Thursday, May 26, 2011

More rainbow power

This is my latest column in the Claremont Courier. I think it speaks for itself.


“Lesson number one: Always check the weather forecast.”

This wasn’t an admonition to the planners of the outdoor graduation ceremonies at the Claremont colleges two weekends ago. Although I’m not sure if looking at the forecast would have helped, since, from what I saw, it didn’t indicate that there would be drizzle and even a few little showers on Sunday morning right before the start of the commencement exercises at Pomona and Scripps. No doubt there was some big-time panicking underway.

Nor was it exactly like when the late, great Kurt Vonnegut famously told a group of graduates to “wear sunblock.” I think this advice was somewhat less flippant and had more of an unique background story.

Jehan Agrama, a 1980 Pomona College alumna, was addressing a group of Claremont colleges graduating seniors, was talking about when she was a student at Pomona “before there was e-mail and cell phones.” As she explained, “When you wanted to make a call, you had to stop. And use a pay phone.”

She talked about how, at that time, she was very involved in a student group called Feminists Against Repression (FAR). They wore bright red t-shirts emblazoned with “Go FAR” in white. One night, they splashed red paint in a quad at C.M.C - then Claremont Men’s College - to protest some doings of a fraternity. However, it rained a bit later, and the feminists awoke in the morning to find their efforts all washed away.

Hence the importance of checking the weather forecast.

But there was something more unique about this address and Ms. Agrama giving it. Now the head of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance for Anti-Defamation (GLAAD) in the Los Angeles area, Ms. Agrama went on in her comments to explain that she later found herself coming out as a lesbian - something even less easy to do in a family with a Middle Eastern background.

This was a very important part, more or less the key part, of the address, which wasn’t given during commencement weekend. It took place several weeks before, and the assembled students, from all of the colleges here and all about to graduate, were all lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

The event, taking place on a Friday afternoon at the end of April in Balch Hall at Scripps College, was Lavender Graduation, Class of 2011, put on by the Queer Resource Center (QRC) of the Claremont Colleges.

I don’t know how long this ceremony has been going on. This was the first time I heard of it, and I’m glad I did and went. It was eye-opening and heartening.

This may have been a small gathering on a Friday afternoon, but it was obviously a highlight to the students who were there. The stage was decorated with balloons, and there were plenty of colorful dresses and bright shirts, jackets and accessories. There were also lots of cheering, whooping and joyful squealing.

The graduates were welcomed, warmly embraced, by Angie Moore of Pitzer College, who praised her peers for being “beautiful deviants” and for “daring to be who you are.” The same warmth radiated from Adriana di Bartolo, QRC Coordinator, as she went on to preside.

A particularly meaningful part of the ceremony was when each of the presidents of the colleges were recognized for their support of the QRC. Each of the presidents or their representative - David Oxtoby of Pomona was the only president who attended for this - got on stage to receive a plaque and some love and have their picture taken. A few professors who had given GLBT-related presentations during the year were also recognized.

It was very clear that those served by the QRC, located on the Pomona College campus, make up a real community. It was also evident that this community, as vital as it is, thrives with support from others.

I was reminded later of the importance of community at the colleges during another ceremony, the baccalaureate service on the Friday afternoon of commencement weekend this month. During her few minutes at the podium on the Garrison Theater stage, Abi Weber, a Pomona College graduating senior and one of eight graduating seniors to speak, told of getting weary of washing dishes after the hillel service and dinner every Friday evening in the tiny kitchen at McAlister Center as her friends headed off to parties and other fun activities. She was about to give up when a few other students joined her, and the dish-washing became a wonderful, rich time of sharing thoughts on religion, philosophy, books, movies and whatnot.

Two other things struck me about the Lavender Graduation, both having to do with names. One was that it was put on by an entity calling itself the Queer Resource Center - when the very use of the word “queer” is controversial in the GLBT community. Some claim and use it with pride; others see it, still, as a crude put-down. I suspect today’s younger-generation students are mostly among the former.

Arguably most moving and remarkable was that not only were these queer graduates named and presented, walking across the stage one by one, at the ceremony, they were listed, in black and white, for all to see, in the program. It wasn’t so long - less than 50 years - ago when people, in general, didn’t dare admit that they were homosexual and often went to considerable lengths to hide the fact. It was, after all, thought to be a sickness, if not a crime.

To paraphrase an old ad line: You’ve come a long way, fabulous babies, and will no doubt go much further!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A painfully sorry state of affairs

I recently had a really bad toothache. If only my tooth was the only thing that was a severe pain.

