Monday, November 27, 2006


(and it loves me)

During my visit home for American Thanksgiving, I did something out of character that I have never done before at my parents’ home:

I drank coffee.

Our parents have never been coffee drinkers and mocked those addicts that needed their daily dosage to start their day as weak. Consequently, although I tried to drink coffee in all its various forms (mocha, latte, espresso), it was never something I could take to. Instead our family drank all kinds of tea, which, in retrospect, was probably healthier in the long run. (Although coffee is a good source of antioxidants.)

“But how can I take you out for coffee if you don’t drink coffee?” my favourite cousin would whine. Working as a barista at Marco’s or running a coffee shop, coffee was more than a frivolous pastime for her. Coffee, hot or iced, is an essential part of her day.

I clearly remember the day I accidentally fell in love with coffee. My boyfriend and I had been riding around the back roads of Korea and had finally stopped at a restaurant to eat some lunch. We removed our shoes and stepped up on the raised wooden platform and sat on square, flat pillows. After we ate a delicious bibimbap meal, a paper cup filled half full of coffee appeared in front of me. “Oh! Sorry!” my boyfriend apologized. “I forgot to tell them that you drink tea, not coffee. Do you want me to tell them?” Hating to cause a fuss and waste it, I decided that a half-glass of coffee (no more than three swallows at most) would probably be manageable.

It was delicious. I couldn’t believe it. It was sweet and hot. The slick it left on my tongue was reminiscent of chocolate. And it left me wanting more. From that day on, I branched out. The best way to do this was by signing up for “Coffee Tuesdays” at my school. Paying the equivalent of $5 weekly in advance allowed me to get a cup of whatever Starbucks delivered each Tuesday. Sometimes it was white mocha or sometimes it was latte. I began to learn what stronger coffee tasted like and how to add sugar or milk to make it work for me. Then my boyfriend got a coffee maker and we started having coffee on mornings we really needed the extra boost. People gave us coffee grounds for gifts so that gave us more reason to make coffee. Now we are living in Toronto, usually we have one cup in the morning with our breakfast and then some kind of tea after our dinner at night.

So I will have to say Korea opened my mind to the yummy goodness that is coffee. Other tastes I acquired while living there were mushrooms, eggplants and garlic. So good!! Before I didn’t go near them but now I love them and look forward to seeing them in the dishes I eat. Now I’ve left Korea, I await in anticipation of the culinary changes the country of Canada will bring me!

What tastes have you acquired since you've "grown up?"

*Danifesto Update: For Thanksgiving my cousin gave us a bag of coffee beans from Stumptown, a company known for good coffee. So this gift required us to break down and buy an actual coffee grinder. We found one cheap at Honest Ed's (a Toronto institution) on the edge of Koreatown. Haven't tried it out yet but looking foward to freshly ground coffee in the mornings!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

As Is

Not long ago, I examined the relationship between actions and resulting attitudes. Today I'd like to look at the reverse- how thoughts and words can affect our actions and character.

You may or may not have heard by now about Michael Richard's (Kramer on Seinfeld) recent racist remarks during his standup comedy act. This morning I watched his apology (oddly bypassing the traditional Oprah confessional for Letterman) in which he said the racial epitets came from deep within himself and came bursting out when constant hecklers enraged him.

Later today I came across the following quote in an inflight magazine while en route to see my family for American Thanksgiving (sidebar: I personally feel that the Canadian practice of lumping Halloween and Thanksgiving into one month not only robs both holidays but also pushes the Christmas season to a premature beginning).

"Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Choose your words, for they become actions.
Understand your actions, for they become habits.
Study your habits, for they will become your character.
Develop your character, for it becomes your destiny (source)."

This quote calls to mind a similar one from Jesus- Matthew 5:27"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.'[a] 28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." His point here is that intent is what's most crucial. (more examples) We somewhat adhere to this idea. An example would be when the punishment for an accident (manslaughter) is less than premeditated killing (murder in the first degree).

