Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Experiencing Equality as Loss

(I’m quoting someone on this title, maybe even a blogger? Lilysea? But I couldn’t figure it out on Google.)

On the train back from London today... I had the window seat. A man, looked like a middle aged business man, took the aisle seat. He arranged his stuff, I arranged mine. I wanted to read. I wanted to use the middle armrest. I put my elbow on it, not taking up the whole width, not taking up more than a third of the whole length. Just there.

A two-hour battle ensued in which he did everything he could to dislodge me from that armrest short of actually saying something out loud. It was a truly bizarre instance of public transport passive aggression. He shifted. He put his arm on the front part. He slid his elbow back so it hit me. He squirmed around in his seat so that, more than once, he was actually leaning his whole torso against my arm. He even dropped a piece of paper once so that it hit my leg and fell under the seat in front of me.

He was not a big man. It was not a small seat. I can only assume that he was experiencing a woman asserting arm-rest equality as loss.

I could have let it go. But honestly, I’ve done enough stupid things in my life because I was worried I’d make a man feel badly. (Letting my best friend take me to the prom before I came out to him—not a good idea, for him or for me.) And I’m feeling way too cocky these days not to take up the challenge and see just how much discomfort I can cause an overprivileged dude, just by taking up my own space.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Hero Worship

Adolescence... so much more fun the second time around.

I spent most of my actual adolescence alternating between being awkward, out of place, and just plain bizarre in public, while hiding a private life where I was experiencing all the agony and the ecstasy of teenage love. It didn’t leave much time for ordinary things, like crushes on celebrities. Or hero worship.

And so, I record here my arrested development hero worship phase, currently manifesting in the form of:

* k.d. lang. Good god, how did I miss her awesomeness all these years? That voice is literally mesmerizing. I’ve listened to Hallelujah (Hymns of the 49th Parallel) like 100 times since buying the album a few days ago. And she’s not bad-looking either. (Which is bashful hero-worship-speak for: I’m bringing a picture of her to the hairdresser on Thursday. Just for some aspirational reference.)

* Judith Butler. I’m down with poststructuralism and cultural theory and all that, even though I slept-walked through Foucault in my first year theory seminar (too dangerous for my fragile denial then, to actually read what he was saying). But Gender Trouble is really in a class by itself, isn’t it? So amazingly brilliant. I’ve just checked her more recent book, Giving An Account of Oneself, out of the library. (I have more to say on Gender Trouble but as this is about hero worship I’ll save that, hopefully for tomorrow.)

* Anne Lister (1791-1840). Mistaken for a man—while wearing women’s clothing. Slept her way through Yorkshire, London, and Paris (with even the occasional deflowering) and wrote all about it in a four-million-word diary. T. and I visited her home, outside Halifax, over the weekend. It was so incredibly sexy to be there, where our history was tangible and visible. Even now people sometimes casually deny the existence of lesbian sex before some arbitrary recent date. Anne Lister proves them wrong, beautifully and sexily. (I found out about her in Judith Halberstam’s excellent discussion of her diaries in Female Masculinity. And boy was I excited to find out her home, Shibden Hall, is open to the public only a shortish train ride away.)

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Being Seen

Sitting, sprawling, on the couch last night, with her next to me. Her hand lightly on my hips, then over the crotch of my jeans. Sexy, painfully hot even, but not much direct contact that way.

Me: I realized today my favorite pants have always had a ton of room in the crotch. Leaving space for that phantasmic cock, I guess!
Her: Yeah, I’ve noticed that... is that why? Have you fantasized about what it would be like to have one?
Me: Oh my god, all the time. Doesn’t everyone?

And she just looks at me, that soft, tender look that seems to hold oceans of love and desire.

She’s known me this whole time, she’s really seen me right from the start, I think, never understanding though what it was that drove me to contort my outer self away from the inner self she could see so clearly. That’s another thing then that’s new, but getting used to it is an absolute pleasure: the looks of acknowledgement, validation, respect, and desire from all sorts of women, sometimes in the gay village area, sometimes where I least expect it. Thank you, every one of you, for handling this new visibility so gently and for making me feel like a sexy person for the first time in my whole life. I love every one of you for it.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008


It’s serious when I do it. It’s not Marlene Dietrich, not Eponine, it’s not a cute gamine whose hair tumbles out of the baseball cap. I don’t look particularly masculine. As long as I don’t move a muscle. As long as I hardly even breathe. When I wore dresses and make-up I looked almost like a pretty girl until I moved and then I was instantly in (gay male) drag, and slightly overdone at that. And now, when I’m wearing my white collared shirt and black jacket and thin wool scarf?

