Friday, 30 May 2008

A meme, oh my (my first)

Jess tagged me. Jess, I always thought it was pronounced meem. (Does that count as the first random fact? Nah, that’s cheating.)

“Once you've been tagged, you have to write a blog with 10 weird, random, facts, habits or goals about yourself. At the end, choose 6 people to be tagged, list their names & why you tagged them. Don't forget to leave them a comment saying “You're it!” & to go read your blog. You cannot tag the person that tagged you, so since you're not allowed to tag me back; let me know when you are done so I can go read YOUR weird/random/odd facts, habits and goals.”

1. When I see a gumball machine, I can predict the color of the next gumball to emerge. I don’t get it right every time, just above the odds.
2. I can’t whistle. Full stop. T. titled my best attempt “Arctic Wind, by MacCool.”
3. I really like sex in the morning. But I like it best when the bed’s already made and we’re both already dressed, and then we undo all those things right away.
4. I haven’t worn a skirt or dress since 1998, when I kind of had to for my mom’s wedding.
5. I once ate seven bananas in a row. I wasn’t trying to, I just sat there snacking on bananas, and when I looked up from the newspaper, there were seven peels. Damn, that was a lot of bananas.
6. I have a ridiculous fondness for knock-knock jokes. I heard the banana/banana/orange one and I was smitten. (What is it with me and bananas?) Sometimes I make up a whole bunch and drive T. up the wall.
7. During one particularly boring summer of my adolescence, I perfected the art of dangling my hand in the water in a pond near my house, moving it ever more slowly towards a frog, until I could actually touch the frog itself. My goal was to earn the undying nickname, “The Frog Tickler.” That was a weird goal. I don’t really have it anymore.
8. I prefer blondes. (But I often check out brunettes.)
9. I totally wanted to be Sherlock Holmes when I grew up, but now I’m glad I’m not. Mostly. I did stroll nonchalantly by 221B Baker Street when we were visiting Regent’s Park in London, though.
10. I’ve never seen Star Wars. Well, bits and pieces, but I’ve never sat through any of the movies in their entirety. It’s not ideological, I’d like to see it, but I just never have.

Now, I’m very open on the blog about all of my Issues, right? So I can tell you honestly: I’m not going to tag anyone. I’m going to break the rules on my very first meme, because I think just about everyone I might tag either has done this meme like 6 times already or just doesn’t do memes or something. If I’m wrong you can tell me secretly and I’ll update this post and tag you. But otherwise? No tagging. None of this meme germs, no returns business. No sir.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Mirror Images

The way I see things is changing. An easy example: the first time I watched a k.d. lang video I was electrified and terrified. Now I’m just happy, and she looks like an individual, not a vision of what I was scared to become.

My sense of visible gender is shifting. I don’t confidently categorize the people I see: male, female. I get it ‘wrong’ a lot of the time, actually.

But far more visible to me are the men, the soft, gentle, feminine men. The speaker at today’s seminar had elegant hands and bashful eyes; perched on the table, his torso swayed gently as he answered questions. He moved the way I was supposed to. While in the audience, I sat, doubtless, the way he had been taught to, but never quite learned. Then on the bus ride home I noticed a teenager, his blonde hair floppy, large earrings in both ears. I feel a tenderness for them, and a sense of connection, too, as if we’ve bumped up back to back on some great gender/body circle. T. told me recently one such man (I don’t know the right terminology, what a feminine gay guy would call himself...) passed us on the street and looked at me with a similar tenderness. Do you know what I’m talking about here?

that first k.d. lang video:

Friday, 23 May 2008

Just some things I've learned recently...

If you want to try packing your brand-spanking-new cock, and you’re as dumdum as me, check out this very useful article. The Cliffs-notes version: loosen the goddamn straps.

I don’t need Cliffs notes for what to do when the straps are tight. We’re figuring that out just fine.

Nutmeg is the best flavoring for a cream cake. Being cooked for is the sweetest thing ever.

Not all sex turns out great, not even in an incandescent springtime of sex. And really, it’s okay, in fact it’s necessary, to be able to step back from sex-not-gone-quite-right and hold one another in love and safety and laughter. And it was informative to realize that voice, the one I thought I’d silenced, is still in my head, ready and waiting to tear me down. But I listened to it for just a moment, and then let it fade out.

