The Comet Chasers

Comet Kohoutek

During 1973-74, Comet Kohoutek became all the rage. Discovered by Czech astronomy Luboš Kohoutek, scientists believed the comet would become a major event, big, bright, spectacular. I was only 8 at the time, but remember the hype quite well, because no one was more excited about Comet Kohoutek than my mother.

Mom loved outer space. The moon landing beamed onto our TV set, back when we lived with my grandmother, my mom’s mother. Whenever Skylab passed over LA, it became a major event in my family. And by the time the Vikings landed on Mars in 1976, I was old enough to get excited by it, too. Mom had never seen a comet, and Kohoutek promised to be a Big Deal. Dr. George Fischbeck, the Channel 7 news meteorologist, went on and on about it. Dad loved space, too, and loved his wife, so he would take her out here and there to find the perfect viewing spot to see Kohoutek.

But like millions around the world, she never saw it. Comet Kohoutek turned into a major disappointment. Scientists had theorized that Kohoutek had never traveled to the inner solar system previously. Thus, it would contain lots of ice and volatiles that would outgas spectacularly when it heated up during its loop close around the sun. Nope. Turned out it had more rock than expected and it did not spark up nearly as brightly as anticipated.

Kohoutek remained a running gag in my family. Any time another astronomical phenomenon excited Mom, and she dashed outside all hours of the night, we reminded her of Kohoutek. She laughed, but went out anyway. I often joined her. Eclipses, meteor showers, we searched for them all, with varying degrees of success.

In 1996, Comet Hyakutake came round the inner solar system, and the hype machine tuned up again. It appeared in late March of that year. Sadly, by that point Mom had lost much of her mobility, her body ravaged by arthritis and lupus. But that didn’t stop her. She went outside anyway into the front yard in search of Hyakutake. Much to my delight, she phoned me to say that she saw it and we excitedly traded stories. I also saw it from my place in Oakland. A few months later, in June, Mom passed away.

Comet Hale-Bopp put on a much more spectacular show a year later. My husband and I saw it in clear skies from the hills west of Ukiah. The comet’s tail went on and on. It was an awesome sight. Of course I wished for Mom. Dad and I talked wistfully about her and Kohoutek and her finally seeing a comet before passing on.

Last weekend, I trudged uphill on the block where I live in search of Comet Neowise. I needed a clearer view of the horizon the elevation offered. Look in the direction of the Big Dipper just after sunset, the article I read suggested. But in the twilight just after sunset, the Big Dipper remained invisible, so that wasn’t of much help. Just as I was about to text my sister and say “I’m on another Kohoutek run,” I saw it, very small just above Mt. Tamalpias. And in the binoculars, I could see its head and a short tail. Nothing as spectacular as Hale-Bopp had been, but still a thrilling sight.

I may not have become a professional astronomer, but I’ll forever remain fascinating by “out there,” a love I came by honestly thanks to my parents, in particular Mom, our family’s first Comet Chaser.

A Noah’s Arc 15th Anniversary Reunion

Black queerdom collectively gasped when word got out that Patrik-Ian Polk created a Noah’s Arc reunion. No, not in production, not in the planning stages, not in the cards, but in the flesh. (LOTS of flesh.) The magic dropped on Sunday, July 5, a perfect way to end the Independence Day Weekend. 

Entitled “The ‘Rona Chronicles,” we catch up with our favorite black gay divas—Noah (Darryl Stephens), Alex (Rodney Chester), Ricky (Christian Vincent), and Chance (Doug Spearman)—as they shelter-in-place, their catty banter and tea pouring continuing via Zoom…

And let’s pause for a second. Since March, I’ve largely worn t-shirts, sweatpants, and shorts while working from home. Not our divas, honey. About 10 minutes into the story, and I tweeted “Oh dear. I’m gonna have to up my Zoom dress game. Big time.”

During a Zoom with Alex, Noah tries on one fab outfit after another. Indecisive as ever, he wants to look his best for a Zoom party with the fam, where he and Wade (Jensen Atwood) have huge announcement. But Wade is in the doghouse because he just had to go out and play ball with the boys, and two of them end up testing positive for the ‘Rona. He has to stay in isolation in their large house (mansion?) and wear a hazmat suit whenever he steps out of it.

Despite Wade’s personae-non-grata status, the party happens and the happy couple announce that they are expecting a baby. But before the toasting begins, Noah gets a call from Brandy (Jennia Fredrique) with a dream job offer: show-runner on a new Netflix production. He had planned to become a stay-at-home dad once the baby comes, but now, will he?

