LOOP Magazine December 2017

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On the cover:

Photo Credit: Kevin Kuhn

Editor’s Note:

Bell time, swell time, blahblahblah... Is it over yet?

PUBLISHERS Whizzboom Media Buffalo Public Media EXECUTIVE EDITOR Christopher John Treacy CONTRIBUTORS Michael Rizzo Adrienne C. Hill Rod Hensel Ron Ehmke SALES Caitlin Coder

“Bobbles” by Betsy Marie. Betsy Marie is a locally based artist who is also the founder of Faith Ministry, a non-denominational ministry focused on ending domestic abuse through the ideas that ‘faith is love and ministry is teaching.’ She is also a lifelong psychic medium who’s available for readings. As a spirit painter, she often creates her art by channeling the spirits of artists that have come before her. Her visual work incorporates paint and other sources of color with found objects for texture and personal possessions to heighten memory and meaning. In addition, Besty Marie also offers a doll hospital service in which she restores ‘poor, tired sad little dolls’of all makes and materials to something closer to their original condition. Her self-published book of essays, “Voice for Change: A Commentary on Society” is availble through Amazon. Contact her on Facebook or directly: (716) 225-9796, betsymarie7@gmail.com



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News: A New look for ‘q’ by Michael Rizzo

One of LGBTQ Buffalo’s favorite Allen Street watering holes has been getting a facelift the past few months — and they’ve added craft beers to the menu. The overall look at Q hasn’t changed dramatically — and bar owner Mark Curtin calls the new carpeting, lighting, sound system and fresh interior paint “just things that were long overdue to spruce up the place” — but the improvements make for sleeker surroundings with stories to tell. Gone are all the oversized, fraying posters shouting out daily (and often outdated) drink specials; replaced with a “gallery” wall of about a dozen mounted photo blowups of antique cars circa the 1950s. The photographs were all taken by Curtin while site-seeing the streets of Habana, Cuba, in October on a vacation with his partner Noel Lurie. “It’s really cool the way they’re stuck in time,” he said. “I don’t know what’s under the hood. Probably Fred Flintstone, but it’s so cool to see them everywhere.” Look hard enough and you’ll spot Curtin and Lurie in one of the photos. A new, strategically placed Kegerator that doesn’t clutter up the bar-top the way

some draft beer dispensers do, now serves up ice-cold $6 pints of EBC Blueberry Wheat, Hamburg Small Town Saison, and Southern Tier IPA and One Buffalo blonde ale. “For the longest time, we’ve had people asking, ‘What do you have on draft?’” Curtin said, “And for 14 years, we didn’t. But people like draft, and people really want IPA on draft. Now we have it.” Q, 44 Allen St., has been gay-owned and operated since it opened, and Curtin has been there since the beginning. It’s the kind of neighborhood-style, relaxed atmosphere where everyone knows your name and “it’s not super clubby,” but a state-of-the-art jukebox allows patrons to create their own vibe. It’s a popular hang-out for the theater crowd, dart-players and Imperial Court of Buffalo with several potluck and buffet-included happy hours throughout the week, and you can expect to catch either sports and news, or reality television and classic movies playing on its two TVs. The bar is packed on Sundays for football and Tuesday nights for karaoke, or catch live music by The Pelicans on Monday nights and trivia night on Wednesdays.

silver lining: A Silver Pride Christmas list by Rod Hensel Dear Santa: Well, a big Ho-Ho-Ho to you from your LGBTQ senior friends in the Silver Pride Project. We know you specialize in children, but we thought it wouldn’t hurt to check in with our Christmas wish list. We have been REALLY good this year, and we can prove it! We were thrilled in November when the Network On Aging, the big regional group of service providers for seniors, named us as the 2017 recipient of the Program Of Excellence award, given for “outstanding and innovative contributions to the geriatric citizenry of Western New York.” Then just a few weeks later, the Center for Elder Law and Justice gave us an award as their Community Partner of the Year. And don’t forget, Santa: As a result of our partnership with Erie County, the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York named us as one of ten groups to receive $25,000 in funding, earmarked to help us learn about applying Design Thinking as a means of reimagining how to address the needs of older adults and caregivers. It’s part of Aging by Design, a four-year initiative developed by the Foundation. We’re not exactly sure what all that means, but it sounds like a really good thing.. We get tons of help from the Pride Center of Western New York, but they have learned we can be cantankerous if they try to tell us what’s good for us. We’re old enough to decide that for ourselves, thank you. So, now we have five regular events each month and a bunch of extra meetups that we think would be fun (we went to Parkside Candy last month). We have about 140 people signed up to receive our event listings, and we do a lot of the planning right on our Facebook page. But Santa, we could use some help from you or your helpers in the community. Take our coffee hour, which is held on the second Saturday of each month at 10 a.m. in the café of the Amherst Street Wegmans. When we moved things there last year we were pretty happy, and pleased to be getting 20 or so people each month. But it’s been growing. Last month we had 38 attendees, and our allotted

