Coffee?

Cup of coffee

Coffee is omnipresent. At least as far back as I can remember. I grew up in a world where stewardesses and waitresses always offered coffee and groups of adults drank cups of coffee (even at night). It usually came out of big metal cans, already ground. People made it at home in tall shiny percolators. Mrs. Olson spent her life in other people's homes encouraging coffee drinking. Badly made coffee meant social disgrace.
 

Mrs. Olson commercial

The beverage was the medium of socialization, its most minimal level. I don't know you that well, neighbor, but here's a cup of coffee. And you could always get coffee at places where life-changing boundary events occurred: hospitals and funeral homes. And you drank it from white styrofoam cups.

The coffee phenomenon in the West started out as an expensive treat for well-heeled gentry in late seventeenth century England, becoming the preferred drink of literary intelligentsia in what were called coffee houses. The less expensive it became (tea followed a parallel journey), the more widespread.
 

Sears department store exterior

Unfortunately, the coffee buzz was built on the sounds of whips cracking on plantations populated by African slaves. The same dynamic applies to sugar, which Americans used to add to their coffee in cute little packets (I remember ones that showed pictures of birds) or cubes before Starbucks entered the market with its elaborate lattes and coffee lingo of Tall and Grande. No more just black or sugar or cream choices.
 

Slaves in a coffee farm in Brazil

Yes, the coffee shop is back and has reached heights of gourmet splendor (and I might add still based on oppressive labor in areas where the beans are harvested), but its denizens are usually working on laptops, perhaps a place to at least get out of the house in an online world. No coffee shop has a right to exists without Wifi.
 

Person at Starbucks on a laptop

Person to person connections do occur in these settings, but often they seem to be first-time encounters. I spoke with you online. Let's meet for coffee.

I've never got meeting for coffee, unless it's an early morning meeting. At my house. In my bed. I've noticed many of the traditional brands like Folger's used to show commercials with couples in intimate settings drinking coffee. White couples in fluffy bathrobes lounging around on Pottery Barn-inspired home settings. It's the wholesome after-sex drink, like the once omnipresent after-sex cigarette.
 

Straight couple in white bathrobes drinking coffee in bed

This image is retro in some way, maybe, but also, especially when paired with the cigarette, there are some associations with loneliness. Picture the elderly woman in McDonald's drinking coffee, and then going outside to smoke. And going home to repeat that action.

What's scary is one could substitute elderly single gay man in the picture above.
 

Older man sitting alone at McDonald's drinking coffee

After all, the trendy young gays go out for coffee, and either drink it at the local Starbucks or, if they are really status conscious, at some hipster place that sells environmentally friendly beans in recyclable cups. The shop also doubles as a cat petting parlor and sells locally made tie-dye scarves. The gaylings also take their coffee home sometimes, because just being seen with the cup on the street gives them social status.

The only place you will see me with a cup of coffee is early in the morning, my best time for sex, which means you will have to spend the night at my house. And trust me, if I get really turned on, you'll need that cup of joe. Woof!

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Honoring Edie Windsor Is Honoring Every Person

 
Edie Windsor

I was saddened to learn of the death of Edie Windsor, an LGBTQ senior who made a difference in the world in her golden years through what seems like on the surface a lawsuit based a financial issue: she did not want to pay the onerous tax on the estate of her late life-partner (later wife; they married in Canada), Thea Spyer, because, according to the laws of our nation, Edie and Thea were not “of kin,” that is, legally married at the federal level. Edie sued and won, and her action paved the way for the Obergefell decision which claimed that not allowing same-sex couples to get married was at one level unconstitutional, depriving them of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and, and on a deeper level, as Justice Kennedy aptly and profoundly put, deprived them of “human dignity.” 

Text from Justice Kennedy's ruling
I am going to throw in another word, “honor,” to Justice Kennedy’s words, which gets tossed around quite often, usually in the context of customs like honor killings, and often becomes a byword for the worst excesses of patriarchal oppression (such as throwing out a LGBTQ person out of the home because her orientation somehow dishonors the family unit). We tend to use the word more as a verb, usually in the context of showing respect for the dead, or honoring one’s elders, one of the Ten Commandments. But as a noun, we don’t use it that much in a positive way in many social contexts, and we don’t get terribly specific. 

There’s much more to the word, so much more. Orlando Patterson in his book Slavery and Social Death makes the claim that the masters as a means of social control will take away the honor of their slaves; in fact, one could even claim that they only way they can maintain their honor as masters is by taking away the honor of others. 

Quote from Slavery and Social Death
A person’s honor, I would claim, is the respect of the entire person, not just as an individual, but as a social being with a right not only to basic necessities like food, health care, and shelter, but a right to share equally in what makes the society not just stable on a political and economic level, but worthy of respect on a psychosocial and spiritual level. The person possesses access to all levels of Maslow’s triangle of self-actualization, but the self ultimately thrives in interaction with others. 

Justice Kennedy implicitly acknowledged that marriage (and it doesn’t have to be an overtly religious institution) is an honorable institution; to partake of it is to enjoy honor, not just of the person one loves and commits to (as traditional vows say, “love, honor;” the verbs are tightly connected) but of all aspects of the couple’s social being. In the American South, slaves had to ask permission from their masters to be married, and in many cases slave marriages were not recognized legally. A couple and their children could be sold apart. The masters essentially killed the slaves on a social level, not only because of the breaking apart of families, but even taking away their original names. 

To take away or forcibly change someone’s name is to take away the person’s honor at the deepest level. It reduces someone to the level of an “other,” and “object,” a “function.” When I worked at a law firm, one lawyer referred to paying the support staff as like paying for “lights and desks.” The current administration has made dishonoring persons (and the environment) its mission, for example, by deleting the category of LGBTQ persons from various government surveys and documents. Our society in general dishonors its elders by essentially storing them away in nursing homes, separating them from the family unit, potentially exposing them to dishonor and shame by violating their basic privacy (which I take to mean one’s autonomy) and depriving them of social honor. 

Let’s honor Edie Windsor, an LGBTQ elder who refused to be dishonored, and in doing so, gave honor to many citizens of her country. Let’s also remember that a threat to one’s own honor is a threat to everyone’s honor as a whole, and that upholding one’s honor (I think of the holy haters who seem to think that honoring their religion means dishonoring LGBTQ people in the public square) does not necessarily mean dishonoring others. The Nazis murdered the Jews not only physically, but subjected them to an ongoing social death in the concentration camps. Our nation seems poised to do the same to immigrants, LGBTQ persons, Muslims, persons who are not white. I hope and pray Edie’s legacy of honor and love will live on. 

Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer
Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer
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