It’s off the deep end serious right away. I can’t control it and I can’t make it adorable. I tried to break it down and fence it in and succeeded in a sort of asexual limbo. Now that I’m accepting it, trying to understand and cherish it, I see the reactions it gets, and I feel a certain sympathy with my scared former self. The straight girls at the hen party sitting at the next table actually stared. I got hit on within a minute of her going to the bathroom and leaving me sitting alone. It’s transgressive and explosive. It’s taking some getting used to.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008


We took our wedding rings off today. (Not for the first time actually but this feels more permanent.) It wasn’t about breaking up. I guess it’s more about staying together? We’ll see.

Not just two rings but four total, each with a story. First, her engagement ring. Diamond with sapphires. I was still in college when I bought it. I told the guy at jewelry store it was for a friend. I looked at a few options and he said, “How long have you two been together?” “Two years,” I lied. (It was really five but I thought he wouldn’t believe me. I was only 19.) “That’s nice,” he said. “It’s time.” I presented it to her in high romantic style, on a trip to Europe over winter break, down on one knee.

I kind of wish I hadn’t done that. I was trying to keep up with the straight guys around me, who made me feel desperately inadequate and never quite let me in. I wish I hadn’t needed their approval so badly. I wish I’d known I wasn’t the only person like me and that I didn’t need to contort myself to plead admission that way. It’s a nice ring, though.

Second, my engagement ring. I like this one better. It’s a loose Celtic knot design in silver. She bought it for me for $11 from a dyke street vendor off Boston Common. I might want to start wearing that one again, at least sometimes.

Finally, our wedding bands. They’re gold with a sort of leaf design. I insisted on the design, partly because I though a plain band would remind me too much of my parents’ rings and partly because I wanted the rings to look feminine. This is hard to explain. I got married in a dark suit (not a men’s suit, but still) and pink strappy sandals. I had this whole undermining/caveat/apology thing going on. I haven’t quite figured it out. Anyway I think the rings are attractive but the design has always vaguely bothered me.

I was really proud to wear the rings. They felt like a badge of honor and legitimacy on my hands. Seeing them on hers felt like proof that she was mine. But they were never entirely comfortable, either—worrying about them falling off, clanking into things, altering the shape of the skin and muscle of my ring fingers.

Having them off feels good, physically. I can shake my hands out windows or over bridges and I can feel water and air run freely through my fingers. It feels freer emotionally too (not to get all Lord of the Rings or anything). Marriage is such an incredibly powerful thing, truly a force to conjure with. I had no idea what a burden of history and society and emotion we were taking on when we put those rings on. I’m feeling cynical about marriage at the moment—I don’t mean to hate on it. I mean, I’m still married. And I sure as hell support gay marriage as a legal institution—we need to be able to say, this is who gets to pull the plug, raise my kids, inherit my stuff, and this is who I’m making my life with, before the whole edifice of the official world. But I think marriage can be a poisoned chalice, too. It comes with so much freaking baggage. I think it fed into feelings of owing the world something on my part, feelings of being owned on her part, and feelings of being trapped for both us. I think I’ll have more to say on this as time goes on.

For now, though, I called her my girlfriend today to a random stranger. And it actually felt right.

Sunday, 20 April 2008


I’ve been traveling for work which has kept me from the computer but mostly I’ve been lost for words the past few days. Partly I’m so angry and I can’t write at all about it, physically can’t do it, apparently. When I look over what I’ve written here it’s so fucking characteristic of my always-already-solved approach to everything. I had a problem but it’s JUST FINE now thank you very much. I’ve got it ALL UNDER CONTROL. And god knows I do, like a fist around my heart. When I write, here or in my personal notebook, it feels like I’m peeling back these iron fingers, the dead hand of all those lessons of control and not showing your feelings and not showing weakness above all.

