney Mara. She effortlessly keeps up with Nicole Kidman, looks disturbingly similiar to Claire Danes in 1995, and, as much as I worship at the breathy, damaged altar of Nicole Kidman, Mia is the one who bewitched me.

The story got me thinking about the types of girls who are represented in coming-of-age stories – the whip-smart, strange, unusually beautiful girls. As I ruminated, I split them into categories: The Nymphet (Lolita; Lux Lisbon in The Virgin Suicides; Alicia Silverstone in the mid-90s), The Tiny Bad-ass (Mathilda in Leon; Chloe Moretz in Kick-Ass), The Lusty Awkward Girl (Winona Ryder in Mermaids; Claire Danes in My So Called Life, Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles, Dawn Wiener in Welcome to the Dollhouse), and The Macabre Eccentric (Merricat in Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle; Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice, Cecilia Lisbon in The Virgin Suicides).

India is a classic example of the macabre eccentric. I love these girls so much. They’re disarmingly smart and confident, they’re aware of their beauty, but they don’t use it, instead choosing to button it up and guard it like a sheathed weapon. They love anguish, yet they cannot externalize their own pain. They often have a caretaker, someone who gently inserts light into their shadowed world. India’s caretaker was her father. He recognized her darkness and brightened it with affection and acceptance. When taken from her, India flounders, left in a world of people who constantly ask, “What’s wrong with you?”

Growing up I so desperately wanted to be that girl. I had a piece of her inside me when I was very young, but she was overwhelmed by my awkward lustiness. I couldn’t own my eccentricities, I had no one who affirmed my strange compulsions by allowing me to be myself and never wonder what was wrong with me. Not that I don’t love the girl I became. I traded Wednesday Addams for Tina Belcher, and while I remained death-obsessed, I became incapable of buttoning up or internalizing. Every emotion released itself via aching tears smearing poorly applied cosmetics or enthusiastic guffaws, often shamed silent, but never for long. Shame entered my world sexually as well and I fervently prayed away a lust that only deepened as I matured. I couldn’t methodically button-up my lasciviousness, I needed to be looked at, affirmed, touched.

All these character types mature a different way, and some bleed into other categories, and other categories certainly exist, but many women are represented by these categories in film and literature. Which girl were you? Which girl did you want to be? Which girl still lives inside you?

With still set photography taken by Mary Ellen Mark, and beautiful direction by Oldboy’s Chan-wook Park, Stoker is intoxicating to absorb visually. Below is a collection of images from the film that best display how beautifully colour, costume, and set mingle to contribute important symbols to this quietly disturbing horror story.

Bo Words (September 7th-September 13th)

September 12th, 2014|Categories: Writing|Tags: , , |

Meow Meow!

I’ve been trying to write autobiographically more often lately. To encourage myself, at the end of each week, I’m going to gather up some of my words from the past week & share them with my LesBees. I’ll be sharing them originally on Facebook if you’d like to follow me there! You can also find me on Instagram, Flickr, & Twitter. All my Bo Words are gathered in a cozy little row here!

Love & Beyoncé,
Bo

A memory I barely remember by Bo Abeille

September 9th, 2014|Categories: Writing|Tags: |

I was once roofied at a club. The usual roofie happenings didn’t occur. I’m not even sure why someone slipped me a mickey since usually a drugged drink is accompanied by something sinister. I was at a gay bar I often visited, on my second drink, and suddenly I was stoned out of my mind and stumbling out of the bar with a friend, who had also been drugged, to his car. Of course we didn’t know at the time that we had been drugged; we just thought we felt awesome. He decided that we should drive to his rich friend’s house out in the country and play video games. “Great idea,” I replied, before abandoning my sober companions in their boring sober vehicles and willingly jumping into the passenger seat of my stoned friend’s car.

To put this scenario into perspective I’ll share two facts about me: I have a strong constitution and I do not drive drunk, or ride in cars with drunken people: ever. When I was 15 I was a passenger in a car that was struck by a drunk driver and I was seriously injured, so I strictly abided the No Drunk Driving laws, even during the most inebriated years of my misspent youth. I did, however, love liquor, and it loved me, and 2 drinks had never caused me to misplace my judgement so severely. But judgement-free, I was, so off I went into the car, and off we went on a terrible adventure.

First, I think we side-swiped a truck. I’m not sure, we also could have thought we side-swiped a truck, but it happened fairly early in our trip and all I recall is giggling manically while either fleeing the scene of a crime or driving away from an imagined crime. Next, I blacked out. Then I woke up feeling as though I was flying. I was not. Instead the car was zooming down the highway at some magical speed and I thought to myself, “So this is how I’m going to die.” A peaceful feeling overcame me as I succumbed to what I imagined was my inevitable end. I remember this with perfect clarity. It is the only moment of the evening that I perfectly recall: smiling, leaning back in my seat and succumbing. Soon after this moment of horrifying Zen, I blacked out and didn’t awake until the car stopped suddenly, in a ditch, and my friend sleepily told me he couldn’t drive any more and that he was just going to rest for awhile. I peered out the car window and noticed that it wasn’t just sleepiness that was deterring his desire to drive, but also that the front-end of his car was pressed against a street sign. It must have been the most gentle car crash of all time though, because I didn’t feel a thing, and he seemed to welcome the excuse to have a little nap.

