When I first heard my dear friend Sybil was in hospice in February, I went to the page to process my emotions. The first thing I wrote was “How do you say goodbye to one of the only friends you could count on when you’re going through the biggest transition of your life?” I was preparing myself, hoping I’d be able to tell her goodbye on the phone. Sadly, I didn’t get that chance.
Two weeks to the day after she passed, I went to the 2023 Tucson Festival of Books at Arizona State University. After perusing the many new titles for sale, I left my partner browsing books in the festival tent. Something was pulling me to check out the rest of the festival. As an author, I was curious what else was offered.
I cruised perimeter. It’s a two-day writer’s heaven, with speakers, community resources, and writing groups in attendance. I made a mental note to attend at least one full day next year.
On my way back to my partner, I passed the indie author tent where I met Sandra Butler. The interaction I had with her touched my heart and I felt I met Sybil’s soul sister, an old Jewish queer. Sandra’s sassy title and her empathetic response finally gave me the framework for the piece I had been trying to write about our unconditional friendship. I’d also like to think Sybil had a hand in our synchronistic meeting.
So how do you say goodbye to a dear friend? By writing tribute to our friendship and the force of nature that she was. My essay was published May 1st on PrideSource.com and will appear in Between the Lines, Detroit Metro’s award-winning biweekly LGBTQ+ print publication on May 11th, 2023.
Thank you, Sybil Offen, for the gift of your unconditional friendship and being there when I needed you most these last 11 years
It’s been nearly 37 years since she changed my life. I gave up being a grandma when she had a female partner who didn’t want kids. Now that I’m retired, traveling, and exploring, she’s nine months pregnant with a honeymoon baby. She and her husband are over the moon with excitement and preparation. I wonder how this turn of events will change my life.
My kid is having a kid.
When I was pregnant, her head was tucked under my rib cage so securely, she couldn’t turn and had to be delivered by C-Section. I used to joke she had a mind of her own in there and didn’t want to work saying, “if you want me, come in and get me.” Her kid is breech so they are going to try to turn her on Wednesday…labor or a C-Section will likely follow. Will history repeat itself?
My girl is having a girl.
I didn’t want to know the sex of the baby I was carrying. We had a girl and a boy name picked out, but I secretly hoped it was a girl. Though we wanted a boy too, we didn’t want to press our luck, so she was an only. My girl wanted to know the sex as soon as it could be determined so she could remodel the office into a nursery. Her husband got snipped so my only will have an only.
My daughter is having a daughter.
I was a motherless daughter three months after I gave birth at 30. My father died nearly five years ago at age 85…this end of the circle of life is much more exciting. My rising excitement was tempered by my partner saying, “So do you know you’ll be 85 when she graduates from high school?” Dammit, I better start taking better care of myself so I can be there as her biggest cheerleader.
My Jessica is having a Madison.
It’s hard to believe that after all these years I’m finally going to join the Grandparents club. I’m flying back to North Dakota tomorrow to be there for the Wednesday turn procedure. If Madi is anything like Jes was, she’ll have a mind of her own about when and how she’ll come screaming into the world.
My baby is having a baby.
Life has had twists and turns over the years. She tucked me under her wing when I first left my marriage of 27 years to come out. I took care of her when she had emergency abdominal surgery. She nursed me while I recovered from a rotator cuff/bicep tear surgery. And I will be there for her as she brings new life into the world.
After an 18-month wait, the Scamp delivery day finally arrived!
We drove to Backus, MN on Thursday and did a shakedown camp that night 3 three miles away at Ruttgers Pine Mountain Camping Resort. Highly recommend doing this if you’re picking up from the factory so you can check everything out.
Our Clam screen room was amazing…super easy to put up (1 minute) and take down (3 minutes). Forgot to unplug the camera for the back of the Scamp and came out to a dead battery on the Explorer this morning (oopsie🤪). Thankfully Ruttgers gave us a jump and we were on our way back to the factory to fix a screen door issue.
All around, pretty stress-free, and we’re looking forward to our next Scamping adventure!!
After the “Witch Hunt” of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a Decade of Pride
by Deb Sinness, The War Horse June 23, 2021
Before the “don’t ask, don’t tell” act were the “witch hunt” days of the military, where lives and careers were ruined by hints and suspicions. Gays lived deeply closeted lives, and I didn’t know a single gay person.
In 1976, Camp Pendleton, California, was my first duty station as a newly trained military police Marine. I was a 21-year-old private first class a long way from my small-town North Dakota roots.
One Sunday evening, I gathered uniforms to iron to get ready for the coming week. After I was set up in the female barracks ironing room, a Marine ambled into the room.
“Hey Copper, can I iron your shirt for you?”
I’d seen Bishop around the day room, and, according to the barracks scuttlebutt, the Marine Corps was booting her out for being gay.