cafe space is getting as crowded as the dance floor at the old Mean Alice’s. If anyone could help us find a bigger place with coffee and bakery treats, not to mention ample parking, we would be much obliged. We have a lot of isolated LGBTQ seniors out there who need help from time to time. Studies show LGBTQ seniors are twice as likely to be single and to live alone. We also grow old poorer and less healthy than the population as a whole, often times with no ties to a family or religious organizations which are main sources of help to many seniors. What we need is an intergenerational solution, where members of the various LGBTQ communities would volunteer to lend a hand, and we seniors in turn could share what we have learned over the years to help them out. Plus, we need better ways to stay in touch so we seniors can help out each other. Of course our big ask, Santa, is for LGBTQ senior housing, where we could have LGBTQ neighbors and facilities for meetups and activities. Evergreen Health Services doesn’t want to embark on another housing project, so what we need, Santa, is for you to send us a private developer. They could provide the facility, and we could provide a stream of tenants and services to make it profitable. Well, we won’t take up more of your time Santa. We know kids are priority one, but on the Hallmark Channel you are always helping out some guy and gal to find romance during the holidays (and hey, why no LGBTQ people?) so we figured there was no age discrimination at the North Pole. But if you aren’t too tired after that long night in the sleigh, we would be honored to have you, your helpers and anyone who needs a place to go, to join us on Christmas Day. We will be gathering at 1 pm on December 25 at the Eastern Pearl, 927 Maple Road, in Amherst. We have been doing this Christmas Day tradition now for four years, and we always have a great time. Besides, why not have Chinese food for Christmas? So, hugs to you, Santa, and Happy Holidays from all your Silver Pride pals. LOOP - DECEMBER 2017


‘Rainbow Heart’ to the Rescue

Cheektowaga’s Will Mason takes regional educators to school by Michael Rizzo

Thanks to significant support from Pride Center of Western New York and a Kickstarter project with 212 backers shoring up a $12,000 budget, a new children’s book with a creative approach to teaching love and acceptance of LGBTQ identities will start hitting the shelves at school libraries in Buffalo’s 44 public elementary schools this month.

Copies of The Boy With The Rainbow Heart, by Will Mason, 30, of Cheektowaga, will also be distributed to schools in Orchard Park, East Aurora, Clarence, Cheektowaga, Cleveland, Syracuse and Rochester — a total of 2,000 copies, including 25 to schools in Rochester, Minn., the result of a lucky mistake during efforts to make contacts in Rochester, N.Y. Designed for children ages 3 to 9, the book tells the story of a young boy with a rainbow heart who turns the town of Gray into the town of Shine — through love, kindness and being himself.

“School systems, in my opinion, need to have way more diverse literature,” Mason said, drawing on his experiences as a school social worker intern at two local elementary schools while earning his master’s degree at University at Buffalo. “Kids who feel different, or feel ostracized, or early on know they’re different, or think they may be: it’s important for them to be able to see themselves in the books they read, to have characters that look like them, to feel normalized.” It’s the issue that was at the heart of Mason’s concept for the book, and Pride Center Senior Director Damien Mordecai agreed that a lack of literature in public schools representative of the LGBTQ community is a problem. “There isn’t a lot of resources, even in terms of just publications, that are available to students,” he said.



“You can just imagine what is in their library. There isn’t enough.”

The words “gay,” “lesbian,” “transgender,” or any others related to non-binary sexual or gender identities are never used in the book, but the iconic rainbow imagery can’t be missed. Because of that, the book has a feel to it that Mason describes as “abstract, almost fable-like,” and that move, he said, was intentional. In part, it allows the book’s message to be that much broader, he said, and inclusive of all identities — across race, religion and age — not just those of the LGBTQ community. It’s also hoped that the more subtle messaging will help ensure the book makes its way directly into the classroom. That being the end-goal, Mason’s, wife, sister and mother — all with professional experience in the classroom and with school boards — helped with the editing of the book. And he and his team conducted a small focus group in New York City to ensure the storyline and imagery was palatable and spoke even to those who didn’t identify as LGBTQ.

