Author Archives: Joe
Because we love each other
By Rickey Laurentiis
The weather is rude today, too full of good
color and cheer, and makes me want to be out
of here, out of the interior time pandemic time
trauma has made me. I would sing as the canary
passes gently thru the break of my vision; I would
listen as the cat’s ear stings patiently at its Lord;
I would gorge deeply on my own fruit’s womb;
I would entomb blind joy in its spell: et benedictus
fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Iesus is us, and he isn’t,
anymore than Byzantine raised halos and bronze
disease is us, and they are—though most I enjoy
these hiccups come also witty with the breast, with
the breath, in the idea disease, ease, and that we
might just be metal too close together that will infect
each other, brother, brother, sister, sister, sister,
brother, comma, comma, trans—with revision then,
reglistening, which is love, becaused.
About the Poem
“Still early in the pandemic, around May 2020, I had a phone conversation with my friend, Sanchita Balachandran, associate director at John Hopkins Archaeological Museum, who taught me about ‘bronze disease,’ a term borne out of a belief earlier conservators had that certain corrosion products in bronze were the result of ‘a communicable biological contagion spread from object to object’ kept ‘too close together.’ It’s an idea, now disproved, that still struck me, knowing that for the conservator corrosion is enemy, but what if the corrosion was love?” —Rickey Laurentiis
Rickey Laurentiis (b. 1989, February 7) was raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, to love the dark. Their writing has been supported by several foundations and fellowships. In 2016, they traveled to Palestine as an invited reader for the Palestine Festival of Literature. Laurentiis received an MFA in Writing from Washington University in St Louis, where they were a Chancellor’s Graduate Fellow, and a Bachelor’s in Liberal Arts from Sarah Lawrence College, where they read literature and queer theory.
They are the trans author of Boy with Thorn, winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize and the Levis Reading Prize, and a finalist for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry and a Lambda Literary Award. Boy with Thorn was also named one of the top ten debuts of 2015 by Poets & Writers Magazine and a top 16 best poetry book by Buzzfeed, among other distinctions.
I’ll be honest. I was feeling incredibly lazy yesterday. I ran a quick errand to get a few things at the grocery store, but otherwise, I mostly just spent a lazy day watching TV. When it came time to write a post for today, I continued to be lazy. I hope all of you had a wonderful weekend, and that we will all have a great week ahead.
Salute one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.
— Romans 16:16
By now, those who read my Sunday religious posts probably know that I grew up and am a member of the Church of Christ. It is a faith that I adhere to, and I hope that it will someday follow the teachings of the Bible fully and openly accept LGBTQ+ Christians as members. Most Churches of Christ do not at this time, and I believe it is one of their greatest faults along with their prohibition on women in leadership roles. However, this is not the point of this post today. I wanted to talk about growing up in the Church of Christ in rural Alabama. I grew up in a small country church with around a dozen members, half of which were my family.
The Church of Christ is a simple church with a simple set of beliefs based on the New Testament of the Bible. The church teaches that the process of salvation is achieved through the following actions:
- One must be taught appropriately and hear the Word of God.
- How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? As it is written, how beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So, then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:14-17)
- One must believe or have faith.
- But without faith, it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
- He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be damned. (Mark 16:16)
- One must repent, which means turning from one’s former lifestyle and choosing God’s ways.
- And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commanded all men everywhere to repent. (Acts 17:30)
- One must confess the belief that Jesus is the son of God.
- And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” And Philip said, “If thou believe with all thine heart, thou mayest.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (Acts 8:36–37)
- One must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
- Then Peter said unto them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 2:38)
- One must live faithfully as a Christian.
- But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
I do my best to follow each of these daily. I also try to follow the Golden Rule: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12) Likewise, Luke 6:32 says, “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.” I also follow the Greatest Commandment as given to us by Jesus in Matthew 22:37–40: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” I believe in the simplicity of love and faith to guide my Christian life.
I learned this in my little country church from the various preachers we had while growing up. In the earliest years of my life, we had two preachers that alternated every other week and preached at a second church. We had one preacher who was not kind to people who were not church members, like my mother, who was a Baptist. This preacher nearly tore the church apart before he was asked to leave. After that, I remember we got a young seminary student from Faulkner University (a Church of Christ university in Montgomery). I thought he was one of the most gorgeous men I have ever seen. He was so handsome and charismatic. I hung on his every word. It didn’t help that I was going through puberty at the time and had an erection at the drop of a hat. I always dreaded him finishing his sermons because it meant that I’d have to stand up and sing the song of invitation. I was always so embarrassed that I had an erection every time I had to stand up. Come to think of it today, while puberty may be to blame for part of that, carnal thoughts about the attractive young man who was our preacher probably had something to do with it as well, but I digress.
