Thursday, 31 July 2008

Femininity: the making & the discarding

There’s a beautiful metaphor in Butch is a Noun, in the chapter where S. Bear Bergman is warning young butches not to let their embrace of masculinity turn into misogyny. Ze writes: “Leave femininity aside but don’t ruin it. Think of it like a castoff piece of clothes, fold it gently and leave it out where some young thing who wants it can pick it up.” (S. Bear Bergman, Butch is a Noun [San Francisco: Suspect Thoughts Press, 2006], p. 111)

If my femininity were a piece of clothing, what would it look like? I imagine a thin cotton dress, slight, a faded tiny floral print.

Lady Brett Ashley has been writing about her discovery of her own femininity, after a lifetime of tomboydom, and her feeling that she doesn’t know what she’s doing, she wasn’t raised to it. Reading her latest posts, I thought for a moment, take mine.

It’s a cotton dress without any ornament, though. I knew from the moment a preschool pal wanted to spend forever painting our nails bubblegum pink that I was never going to have the energy to figure out all those little fussy details. And honestly, though tomboy was strictly off-limits, no one at home was invested in making me a hyperfeminine, supercute little girl, either. So from the start mine was a femininity on the cheap, toenail polish always chipped, only my Johnny-Depp-eyes-of-doom eyeliner carefully reapplied.

The cut might be a little off, too. It might just hang a little funny. Efforts were made, when I started negotiating puberty, to help me along the path of womanhood. How to sway my hips, how to cross my legs, all the little details of poise and grace. You see I’m falling back on generalities here, because I don’t really remember those details. I was too busy with my intensive covert spy operation, gleaning all the tidbits of masculinity I could from a distant father and much older brothers, carefully filing them away in the massive cross-indexed database in my head. And I never could sway my hips, anyway.

It’s a slight dress, as I said; it doesn’t offer much protection and it doesn’t have much substance. There were some lessons of femininity I learned very well and without leavening. Don’t upset men. Don’t be smelly or greedy or pushy. Don’t make too much noise. I’d been told I had the right to say no to unwanted sexual advances, but I also knew they weren’t supposed to all be unwanted; that was something wrong with me.

Femininity for me was constriction and stumbling awkwardness. I imagined feminine sexuality as masochism and violation. Femmes are a revelation to me: femininity as joy, feminine sexuality as a desire to receive and to hold. I’ve undervalued femininity so much as an adult, despite my feminism, because it hurt so much for me to wear it.

So on second thought, Lady Brett, don’t pick up my femininity. When you look closer you’ll see it’s stained and torn. Leave it folded there by the side of the road where the sun and the rain can clean it. Let it subside back into the earth, poor misbegotten thing.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Update on the girl

I started this blog partly because I thought I might be breaking up with T. (also known as freedomgirl, but don’t tell her I said so). Yet here we are, making our new lives together so far, wedding rings tucked safely away.

We’re watching the L Word, working our way through the whole thing, up to season three now. I come a little unglued when Tina cries, so (spoiler alert) that scene at the end of season two where she has the baby? It was rough. T. looks a little like her, and obviously we have some of that Bette & Tina long-term relationship drama over here.

After fourteen years together, we’ve been through some stuff. The Christmas before last, she got chicken pox—not a good thing when you’re grown up. The night she passed out and hit her head on the bathtub ranks as one of the most frightening moments of my life. Mostly, though, it was two weeks of constant vigilance, sitting by the bed, kneeling by the couch, bringing her what she needed, comforting her the best I could, watching for any sign of the complications the doctor had explained to me. Everything was ok in the end but it was genuinely terrifying and I have a profound respect now for anyone who cares for a chronically, seriously ill partner.

So this scene with Tina reminded me of all that, the helplessness I felt when she was suffering and all I could do was whisper, “ok, it’s going to be ok,” and hope that I was telling the truth.

We got up to get something cold to drink and I pressed her against the wall in the dark kitchen, holding her hot, damp body to mine.

“You have to promise to take care of yourself, ok? Because I love you so much...”
“Ok,” she said. “But you have to promise to fuck me. Lots.”