“Um, no thanks, I’ve got it.”
Bishop didn’t take the hint. She found a molded plastic chair and plopped herself in it directly across from me. Bishop had short dark hair and wore a white T-shirt with green sateen uniform trousers. She shifted her position in the chair to a slouch, her eyes sizing me up. I felt uncomfortable in the heat of her glare.
“Sooo … I know a lot of cops, and a lot of them are gay. Are you?”
Bishop’s bold question shocked me. I was sexually naïve, didn’t date in high school, and rarely did after graduating. I thought my crummy luck with boys had to do with the scarlet letter I felt emblazoned on my forehead for having a mentally ill mother and divorced parents. Being gay wasn’t something that ever occurred to me.
In first grade, I had neighborhood sisters who taught me to pleasure myself and them, but I never had a crush on a girl and definitely didn’t think about dating them. Growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, there were disparaging whispers and jokes about certain people’s behaviors or mannerisms, but since I didn’t know anyone who was gay, same-sex relationships weren’t anything I could relate to.
Bishop’s question flustered me because I already felt “different.” What did she see in me that made her ask that question? It seemed inconceivable.
“Not me,” I mumbled, my face flushed. “Straight as an arrow.”
Though there was a hint of doubt in my sexually inexperienced mind, I made a mental note that if getting booted from the Marine Corps and being ostracized from everyone you knew was the price for being gay, I sure as hell was not about to pay it.
I ignored Bishop and focused on doing the best damn ironing job I could. She finally got bored watching me and walked away.
I never saw her again.
After that unsettling exchange, I resisted making close friends of female Marines, never quite knowing what their agenda might be.
After my four-year tour, I folded my uniforms, stored them in my seabag, and stowed my military memories in the bottom drawer of my psyche. I followed the traditional path of marriage to two different men for a total of 31 years.
Every time my small inner voice gave a nudge to the rainbow side of life, my socialized, conservative side said, “Don’t be ridiculous, you’re happily married.”
When I turned 50, I began to reconnect with my military roots. I found a Marine I went through MP school with on the Together We Served website, and we arranged to have dinner together when I was in town. At the initial meeting, the years fell away and we were old Marine buddies sparring over whose boot camp platoon was better.
After a few visits over a three-year period, I tried to ignore the lurch my stomach made when I thought about my MP friend. What are you being weird about? You’re a married woman. It’s nothing.
After a May 2011 visit, I felt a jolt of attraction with a visceral shift in my body that I had never felt for a man. Suddenly everything seemed to come into sharper focus and make sense: It was about me and how I wanted to spend the rest of my life, not her. She was the catalyst.
I had a job with benefits. I’d started over before. I could do it again.
Two and a half weeks after returning from that trip, on the eve of my 27th wedding anniversary with my second husband, I left the marital home and moved into my daughter’s basement to start a new life. I wasn’t sure if I was making the biggest mistake of my life, but I knew leaving my marriage was the path of integrity.
As a military veteran, I came out as a competent, confident woman. I stepped into my new life knowing it would be an adjustment, but I made no apologies. If someone asked me tough questions about why I came out so late in life or about my former marriages, I didn’t shirk from awkward answers. I was proud of who I was, what I had accomplished, and who I was becoming.
Just four months later, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” act died on Sept. 20, 2011, ending the ban on gays serving in the military. With my mother’s mental illness, I had a lot to work through in my life and did not have the moral courage to come out sooner. That I came out the year “don’t ask, don’t tell” ended seemed like perfect synchronicity. It would take another six years to begin coming out of the “having a mentally ill mother” closet.
Note: This article first appeared on The War Horse, an award-winning nonprofit news organization educating the public on military service.
Did you know homosexuality was in the manual for mental disorders until the 1970s? With all the advances in civil rights for LGBTQ the past five decades, it’s easy to forget if you were labeled gay back in the day, you might be subjected to aversion therapy, chemical castration, electroshock treatments, or even a lobotomy.
A speech in 1972 by Dr. John Freyer, a working psychiatrist and a gay man, convinced members of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to rethink and eventually remove it from the DSM-II.
When “Dr. H. Anonymous” appeared before the APA, he wore a distorted rubber Nixon mask, an oversized tuxedo, and had his voice distorted so fellow members could not identify him. It was not until the 1990s that his colleagues knew his identity.
“Cured,” a documentary of this little known piece of LGBTQ history, was released in 2020. We saw the movie on Sunday and highly recommend it!
There’s going to be a special screening event of “Cured” followed by a panel discussion at 7:30 PM ET on Monday, May 2nd, the 50th anniversary of that powerful speech. The documentary isn’t in wide release so register here if you’re interested.