So after adding all these elements up, I have to wonder, "Are we bad people with good habits or good people with bad habits?" (to paraphrase a great Shel Silverstein poem).

I would say that I have subscribed to the latter school of thought. This positive and sunny philosophy was shared by Anne Frank, who said "Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart."

However what I'm realizing now is that this thinking isn't in keeping with Biblical teachings. (Romans 3:22b-23)There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. So although we're all equally bad, at least we are all equal. That's good, right? Yeah not so much. How often have we taken comfort in knowing that we aren't as screwed up or dysfunctional as our neighbour or some celebrity in the news (Michael Richards for example)? Seems kind of hypocritical now though, doesn't it?

Furthermore, how often have we Christians spouted the cliched axim to "love the sinner but hate the sin?" The author of Gay Theology Without Apology states that this mindset "avoids the real sin of preventing people to become fully human." Humans are imperfect. Perhaps instead of spending energy condemning the mistakes of others, we should take others "as is" like objects in a second-hand store. In the motto of a dear friend,"Don't hate, celebrate!"

At the end of the day, we are left grappling with the mind-boggling concept that, although we are all bastards, God loves us anyway (to paraphrase a line from What's So Amazing About Grace?). This is called grace- undeserved love, freely given to all. It completely goes against our human conditioned responses. And it's this very mystery of faith that's our hardest daily challenge. Don't worry if you sometimes fail, disappointing others, yourself or God. In the words of Ani DiFranco: "and i've got no illusions about you,and guess what?I never did. And when I said, When I said I'll take it, I meant, 'as is.'"

Friday, November 17, 2006


Here's a few of the reasons why I love my new city!
(Thanks to and NOW Magazine - NOV 9 - 15, 2006)

*1937 -Casa Loma is opened to the public for the first time as a tourist attraction operated by the Kiwanis Club of Toronto. Today it is regarded as one of Toronto's premier tourist attractions, still profitably operated by the Kiwanis.

*June 1971-Toronto's first Gay Day was a picnic at Hanlan's Point (on Toronto Island) to raise money for an Aug. 28 march in the national's capital, Ottawa. (Aug. 28, 1971, was the second anniversary of the Canadian decriminalization of homosexual acts for consenting individuals 21 years and over. If anyone had tried to march for queer pride before Aug. 28, 1969, they might have ended up in jail.)

*1973- Facing the "conspiracy of silence that has robbed gay people of their history," the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives was started in Toronto. It is now one of the biggest treasuries of its kind anywhere in the world.

*March 1981- A "Gay Freedom Rally", effectively Toronto's first Pride event, is held. Speakers, including author Margaret Atwood and Svend Robinson, denounce the bathhouse raids. (Eight years later, Robinson becomes Canada's first openly gay Member of Parliament.)

*December 1986- Ontario amends its Human Rights Code to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation.

*June 1988- The Toronto AIDS Memorial is created. It is the first of its kind.

*June 1989-Toronto City Council finally votes to recognize Lesbian and Gay Pride Day. (However the decision will be later overturned.)

*June 1993- Although for only five months, the nation of Canada has a woman in charge. This is still five months longer than its neighbor to the south!

*May 1995- The law banning homosexuals from opening their homes to unwanted children (via adoption) is struck down as a result of Egan v. Canada. Egan's partner (since 1948) sued the government, seeking spousal pension. The Supreme Court rules that sexual orientation is a prohibited grounds of discrimination under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (comparable to the US Bill of Rights).

*November 1995- The Bata Shoe Museum opens.

*August 1996-Toronto residents in the Annex neighbourhood organize to save cafe Dooney's from a Starbucks takeover.

*October 1996-A one-day public service strike (transit, postal service, schools, etc) and massive demonstration as part of the Days of Action Against Mike Harris (conservative premier of Ontario). Over 100,000 people march up University Avenue to the legislature.