Of course it’s not all fine. I’ve spent the last six years of my life sleepwalking. Now I’m stumbling around like a newborn kitten trying to figure out what the hell happened. I’m just screamingly angry at it all, the lost time, the deep lessons that told me to shut the hell up and tough it out and if I wasn’t happy, that was life, that was my own damn fault.

We went out last night, at my suggestion, to a sorta-gay-bar place close by. So nice to be able to sit there with my arm around her and to look at the girls. Sexy girls with little shoes and carefully presented cleavage (my personal weakness), or even better, the college girls out in a group, one wearing a tie, who came and stood near us like maybe we knew what the heck we were doing? Not quite but whatever. I want to write something about all that, finding a context at long last and trying to understand where I fit into it, and why I failed at that so spectacularly in college, but I think that’ll have to wait a day or to. Anyway it was lovely and like everything these days awash in a sea of complicated feeling.

This morning we went to church and it was all about Passover. The minister is quite brilliant and she tied together Judaism, early Christianity, Buddhism, and the Rastafarians, roaming throughout time and space but always gently repeating the main messages. A time in bondage and the force of mind-forged manacles. Exodus and the sojourn in the desert. Faith in redemption and the promised land. She ended with a meditation from a modern Jewish writer—I didn’t get the name but I’d like to find it. It was in the form of words of advice to those about to enter the desert. Some of you will be changed beyond all recognition; the people who have known you since birth will not recognize you. Some will feel abandoned by you. But you will find new friends in unexpected faces. That was just part of it—I had to fight not to cry, it was so damn relevant.

But I’m not going to end this on a note of resolution and redemption, not now. I’m so sick of doing that. I’m still in the desert, this is not the promised land, and I don’t have a neat narrative to off that would paper over the raw bleeding heart still struggling out of that deadly grasp.

Instead I’m going to try to embed this video of Michael Stipe singing One (by U2). To me this song has always been about answering back to a world that asks us to enter and then makes us crawl. Watching him sing it, when he was still essentially in the closet, I finally cried and cried and cried. And I recognized this feeling in my stomach. It’s grief.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008


We’ll be heading back to the Boston area in a couple of months and I have to admit I’m completely terrified. I’m so scared I’ll fall back into old patterns and somehow by going back to the same geographical place, go back to the same miserable mental and emotional place, too. So I’ve written a provisional list of the things I want out of / in my life when I’m back in the US. Maybe posting it here will help me remember it once I’m there. They’re all things I intend to do or have, but I also need to remind myself that I have the right to them.

Friends around whom I can be myself, no playacting, no tailoring my gender to fit what I think they will find acceptable. I want to be able to as boyish, as butch, as gentle and provocative and gallant as I feel. (Extant candidates: just a few. Interestingly, nearly all are fellow grad students.)

A safe place to live. Safe landlords, safe building, safe street. I don’t want to waste my time worrying about roaches or fire escapes or drugdealers.

Access to activities nearby, ideally by foot or subway. Readings, shows, cafes, bars.

Enough money budgeted to look good and do things. (This has been a major issue for me—having enough money in fact, but feeling compelled to be frugal and save it while hating my clothes and my life.)

A hairdresser I trust. (Major trauma around this one. I’ve actually been told I have too much hair.)

To be a part of organizations, to do something productive, to have interests that pull me outside of myself and my home. (Extant candidates: two different book clubs, one with a queer focus, the other with a professional focus. Need something besides book clubs. Politics? I really want to start acting on my convictions and working for a change. How do to that? Also, something outdoors related? Walking/hiking?)

To have regular, loving, hot sex.

To do yoga, eat decently, sleep decently.

To be able to say no to family interactions/gatherings when I need to, and to be myself there when I say yes.

To be busy, to get tired, to have to hurry to accomplish something because my life is so full, rather than doing every damn little thing with the perfectionism that comes from sheer boredom and loneliness.

To have a lesbian context in which to exist, to stretch myself and test myself and be myself.

To be able to buy sex toys without fear.

To have –no, to make time for genuinely creative endeavors apart from The Career. Personal/creative writing. Maybe picking up the guitar again. Maybe a creative writing group?

A space dedicated to my professional work—at home or not—so that I can focus on it there and leave it there.

To be able to seek help as/when I need it—counseling, body work, whatever. Not to have to be the Lone-fucking-Ranger all the time who doesn’t need any help. (A big issue for me.)