There were rarely any surprises at our church. Things ran relatively smoothly every Sunday to a particular routine. We all had our regular places to sit in church. My family sat on the left side of the church behind the song leader and his family. The song leader sat in the front pew, and his wife sat in the second. Behind his wife sat my parents and my sister. I usually sat in the fourth pew next to my grandmama and, before he died, my granddaddy. My aunt sat in the pew behind us. On the church’s right side, the preacher sat on the first pew, and his family sat on the second. Behind them was the lady for whom the church was built. Various neighbors of hers either filled the pew beside her or behind her. Her husband, who had donated the land and built the church, sat two rows behind her.
I mention the couple who was instrumental in building the church because when they got married and moved into the house, they would spend the rest of their lives in, the wife said, “Everything would be perfect if I had a church close by.” Even though her husband was a Methodist, he knew his wife valued her denomination and set out to find a church that needed a new home. He found one a few miles away and offered to donate land a build them a new church. The church accepted, and his wife had a church within walking distance to her house. It was a simple white church, initially just one room with outhouses behind the church and a fellowship table on the grounds surrounded by pine trees. As I got older, they expanded the church to include a Sunday school room and bathrooms, though the Sunday school room never saw any use as a classroom. That was my small church.
At age 13, I was baptized into the church along with my sister one Sunday night. At first, my duties at church became reading the lesson’s texts (sermon) that Sunday, much like I post a Bible verse at the beginning of each Sunday post. Soon, our song leader’s emphysema made it increasingly more challenging to lead the song worship, so I was asked to take over. I was maybe 14 or 15 when this happened. I remained the song leader until I graduated college and moved to Mississippi for graduate school. I was a terrible song leader. I could barely carry a tune, and I only knew about a dozen or so songs well enough to lead the song worship. Usually, I would start the song, and the lady the church had been built for would really lead the song worship. I always thought they should have just let her lead the singing instead of me. She was much better. She was also the de facto church leader, though no one would admit it. The men of the church would meet to make any decisions, but nothing would actually be done without her informal approval. She also prepared the Lord’s Supper (Communion) every week. I truly loved that woman; she was so sweet and so kind and loving. As she got older, she declared that it was too much for her to wear a dress every Sunday when she felt more comfortable in pants, and she never wore a skirt or dress again to church. She always wore pants.
As the church grew larger, we eventually doubled in size. After I left for graduate school, we had a new church member take over as song leader. I had other duties in the weekly service, which I continued to do when I came home from Mississippi. I served communion alongside my father. Originally, my granddaddy and father served communion, but after my grandfather had a heart attack walking into church one Sunday morning, he rarely returned to church after that, claiming that he had bladder issues and did not want to disturb the service by getting up to use the bathroom. So, I took his place serving communion.
Our services were simple. Before the service started, we would usually catch up with each other, i.e., gossip, but it was never malicious gossip that I remember. At precisely 8:45 am each Sunday morning, the song leader would call our service to order, and we would sing two songs, usually the first and last verses of the song. We always remained seated for these first two songs. Then the service would be turned over to the preacher for the main prayer, although sometimes that honor would be offered to a special guest if we had one. After the prayer, the song leader would instruct us to stand. We would sing another song before the preacher would stand and make his way to the pulpit and give a sermon, usually lasting around 30-40 minutes. As he finished his sermon, he would call us to stand for the song of invitation as he stood at the front of the church to welcome anyone who wanted to join the church and be baptized. After the song of invitation, my father and I would stand and go to the communion table where my father would say a prayer before I would pass around the unleavened bread, which was the representation of the Body of Christ. After I had passed around the bread, I would return to the communion table and offer my father the bread, and we would eat the bread together. Then he said a prayer for the “fruit of the vine,” which represented Christ’s Blood, and I would pass it around just as I did for the bread. When I returned to the table, we also drank from the small communion cups that usually grape juice. (Occasionally, the woman who prepared the communion would run out of grape juice and substitute her homemade muscadine wine, much to everyone’s surprise. She never warned anyone ahead of time.) Then my father would hand me a wicker basket that had been with the church since its beginnings. (It was still stamped on the bottom with 5¢.) My father would return to his seat (I returned to my seat too before I became song leader), and I would call for any announcements. Then, we would stand again and sing the first verse of the closing song before my father gave the closing prayer.
After the service concluded, we would usually gather outside the church and socialize for a bit before we all headed home. Usually, my Sundays after that consisted of my mother cooking a large lunch, which she sometimes started before leaving for church. On special occasions, we would go out for lunch. Because we often got out of church by 10 am, we were fortunate to be able to eat lunch out at 11 am when the restaurants opened and before the “church crowds” arrived. We did have Sunday night services for a short time, but with such a small congregation, it was not worth it if only a few people attended. Eventually, we discontinued Sunday evening services. We never had Wednesday night services as many southern churches did because my family went to my grandparents’ house for supper on Wednesday nights. We also rarely had Sunday school, even though we eventually added a classroom to the building. We tried a few times, but it was never very successful.