*March 1997-In a referendum vote, Torontarians reject the plan to amalgamate Toronto and surrounding suburbs into a megacity. The party led by Mike Harris, ignore the vote and pass the bill anyway.

*June 1997- Toronto Board of Education hosts the first gay prom at 519 Church Street.

*February-April 2000- Bill C-23 was passed in Canada's House of Commons, extending all-but-marriage rights to same-sex couples. Jerry Falwell calls it the source of the "destruction" of Canada. (One assumes he means metaphorically, not literally as Canada somehow manages to succeed as a country.)

July 2001- Ben Mulroney becomes a co-host of the interactive show "The ChatRoom", positioning him as the face of talktv (later known as MTV Canada). He goes on to become host of everything Canadian (Idol, eTalk, Salvation Army model?).

*July 2001- Canada becomes the first country in the world to sanction and regulate the use of medical marijuana.

*May 2002- Marc Hall takes the Durham Catholic School board to court and wins the right to attend his high school prom with the date of his choosing (who happens to be a boy).

*July 2002-The Ontario Supreme Court declares that any restrictions on same sex marriage are unconstitutional and that the legislatures of both the Province of Ontario and the federal government have up to 24 months to fix the problem. If they do not, the following change in the common law definition would automatically occur: from "the voluntary union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others" to "the voluntary union of two persons to the exclusion of all others".

*March 2003- After months of demonstrations in Toronto and other cities, Prime Minister Jean Chretien decides Canada won't join the "coalition of the willing" in the invasion of Iraq. (Since this time, 655,000 Iraqis have died. Compare this to the death of 2,838 U.S. armed forces with 21,572 combat wounded.)

*February 2005-Toronto commits to reducing greenhouse gases by 20 percent of 1990 levels.

*July 2005- Canada joins Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands to become the fourth country in the world to extend equal rights to same-sex couples.

*June 2006-Pride Week celebrates its 25th anniversary. Newly-appointed Toronto police chief Bill Blair becomes the first chief of police in the city's history to participate in the Pride parade.

*August 2006- We become permanent residents of Canada! Come visit us in our fabulous city!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

We Are the World

Run your eyes over this list of countries:
Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Spain, Andorra, Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Israel, Luxembourg, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Uruguay, and the United Kingdom.

These 25 countries have same-sex marriages or civil unions (also known as domestic partnerships)!

Today South Africa overwhelmingly passed a civil union bill and is set to join this group the beginning of next month, making it the first African country to do so!

In an effort to be fair and thorough, I should also include: the U.S. states of Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, and Vermont; and the U.S. District of Columbia (Washington, DC), Australian province of Tasmania, the city of Buenos Aires and the province of Rio Negro in Argentina, and most recently, Mexico City.

So this is what the world looks like now.

While there is cause for rejoicing, we still need to pray for those who live in countries where they face imprisonment (including life) or even the penalty of death.

Monday, November 13, 2006

His Gaze Always Passes Through Rose Coloured Glasses

Last week I read this story about a landscaping company in Houston, Texas that turned down clients because they happened to be gay. The clients were shocked and forwarded the email to their friends. The story got picked up first by blog sites and then major media. The fact of the matter was the landscapers didn't do anything illegal by refusing to do business with this gay couple. If the couple were African-American or Jewish, they could sue them for discrimination because the race and religion (along with age and disability) are protected groups in the law, federal, state as well as municipal. While there are some places that offer gay people the same protections (the entire nation of Canada for example), most places in the United States can legally refuse to do business with you if you are gay.

My first response to this story (and similar one) was pretty laid back. I feel that religious beliefs are as much a part of the fiber of one's being as their sexual orientation. On their website they are very clear about being religious. Why FORCE someone to do something that is against their religious beliefs? Besides, would you really want to have people who feel that way work for you? I think I would appreciate them being direct and upfront with me. Furthermore there are TONS of fab-friendly companies and businesses (I'm sure landscaping would be in the mix! It's like being an interior designer for the outdoors, right?) who not only would love to serve all people but solicit their business by supporting gay-related publications, events and charities.