“We know that change is slow,” Mason said. “Schools are governed by boards, and it can be very difficult to get any kind of diverse or LGBTQ content into schools, especially for kids. Being a little bit more gentle with our theme and language was a way to open the door to have schools at least consider putting it in their curriculum in some way.” Each of Buffalo’s public elementary schools are receiving three free copies — one each for the library, the school social worker and the school psychologist. Books are available for purchase at Talking Leaves and Thin Ice on Elmwood Avenue, Burning Books on Connecticut Street, and online at amazon.com for $14.95, or directly from the author for $10.

All images coutesy of the author

Archives: Reed Miller & the Prison-Industrial Complex by Adrienne C. Hill For LGBTQ Buffalonians involved in progressive activism, November was a difficult month. Concerned about the epidemic of suicides and mysterious deaths at the Erie County Holding Center and frightened by a county sheriff who poses in front of Confederate flags, several members of our LGBTQ community worked tirelessly throughout the fall to oust Sheriff Tim Howard. On November 22, after two weeks of waiting for the absentee ballot count, these activists learned that, despite their efforts, Howard would become Erie County Sheriff for a fourth term. While those who worked to install a new sheriff may feel discouraged by the failure of their campaign, understanding the historical context in which this campaign operated reveals that this work was part of something bigger—both a longer-running local campaign and a national movement to combine LGBTQ rights with an analysis of the prison-industrial complex. Reed Miller, a trans activist now based in New Haven, Connecticut, is responsible for spurring a conversation in Buffalo about the plight of LGBTQ prisoners. A native of the Rochester area, Miller moved to Buffalo in 2004 to pursue a degree in environmental engineering at the University at Buffalo. During his tenure in Buffalo, Miller engaged in environmental and workers’ rights activism while also performing as a drag king named Jim Klass. It was not until graduation, however, that he merged his activism with his LGBTQ identity. “I was living in North Carolina after I graduated, and I participated in a project called Tranzmission,” says Miller. “Tranzmission was a small project matching people up with LGBT inmates in prison, and also sending books to them. And so, as I would be hanging out with them, they would say, ‘Hey, I’m going to go in the other room and write to my gay pen pal.’” Before moving to North Carolina, Miller hadn’t ever given much thought to the prison system. For him, the use of prisons to punish and confine those who commit crimes seemed self-evident. But as he spoke with other members of Tranzmission, it became clear to him that LGBTQ people are overrepresented in jails and prisons, and that they were more vulnerable to violence than their straight, cisgender counterparts. “A lot of us have been distanced from our birth families due to homophobia and transphobia, and we rely on a chosen family for support,” Miller explains. “But when you’re in prison, you often have your support systems cut off from you. So, if you don’t have your mom and dad writing to you and putting money in your commissary, and you’re already being targeted, how are you supposed to survive?” The experience of writing to prisoners, combined with reflection on his time in Buffalo, led Miller to conclude that prisoner advocacy constituted the next important step in the LGBTQ rights movement. “When I lived in Buffalo,” he says, “I had read [Leslie Feinberg’s novel] Stone Butch Blues. And you read about how the main character puts up with all sorts of police harassment at the bars, related to their clothes not matching their supposed gender. Those concepts already resonated with me—recognizing how Stonewall was a police riot, and how the first pride parade in New York City marched past a jail because people’s lovers were inside.” Today, Miller is a member of Black and Pink—the largest LGBTQ prison advocacy organization in the nation. He considers himself to be a prison abolitionist—someone who believes that the prison system should be replaced with a new set of methods for repairing social harm. “When you were learning about slavery in school, how many times did you think to yourself: ‘If I was alive when slavery existed, I would absolutely be an abolitionist’?” Miller asks. “That’s what the current situation is in the United States. Slavery is still legal in the Constitution if it takes place within prisons.” What Miller’s referring to is the caveat in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which outlaws slavery except as a punishment for a crime. It is, therefore, legal to force someone who has been incarcerated into labor for no pay. “I consider the institution of prisons to be leftover slavery, and there’s no way to reform it into something that’s acceptable,” he continued. “It needs to be completely abolished, and harm needs to be dealt with in other ways.”