When my daughter asked me to perform her February 22, 2022 wedding last December, I felt honored yet woefully unprepared and inadequate to perform such a life altering ceremony. I hadn’t attended seminary or done divinity school studies, however I’d lived with a lifetime of spiritual searching. The request sparked my curiosity so I researched what I’d need to do.
There are several sites on the internet that offer ordination. The first thing I learned was it’s important to check with the state you’ll be officiating in because rules vary from state to state. Turns out Florida, where my daughter and her fiancee were planning their wedding, has no special requirements about who performs the ceremony. After reading through different state, local, and organization websites, ordination seemed like the right thing to do. I selected Universal Life Church, then purchased a wedding ceremony kit with scripts and certificates.
The scripts were wonderful, but less personal than we wanted in a ceremony. I wasn’t really sure where to start, so I sent the soon-to-be newlyweds some samples and asked them to share ideas how they wanted their ceremony to feel. The next time I saw them, I asked them specific questions: > How did you meet? > What initially drew you together? > What was your proposal like? > What do you like most about each other? > What’s the best adventure you’ve had together?
They also expressed to me how awesome it would be to be pronounced husband and wife at 2:22 PM. I laughed, thinking I’d be lucky if I even got close.
The hard part was putting together a ceremony that we all would be proud of while performing it in front of my partner, the groom’s family, my ex, and his wife. That thought resulted in writer’s block and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to write a ceremony worthy of the occasion. The day before our flight to Florida, I put butt in seat and pen to paper. I reviewed how my daughter and her fiancee had met, fallen in love, and the love I’d witnessed between them and it dawned on me…echo their words to each other to tell the story of their love.
I practiced the ceremony with my partner to get an idea of length, then the night before the wedding we rehearsed and fine-tuned the timing. I knew if we started the ceremony around 2:10 PM, as long as I kept myself together and spoke at a moderate pace, we could do it.
Then it was time for my ex and I to walk our baby girl down the aisle to her love.
The rest of the ceremony is a blur in my mind, but I pulled it off…and pronounced them husband and wife at 2:22 PM with my poem:
Long have you waited for this special day To gather us together and for each of you to say You’re my person, I Love You, I’m yours to the end So as your parents and family, this advice we send Stay open and honest, transparent and true There’s nothing more important in marriage to do Be thrifty, work hard and obey all the laws Be kind, be faithful, and love each other’s flaws. We’ve loved and supported each of you since a babe Now it’s your time with a daughter, a family you’ve made So with joy in our hearts and a tear in our eyes I make this pronouncement to those far and wide By the power invested in me by the state You’re now husband and wife, it’s legal, you’re life mates. Now is the time to seal this love with a kiss Your first of many in legal wedded bliss!
Wishing you a lifetime of love & laughter, Love you much❣️
Life can turn on a dime…and sometimes you just have to hold on and ride the tide.
I had my Explorer set up to be a self-contained solo camper when I left North Dakota for retirement in Michigan. On my way, I stopped for lunch with the Minnesota friend I’d met and hiked with during my February Tucson trip. Kate and I had texted and talked in the intervening months, and found we really enjoyed each other’s company.
After four trips through Minnesota in the course of a month, we liked each other well enough to see where our relationship would lead in Tucson, since we would both be wintering there. Long story short, we’ve been inseparable since.
After my latest divorce, I was convinced I’d be forever single, not wanting to put my heart out there again. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my solo adventures, but I missed sharing them with someone who enjoys similar things. We enjoy listening to books and podcasts together, we laugh like school girls on a sleepover, and we have similar taste…though I don’t eat anything that swims. I taught her Pickleball, and now she’s kicking my butt, so she’s a great partner in sport and life.
Lately we’ve been renovating Kate’s manufactured home in a 55+ community. In years past, I’ve avoided getting involved in renovation projects. With my bicep/rotator cuff recovery, I’m limited to cleanup chores. Although I haven’t been a huge help with removing the popcorn ceiling and skim-coating, I’m a good researcher…and I love me some power tools.
I’ve ridden the tide to a sweet ending to a life-changing year. We’re headed back to Minnesota and North Dakota to spend the holidays with family…so more adventures to come!
It’s hard to believe it’s been a month since I retired. Weirdly, I feel as if I’ve lived a year already.
I’ve been able to spend quality time with family and friends, I’ve enjoyed seeing my poetry made into art, and Parkher, my 2019 Ford Explorer, and I have traveled more than 5,000 miles. We’ve seen sunsets and storms, sunrises and sprinkles…and a lot of beautiful country between Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota.
It still feels a little like I’m on an extended vacation, but I’m embracing the change. I even took an afternoon nap a few days ago, something I could never do before.
Like a migrating bird, I’ll start traveling south in the next month just as my retired parents did. I am my father’s daughter in so many ways, and I feel his presence on this nomad journey…”Be sure to log your mileage and the cost of gas. And how many miles to the gallon you get.”