However an experience yesterday made me see things in a different light. I was at Mass watching people receive communion. Now, I don't take communion at the Catholic Church for a number of reasons. First of all, I'm not a church member and it's limited to just members. Second, communion is symbolic for me. I don't believe the bread and the wine are holy nor have they actually transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus. So although I could easily get in line and have had Catholics suggest to me that I do so (They don't have bouncer with a "list" like some nightclubs do!) , I don't out of respect for the Church and its beliefs.

Sitting there watching people hold open their hands and respond to the priest, I saw this precious little girl come up the line. She was clearly not old enough to receive communion and yet the priest bent down, laid his hand on her head and blessed her, making the sign of the cross. I had this sudden flashback to an experience in Wichita when I attended St. Alban's Anglican Church and when up with my boyfriend at the time to receive communion (which is open to all believers). The priest was a woman that I had met several times before at Integrity meetings and I really held (hold) her in high regard. As I knelt at the altar in front of the church, she made the sign of the cross on my head and served me the bread and the wine from her wheelchair. I got really teary and had to contain waves of emotion as I returned to my pew. Here was a beautiful person, flawed with that frailty all humans (including Christ Himself) possess, blessing my being in its entirety with joy, love and total acceptance.

Hence here is my epiphany (if you will). Exclusion by discrimination is ugly and it hurts. Acceptance of our fellow human beings is the best metaphor for what Christ was trying to do by "bending down" to our level and blessing us with His love. The landscape company may have profited monetarily from their decision, but humankind is a little poorer because of it.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

P.E. N' Me

So after frequent conversations and suggestions from my partner (read: nagging), I finally broke down last week and went with him to sign up at the local YMCA. Yesterday we had an appointment to meet with a representative to get a tour and orientation of the facility.

Unfortunately we got there late (I will begrudgingly give props to my partner who not only correctly knew that it was to the south, not north, but also happily collected twenty bucks from our friendly wager on the matter!) . We rushed downstairs to the locker rooms to get our assigned baskets since they were out of the overnight lockers (for which we paid extra). Then we discovered that only one of us was given a basket and I had to leave the locker room and hunt down where said basket was stored. Then I forgot the door passcode to re-enter the lockerroom. Doh! By this point I was getting upset things were not going as planned. After that we realized we had misunderstood and that there were day lockers available to store our clothes in while we were there and the basket was for the rest of the time!

We finally got changed into our proper gym attire, found the face towels and tried to find the meeting room. After asking directions (See? Men do do this!) , we found the room but it was thirty minutes after our appointment by this point and we were sent back to the front desk to reschedule. Attempting to salvage what thus far had been a total waste of time and frustration, we decided to get on the crosstraining machines and get sweaty. We tried a couple of stairmasters but got kicked off because we didn't know we were supposed to sign up for them. We found these wave machines free but that got annoying fast and I got off after 5 minutes. Finally we snagged two stairmasters, signed the board and got into the groove of things. I love the data displays that tell me exactly how many strides I've done, how many per minute and how many calories I've burned.

After that we hit the showers and realized all the product we brought with us wasn't necessary as YMCA provides that. We tried out the wet sauna but saved the whirlpool and dry sauna for another day. After leaving and having a great meal at a nearby Korean BBQ, I was out of my dismal black mood and tentively happy we had taken this step towards physical fitness.

Now this probably won't come as a surprise to those of you who know me but physical education was my least favourite class in school. My P.E. experience from the get-go was sort of this vicious cycle of not succeeding because of lack of practice and exposure, followed by a deliberate avoidance of further activity because of the failure, which only led to further humiliation in class. As time continued, I extended my negativity to all forms of physical fitness and activity and viewed them in the same way I viewed asparagus; something to endure if one absolutely has to do.