Buffalo Queer and Trans Prisoner Solidarity Project

Miller returned to Buffalo in the summer of 2009. Upon his return, he founded the Buffalo Queer and Trans Prisoner Solidarity Project. At first, the primary function of the Solidarity Project was to establish a prisoner pen pal program. The group met Tuesdays in the former Buffalo Car Share offices at 14 Allen Street, and provided participants with letter-writing materials, a list of incarcerated contacts, and a PO Box to use as a return address. It functioned secondarily as an educational project, starting a reading group, screening documentaries such as Cruel and Unusual about the plight of LGBTQ prisoners, and performing a play that Miller freely admits was “terrible” at Rust Belt

Books for Infringement Festival. Called “Night Out,” the play focuses on the plight of Kyle, a trans man who is bashed at the now-defunct club Adonia after revealing his trans status to a straight woman. It goes on to explore ways that LGBTQ people can pursue justice for anti-queer violence without resorting to tangling with the criminal justice system. In July of 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice released a 50-page report detailing the findings of a 2-year investigation against the Erie County Holding Center and Erie County Correctional Facility. The report uncovered grisly stories of a pregnant woman being beaten by jail deputies, of prisoners being given cavity searches with used rubber gloves, and of deputies taking handcuffed prisoners to an elevator with no security cameras for beatings. It decried the inadequate medical care being given to inmates, the poor sanitary conditions of both jails, and described the Holding Center as a dilapidated building full of objects that could be fashioned into weapons or devices for committing suicide. Ultimately, the report concluded that Erie County jails were so poorly run that they violated prisoners’ constitutional rights. The DOJ report galvanized the Solidarity Project, and inspired Miller to get in touch with long-time local prisoner advocate Karima Amin, proposing a protest in front of the Erie County Holding Center. The “No Excuse for Prisoner Abuse” demonstration took place on August 5, 2009. Miller recalls that the plan was hastily thrown together: “We didn’t have a solid plan when we got started, you know? Usually, when you plan a campaign, you strategize your goals. And eventually, we got around to that. But we started out just saying, ‘You know what? Let’s hang out on the corner with some signs during rush hour, and shame the heck out of this facility.’” The plan worked. Although only about 25 people attended that first protest, it drew attention from local news media. The reaction from news and inmates alike sparked the idea to turn the stand-alone protest into a weekly demonstration in front of the Holding Center—one that lasted several years. The weekly demonstrations ultimately inspired the creation of the Erie County Prisoners’ Rights Coalition, a conglomeration of activist groups who called for the Erie County Sheriff ’s Office to implement the 14 pages of recommendations included in the DOJ report and to create a committee advisory board to oversee the county jails. These activist measures drew mixed success. In 2011, spurred by a mixture of public pressure and a DOJ lawsuit, the sheriff ’s office reached a settlement to let outside experts monitor and report on their efforts to implement the DOJ’s recommendations. The sheriff ’s office sealed the resulting reports, however, and it took a second lawsuit by the NYCLU to unseal them. In the same year, Erie County established the Erie County Community Corrections Advisory Board. The board operated until 2014, when the county gutted it, removing all the community activists from the board and turning it into what Karima Amin called, “…a cheerleading squad for the sheriff.” Miller, however, did not remain in Buffalo to oversee these developments. He moved to Boston in the fall of 2009. Once there, he met with Reverend Jason Lydon, who operated a blog named Black and Pink. Miller and Lydon transformed Black and Pink.org from a blog into an 10,000-member organization with multiple chapters across the country—including, for a brief period of time in 2014, a Western New York chapter run by local activist Kyem Brown. Today, Black and Pink educates the public about the plight of LGBTQ prisoners, provides direct services to its incarcerated members, and in 2015, conducted the largest ever survey of incarcerated members of the LGBTQ community. Reflecting back on his time in Buffalo, Miller concludes: “I think now I probably wouldn’t advocate setting up a group and then leaving, but I was hoping that I would set the foundation for something that would continue. I do definitely think that a dialogue, and a controversy and a conversation were kicked off. And I think our presence helped further the recognition that when we’re talking about folks who are locked up in the county jail, there are gay, transgender, lesbian, and bisexual people in there… and their experiences are likely going to be disproportionately worse than others’.” The Buffalo Queer and Trans Prisoner Solidarity Project did not last past 2010. But, as Miller hoped, it did launch a conversation about the LGBTQ community and the prison industrial complex that has continued intermittently to the present day—through the brief establishment of a local Black and Pink chapter, to the recent efforts by LGBTQ people affiliated with SURJ and Queers for Racial Justice to oust Sheriff Tim Howard in the most recent election. In the meantime, Black and Pink runs a campaign at the end of each year encouraging people to send holiday cards to incarcerated members of the LGBTQ community. A holiday card is a tiny gesture, but when a prisoner receives mail, it lets fellow inmates and corrections officers alike know that the prisoner has allies on the outside, and offers them a measure of protection against violence and abuse. For the fifteen minutes it takes to contact Black and Pink for pen pal information, then write and send a card… it’s an incredible holiday gift to give a stranger. LOOP - DECEMBER 2017


the disconnect Bitchcraft 101: The cultish art of the deal by Michael Rizzo I don’t know why, but for some reason, Trump supporters love me.