It was a simple church with simple people who cared a great deal about one another. Most of the church members from my formative years have now passed on: the song leader, the couple who established the church, and my grandparents. My parents have moved away, as have my sister and I, so my aunt is the only family member to still attend the church. My sister even became a Baptist, much to my father’s horror. I think he took the fact that I was gay better than he took my sister becoming a Baptist. Ironically, my parents now attend a Baptist church. However, my mother claims that it’s Baptist in name only as it’s made up of community members where they currently live and comprised of people from many different Protestant denominations.
I don’t know if this description of my church upbringing is interesting to anyone, but because of the love amongst my church’s members, my primary philosophy of love and acceptance was formed, despite some of my parents’ more discriminatory beliefs. Except for the preacher who nearly broke up our church with his insistence that anyone who was not a member of the Church of Christ was going to hell, very little judgment was ever practiced within the church. I mentioned the incident a few weeks ago about the current preacher’s sermon on the evils of homosexuality and another sermon on gambling. Our preachers have always focused on being a better, more loving Christian, which was always most important to me.
I am very fortunate to have a primary care physician who is such a wonderful and caring person. He is very good at listening to me and discussing every aspect of my health with me. While these are characteristics of any good doctor, I have had doctors who did not care as much for their patients. For those doctors, a patient was just a job. However, my current healthcare team is very different. They seem to genuinely care about what is best for my health.
I am also exceedingly happy that my doctor referred me to the Headache Clinic at Dartmouth, and that I have received such wonderful care there. It has been a journey to get the right medicine to deal with my migraines, but Botox seems to be working well. The indomethacin prescribed for my hemicrania continua seems to also be working very well. While the first two doses provided some relief, with the exception of when I first woke up yesterday morning, I was headache-free throughout the day. This is basically the first time in about four months that I have been without head pain. I pray that this improvement will continue, and the indomethacin and Botox will continue to be effective.
So, my moment of Zen today is having caring and competent doctors who know the correct medicine to prescribe to allow me to feel normal again. I am very happy to have a great relationship with my doctor. Even when I have had to see another provider at his clinic, he has the other providers consult with him about my care. I am also very appreciative of his nurse, who I find to be very sweet, and I have often talked to her on the phone to provide updates on my health. I feel that I have a great healthcare team.
P.S. My physical therapist is also fantastic and deserves a mention. The things she can do with her hands to relieve one of my headaches is enough to make me want to marry her. I wish I could see her every time I have a headache because she knows how to manipulate my head in a way to relieve the pain like no medicine has ever been able to do. Sadly, I can’t just go see her every time I have a headache, so I am glad that I have found medications that seem to work.
I have said this numerous times, but Republican politicians are some of the most repugnant Americans. As the Biden administration continues to support LGBTQ+ rights, Republican homophobia and transphobia are becoming very apparent. Republicans have been using transgender women as the scapegoat for their opposition to LGBTQ+ rights. They have repeatedly denigrated trans kids and student-athletes and accused the parents of trans people of being neglectful or abusive. First, thirteen Republican Senators voted against Pete Buttigieg’s confirmation as Secretary of Transportation. None, as far as I know, gave a reason, and when I wrote to my former senator Richard Shelby, who I have always been told has a gay son, to ask why he voted against Pete, I was given a non-answer about how he carefully considers all nominees he votes on. I believe that most of these thirteen senators, including Shelby, voted against Pete because of his sexuality. While silent homophobia is bad enough, the outspoken homophobia and transphobia of some Republicans in Congress are beyond abhorrent.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a joint hearing to confirm Surgeon General Nominee Dr. Vivek Murphy and Dr. Rachel Levine, who is transgender and is the current surgeon general for Pennsylvania. Most questions focused on the government’s response to COVID-19. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) decided to go on an anti-transgender tirade when questioning Dr. Levine, ranting about how Congress should ban gender-affirming health care for transgender kids instead of left up to families and doctors. Paul started by saying, “Genital mutilation has been nearly universally condemned. Genital mutilation has been condemned by the WHO, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Population Fund.” He went on to say that genital mutilation is egregious because “it is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children.” If he wanted to compare bottom surgery to genital mutilation, he was badly mistaken. It’s almost unheard of for minors to get bottom surgery.