Lots of classic Noah subplots take place, bringing in Wilson Cruz as Junito Vargas, Gregory Kieth as Trey, Jonathan Julian as Eddie, and a fabulous cameo by Wanda Sykes. At times witty, at times moving, its constantly entertaining and endearing, just as this classic series has always been since its debut 15(!) years ago.

While sheltering-in-place, I’ve largely avoided new TV stuck with comfort food TV (Bewitched, mostly). But this new installment of Noah felt like a homecoming, as comfortable as buttermilk pancakes. Creator Patrik-Ian Polk brought it all together. He clearly loves these characters. As do we all.

I came out just a year before Marlon Riggs’ seminal documentary Tongues Untied (1989) dropped, spilling the tea on black gay life to the world for the first time. Noah’s Arc is a valued part of this legacy. The hunger for the show has hardly diminished and it remains a lasting mystery to me why it only lasted for two seasons. With its huge fan base constantly screaming for more, let’s hope that the television powers that be will listen and green light more episodes, so long as Polk and crew are willing and able to do it.

Check out the magic of this 15-year reunion on Patrik-Ian Polk’s YouTube page. And bring your boa. (But hurry! It will only stream for another day or two.)

On the radio

Mark the date!

Next Saturday, July 11 at 1pm CDT (11am PDT), I’ll be a guest on the Sandra Moran Radio Book Club from radio station KKFI in Kansas City. Host Elizabeth Andersen, panelist/poet Mercedes Lewis, and I will discuss my novel Sin Against the Race.

Society has entered an extraordinary period of activism around issues of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, and police violence. So I really look forward to having the opportunity to discuss my book, which touches on all of these subjects.

If you live outside the Kansas City area, you can click the link above to hear KKFI streaming online. Join us!

I’m very tired

Breonna Taylor.

Ahmaud Arbery.

George Floyd.

How many times do we have to live the same nightmare, travel the same dark path, scream the same anguish until our voices go raw?

I’m very tired.

100,000+ dead from COVID-19, with African Americans disproportionately bearing the brunt of the pandemic in the US. And then these killings happen.

I’m very tired.

Donald Trump has fanned the flames of racism rather than quelled them during his misguided, disastrous tenure in office. His self-centered bungling also aided and abetted the spread of COVID-19.

I’m very tired.

When Amy Cooper called 911 on Christian Cooper (no relation) and claimed that Mr. Cooper was threatening her life, she went full-on Carolyn Bryant. Bryant is the white woman who lied and said that Emmett Till molested her. Fortunately, Mr. Cooper did not suffer Mr. Till’s fate.

I’m very tired.

And now the world erupts again, disgusted, angry, scared, while those in power sit silent. We have no national voice to bring calm or hope or change.

I’ve written about racism, racists policing, racist hate crimes, and Black Lives Matters for years. At the moment, I have few new words to add.

My voice is tired. My fingers are tired. My heart is tired and my soul is not rested. My weariness runs deep in my core and dates back generations.

Saints & Sinners: New Fiction from the Festival 2020

Look what came in the mail today! I’m very honored and excited to be included in this fine anthology of New Fiction with so many amazing writers. I’m also very sad that we did not get to meet and read together at the festival. Such is the case in the age of COVID-19. But I have no doubt that we’ll meet again soon and continue to raise our voices in support of each other, queer art, and Saints & Sinners.

You can purchase a copy of New Fiction from the Festival from the publisher, Bold Stroke Books, here.

Freedom Is Not Their Goal

On the front page of my Saturday newspaper, I saw a photo of someone carrying this protest sign: “We are fighting for our freedom.”

No you’re not. Not when you’re carrying signs like “Wealth is Health” and “The cure is worse than the disease.”

As of this writing, 68,088 US residents have died from COVID-19 in just two months. To carry such signs and tout those slogans means that you either do not believe that over 68,000 people have died in this country from this disease, or that you do not care. But in either case, no, you are not fighting for freedom.

To say that the shelter-in-place orders have been devastating is an understatement. The livelihood of millions, including friends, including family members, hangs in the balance. Those who cannot work from home, who received furloughs and layoffs, who rely on unemployment payments, bear the brunt of the economic chaos caused by the pandemic and efforts to curb it. But the answer isn’t to blindly “reopen America” and risk putting people’s lives in danger.

We need money to flow like water from a faucet to everyone adversely affected by the shutdowns, furloughs, and layoffs. We should quite literally pay people to stay home. While a few relief packages have passed through Congress and Trump has signed off on them, it’s far from enough.