Sunday, 13 April 2008


I’ve been thinking a lot recently about where and how people find out about sex. Tongue-Tied Blue’s call for ‘first orgasm’ experiences started me off, because mine is a case of shocking ignorance. I didn’t know what they were. I’d heard the word and I knew the famous line from that children’s book, is it Where Do Babies Come From? Like a sneeze only better. But I couldn’t put any of it together with my female anatomy. I vaguely assumed Sex Happened and at some point it Felt Quite Good. My school’s sex ed class was how not to get AIDS with a side of how not to get pregnant; pleasure never entered the discussion.

So the summer when I was fifteen going on sixteen, my girlfriend and I were fooling around a lot, but I was in control, I didn’t know what I was doing, and it was very very hot but very ... not climactic. And then one night, we weren’t even undressed, I was on top of her on my bedroom floor and it just happened. Amazing, shocking, out-of-left-field convulsive pleasure. So that’s what happens? That’s what my body can do? How about that. Damn.

This was around the same year Ellen’s Kiss happened on television. My mom watched it, a big step for her at the time, but I was at work. Anyway, kiss or no kiss, there weren’t a lot of resources on hand for me to figure out just what two women did in bed together. It wasn’t in the What’s Happening to My Body books, which I had desperately scanned a few years earlier for their reassurance that homosexuality, while perfectly OK, was also rare. (10 percent? That’s not so much. I must be in the 90 percent. Right?)

That same summer I found a book in the attic called something like “The Sensuous Man.” This was strictly about heterosexual sex and filled with giggle-inducing 1970s slang, but it seemed accessible and eminently useful to me. Chapters by body part—what to do with the breasts, how to kiss (no limp tongues!), how to drive a woman to ecstasy. The techniques had also sorts of neato names, including the unforgettable (and unperformable) Velvet Buzzsaw. The description of the clitoris was significantly less enlightening than the Betty Dodson video posted over at Sugarbutch. According to the Sensuous Man, it is a pea-like organ, which might disappear! But don’t worry! Just keep rubbing, or buzzsawing, as the case may be!

Some of the misogyny in “The Sensuous Man” (which, to be fair, claimed to be “pro-Women’s Lib”) was clear to me even then. If your wife showed no interest in sex, for instance, I realized that throwing her down on the floor, calling her rude names, and raping her was probably not going to be a long-term solution. What I didn’t realize was how deeply alienating the whole message of the book would turn out to be. Just step a, and then step b. She’ll like it. They all do.

But that’s not sex, not really. Sex is the intimate communication of two bodies. It’s not remembering a formula for how to bring her to ecstasy with a velvet buzzsaw. It’s watching her face alter with pleasure and listening to her breath change and feeling her move under my touch, listening deeply to her body tell mine: like this, like that, oh please more like that. And letting my own body answer hers.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Desperately Seeking...

T. and I tried writing our own personal ads and compared results. She wrote:

“Blonde bluestocking girl seeks handsome butch for Boston marriage. Kiss me by starlight—hold me up... & drive me all night—and we can talk until dawn.
I’m asking.”

I wrote:

“Married genderqueer dyke seeks wife. You know who you are.”

I realize I was going against the grain of the genre to a certain extent—but I don’t think hers was exactly seeking the mysterious stranger, either. Really it was all just a laugh, and things around here are getting easier. There are still miscommunications and just so much ground to cover, lost time to make up, old, half-forgotten wounds to recognize and mourn and try to heal—but I think it’s happening. She is a daily revelation.

And judging by her reactions in bed last night and this afternoon, she won’t be placing that ad anytime soon.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Words: Usage & Abusage

One thing I realized over the weekend was how much I fill up space with words. I create narratives and explanatory schemes compulsively, without even meaning to, and sometimes without even being that invested in them. That’s a good way to succeed in grad seminars but it’s been a problem in my relationship with T., I realized. At one point we were talking about the female body, and I said how in college I had felt guilty about denying some (abstract) man my female body, at least to look at, as if it wasn’t all mine. And I don’t remember how we got there but I started constructing this whole thing about how her experience was different from mine, because her family was more hippy and mine was more conventional, and... somewhere in my torrent of words I heard her say softly, “But that’s how I feel when I walk down the street. I don’t want to walk out looking sexy, because I feel that men are looking at me and that I’m giving them something they’re presumed to have a right to.” I resisted the urge to bend this to fit the analytical narrative I was building. I asked her to say more about what she meant and what she felt. Maybe this sounds all Marriage Counseling 101, but it was actually incredibly sexy and intimate, because I was getting to know something about her that I had not known before and see inside her soul to a place I hadn’t seen before. What is more amazing than being trusted to handle your partner’s more personal self?