I’m working through a lot, trying to understand where I come from and what it meant to me to be raised the way I was. It’s hard and painful and I don’t have anything coherent to say about it here, yet. (I could do a series, though, on High School Play Trauma. Like the one where I was actually allowed to act the smartass boyish character I was. Except for the scene of almost ritual humiliation where I was painted in the nude, a body suit really, by an older male character who then kissed me. Oh, it’s too pathetic really. Ending High School Drama Trauma now.) The part that really has me worried is facing everyone when I do go home month. I need to reset a lot of boundaries. I’m hoping against hope that we find a place to live for July 1.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Stone Butch Blues & A Memory

I read Stone Butch Blues (by Leslie Feinberg) over the weekend. I alternated between thinking, good god, they went through all that? And wanting to say, thank you, thank you, thank you. And even though Jess and I are so different (age, class, geography) I also kept thinking, yes, that’s exactly how I feel. That’s it exactly. (No spoilers here, on the off chance someone reading this blog hasn’t already read the book, but the section on Theresa really got to me. The crushing consequences to a relationship of walling up the soul.) It was absolutely devastating to read and also utterly freeing and empowering.

One random memory the book brought back to me... I was in a play in, oh, my junior year in high school? It was about kids in a juvenile detention center. The director told me and another girl to include some touching and physical closeness, to heighten the ‘realism’ of the production. On the theory that prison=gay sex, I guess. (He didn’t ask any of the boys to do this. I was in the closet but had been with T. for over two years by then.) I felt very awkward but also like refusing would lead to questions I couldn’t answer, so I went along with it, though I made sure she did most of the actual touching. (She was younger than me and quite attractive and I felt dishonest touching her. Not to mention I did not want to be aroused in that situation.)

As part of the rehearsal process the director arranged a field trip to the town police station. We were put in two cells and locked in and left for a while. I was terrified from the start and considered backing out but was also a little curious and didn’t want to seem like a wimp. After a bit we (in the girls’ cell) decided to start acting out a section of the play. At one point the girl I was supposed to touch stepped towards me, and I stepped back and put my foot up on the bench in the cell. Instantly the sergeant who was ‘showing us around’ was there and landing on me like a ton of bricks. He loomed outside the locked door; we were all sitting down by that point, me closest to him. The other girls were dead quiet. “What were you girls doing in there? Dancing with each other?” he said, condescendingly. “We were acting out the play,” I answered. I was aware of the other girls and the silence of the boys in the next cell and the director and his wife in the hallway. The policeman and I were locked in what was almost a staring contest. I sensed a malice in him, a casual cruelty, and a desire to see me cry. “When the drunks are in here and they put their feet up there, you know what we make them do?” I was silent. “We make them take a bucket and a scrub brush and scrub out the whole cell.” Our gazes were still locked. “Do you want me to do that, then?” I asked quietly, refusing to show just how scared and vulnerable I felt.

I don’t remember exactly what happened next. I think the director broke the spell finally, maybe just by walking over. Anyway I didn’t have to clean the cell (though I would have). Our field trip limped to a finish and we left the station. The girls drove back to the school in the director’s wife’s car. “That sergeant has a bad rep,” she said. “He’s always trying to get in girls’ pants.” A bit later, she suggested he was a jerk because he was short. “Don’t ever date a short man. I was with a short man for a few years. He beat the hell out of me.”

None of this remotely approaches the violence Feinberg describes. But it did make me think about how instantly the policeman and I moved into adversarial positions, as if we recognized in each other some ancient enemy and had only to rehearse a script of antagonism, contempt and powerlessness. The world is a strange place.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Gravity Shifting

She went down on me and I surprised myself by asking for her finger inside me and yes, coming that way, too. And afterward I fell apart, choking on tears that tasted like chlorine and old, old pain. Maybe there’s a reason we’d never tried that?

I kept it up, the crying, most of the weekend. (Quite a lesson in aftercare for her; she was a brilliant success.) The pain, a lot of it, came from: how I hated being the girl I was required to be, inoffensive, acquiescent. The desolating dawning realization in childhood that the stakes of my success were staggeringly high (love, for starters). She touched the place in me I held safe behind barbed wire and alarm sirens while the girl (me) was doing what she had to do.

**

My brother wrote back. Not a good reply. By the time I got it, though, I had nothing left but a wave of anger followed by certainty: I am so done with this. His palpable discomfort and displeasure, his wanting me to be something else or at least shut the hell up, is an external fact now, not a climatic condition in my soul.