I must give off some kind of verbal-diarrhea-receptacle pheromone that only waspy, white males with a loaded god complex can smell, and it acts like this one-percent MAGAnet just drawing them closer and closer to me at a bar or party. And if it’s not a Trump supporter, it’s a whiteprivilege denier, an unduly ego-inflated flag-enthusiast, or a Nickelback fan. I don’t know how. They just find me. And they want to talk to me. It’s painful listening to un-woke folk attempting to discuss their opinions as if they aren’t shortsighted, ethnocentric or compassionless, but I’m not one to get my reading glasses out in an otherwise relaxed social setting and tear into an ignor-anus. I generally don’t do well at confrontation, and my social justice warfare is rarely of the frontline, guns-a-blazing modality we see so much on social media.

I’m more guerrilla-style, a technique I’ll admit is a manifestation of my years spent as a Jehovah’s Witness, practicing tools for indoctrination and conversion. Eleven years of training in their Theocratic Ministry School not only made me a mean Saturday morning door-knocker who didn’t take “I’m not interested” for an answer, it garnered me a post-cult talent for subtlety and persuasive suggestion. When forced to engage in combat, I posit the following rules of engagement. Play dumb. If you make your opponent feel like it’s the first time you’ve ever been exposed to their argument and you really just want to understand, they’ll become more vested in the conversation. They’ll start listening closer when you talk, because in their minds, they’ve now taken on the role of teacher, not debater. Smile a lot. Slip in a joke and a laugh here and there. Make them feel comfortable — and smart. This is your opportunity to find out the specific reasons why they believe what they believe, which will come in handy later.

Ask a lot of questions. That’s even if you know what the answers are going to be. When someone loves the sound of their own voice, you might as well let them do the talking. And because their arguments are clumsy to begin with, the more you ask them to explain themselves, the more likely they are to trip themselves up — all on their own. They’re playing teacher, so they won’t let it show (if they’ve even acknowledged it themselves yet), but they’ve now stumbled on holes in their own argument, which is exactly the trap you were trying to set.

Agree with them. Not with their stupidity, but with their path there. Validate why they feel the way they feel, not what they feel. It’s a bit of reverse psychology that will get them nodding in agreement with you and saying things like “Exactly!” when what’s really happening is they’re acknowledging their own ignorance without even realizing it — yet. Plus, once they’ve told you that you get it, it’s hard to take that back.

Turn the tables. You know why they believe what they believe, you’ve opened up holes in their argument, and you’ve got them thinking you’re both on the same page. Use all that to set the stage with a relatable scenario — true stories and personal experiences work best — and go back to asking questions. Make them apply their belief system in a reallife situation. Get them attempting to defend the indefensible until they justifiably can’t anymore. Don’t announce victory. Don’t rub in defeat. Simply segue into your closing argument. It’s time to get them woke. “Does that make sense?” They’ve taken all the bait, you’ve reeled them in, and you’ve dropped the hammer. I cannot overemphasize how well this question works as the clincher for your argument. With the right inflection in these four final words, you’ll give off the perfect balance of genuine sincerity and subtle condescension that really seals the deal. The conversation has been nothing but agreeable from the beginning, so only a real dick can say no.

These cult-like tactics may come across as a bit manipulative, but they’re affective — and entertaining to employ. I’d say it’s a form of bitchcraft, the art of calling people out in such a way that they have no idea what has happened to them, until they later find themselves overwhelmed by a sense of complete guilt and epiphany, and they believe it to have been of their own cognition. It takes time, but it works. After a recent engagement with a flag-enthusiast that managed to sniff me out at a house party, I was informed by our mutual acquaintance that he now refers to me as “his new friend Mikey.” I’m sure that means we’ll have a Round 2 at some point — what Jehovah’s Witnesses call a “return visit” — and he’ll probably be listening even closer. Sometimes I wish I could just turn the pheromones off, but I suppose one could argue they’re actually a gift. From God. And I’m just doing his work. Does that make sense?

climate change: Try to remember by Ron Ehmke The best thing about holidays and annual days or months of observance— from Christmas and Hanukah to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday to the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots—is that they bring certain recurring themes back into relevance once a year. The worst thing about them is that they end up giving us implicit permission to push those themes to the back of our minds the rest of the time. Queer people, women, and African Americans all now receive a month of attention—and eleven months of neglect by the world at large.