Gym has been dubbed the gay man's "church" and yet ironically I feel extremely uncomfortable in such a space. This made me think about how others (gay people for example) might view going to church the same way I feel about going to the gym. (Sidebar- Church Street here in is the epi-center of the Toronto gaybourhood so queers joke about "going to Church" all the time. You have to specify if you are talking about the religious institution.)

For many, church experiences have been limited and what exposure they have had, was unfortunately negative. Sometimes is an unspoken dress code as well as activities and rituals one is not familiar with. It can be unclear what time services begin and then it's embarrassing if one is either early or late. Looking around the room, this person can not see anyone friendly, that looks like them or that they could relate to. All these factors add up to an overwhelming feeling of frustration (much like the one I had at the gym last night). I've met people who have transferred these feelings of unworthiness and unbelonging to religion and spirituality in general. They will begrudingly darken the door of a church only when a mother, wedding or death requires it.

So, in retrospect, I get it now. I didn't before but now I do. It's my hope that, as time goes on, and I keep attending "gay church," that I'll be not only more comfortable but also a healthier person. And I want to encourage others who may be in similar situations and are trying new directions, despite previous negative experiences.



This will be the first time I've posted a video on my blog. My philosophy has been to value the written word above an image. But this deeply moved me and I'm making a rare exception in honour of Election Day. I hope everyone in the States who was able to vote today, did. (I voted by absentee ballot.)

Friday, November 03, 2006

I Wanna Hold Your Hand

As election time nears, conservative politicians predictably seem particularly concerned with the bedrooms of queer couples across the nation. In light of that I thought I would reveal what my partner and I do every single night before falling asleep. Brace yourself folks. You might want to sit down.

We hold hands.

Samantha: He did something to me that was so perverse! Okay, I'm just going to say it. He tried to hold my hand.
Carrie: You mean to tell me that Smith is a hand-holder? And to think he once served us food.

There ya go. It is shocking thing I know. Oh well, in our defense holding hands helps us fall sleep. I've blogged before wondering how it would be to live in an environment where we could do this openly in public. Now we are living in such a place and see gay couples all around us holding hands. However, it's been hard for us to overcome years of lessons about avoiding this seemingly innocent act. All of our lives, we've learned not to stand too close, act too friendly and certainly never to hold hands!

Earlier this year the New York Times published an interesting article about handholding. What I thought was most interesting was a study, conducted by the University of Virginia, that examined "the impact of human touch, particularly how it affects the neural response to threatening situations." James Coan, an assistant professor of psychology and the neuroscience graduate program at the University of Virginia stated, “We found that holding the hand of really anyone, it made your brain work a little less hard in coping,” adding that any sort of hand-holding relaxes the body.

The study, which will be published this year in the journal Psychological Science, involved 16 couples who were rated happily married based on the answers in a detailed questionnaire. The wives were put inside an M.R.I. machine and were told they were to receive mild electric shocks to an ankle. Brain images showed that regions of the women’s brains that had been activated in anticipation of pain and that were associated with negative emotions decreased when their husbands reached into the machine.

“With spouse hand-holding you also stop looking for other signs of danger and you start feeling more secure,” said Dr. Coan, who led the study. “If you’re in a really strong relationship, you may be protected against pain and stress hormones that may have a damaging effect on your immune system.”

Handholding has many implications for gay couples. First of all, just as in straight couples, it defines your sexual orientation. At the same time, it shows that you are part of a couple. Because of these two factors, this leaves gay couples vunerable to verbal abuse or worse, violence. The irony is the study above shows that for many couples, holding hands makes them feel safer. In addition, a gay hospital patient often has to deal with his/her illness, temporary or terminal, without the comfort of their partner to hold their hand. (Gay partners are not allowed entry because they are not recognized as "next of kin.")