Furthermore, too much of the relief money approved so far has gone to those who do not need it. Multi-billion dollar corporations applied for and received money from the Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program. The Los Angeles Lakers came to their senses and returned the $4.6 million they received. By contrast, United Airlines eyes making layoffs in October, after they have received $3.5 billion in grants, $1.5 billion in loans, with an additional $4.5 billion in loans waiting on the table. Despite all this money coming in to offset the loss of ticket sales on flights, they still want to make layoffs. How much do you want to bet that their top executives will receive bonuses at the end of the year?

But no, the freedom people aren’t protesting that. They are going after governors who dare to put people over profits. While these protests have mostly targeted Democrats—Gavin Newsom of California, Andy Beshear of Kentucky, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan—a few Republican governors have also faced their wrath: Gary Herbert in Utah, Mike DeWine in Ohio. 

As CNN has reported, many of these protests have the backing of conservative groups, like FreedomWorks, who helped manufacture the Tea Party protests against the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Like those protests, these “open up American” protests feature American flags, vapid patriotism, and heaps of bigotry, from anti-Semitic symbolism and Nazi slogans (Arbeit Macht Frei) to Confederate flags.

So a decade ago, these groups used an effort by the Obama Administration to increase access to healthcare as a political football to push their bigoted agendas. Now they are using a pandemic killing thousands. In 2010 conservative protesters decried that the ACA would bring about Death Panels that would kill off grandma if caring for her costs too much. Today, conservative protesters are the death panels, openly calling for the sacrificing of the old and infirm in order to reopen businesses and make money.

Make no mistake, folks are suffering economically and it’s horrifying to watch. With testing levels for COVID-19 still woefully insufficient, at this point, I have a hard time imagining when all this will end. But these conservative groups have a different agenda. It’s the same agenda they’ve always had: Make American White Again. And that they would use a pandemic killing thousands as a vehicle to forward their bigotry turns them into ghouls.

The Festival That Wasn’t: Saints & Sinners 2020

Me at S&S 2018.

I previously wrote about my excitement about attending the Saints & Sinners LGBTQ Literary Festival in New Orleans again. It was set to take place March 27-29. 

And then COVID-19 happened. Wisely, though sadly, the Festival cancelled this year’s edition. New Orleans has been hit hard by the pandemic and I wish all of my friends in NOLA and everywhere safety and health. This disease has taken a terrible toll.

Michele Karlsberg had invited me to write about S&S for her Words column for the SF Bay Times. And although the Festival didn’t happen, I wrote about what would have happened and about the importance of the arts even especially during times of crisis. Check it out here.

COVID-19: History Repeating

Grand Princess in the distance at the Port of Oakland

We’re not testing enough for the coronavirus, COVID-19. We’ve made this mistake before and it led to dire consequences. It gives me eerie flashbacks.

AIDS had already taken over 10,000 lives before a test for HIV became available in 1985. Prejudice and bigotry slowed the development of tests, treatments, or even a clear explanation of how HIV transmitted from person to person. All of this dithering cost lives. One cannot get a handle on a disease if you don’t know the extent it has spread. You can’t protect people without that simple knowledge.

The US falls well behind other nations in terms of testing for COVID-19. This chart from Business Insider tells a grim story:

Bigotry has also played a role in attitudes about COVID-19. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy referred to the disease as the “Chinese coronavirus” in a tweet. Sadly anti Asian bigotry is on the rise. But other foolishness has contributed to the lack of testing. That foolishness being the current resident of the White House.

Trump has called the coronavirus a “hoax” promulgated by the usual enemies, Democrats and the free press (aka Fake News). Repeatedly, he has demonstrated a lack of knowledge of even the basic facts. In a recent tweet, while trying to make a point that not many Americans have contracted COVID-19, he made the opposite point. The data he cited gave a 4% mortality rate.

But in truth, we don’t know what the mortality rate is in this country, because don’t know how far it has spread. We can’t. The test is not sufficiently available. Until that happens, we can’t know anything about COVID-19 or hope to contain it in any meaningful way.

This all comes from having incompetence in power. Neither Trump nor Pence have any credibility with managing a disaster. Trump horribly botched the response to the devastation of Puerto Rico caused by Hurricane Maria. And speaking of HIV, Pence helped to advance the spread of the disease as governor of Indiana. Instead of acting to an increase of infections by the use of dirty needles, he dithered, and more folks became infected as a result.

In an ideal world, both Trump and Pence would resign or get removed from office, opening the door for Speaker Nancy Pelosi to become president. Then, she could lead a proper response to COVID-19. I doubt she would run for reelection, so whoever the Democratic nominee turns out to be could win in November and then take over in January, 2021. Sadly, this scenario will not likely play out. Neither Trump nor Pence are going anywhere any time soon.

In the meanwhile, citizens and the media need to continue to hold Trump and Pence accountable. Lives are at stake. At the very least, they need to lose the election. With their leadership, disasters will become commonplace.