We just passed one such annual marker: World AIDS Day, December 1. The documentaries were rebroadcast, the interviews with queer leaders were reprinted and replayed (and if you’ve never heard Terry Gross’s conversation with Cleve Jones on Fresh Air, by all means give it a listen), lip service was given. Then the world moved on to the latest demented tweet from our Liar in Chief. On the local front, I have once or twice been one of the folks whose writing about the epidemic from back in the day gets revisited during observances of December 1. And I have also been in the audience in recent years when other writers and performers have revisited that dark time for people too young to know the full horror of the AIDS epidemic firsthand.

It’s a strange feeling, being in the company of younger queers (excuse me, LGBTQI people) to whom talk of AZT, protease inhibitors, die-ins, and Jesse Helms is both brand-new and safely consigned to ancient history. On the one hand, I despair that such a crucial chapter of our collective history is in danger of being forgotten, that all those pink triangle buttons and SILENCE = DEATH t-shirts now consigned to shoeboxes in closets (that most symbolic of spaces for us) were just another dated fashion accessory, that all the life-or-death activism so many of us took part in so very long ago was just an adolescent phase we would pass through on our way to more pressing matters of contemporary adulthood in the 21st century, like mortgages, retirement savings plans, and keeping up with an ever-multiplying number of Kardashians. I fear, too, that all those men and women who died so young really will vanish from national memory and official history—just as we have collectively decreed the epidemic a thing of the past, when in fact it continues to ravage an entire continent on the other side of the globe (and is by no means gone from the U.S., for that matter). On the other hand, a part of me is thrilled and relieved that we have left the era of endless memorial services and “political funerals” (kids, that’s where you dumped the ashes of your fellow activist/lover on the grounds of a federal or state government building as one final posthumous pro6


test). Only a truly sadistic malcontent would wish what we went through back then upon yet another generation.

I think it’s wonderful that what once felt like an apocalypse—the end of us all—is now ancient history, because it reminds me that every nightmare eventually comes to an end, even if another is waiting in the wings of the American Dream. That in turn gives me—and those who come after me—hope for the future. If our peers and elders made it through the untimely deaths of almost an entire generation of gay and bisexual men, we can make it through whatever the present moment has in store for us. On Election Night 2016, before Clinton conceded but when the writing was on the wall, a twenty-something bisexual woman I am lucky enough to know, the daughter of one of my oldest and dearest friends, sent me a sobering text. “How did you survive Reagan as a young gay man?,” she asked. I told her it wasn’t easy, but I also pointed out that we did indeed survive. We spent much of that dire night chatting, and while I believe we were both in tears at the time, it was a joyous exchange, too.

We—my young friend and I, and you, too, no matter how old or young you are, no matter where you fall on the Kinsey scale, no matter what you have dealt with in your own life thus far—we all NEED the lessons of the past to get us through the present and whatever the future holds in store. (President … Pence?)

We need to start comparing notes with each other—and fortunately, a lot of us kept a lot of rather detailed notes, in the form of activist training videos, historical accounts, plays, documentary films, organizing pamphlets, and even those now-shelved buttons and t-shirts, which displayed some of the savviest graphic design the Left has ever seen. Some of the specific strategies that worked back then can be rebooted for a new era just as easily and successfully as James Bond, Batman, and Star Wars. Others, not so much—but I find we learn even more from our mistakes than our victories. Meanwhile, there are an endless number of tools available today that no one could even have dreamed of in the days before even the dial-up modem and AOL came along. (Social networks are a far more efficient PR tool than phone trees ever were, and I will be quite happy if I never see, or have to fundraise to pay for, another bulk mailing party in someone’s living room in my life.) Step one is to share what we have and what we know, across generations, genders, races, and all the other divisions that once kept us apart. Because we’re all in this together.

And we can never be silent again.

gRinchy ghey redux: How Assange stole Christmas by Christopher Treacy producing toys for children, organically. If you want an electronic gizmo contraption, you’re on your own.”

But retail representatives were having none of it. They seemed to think Santa was beholden to them for something. “We wouldn’t have to endure this annual Black Friday massacre if that lazy fat slob did what’s expected of him. He had one job, and he blew it!”