This brings me to the other night, when we were walking to the subway. I had rushed out of the apartment, forgetting my gloves and it was freezing cold. My partner grabbed my hand and held it inside his coat pocket and we walked like that all the way to the station. I know it's not much, but for us, it's a start.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Lift Up Your Hands

The missionary at my brother's church read this scripture from The Message translation: (Ephesians 3:4-6) "As you read over what I have written to you, you'll be able to see for yourselves into the mystery of Christ. None of our ancestors understood this. Only in our time has it been made clear by God's Spirit through his holy apostles and prophets of this new order. The mystery is that people who have never heard of God and those who have heard of him all their lives (what I've been calling outsiders and insiders) stand on the same ground before God. They get the same offer, same help, same promises in Christ Jesus. The Message is accessible and welcoming to everyone, across the board."

She went on to explain how at this time "outsiders" were considered Gentiles and "insiders" were considered Jewish Christians. It got me thinking in a new way about the mystery of Christ and His Message. As his life showed, he was not concerned with the "insiders" of the Jewish faith and very much interested with the "outsiders"-those on the fringes.

Finding myself somewhat on the fringes of the mainstream Church may partly explain why I like the musical/movie Hedwig and the Angry Inch so much. When I first saw this movie I was in Seoul, Korea with another gay friend. I was blown away by the witty risque humour and the accessible music. Then later my cousin and her husband took me to the musical in Portland and I liked it even more than the movie. Then my cousin-in-law bought me the tribute benefit album and managed to get John Cameron Mitchell (the star, director and writer) to sign it. It was a very cool gift! Finally just this weekend I put the DVD on while my friends were over getting their hair cut and one of them had worked on the movie (it was filmed right here in Toronto) and had never seen it!

The story Hedwig is about feeling excluded from the mainstream of society and seeking acceptance. First there is coping with ambiguous gender identity, then being a foreigner living in another country, then using the rock and roll medium (that many don't enjoy) to communicate who and what you are about. Finally there is a rebirth as a new person whose wounds have healed enough to walk vulnerable and alone.

For a long time, I didn't understand men who were transgender or drag queens or even cross dressers. But I've learned from Hedwig and movies like Priscilla Queen of the Desert and the Rocky Horror Picture Show, this is a way for men (and women) to embrace parts of themselves that do not conform to traditional stereotypes. This can be very liberating. For example last night I was in Planet Aid trying to find some groovy pants to go with a shirt my partner wanted to wear to the Halloween festivities on Church Street. Everything was the wrong size or just plain dull. It felt really good to be able to go over to the women's side, find an amazing pair of pants (geisha print!) that fit him like a glove AND NOT CARE that they were women's!

I love that Hedwig starts out stuck in Junction City, Kansas! My homestate can be difficult for a gay person to feel at home at, although it's much easier if you are a native. I also love that Korean war-brides made up Hedwig's first band. I like how Hedwig seems oblivious and undaunted to the low attendance at her shows and it's almost as if she's singing more for herself or to connect with just one person than anything else.

The rock and roll aspect is great because it's not a medium that, until recently, many gay people have used. Traditionally gays have used lots of opera, Broadway musicals, pop songs, diva numbers and techo/house/dance music to express themselves. The rock music in Hedwig has some pretty amazing lyrics though that I think many of us can relate to. One lyric I especially like is: They cut me up into parts, I gave a piece to my mother, I gave a piece to my man, I gave a piece to the rock star, He took the good stuff and ran. We all (metaphorically speaking) give pieces of ourselves to the people in our lives and often feel "taken" at times.

Another song that really impacted me was the unique creation story in The Origin of Love. When I told my fellow Kansan in Seoul about this, he rolled his eyes and pulled Plato's Symposium off the shelf and suggested I read it. I was amazed to find the source of this creation story was so old!

So to belatedly honour October as GLBT History Month, I'd like to recognize all the movies like Hedwig and the Angry Inch, that challenged me to see the outsiders in a different way. In so many ways, they ARE us. In the lyrics from another Hedwig song, "We are freaks....That's the way God planned it."