**

I did some online shopping and as of today I’m the proud owner of a brand-spanking-new strap-on. And truly gravity has shifted in me: while I was waiting at the post office to pick up my (ahem) package, I looked at the men with me in line, and pitied their not knowing the sweetness of this anticipation.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Antidote

I mentioned the brother (well, one of them) parenthetically. He’s complicated: never says the wrong thing, except: be in the closet at my wedding (it’s her family, it’s their culture, you wouldn’t understand). And: family is important, family harmony above all. Even if I were completely anti-gay, out there trying to cure homosexuality, I wouldn’t say anything about it to you.

So I asked him the other day: what do you really think? No answer yet.

Walking out to buy paper clips the awkwardness came back. Every glance was clouded with judgment, ridicule, rejection. Every face his.

I don’t need his answer. I need to let him go.

Just like that the people on the street were all beautiful, all different, all going their own places. The warm wind felt like dead leaves peeling back off my skin.

This morning I said, before leaving the house, “They’re not all him.” She said, “They’re not all him. They’re all me.”

Now. I’ve done the thing where I project my fear on other people. I’ve realized no one is thinking a damn thing about me. And I’ve walked around with the milk of human kindness in my veins, loving everyone I see.

But I’ve never imagined that each person I see loves me as thoroughly as she does.

It’s really something, at least in small doses. The perfect antidote to the poison of transferred self-hatred. Left me... softer. Looser. Comfortable, finally, in my own skin.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Awkward

Tonight can be summarized as: a sudden pressure drop in confidence, a sudden outbreak of awkwardness. The bus ride down to my evening class featured pot smokers, an angry bus driver, and a teenager across the road who hit the top deck of the bus with an apple as it pulled away. All of this might have been funny another night but tonight each weird thing was symptomatic of the time being out of joint. (If not the back of the bus.)

When I got back T. was home. I hoped she wouldn’t be, quite yet, so that I’d have a few minutes to take some deep breaths, collect myself, stop feeling like my pants are too SHORT and my arms are too LONG and my new haircut is STRANGE. But there she was. I cycled through sullen (checking e-mail), manic (puffing out my hair, kneeling on the table leaning over her computer), and confessional (complaining about my HAIR and my ARMS and my PANTS). Eventually she said that it seemed like trying to make me feel better wasn’t working, so she was just going to ignore me and get back to work.

Ahem. Talk about old patterns there. That would have been my cue to fall apart and do anything to get her attention. And yet I knew that I’d needed a few moments alone from stepping in the door, just to breathe and let go of the sense of awkwardness and the fear of failing. (The panic that hit me on the walk home: what if I can’t hold onto this? What if I’m ridiculous? What if I get home and realize I’m ridiculous in the eyes of my family and lose all the joy I’ve had over the last few months? What if it’s all coming to a crashing halt? Why did I buy this stupid shirt? And the painful e-mail exchange ongoing with my brother, who still isn’t sure why asking me to be in the closet at his wedding was so devastating, surely wasn’t helpful background to this evening.)

So. I said OK. I recounted a brief anecdote from my class (not awkward: my revelation that I’d had a broken nose, and my teacher suggesting I must have been doing some boxing). I went into the bathroom, stuffed the pants and shirt in the hamper, and let the arms and the hair and the soul sink into the bathtub. Damn, letting go of this stuff is not easy. I think it worked this time; I think we stepped back from the brink. But it is not easy to learn this dance again, same partner, brand new steps.

Partying Like It's 1999

OK, it actually hadn’t been that long, but the night of dancing/drinking/partying that we had on Saturday broke a pretty long dry spell nonetheless.

The organizer, let’s call her the Catalyst, was none other than she whose gesture of asking for the check at a restaurant in late February filled me with such mute rage that I wanted to punch her. Why? Because it was confident, it was masculine, it was of a piece with her whole persona (I think butch lesbian is the term she chooses) and I saw what it was I wanted and what it was I had been slowly, deliberately killing within myself. Instead of punching her (thank heavens, she’s a lovely person) I let the rage go where it belonged and tear down the last little piece of the wall holding me back.

So. I danced with T. in a veritable sea of queer women. I flirted with some of them. Some of them flirted with me. (And with T. And I wasn’t even jealous.) I drank way too much and got embarrassingly teary with the Catalyst. I untied the back of her girlfriend’s top (I don’t know how to describe it, but it didn’t render her undressed or anything), and she (the girlfriend) caressed my jaw and called me hot.