In fact, everyone talks about puberty blockers being used so that trans youth can have more time to understand themselves before puberty permanently affects their bodies. Paul then turned to the subject of puberty blockers and cited the American College of Pediatricians, an SPLC designated hate group that promotes anti-LGBTQ+ bias. It is often confused with the American Pediatric Association, the real professional association for pediatricians that urges parents of trans kids to “listen, respect and support their child’s self-expressed identity.” Paul remarked that “80 to 90 percent” of children with gender dysphoria “will experience resolution,” a euphemism for stopping being transgender. This statistic is fake, but Paul said it anyway at a Senate hearing. Paul continually attacked Dr. Levine in the hearing.
If Paul wants to rant about genital mutilation in children, he should support the campaign against infant circumcision. I will not say that circumcision should be prohibitive for those of the Jewish faith; after all, Republicans are always claiming to believe in religious freedom. Circumcision took hold in the United States in the late 19th century, spread through the “modernization” of medicine. A few prominent doctors, including John Harvey Kellogg, advocated the surgery as a cure for paralysis, epilepsy, venereal disease, even mental illness. Throughout the Victorian era, it was extolled for its virtue of cleanliness and as a cure for masturbation. Circumcision is the only common genital mutilation in the United States. Most of the rest of the world has quit following the practice or never advocated it in the first place. If circumcision should continue, it should be reserved for cases of medical necessity.
Then there is the always “pleasant” Marjorie Taylor Greene, who held up all of Congress’s business in a destined-to-fail attempt to stop the LGBTQ+ Equality Act from passing the House. Greene called the Equality Act “DISGUSTING, IMMORAL, AND EVIL.” One of her colleagues found an excellent way to show her contempt for Greene’s opposition to LGBTQ+ rights. Rep. Marie Newman (D-IL) put up a transgender flag across the hall from Greene’s office so that she’d have to see it every day. Newman tweeted, “Thought we’d put up our Transgender flag so she can look at it every time she opens her door.”
Greene, who the House voted to strip her of her committee assignments due to her support of violence against other House members, put up a hateful sign in response that said: “There are TWO genders: MALE & FEMALE. ‘Trust The Science!’” In a tweet, Greene noted that the Equality Act would “destroy women’s rights and religious freedoms.” She posted a video of herself smirking at the camera while slapping it on the wall. Making Greene’s sign even more insensitive is the fact that Newman’s daughter is transgender. On the House floor, she called her daughter the “strongest, bravest person I know.”
The Biden administration stated support of the Equality Act, a landmark piece of legislation that would establish LGBTQ+ civil rights protections in federal law. The measure passed the House yesterday. However, the Equality Act faces an obstacle in the Senate as Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) refused to co-sponsor the bill and won’t say why. She has previously co-sponsored it but apparently is pouting because the Human Rights Campaign endorsed her Democratic challenger in the last election. Collins claims to be “a strong believer in LGBTQ rights,” yet, she doesn’t want to give us the federal protections we deserve.
Our community often continues to face discrimination, harassment, and violence at work, at school, and in public accommodations. H.R. 5 would amend existing federal civil rights laws to expressly include nondiscrimination protection based on sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), providing security and equality to LGBTQ+ Americans in accessing housing, employment, education, public accommodations, healthcare, and other federally funded services, credit, and more. The Supreme Court has already ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County that employees are protected from discrimination based on sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Equality Act confirms the implications of Bostock for other discrimination laws, consistent with the President’s Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation, issued January 20, 2021, and further builds on Bostock, thereby securing such protections once and for all for LGBTQ+ Americans across Federal civil rights laws. Women also currently lack protection against sex discrimination in public accommodations and federally funded programs; the Equality Act would fill that gap in the law.
Finally, we have another reprehensible MAGAt in Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), who recently used anti-gay stereotypes to explain her plan to vote against LGBTQ civil rights. Like Greene, Boebert is viciously – and proudly – anti-LGBTQ. During an unhinged rant full of fake claims about transgender pre-teens, Boebert managed to bring her transphobic comments around full circle to loop in an anti-gay stereotype that all gay men are feminine. She said she is raising her four sons “to be men,” and she is “proud of that.” The implication is that if you don’t meet her standard of masculinity, then you are not a man. I pity her sons to be raised in such a way. I was raised in much the same way and am still dealing with the psychological issues it caused.
It infuriates me that Paul, Greene, Boebert, or any other Congress member can make such hateful and discriminatory comments without any repercussions. Any member of Congress who uses such harmful language should be universally renounced and reprimanded for their derogatory and detrimental language concerning someone’s sexuality, race, or religion. We should hold our politicians to a higher standard. Minorities in this country have fought long and hard for equality and respect, yet lawmakers can make insensitive and disgusting comments like those mentioned above and face no consequences. Greene at least got removed from her committee assignments for previous conduct and remarks, but I doubt they will ever expel her for what she has done.