A sluggish panic overwhelmed me and, instead of getting some shut-eye alongside my friend, I muttered something about needing to get out of there, stumbled out of the car, and began walking down the deserted highway. Again, my macabre Zen overwhelmed me and I imagined I was moments away from suffering a horror movie death, and I was fine with that conclusion. As I walked down the road, with no plan, no destination, I calmly considered who would murder me: a masked mad man; an escaped mental patient; a rabid wolf? I was cool with all these scenarios and I just kept walking, marvelling at how light I felt, how lovely it is to give in to whatever the future had in store. Either I was going to somehow sense my way home (which was about 100 miles away) or I was going to die. I was a willing pawn in fate’s Choose Your Own Adventure game.

Instead of welcoming the harm or help of a stranger, I grew weary. A sudden sleepiness overcame me, and like my friend resting peacefully in his gently crashed car a half-mile back, I decided now was a good time for sleep. So I lowered myself to the ground, curled up in my usual sleeping position, on my tummy, one leg cocked up, the other straight, head rested atop one forearm, and promptly fell fast asleep.

I was awoken some time later by a police officer. I have a vague fear of authority figures, even though it’s accompanied by an almost obsessive obedience. The police officer was kind. He asked me if I had any identification. I replied, “No, but I know my name.” He chuckled, led me to his vehicle and drove me to the police station. I don’t know what town I was in or remember much about this portion of my trip. All I recall is telling him about my sleeping friend (who I believe was arrested), and waiting a very long time for another friend to pick me up and drive me home. I can’t remember what I did while I waited; only that I had no outside stimulation for hours, and though my high was wearing off, I was content to crawl inside myself and live within that odd calm that only exists inside a drug trip. When I finally arrived home I devoured a ham and cheese Hot Pocket, climbed into bed, cried, and slept a dozen hours.

This happened 11 or 12 years ago. I remember it from time-to-time, usually when I’m exchanging anecdotes about odd youthful drug experiences with friends. When I retell it, it’s always comically with a shake-of-the-head sigh accompanying the tale that says, “Boy was I ever crazy.” Because, even though in that instance I did not mean to take whatever drug I took, I willingly swallowed, snorted and smoked plenty of substances when I was young, if only to have the experience, to give in to wherever the drug was going to take me. I sought this thrill in other aspects of my life as well. I suffered from terrible wanderlust, moving from location-to-location on a whim. I kissed many sets of unworthy lips and ignored the few that offered stability; kindness; comfort. I constantly sought ways to give in and lose control.

I am not that person any more, and what I realized in my most recent recalling of this anecdote, is that I don’t know that person either. I feel as if her memories were implanted in my brain; they’re fuzzy, like an episode of television that you could once recite verbatim and now you only recall in pieces, and maybe those bits are mixed with other episodes, or episodes from other shows, or details that were imagined. She is me though. I am attached to her, always, everything that happened to her imprinted itself on me, and I would not be where I am today if not for the choices I made in my past. I can distance myself as much as I like, compartmentalize by decade, or relationship, but I cannot escape who I used to be. Attempting to hide from your past is like playing hide-and-seek in a big empty room with only folding chairs to crouch behind. You’re hiding in plain sight. This does not, however, mean that change isn’t possible. It is, in fact, necessary. You must change. You must accept who you were in order to love who you currently are.

If we’re lucky, we get to be a lot of people in our life; we live long enough and experience life enough to slide into many skins, walk inside them for a spell, and shed them when they no longer fit. The difference between who I was then and who I am now is that I currently love the skin I’m in, and I fight whenever some part of me tries to loosen it. I want to be where I am, head clear, feet firmly planted on the ground. What I fear though, is losing that part of me that accepts change, that lets life flow through me and lives in whatever moment I’m given. I have decided that, though I no longer want to be that confused dancing leaf fluttering in the wind, unable to keep a grasp on anything solid or permanent, I also have no interest in being the tree that holds the leaf, unable to do much more than stand strong, but still, unmoved by anything but tragedy, stalwart and unchanged, watching everything happen around me. No. I am a branch on the tree. I am still when the air is still, I move with the changing seasons, I allow the elements to sometimes pass through me, sometimes land atop me, and I gracefully accept these changing conditions while holding tight to something deeply rooted and strong. I reach out and hold onto the delicate, but pretty foliage; I watch it bloom, reminisce about its beauty when it leaves me, and embrace it when it visits.

words written: August 9th, 2012