Actually, the tooth - a lower right molar - had been bugging me for about a month, giving me occasional twinges of pain, but I thought I could deal with it. What was really going on was that I didn’t know what to do, where to go. I knew that Medi-Cal no longer funds dentistry, except for extractions and “emergencies,” and the local dentist I’ve been seeing for cleaning, funded by my parents, doesn’t take Medi-Cal and also can’t put me to sleep, which I now need when having any real work done because of my spasms. So I was going along living with it until one evening last week when I was eating pasta, of all things, and there were suddenly sharp pains and deep throbbing which eventually radiated throughout my head. I was about to discover that everything I was afraid of was true.

I began taking Tylenol, and the next morning, I had my attendant call the dental surgery center at Loma Linda University where I had gone annually for some years (they would put me under and fix any problems they found). I was in severe pain - could they help? No, Medi-Cal is no longer paying, and they no longer see Medi-Cal patients. Did they know where I could go? No. So much for Christian charity from the Seventh Day Adventists.

I felt quite small and not a little afraid, not to mention in considerable pain. My attendant and I decided to call my case worker at the Regional Center, who answered right away and got me in touch with its “dental coordinator.” That the Regional Center has a “dental coordinator” indicates that my sad problem was, sadly, not unusual. If it was not for this woman, I’d probably be still in pain, living on Tylenol and destroying my liver or something.

The woman asked about my pain and financial situation and said that getting help is tricky, but she soon had us on a three-way call with a place called Alta-Med in El Monte, about half an hour to the west. They take Medi-Cal patients because of a court ruling and take walk-ins at 1. Could my attendant and I go. Yes. Good.

The place was large and attractive and busy, mostly with Spanish speakers, and the woman at the front desk was very friendly, although harried. When I got in after more than two hours, the technicians had a difficult time getting a clear x-ray - only one is allowed - and I felt I was wasting time. Unlike the local dentist I’ve been seeing, they wouldn’t let me stay in my wheelchair, and I felt very unstable in the dentist chair, like I would fall over. No wonder it was hard getting a picture. When the dentist came, he said that he could see that, although there was no infection, the tooth was completely ground down, with the nerves exposed. He said that this was an emergency, that this was an extraction that Medi-Cal should pay for, but that he couldn’t work on me, because he couldn’t put me to sleep. I liked him - he got it - but it felt like a wasted afternoon.

When we got home, we called the dental coordinator. She didn’t answer, but she called back right after my attendant left and said that she’d be out of the office the next day but left her cell phone number.

The next day was Friday and I was in a lot of pain, not really able to eat or drink, and I was desperate not to spend the weekend like this. My attendant called the dental coordinator, but the phone seemed to be off. I had my attendant called the local urgent care center, but the woman there said I had to see a dentist. I told my attendant to call my local dentist - the one I see for cleaning - yes, I was desperate - but she called back Loma Linda. When the woman there heard about Alta-Med and the x-ray, she was much friendlier and asked for the x-ray to be faxed over. My attendant called Alta-Med, and the friendly woman at the desk said she would fax the x-ray when she could, explaining that she was working alone. Time went by, I was hurting and worrying about the weekend, and the dental Coordinator with a surgery center in Redlands, about half an hour to the east, not far from Loma Linda. It takes Medi-Cal and can put me to sleep. Could my attendant and I be there at noon? You bet.

We were at the Redlands office for less than an hour. When I first saw the dentist, I thought the pain had overtaken me and I was seeing things. He was so cute and looked like he was fresh out of high school! I pictured him surfing on weekends. (I was more than happy to have him put me under!) He also turned out to be quite smart and understanding and more or less got me. He asked me what I wanted done, mentioning a root canal, but my saying that I’m on Medi-Cal ended that conversation. There was also bad news and good news. The bad news was
*I had to have my physician sign an authorization before I could have the surgery. When I said that I’m changing doctors, because I’m not happy with the one I’ve been seeing and can’t see the new one until the end of June, I was told to see the old one. Damn!
*The earliest time for the surgery I could get was on Tuesday.
*and I would have to pay for some work that Medi-Cal doesn’t cover.
The good news was that the dentist gave me a prescription for an antibiotic and for vikadin. It turned out that the Alta-Med dentist was wrong about my not having an infection, for the pain dramatically subsided soon after I began taking the antibiotic. I only took the vikadin at night, because I didn’t want to be a complete zombie.

