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Out in the Bay: 108 questions aim to make holidays queerly comfortable

by Eric Jansen

The Castro holiday tree adds to the spirit of the season. Photo: Rick Gerharter
The Castro holiday tree adds to the spirit of the season. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

Just in time for those potentially awkward family holiday gatherings, Out in the Bay — Queer Radio & Podcast offers a throwback special. It features lesbian author and civil rights attorney Abby Dees, who encourages straight-but-not-narrow folks to go ahead and ask their LGBTQ relatives or friends the questions burning inside them. Like "Which one of you is the man?"

Although that particular query might seem passé in cosmopolitan bubbles like San Francisco, you don't have to go too far to still hear that and similar questions. If you're queer, grin and bear it, Dees said, even encourage your loved ones to ask.

She believes that if asking out of love, there are no stupid questions, they're all opportunities to broaden understanding. So she wrote "Queer Questions, Straight Talk: 108 frank & provocative questions it's OK to ask your lesbian, gay or bisexual loved one" in 2013. Hear some of those questions and how Dees has handled them on this week's Out in the Bay.

"The holidays require us all to act like everything is great, that there's nothing simmering just below the surface," said Dees. "But when you try really hard not to mention x, y and z, or you're bringing your partner to a holiday dinner for the first time, it's a powder keg."

Before writing the book, she found "Which one of you is the man?" and its variants especially annoying and was tempted "to be snarky and say, 'Well on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I'm the man.' But really that question deserves more time and attention, because it can tell you a lot about gender and about how gender and sexual orientation are different, or [how they're] connected."

So she moved to asking straight folks who posed that question how they dealt with gender roles. "'Are you a traditional couple? Does one stay home and bake cakes while the other goes to work? Or are you breaking the rules too?' And that can bring us together."

Dees said she was inspired to write "Queer Questions" after meeting a transgender person at a conference and, upon confessing her embarrassment at knowing little about trans issues, that person said to Dees: "'Well then ask. I'm giving you this opportunity right now to ask anything and I won't get mad.' That was such a generous act, and it stuck with me."

We also hear Dar Williams' "The Christians and the Pagans," about the solstice-celebrating lesbian pagans who drop in unexpectedly on their conservative uncle's family for Christmas Eve dinner, on this week's show. It's my favorite holiday song and brings me wistful tears of joy every time I hear it.

Hear more from Abby Dees on this week's Out in the Bay. The program airs at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, December 23, on KSFP, 102.5 FM, San Francisco; 5 p.m. Friday, December 24, on KALW, 91.7 FM, SF Bay Area-wide; and again at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, December 25, on KSFP. It is available anytime on Out in the Bay's website.

Eric Jansen is primary host and managing producer of Out in the Bay — Queer Radio from San Francisco. Learn more and hear past episodes at https://www.outinthebay.org/


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