Keep Our Eyes on the Prize and Vote

We have to follow the old Civil Rights Movement slogan and keep our eyes on the prize. Donald Trump and the filth he has visited upon the nation and the world has us beside ourselves with anger, fear, and despair. But we can’t let him, his tweets, or his parasitic sycophants distract us. Our purpose is clear. We have to take out the garbage and then stay engaged. It will take a long time to undo the damage he has done.

His worst offense, in my view, has been his polluting the federal courts with unfit, immoral, ultra conservative ideologues. Many of them lack even a patina of qualification for the federal bench. Anti-women, anti-LGBTQ, anti-climate change, anti-black and brown people while also pro-billionaires and pro-corporations: these are their sole qualifications.

And Trump had help with these awful appointments in the form of the ghoulish Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Quite a switch from during the Obama years. At that time, both as Minority Leader and Majority Leader, McConnell did his level best to prevent President Obama from making judicial appointments, ending with his triumphant stymieing of Merrick Garland’s nomination for the Supreme Court. But during Trump’s presidency, McConnell has rubber-stamped each and every judicial appointment with frightening speed. Mitch McConnell is the most dangerous man in Washington, DC, the most dangerous since J. Edgar Hoover and he has to be stopped. It’s not enough just to flip the Senate to a Democratic majority. McConnell has to be voted out of office

Internecine battles within the Democratic Party must cease. We don’t have time for that shit now. Four more years of Republican rule could quite literally bring doom upon the planet. Time for us to lick our wounds and get going.

This Black History Month, I turn to one of my idols for inspiration, Congressman John Lewis. A fighter for nearly all of his 80 years, he received beating after beating during the Civil Rights Movement. As a Freedom Rider, as a leader in the march from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights, despite the beatings, he stayed firm, kept his eyes on the prize. 

Congressman Lewis has served in the People’s House for 33 years. He has fought for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, environmental justice, and against big business and climate change. History will record him as a fighter on the side of justice for all.

Tragically, he has seen many of his accomplishments washed away by waves of Republican advances. This includes the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He nearly lost his life on the Pettus bridge fighting for blacks to have the unquestioning right to vote. In 2013, the Roberts court gutted the Act. This launched a wave of voter ID, racist gerrymandering, and other tactics to disenfranchise black and brown people. It pains me to see all he worked for destroyed by evil opportunists.

But despite all of the setbacks, he continues. His eyes have never wavered from the prize. Indeed, one could say that he has his eyes fixed on the prize more now than ever before, because the stakes are so high. This, despite his recent cancer diagnosis.

We need to follow his great example, the extraordinary life he has lived. We need to keep our eyes on the prize and vote. And after we’ve voted, continue to march, petition, and lobby for the just world we want to see.


This is why we have to do better. Trump and McConnell are successfully flipping one of the most reliably liberal Courts of Appeal in the county, the Ninth Circuit. Recent decisions have involved the rights of asylum seekers, stopping Trump’s Muslim ban, and of course legalizing same-sex marriage. If flipped, any future cases involving these and other issues (reproductive rights, for example) could go the other way. Judges last for a lifetime. Trump and McConnell have appointed young judges. So they will last for a long while.

As I stated before, Trump’s judges will outlast him. We can’t afford to have anymore polluting our judiciary. Reactionary judges can set our society back decades.

March 1, 2020
From the man, himself:

Saints & Sinners LGBTQ Lit Fest Fiction Contest

I’m very excited to announce that my short story, “Tom of Boalt Hall,” is a finalist in the annual Saints & Sinners LGBTQ Literary Festival’s Short Fiction Contest. The story will appear in their superbly put together anthology along with new works from a group of amazing writers.

I first attended Saints & Sinners in 2018, where I read from Sin Against the Race and spoke on a panel. It was an amazing trip and wonderful experience.

“Tom of Boalt Hall” takes place in the 1930s on the Berkeley campus. It represents the first time I merged my two worlds, as a writer and as a long time employee at Berkeley Law. With the help of the Law School’s Archivist Emeritus William E. Benemann, I learned about life at the then-School of Jurisprudence, as the Law School was known in the 30s, its original building and some of its quirks. All of this informed the story. Bill also has written about gay history on the Berkeley campus. I’m grateful to Bill for all of his help and knowledge.

If you go to the Berkeley campus, check out Durant Hall. Currently the home of the College of Letters and Science, it was built in 1911 as the Boalt Memorial Hall of Law. The School occupied the building until 1951, when it moved it its current location.

I’m looking forward to reading all the stories in next year’s Saints & Sinners Festival anthology. Laissez les bons temps rouler!