The other thing I realized is that the years of my total sexual repression line up exactly with a massive inability to write. Not in a professional sense. My dissertation outlines have been called “stimulating” and “exciting.” But I used to write pages and pages just for the hell of it. I used to write about my life, I used to write deeply personal love letters, I even used to write semi-autobiographical fiction like any normal twenty-something with a secret desire to be a novelist. Then I shared some of it with the wrong people at the wrong time and got hurt and closed down.

I’m still not writing entirely honestly, in an emotional sense, even on this anonymous blog, but it’s getting easier. Today on the train to London I wrote longhand too for the first time in such a long, long time, just about my life, the things in my head and the things around me. It was like a sigh of relief.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Border Crossing?

Things have been better over the last couple of days for T. and me. I took her out on a date on Sunday night, which was a bit awkward in certain ways. Mostly because, once you’ve been married for six years, how can you “pretend” you’re just dating, however much you really are getting to know someone (again) for the first time? But it was also very nice.

We saw Wings of Desire at the art-film place up the street. The angel’s experience of longing to be human, and then his stumbling but joyous efforts to be human, to perform humanity, resonated with me. Isn’t that what everyone on the genderqueer spectrum has to do? Perform masculinity or femininity, in our own halting, unfamiliar ways, until we can live as full human beings? I realize that’s an idiosyncratic and personal take on the movie... T. said she was thinking about how the film was a homage to James Joyce’s Ulysses, right down to the closing female soliloquy. (Dang, she’s smart.)

Anyway, I think it turned out that despite the awkwardness, the “date” served its function as a demonstration of our mutual good faith. Afterwards we stayed up late, cried all over the place, and felt truly close and connected once more. And I got to leave the skanky couch, hurray.

I wore some of my new clothes and we ended up talking for a while about the shopping experience. “You’re really out there on the front lines now,” she said, and I used the metaphor of crossing borders. For some reason the men’s section seems to be frequently located near the children’s section here (one-stop shopping for beleaguered housewives?) and I mentioned how, if I felt too out of place in the men’s area, I could step into the children’s section for a moment and blend in (mostly) as just another young woman shopping for a niece or nephew. “Do you feel that way inside, too?” she asked.

No. I feel like me, not like I move between a ‘feminine’ soul and a ‘masculine’ one. And yet, it’s even more complicated than that. More than once I’ve felt pressured to fake (feminine) enthusiasm while shopping for women’s clothes with other women (friends, my mom, whoever). I just don’t like shopping, I figured. But then, in one particularly good stretch of Saturday’s shopping, I felt that enthusiasm for real, looking at coats and scarves in a men’s boutique shop. I wanted to ooh and ahh and maybe even exclaim a little. Masculine? Feminine? Or a fully human compound of both, endlessly merging and colliding and separating again? I’ll take the third choice, thanks.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Hydraulic Theory of Fear

I was watching a plane take off last evening. What an amazing thing, a bit of metal and a bunch of people taking to the sky. I'm not a big fan of flying (I think airplanes smell nasty, honestly) but it occurred to me that I'm not really afraid of it at the moment. That got me thinking about how much I've been afraid of in the last several years--our sketchy neighbors, answering the telephone, getting sick, the window-washer... None of those things seem worrisome at the moment. (I mean, of course I don't want to get sick, but I'm not full of fear about it, either.)

I was scared all along of being a lesbian, and a masculine one. That was all. But I couldn’t acknowledge that fear and so I repressed it, too, and it bubbled up in all sorts of other inappropriate places. Like a dammed river flooding the low-lying areas nearby. But now flying and the telephone and whatever else can sit about the water level again and dry out and be just what they are, nothing more or less, not saturated in a fear that dared not speak its name.

(Shopping update: some success. See the comments to the post below for the details and Sinclair’s take on the trials and tribulations of even the most experienced of butch fashion mavens. More suggestions/commiseration welcome!)