He’d tried to keep up, he really had. In a last ditch attempt to boost morale, Santa had sent his entire fleet of elves to Amazon Fulfillment training sessions. The e-commerce mavens had agreed to train the elves for an exorbitant fee, provided that they all sign NDAs. Santa had taken out a mafia loan to make it happen. Now, on top of all else, he had the Digorno family to contend with. What he hadn’t realized was that Amazon’s entire operation was riddled with methamphetamine abuse as a result of the inhuman pacing the job required. When Santa’s crew returned from training, it quickly became apparent that some of the elves had developed unfortunate new habits. Worse yet, the drug abuse fed right into the sexual ambiguity that was already a component of elfin life at the North Pole. But now, what was once something kept on the down-low was inescapably obvious: the elves were making their own meth and their own niche-market, drugfueled, elf-on-elf pornography. Those that didn’t imbibe were soon filing allegations of sexual abuse against those who did. It was a mess. ‘Twas the night before Christmas, and nobody had done a goddamn thing.

Santa Claus was in dire straits. The antidepressants were just barely working. Adding Abilify hadn’t helped. Operations at his storied North Pole headquarters had ground to a halt.

“I don’t understand how it all went to hell so quickly,” Santa said to his barber, Cole, who was busy combing the knots from an unusually matted white beard. “For the last two years, it’s been nothing but lawsuit after lawsuit. That Assange creep really screwed me but good. If only he’d come to me first, I could’ve explained it was all just a failed experiment. I meant no malice!” It was a frigid early December afternoon, but Cole had been listening to Santa reflect on his demise since the weather was warm. Every few weeks the iconic holiday fixture would disguise himself as an aging hipster in ill-fitting skinny jeans and a modified fedora, making his way over from a rundown Anchorage motel for a beard trim and oiling. The professional grooming was the closest thing to a spa day that Santa could afford—a cheap way to momentarily make himself feel better. He’d been living on credit cards for months, placating himself with false hope that things would improve, that he could settle his financial burdens and rise above all the negative press. His lawyers were doing everything they could, but the outlook was bleak. Cole, who’d promised never to reveal the portly man’s identity, would have tidied the beard for free. After all, his legal team was working pro-bono. But Santa insisted on paying.

Julian Assange had started the ugly avalanche. Almost two years to the day, he’d leaked information that exposed Santa’s complicit involvement in a covert government operation that spied on children, keeping records of whether they’d been naughty or nice and tracking their sleep patterns. It was unclear what the value of the information was to US (or Russian) officials, but tacking the blame on Santa seemed plausible enough to a public that’d elected a learningdisabled reality television star as their leader. People were horrified. Spying on kids? Tracking their sleep patterns? Creepy.

“Clearly it wasn’t working since those thankless little shits were getting showered with gifts regardless of how they behaved,” Santa exclaimed, wincing as Cole ran his comb through a particularly gnarly knot.

It was all true. Santa had reluctantly agreed to participate in “Operation Comin’ to Town,” a name chosen by President Trump’s cronies, who apparently thought themselves very clever. He’d gone along since it’d seemed like a possible solution to the epidemic problem of spoiled American children, an issue that’d been making him anything but jolly for too many years. That and, if he’d refused, the government threatened to pull the plug on funding for his North Pole operations… monies which were badly needed to keep his workshop functioning.

It no longer mattered. After the Assange incident, the floodgates opened. It seemed that everyone had a grievance with old St. Nick. Suing Santa was the new black. That the Claus Compound barely generated any revenue and mostly existed on grants was completely lost on these people, who seemed to think the man in red must be loaded. Some folks even tried suing for chimney damage. The reality was that Santa and all of his workers had been doing it for free all these years - for the joy of giving. The only money he made was from the use of his likeness, on the rare occasion that someone actually asked to use it and agreed to the standard fee. Most of the time, however, they didn’t ask. In that same spirit of giving, Santa had kept his mouth shut. Now he was sorry: The most recent slew of lawsuits were from angry department store Santas insisting that they’d endured trauma and had PTSD from being urinated on day-in and day-out by irritable children. Two-thirds of the disgruntled lot had also tried hanging their alcoholism on this premise.

Early on, the church had sued, followed by myriad other religious factions. The Catholics argued that Santa had misused a high holy day for his own gain, while the others maintained he’d ”twisted a Judeo-Christian concept into something more universal, resulting in a annual cash grab that saddles everyone, regardless of spiritual affiliation, with an unspeakable financial burden.” “Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and Target all came after me, attempting to offset their own legal woes from Black Friday deaths and injuries,” he recounted. Cole remembered seeing the story on Facebook and thinking it was probably fake news. At the time he’d never imagined he’d be shaping Santa’s beard, listening to him repeatedly reflect on the never-ending witch hunt.