On the way home, we went by my doctor’s office. I was told that I had to see her, and I could get an appointment on Monday. I wasn’t happy, but my attendant pointed out to me that everything was lining up.

After a long, very quiet weekend of not doing much, including eating, I saw the doctor. Going in without my attendant and with my Vmax voice synthesizer - something I should always do - helped, cutting down her defensive arguing, and I left within minutes with the form signed.

That afternoon, my parents arrived from up north for a long-planned visit. I had not been able to tell them about my tooth, and they were dismayed to see me in such sad shape. They told me they would help with the extra costs and wondered about paying for a root canal, but I was concerned that they would have to pay for the whole surgery. (Loma Linda once told me that a surgery costs well over $1000.) When they called the office to ask questions, it was literally too late - the office was closed.

After not eating the next morning, I had to wait for more than two hours at the office in Redlands. I wondered about the other disabled people who were there, including a man who repeatedly moaned and slapped himself - where was their funding from, and were they just getting extractions? I was starving by the time of my surgery, and I again felt unstable when on the dental chair before being put to sleep - and frustrated when asked to sign a final form while on my back. The last thing I remember is the dentist looking at me - a nice last thing to see, indeed! - and asking if I was still okay with what he and I had agreed on on Friday.

I was pretty much zonked out for the rest of the day (I don’t remember waking up from the surgery or getting into my van - I would have loved seeing my attendant navigate my motorized wheelchair into my van!), and, with eating jello and fried eggs and hot cereal, I was more or less fine, if a bit groggy, the next day. I was a bit sore, but the toothache was gone - gone! I never did hear back from Loma Linda and don’t know if the nice busy lady at Alta-Med ever did fax them the x-ray.

I have left out some details, a few twists and turns, but you get the gist. Yes, I got what I needed, thankfully, but the system was, as someone commented and to say the very least, clunky. Be warned - or grateful for your coverage and funding that you have.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Reality check - or not

Can we ever really know what is true, what is real? I’m really beginning to wonder. Really.

It was pretty bad two weeks ago when Barack Obama, the President of the United States, felt that he had to present the “long form” of his birth certificate. I call it sad and humiliating, as well as outrageous. How did the “birther” movement get this far? This is the man who was fairly and squarely elected, after all.

Now, there are people who are saying that the “long form” certificate is a fake, that it isn’t real. They point out differences in font, paper, whatever.

Although a recent poll indicates that their numbers have dropped notably, there is still the question: What will it take to satisfy the “birthers,” who insist that Obama wasn’t born in the U.S and thus can’t be president? Nothing. This is the ultimate form of denial - to say that someone who is different or not liked not only isn’t qualified but also doesn’t exist to boot.

I thought it was crazy enough that there are people who say that global warming isn’t real. Talk about being in denial - denying that something bad or not liked exists.

There is a new twist to all of this: People who say that Osama bin Laden wasn’t killed and is still alive. These are the “deathers,” and they not only include some of his followers in the Middle East but also some here in the U.S (not wanting to have Obama, who really isn’t the president, to have this victory). It is true that the photographs of the dead bin Laden won’t convince these people, and that this was articulated by President Obama in deciding that the pictures won’t be released is an absolutely delicious irony.

In my last post, I implied that I wasn’t wowed by bin Laden’s death, that I didn’t buy into the cheering and hype. I will concede, however, that, as someone who also wasn't into the hype pointed out, this was a major bit of history we have lived through, but I will also admit that, in addition to not wanting to applaud a death and act of war and all that, for some time, I half wondered if Osama bin Laden - Osama been Forgotten, who was all over but no one could find - wasn’t real.

Flat Earth Society, anyone?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Never enough

When one of my attendants told me on Sunday night that Osama bin Laden was dead, my first thought was: who? After all, this was Osama been Forgotten.

My second thought was: does this mean the war is over? Finally? Please...?

I can only wish. Yesterday, even as there was talk of a great victory and of it being “a good day for America,” we were told that there might well be a terrorist strike to avenge bin Laden’s assassination. We were told to be on the lookout for the next six months or so. I think that if the terrorists are smart - and they seem to be - six years or so is more like it.

All this also made me think of Proposition 8, the California same-sex marriage ban now wending it’s way through all manner of hearings and courts. Not only is this anti-gay measure, along with others like it, an unique form of terrorism, this looks to be a fight that will never end. When there is finally a ruling - now slated for next year - no matter what it is, it will be appealed. That has already been said. And there can always be another ballot proposition.