Friday, 4 April 2008

Love Will Tear Us Apart (Again)

I’m living in Manchester this year. This is a city proud of its rock’n’roll. And the Joy Division song of that shares a title with this post has been stuck in my head for perhaps obvious reasons.

We’re not sleeping in the same bed right now. Or rather, she’s sleeping on the bed, and I’m sleeping on the skanky pull-out couch. (It’s a furnished apartment and no, it’s not our skank.) I chose the couch just like I chose the other terms of our ... distance? Space? Estrangement? None of those seem quite right.

don't cheat on me-tell me first. and kick me out. don't leave me.

She’s choosing this distance and honestly I don’t blame her. (Let’s call her T.) We were kids together, we were high school sweethearts (in the fucking closet), and in college we were both experimenting and playing and exploding like college kids everywhere. And then it all went downhill, I fell into patterns of shame and fear so paralyzing I still cannot really understand it. (Of course the periodization here is too neat. But it works for narrative purposes.) (That sentence before the first parentheses. Yeah, that one. That’s a comma splice error. My probably closeted totally brilliant hardass high-school English teacher taught me to loathe those. She died of cancer my senior year. And although I still grieve for her, deeply, I’m surprised to discover I’m just embracing the old comma splice error these days. I love it like crazy.)

So my lovely T. really married someone just starting to stumble down a spiral of misery. We were married, in a rather lovely commitment ceremony, when I was 22 and she was 23. Of course she could have left me. Of course it’s not all my fault. But this is my blog, not hers, so to the extent I can, I’m going to respect her right to tell her own story.

For the first few weeks after the breakthrough moment where I realized what this albatross was that had been hanging around my neck all this time—for those few, sweet weeks, it was brilliant. It was sex almost every day (interrupted by bleeding and colds, damn), doing things we’d never done before. It was long conversations and ecstatic walks and sobbing to Melissa Etheridge’s “This War Is Over.” And then I guess it all hit her, how she should have left me long ago, really, and lots of other stuff. It’s hard not to compromise her privacy here but basically staying with me, and enabling all my misery and dysfunction, replicated something really quite bad from her childhood family, in addition to being just objectively bad. She wanted space, to think, to figure out who she is, to make sure she’s staying in this out of love and intention. She told me today she wants our relationship to be between “selves freely given and not lightly taken,” and that she wants to fall in love with me again, “for real, the new you, the one I never knew at all.”

Right. Ok. I’m trying.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

A Cry for Help: the Shopping Edition

So I have some experience with the shopping thing, the whole girl-in-the-men’s-department thing. But I’d love any suggestions to make it even a tiny bit easier. I do realize that there’s not actually a red neon signing floating above my head when I wade through the women’s wear and venture into the men’s side of the store, but I could use that extra dose of suave that comes from confidence. Oh boy, could I use that.

The highlight of last night’s foray was definitely the store that actually had signs hanging from the ceiling: “Male Clothing” and “Female Clothing”. Should we assume they get together and make baby clothes? Seriously, are people in that much danger of buying something that doesn’t suit their own gendered selves, that they need special signs and elaborate divisions to keep them from messing up? I finally did try some stuff on from a cheapo knockoff store (god, the exchange rate is killing me, what I really want to wear is Armani). I had to haul them upstairs to the women’s fitting room, where the attendant kind of giggled, but I made it in and took a few deep breaths. Nothing fit; in fact one pair of trousers had to be meant for one of those unicycle stilts guys. The right width and literally eighteen inches too long. And I am neither short nor round in the scheme of things.

I Want a Cigarette...

... in the worst way. I’ve never smoked but these days when I walk past someone who is I feel it, viscerally, like it’s strumming my tendons loose with pleasure, like I’m falling backward into empty, welcoming space. The feeling is strong enough to make me frightened—I’d be addicted from the start, I suspect, and I don’t really want that. I just really, really want a cigarette. What’s up with that, I wonder? She pressured me not to smoke, oddly enough, at the vulnerable teenage stage, though she's always said she finds it sexy. Maybe it's that. Maybe it's just the chemicals.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

On Naming

You have to make a lot of choices about names when you’re setting up a (pseudonymous) blog. In fact those choices made me delay the start of this one—the first time through I froze at the box marked, Name.