Santa went on to explain that big-box retailers were looking for compensation because, they insisted, the violent shopping frenzy could be avoided if the Claus workshop produced the high ticket electronic items people want the most—video consoles, plasma televisions, high-end smartphones, laptops and tablets, etc. That they profited mightily from Black Friday seemed to be a detail lost in the shuffle. It defied logic. “Nonsense,” he’d responded in a formal statement. “My workshop has always been focused on

“The workshop is completely destroyed,” Santa lamented. “Long before they turned it into a sex dungeon, they’d begun taking the machines apart in a state of drug-induced psychosis. They’d tried to convince me it was all just about updates and repairs, but I caught on! Soon they were violating one another with giant wooden dowels and making slings out of reinforced felt.” He leaned in a bit. “Elves don’t weigh that much, you know.” Apparently not, thought Cole, resorting to cutting some of the forming dreadlocks with scissors while the image of a prone, tweaking elf in a felt sling flashed before his eyes.

The elves had taken to creeping around at night, twitching and acting strange. There seemed to be no end to their depravity, and they’d found a lawyer willing to try suing their employer for dental benefits to help deal with the damage the drug abuse was doing to their teeth. Unable to take it any longer, Santa traveled down to Anchorage for respite. Mostly he got Chinese takeout and holed up in his ratty motel room, guzzling cheap gin and watching reruns of Law and Order. He loved the synthesized gavel sound.

It wasn’t like there was much left for him up there, anyhow. Mrs. Claus had vacated a year earlier. All the stress had left Santa impotent, and the antidepressants had only exacerbated the problem. In need of some affection, she’d begun chatting online with a Harley enthusiast who’d braved the cold on his Fat Boy one afternoon and whisked her off. They couldn’t have gone too far, however.: A rumor was circulating that a pair of leather-clad seniors fitting their description had been spotted creeping around the compound late at night, partying with elves at the workshop. Santa couldn’t bear the thought. “It’s only a matter of time before they botch the drug cooking process and the building blows to bits. I just pray my wife’s not around when it does,” he cried in anguish. “Hold still,” Cole said, scissors in hand. “I wouldn’t want to accidentally stab you.”

Even his beloved reindeer had turned on him, growing angry and self-righteous in recent years just as the Christmas season approached. Unbeknownst to Santa, the reindeer had gotten tangled up with steroid use. It certainly explained the change in demeanor. When the steroid ring became fodder for the press, it was just one more thorn in Santa’s side. The reindeer angrily pointed their hooves at him, characterizing him as a slave-driving egomaniac. In an exclusive interview with TMZ, Prancer came out of retirement to address the situation.

“I left years ago, before the doping,” she said. “They don’t like folks to know much about us given the propensity for animal rights activists to make a stink, but most of the original reindeer have been replaced by offspring. Even back then, though, Santa was insufferable…there was so much pressure for this one big night to come off flawlessly. He was like a Bridezilla! Still, it’s a strenuous run, even for the young bucks…enough so that depending on a little chemical enhancement seems perfectly logical to me. Plus, have you ever galloped through polluted air? Girl, it’s like trying to run in a swimming pool!” The scent of cedarwood brought Santa’s wandering mind back to the barber shop where Cole had just finished oiling his beard. He handed over the credit card, noticing that the letters spelling Kris Kringle had become flattened. Cole went to the front of the shop to ring him up while Santa put his coat back on and admired his beard, now cut into a slimming v-shape, reflected in the mirror. When he waddled up to the counter, so much of himself spilling over the top of the skinny jeans, Cole whispered the bad news. “This one’s on me, buddy. Your card was declined.”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” was all the old man could muster.


This column appeared last December in The Public as part of the ongoing Grumpy Ghey series I write for them. It’s the only piece of pure fiction I’ve ever had publsihed. As a journalist, I don’t have much time for creative writing. The Grumpy Ghey column allows me the freedom to tackle topics from myriad vantage points, which is a luxury I’m still not used to. It’s hard to remember that there aren’t necessarily any rules. People often ask me whether I enjoy writing, and the answer to that question is complicated. There are aspects of journalism I enjoy, sure, but it’s also a job. And while there are facets of my career that are indeed creative, it is very different from ‘creative writing’ as people tend to think of it. Anyway, I wanted to reprint this for the holidays this year. I did enjoy writing it, and it still feels relevant. I added a very few details. Make no mistake: I wasn’t always such a scrooge. It’s just that the Santa Claus I remember is very difficult to access these days if he still exists at all. Over the years, I have found that it’s much easier for me to accept difficult to swallow realities once I’ve made fun of them for a good long while. Being at odds with Christmas remains hard for me to accept, so... here we are. Happy Holidays. - CJT





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