This going out with queer women thing? This lesbian bar thing? Don’t give me the cynical, jaded take. Not yet. For now, I think it’s massively fucking brilliant.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Gender Trouble & Me

Dylan’s comment on the Hero Worship post (below) questioned whether Butler’s theory works on the ground. This post is my attempt to make sense of the thoughts the book brought up for me and to think about the ways in which what I found there does and does not “work” in my life.

The idea that seemed to me to unify all of Gender Trouble is that nothing exists prior to or outside of language and culture. Sexuality is not a raw, natural substance merely conditioned by culture; the very category of sex is produced by culture. The discourse (or law? I’m not entirely clear on the technical distinction) of compulsory reproductive heterosexuality produces not only heterosexuality but also the rebellions to that law: the discourse itself produces both hetero & homosexuality. (This coming out of Foucault’s view that there is no resistance outside of power relations.) Butler finds hope not in getting away from culturally produced sexualities, or in a return to some original state of freedom (she denies that such a thing ever existed) but instead in the continual failure of the law to produce only or just what it’s aiming at. Those failures open the possibility of using the available culturally intelligible tools of gender performance to live in ways that denaturalize what the law wants to make seems entirely natural: namely, the perfect coherence of sex, gender, and identity.

I love this concept of cultural intelligibility. I used a linguistic analogy the other night talking about it with T. She was expressing frustration at being unable to define masculinity or femininity. Of course it’s impossible, just like it’s impossible to define, fully and accurately, the grammatical rules for one’s own native language. (Hence the stupidity of computer grammar checkers—it’s just that hard to write a sufficient set of rules.) But that doesn’t mean that we don’t speak, fluently, perfectly even, for it is in the very act of speaking that we define and redefine the language. So I can’t give a list of axioms by which to define masculinity, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t speak gender just fine. Masculinity and femininity are culturally intelligible; my new short hair speaks a different gender than my old long hair did, and the people around me understand in their different ways, even if neither they nor I could define exactly why.

The other reason I love the concept of cultural intelligibility is that it explains to me at last the enormous need for role models, examples, context. It is simply too much to ask a human being to dream it all up alone. Butler argues compellingly that all gender performance is parodic & imitative & aspirational; so I have a right to perform the elements of masculinity that I want, I’m allowed to use the culturally intelligible components of gender (stiff collars, swagger) and not be any less or more authentic than anyone else. And my need for a context is not weakness but simply the way cultural intelligibility works. Sinclair and others are literally creating a grammar and a vocabulary for female and feminist masculinities—and that work is important. It is the work of opening up possibilities, giving them life in language and enabling them to emerge as culturally intelligible practices. Our gendered gestures have meaning because we ourselves recognize them, but also because others do, too, whether they say that’s what I want, or yes, that’s how I feel, too. It is in that exchange of performance and recognition that gender is defined and redefined.

But here’s where the hymn of praise ends, and I have to admit that Gender Trouble didn’t provide a completely compelling answer. How does culture go about producing the variety of conformists and rebels that it does? In other words, why me? I’m willing to concede that my sense of an internally coherent identity is itself produced by culture, however deeply I feel it, and that the division between inside and outside and the investment in a unified, stable psychological subject are not natural but are as constructed as all the rest of it. So I’m not going to argue that my having always felt different is proof that I really do have an innate gender identity prior to any cultural interaction. But still: why did I feel that way? What does it mean that all the klutzy ineptitude of my childhood makes so much more sense when it’s interpreted as the result of trying to conform to the ‘wrong’ gender identity? (My mom trying to teach me to slow dance, and collapsing into gales of laughter at the way I moved my hips—all wrong—and kept trying to lead—even worse—comes to mind.) What was it in me that meant that, despite an enormous amount of effort, the culture around me failed so utterly to produce the straight woman it wanted?

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Free

She was wild and free when I met her. She’d been left alone to blossom in the big field that ran down to the stream in front her childhood house. And little shackled me, bound and gagged and so well trained, such a good girl, my god. Meeting her was like leaving a stuffy cellar and emerging into pure oxygen.

So I loved her. What else could I have done?

And I tied her up with my own fear and my own pain. I called it love and nurturing and security, and maybe it was some of those things, too. But it was also building a pen, moving the stakes in closer each year. Teaching her the call and response obedience I knew so well. I picked the flower and I crushed the petals with my suffocating need.

How do I undo that? How do I let her go, let her be free again, let her grow again and feel the wind around her? How do I do that, still loving her, still craving her?