Dear Dad, Are you queer? Part one.
I am simultaneously rooting and untethering, and it is resulting in some deep, hard questions.
A note: This post talks frankly about bullying and queerness.
This autumn my dad asked me to start a project with him. I suggested we write letters to each other based on how he used to write me cards as a kid. We’ve sent a few back and forth. It’s been beautifully healing.
We’ve both agreed to share them publicly. We feel it may bring some insight for others.
Below is the beginning of a letter I wrote. I am sharing it in development because I desire to share works in progress and not just completed works.
My dad can no longer write me back.
More will come.
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It’s been a minute since last I wrote, and so much has been brewing. The Here + Now seems to be expanding all of space and time, and I am finding myself simultaneously rooting and untethering. It is disorienting. I love it. It makes me feel queer and be queerer, and it has nothing (and everything) to do with sexuality and gender.
I know this is a subject that often confounded and perplexed you. You were so curious as you got older about my experience of sexuality and gender, and you often tried to find ways to bridge our very different lives. It wasn’t just enough that I was your child, and therefore there was connection. You strived for something deeper, something that would root us to our ancestry.
Being queer wasn’t a part of that ancestry. Or more precisely queers, defined as people who are sexually attracted to those of the same sex/gender, were / are not apparent in our family tree. I cannot think of any other relative that is out, and I do not remember you mentioning anyone else that’s queer. I’ve always been the lone one in our somewhat large Wyman family and smaller Soderberg clan. As a result, I often ask myself, “how / where do I fit within our ancestors?”
For over a decade, I used this divination tool based on the I Ching called Tao Oracle by Ma Deva Padma. Ma Deva Padma is a white woman from Boston who meditated on the I Ching and then created the Tao Oracle. Her previous deck was the Osha Zen Tarot Deck. Like me, Ma Deva Padma was drawn to the philosophies of Daoism and Zen Buddhism. At the time of purchase in the early 2000s, I was reading the Tao Te Ching religiously and trying to find a Daoist community that wasn’t homophobic.
My practice consisted of drawing three to five cards and pondering the words and images associated with them. Often the card in the center represented the present situation. The card to its left signified that which was influencing the present situation. The card to its right signified that which could result from the present situation. If I drew a fourth card, it went directly above the first and represented any unseen forces trying to exert themselves. The fifth card, when drawn, was placed below the first card and represented my own subconscious that needed to be addressed.
The layout was a modification of a tarot layout that I was introduced to through another deck called the Inner ChildTarot by Isha Lerner, Mark Lerner, and Christopher Guilfoil, which I’ve had since about 1996. I stopped using the Inner Child Tarot when I started using the Tao Oracle. I was already finding myself growing distant from the archetypes of the tarot. There was something too royal about them. The separation of major and minor arcana. The king, queen, knight, and page of each suit bristled against my value of flat, distributed, shared, and collective power. I couldn’t keep using something that reinforced hierarchy.
When I found the Tao Oracle on a Barnes and Noble bookshelf at Stonestown Mall, I was drawn to it. There was no separation between major and minor arcana. The paintings of Ma Deva Padma spoke to me in the same language of Christopher Guilfoil’s illustrations. The format of it being cards (and not sticks, which is the ancestral way to divine the I Ching) spoke to the nostalgia of sitting around playing cards with my family on vacations. I grabbed it off the shelf, paid for it, and started using it the moment after I walked through my front door.
Immediately, it felt right, correct, like I was connecting to something that was greater than my self and tapping into an ancestry that could tether me to a space and time beyond the present moment. I never questioned its usage. Instead, I used it so much that it became my familiar. It was that which gave me comfort when I felt disjointed, untethered, lost.
In 2018, I did a big installation at Black & White Projects run by Rhiannon Evans MacFadyen called Be Jason. I invited everyone to come and be me through mapping, poetry, paper doll making, drag, divination, and communion. It was an incredibly deep dive into my own psychology and sociology as a way for me to start better understanding not just myself but all of the relations, dynamics, synergies, fields that make up my world and worldview.
As I dove into myself, I started questioning the pieces of me that I had taken for granted and had gone unexamined. It was overwhelming and disorienting to question every single supposition I had.
Who am I, really?
What are my values, and how do I know I am living by them?
From what springs and wells am I drawing?
Who are my ancestors and how do I chart my relation to them?
Why do I do what I do?
What can I discover about where I have been to learn more about where I am possibly going?
This level of self critique and examination is often stimulating, mostly exhausting, and always illuminating. It both roots and untethers. And in 2019, I found I no longer knew anything about my be-ing.
It was also the year I learned you had cancer. I hopped on a plane because while I knew nothing about my be-ing, I knew my body needed to be by your side.
image description: a selfie of me looking straight into the camera bathed in a warm light. My hazel eyes are serene and there is a slight smile upon my lips. My dark brown and graying bear and hair are long. I am wearing all black. Behind me is a blurred out window with the blind shut and a full bookshelf. It was taken while writing this letter.
One of our closest conversations came this past summer when COVID made it so I couldn’t physically be by your side. We talked about middle school at St. John’s in Excelsior, Minnesota. We attended the same school two decades apart, and our experience of it was exactly the same.
I could hear my pain in your voice as you recalled stories of being relentlessly bullied. You were poor and an outcast trying to shrink yourself just to survive. You fought and were harmed by your classmates both on school grounds and throughout your neighborhood. You had your dear close friend, Marv, and his family who provided shelter away from all the adolescent and class-inflicted traumas.
As I listened to you, I was back on that concrete basketball court terrified that the red rubber ball landed at my feet. My classmates insisted on playing Smear the Queer, and now that I was closest to the ball I was the Queer. I picked up the ball threw it as best I could and kept running, terrified. The ball landed at my feet again. As I bent down to pick it up, a classmate’s knee connected with my tailbone. I fell over in agony; my tailbone was broken.
With decades between our traumas and more decades between telling our stories, we were able to share with each other and really hear them for the first time. While these were experiences of harm and pain that inflicted deep, lasting trauma, we also shared our healing. It was our family, of blood and of choice, that held our hand and guided our path. Marv, who was already an ancestor when we spoke, was holding your hand as we spoke.
Two months to the day from your passing, I am recalling these stories and writing them back to you as I search for connection to all my ancestors. Seeing in words our experiences at St. John’s makes me realize, you, too, would have had your tailbone broken in a game of Smear the Queer.
And it makes me ask, are you one of my Queer ancestors?