Yes, ok, so that works on both levels. But this isn’t meant to be an extended metaphor of a post. Instead I want to put a bit of explanation out there about the names I did choose and where they come from.

Leo MacCool is mostly just for fun. I don’t mind my real name but I’ve never quite connected with it. (How about that.) But I’m a Leo, astrologically, and MacCool, aside from being, you know, cool, is also a nod to the legendary Finn MacCool. I’ve got some Irish connections, by heritage, by inclination, and by profession.

Butch. Now there’s the tough one. I’ve been living in a cave, it’s true, but even in the cave I’ve heard that there’s a lot of controversy about butch lesbians (are they a dying breed? Are they becoming all boidykes or transitioning to men?) and about the butch/femme dynamic. I don’t have too much to say about that yet, except that I think that Judith Butler rocks and gender is discursively produced. I’ve actually just finished Judith Halberstam’s Female Masculinity (like any grad student, I turn to Theory when In Crisis) and so have been thinking about these things plenty. But I didn’t choose to put ‘butch’ in the title because I think I am one, not right now anyway. I’m wearing a men’s dress shirt and ragged women’s jeans at the moment, pondering the future of my androgynous ponytail haircut and knocking back some appallingly cheap brandy just to feel it burn my throat. You tell me if that’s butch or not.

No, I chose ‘butch’ because it was my maternal grandfather’s nickname for me when I was a baby. Honest to god. Now, I don’t think he was boldly prophesying my future status in the lesbian community. But maybe he saw some core of raw masculinity in my infant soul. Or maybe he was just delighted in the subversive irony of that nickname applied to a little girl with floppy curls and a rosebud mouth. I don’t know if he could say himself, now. But for me the word butch has always echoed with his warmth, his laughter, his love. It’s not hard for me to claim it as my own, at least in this very personal way.

And girlcat? Well, that was his other nickname for me, so it lends a certain symmetry. I like the way the ‘girl’ part challenges and modifies the ‘butch’, and ‘cat’ lines up neatly with Leo the Lion, don’t you think? Yes, I felt very clever, too.

there's more than one closet

Welcome to my blog. It's here for two purposes:
  1. the usual one: I need someplace to write about my troubles, my hopes, and my dyke drama, and I wouldn't mind some feedback. (Which is not, at the moment, forthcoming In Real Life for reasons that will become clear, I suspect.)
  2. the community one: I've been spiritually sustained, challenged, and opened by some of what I've found in the blogosphere. I'm in awe of the honesty and courage of lesbian bloggers who make their voices available to us all. If someone googles lesbian self-hatred, or internalized homophobia, or lesbophobia, well, my loftiest goal is that they'll find me and perhaps find some kinship if nothing more.
That's the gist, there, in the last sentence of the second item. Although I've been out as a gay woman for just about a decade and am married to a beautiful woman, I've done a damn good job fucking up my life through an internal homophobia that ran so deep I almost didn't know it was there.
For as long as I can remember, since I was a little child, I have had a feeling of being fundamentally different from other people: almost of having literally a mark of shame about me that others could sense and that meant I could not have the same things as other people could, or at least I would have to do more or pay more to get them. I fell hard for the love of my life at age 14 and decide to mortgage my sexuality in order to purchase the right to be with her. I'm 28 now; I've been with her half of my life; and indeed I've lived only half a life nearly all that time. As the title of the blog suggests, I'm in the masculine corner of the gender galaxy, but I bought into everything that labelled that imitative and pathological and just plain unacceptable.
This was in spite of, and not because of, her. As I wrote to her yesterday:
"you have always embodied such brave realms of open possibility and even way back when, when i first fell irrevocably in love with you, i wanted to become a person who could live in the air of possibility. not to become just someone you wanted me to be, not like that, but to leave the dank, stale cave and venture out into the light where you were. and instead i pulled you into the cave. i'm so, so sorry, for me and for you. i can understand entirely why you would want to give up on me. i think i would want to give up on me. i don't know what to do about that."
I'm trying now to live my life in the way I should have been all the time, finding the joy in my sexuality rather than acquiescing to shame. I'm also trying to make amends for all the harm I've done this wonderful woman, my wife.
I realize this post is rather heavy and depressing. If you keep reading, I promise, there will be more sex, more humor, more fun stuff. Or at least more juicy drama and less agonized analysis. I hope.