Welcoming A Passionate New Year
January is a month that for many (myself included) symbolizes new beginnings.
This January, in particular, has felt that way to me as it is just three months after my partner and I made the (I think very queer decision) to prioritize the needs of our fuzzy-children and relocate cross country. Within a couple of weeks we boxed up everything we owned, put our house on the market and loaded the three dogs and three cats into the Subaru (gay stereotypes anyone?) and drove from NYC to Portland Oregon. The move happened in a hurry because my youngest dog needed major orthopaedic surgery that couldn’t safely be rehabbed in NYC. For those who have been following our journey - the surgery was a huge success and she (and our whole family) received wonderful thoughtful care from all her providers (something I worry a lot about as a queer family going into new veterinary medical settings).
Now in the new year, my youngest has been medically cleared by her surgeon and physical therapist to return to normal activities. She’s running off leash in the yard playing with my other dogs, going on long walks, hikes, swimming, and has returned to dog sports training. I’ve talked many times before here in this column about the way that queerness and dogs are inseparably linked for me. Recently on Facebook, a friend asked people to consider who they were in high school and how that relates to their present reality. My freshman-junior year I was "the dog girl" I competed in dog sports, I talked about dog sports and dog training 24/7, my school binders were covered in dog pictures, I read dog magazines at lunch, I think I wore a dog covered t-shirt every day. I was friends with the horse and rodeo kids. Senior year I was the gay kid - ran the GSA (first at my school), ran away then was kicked out talked about LGBTQ stuff all the time and made people uncomfortable. Basically, now in my 30s I have comfortably figured out how to be both of those things all the time. I still make people uncomfortable w/ queer stuff and I talk about dogs constantly. Pretty much I’m living my best life.
It is particularly interesting as a queer person to be finding my way back into the dog world in the Pacific Northwest (after over a decade on the East Coast). It’s not just because I am new in town but because it was a site of so much trauma for me. If I hadn’t moved to the East Coast and established a community of other LGBTQ people in the dog world, I don’t know that I would have found my way back, in my own way, a way that feels authentic to who I am as a queer person and a dog lover. But now blending those things together and finding my way back into community in the place that caused me so much pain feels both possible and exciting.
When I was seventeen years old, I ran away from home by going to a dog show and never going home. I had a black eye and other bruises that my mother would eventually plead guilty to felony assault about. I went to live with my dog trainer along with my dogs. The first night I stayed at her house she asked if I was “over that gay thing?” I had come out the summer before mostly online but to a few trusted friends, who had told her. She was my best friend, but I knew she hated gay people, so I didn’t tell her. That night I told her I was over it (being gay) because I needed somewhere to live with my dogs, because I never had been alone before, because I loved her. I wasn’t over being gay. Four months later she read my journal, she saw the gay books I had checked out from the library and stashed in my room, she learned I was vice president of my high schools’ first GSA. She called me at school and told me to never come home. She never spoke to me again. I lost my dogs. I thought my life was over. Queer community is what saved me especially in those early days of having to figure out who I was and how to build a new life for myself. In the intervening nearly seventeen years I’ve created my own queer life/world and family. I wouldn’t change what happened that winter day because it led me here -to the life I have now where I have a wonderful chosen family, I write queer stories and never am asked or faced with the prospect of denying who I am. I also have found my way back to dogs and the world of dogs thanks to some fantastic queer dog sports trainers and enthusiasts who welcomed me and supported me with recapturing the dreams that had been stolen from me all those years ago.
Moving back to Portland, I knew that eventually, our paths would cross. When I saw her name in my inbox (she’d emailed a local dog training listserv advertising her classes) there was a heart jolt, the memories flooded in the loss, the panic and then there was a sense of peace that washed over me. And then, after the initial shock, I was overcome with a powerful recognition that this woman who both saved (supporting me with getting away from my mother) and destroyed (when she kicked me out) my teenage life could not touch me, could not ever hurt me again and that while I would never forget what she did, and while I couldn’t forgive her if our paths did cross at a dog show I had nothing to say to her and I was not afraid for her to see me living my best queer life. As scary and disconcerting as it was to see her name, to realize that we’re in the same community and I wasn’t going to let the memory of what happened keep me away from the dog sport world. It was also a relief, to see that she didn’t have any power over me anymore in reality or even in my mind (which as someone with PTSD was a powerful moment).
As the new year begins, I am thinking a lot about hope, joy, play, and passion - those are really some of the core words I’m queerly centering in 2019. Last year was a year of huge transitions for me and my family, I started writing full time, we centered the needs of our dogs and moved our whole life cross country. 2019 feels like a year of new beginnings and though I’m not usually one to enjoy change I am so excited about the new year and all the amazing change and adventures it has in store for me. Already 2019 feels very full circle I’m going to be facilitating writing workshops at the queer youth recreation center where I first began writing just days after becoming homeless, and later this month my youngest dog and I will be competing in her first dog show (in the sport of Rally Obedience) which will be the first time that I will be stepping into the ring since the day before I became homeless. Regardless of how my dog and I do in the ring that day (we’re just there to have fun), and regardless of if the woman who has haunted my nightmares for seventeen years is also attending/competing I know that just by living out and proud and centering my joy and passions I’ve already won something far more important than any blue ribbon.
Love, always, always wins.
Sassafras Lowrey is a straight-edge queer punk who grew up to become the 2013 winner of the Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award. Sassafras’ books—Lost Boi, A Little Queermas Carol, Roving Pack, Kicked Out and Leather Ever After—have been honored by organizations ranging from the National Leather Association to the American Library Association. Sassafras is a Certified Trick Dog Instructor who lives and writes in Portland, Oregon with hir partner, and their menagerie of dogs and cats. Sassafras’ book TRICKS IN THE CITY: For Daring Doggos and the Humans That Love Them is forthcoming in 2019 from Mango Publishing. Learn more at www.SassafrasLowrey.com