And that’s how it is, yin to yang, heat to cold, seriousness to laughter, sex and caring all wrapped up in one complicated dance.

Sounds like a good deal to me, baby.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

The Who? The New Kid on the Block

I hate being the new kid in town. And especially after a year away, believe me, being a new me in an old town is an awful lot like being the new kid full stop.

I’m working hard to do it right. Spoken word, drag shows, queer rock band, we’ve done it, and truly it’s been amazing, mind-expanding, all that intensely relevant and funny and beautiful art. And the hanging out at the girl bars and the Notoriously Dyke-Filled Cafe? Check on that, too. We even gave an extremely nice girl (friendly! queer! our age!) a ride home the other night, so it’s not like it’s been all wallflower all the time, either. And tonight I dutifully betook myself to a local queer book club, introduced myself to the organizer, and talked about the book.

And I know that if I keep it up, after a while, I’ll walk into some of these situations in this town and someone will say something radical, like, “Hi, Leo!” But in the meantime, damn, it gets tiring, always being the new face. Especially when the face in question is still a little new to me, too.

Driving back from the book club, I got a laugh out of the first two songs I heard on the radio. I love it when the radio seems to be trying to tell me something. First it was The Who, from Tommy: “See me, hear me, touch me, feel me...”and then I hit seek (yeah, I’m an obsessive presser of ‘seek’, drives T. crazy), and came in during the middle of Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page”:

Well you walk into a restaurant,
Strung out from the road
And you feel the eyes upon you
As you’re shaking’ off the cold
You pretend it doesn’t bother you
But you just want to explode
Most times you can’t hear ’em talk,
Other times you can
All the same old clich├ęs,
“Is that a woman or a man?”
And you always seem outnumbered
You don’t dare make a stand
Here I am, on the road again
There I am, up on the stage
Here I go playin’ star again
There I go turn the page

Sunday, 13 July 2008

What you see when you look at me

She’s in the shower right now (that pretty girl I sleep with) and when she’s done we’re headed into town to do some enjoying of the day and maybe some clothes shopping. I have worn my one pair of acceptable jeans so many times, I would not be surprised to see them get up and walk away of their own accord. And I sort of like shopping these days, now that what I see in the mirror looks like someone I might want to be, rather than an embarrassingly awkward stranger.

I got called sir for the first time. At a security checkpoint where I had to swipe a card and then open my laptop. It was a hurried transaction—I’d been through a few times already that day—and the security guard there at the moment was distracted, telling her coworker about some trouble earlier in the day. I swiped the card and waited, then opened the computer, and then she glanced over: “Oh, I’m sorry, sir, you’re good, go ahead.” The deferential apology, the air of unthinking certainty, the word itself, all shook me a little, tipping the axis of my rotation just a little.

On the other hand, back in these spaces of family and old, old friends, it’s a case of the elephant in the corner. My hair is a good barometer: mostly, the people who Say Nothing At All are going to be weird the whole time. There’s an exception to every rule, of course, and the supposed friend who told me I looked like I got my head caught in something is it. He said something, but it was weird. Otherwise, it’s been a glacier of crushing silence, an invisibility of averted gazes. Not an outright rejection of female masculinity, but treating it like something to be politely ignored, like an oozing abscess on my forehead. Best to swallow the discomfort and talk of the weather while looking at the femme girlfriend, the table, the sky, anywhere but right at me.

It makes me flicker and fade. Years ago that’s precisely what I did. But now I have been seen, and often enough to make me know it’s real and it’s possible. The Dyke March, our incredibly generous host in Brooklyn, the events we’ve attended so far in Boston, the cute dykes who eyed me at the Farmer’s Market yesterday, all of it reminding me: this is what it feels like to have a conversation with people who make eye contact. This is what it feels like to be myself, outside of a vacuum.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Summer Heat

At the back of the dance floor, in a crowded lesbian club. I can't hear the conversation but I find out later it's about how to let someone know you want to go home with them. And then this gorgeous girl I barely know is walking around, standing behind me. Her hands on my shoulders, then pressing, sliding down my chest. (Stopping just short of my breasts, temporarily, sexily, rendered beside the point.) A light brush on my ass, a gentle pressure of breasts on my back. How could she know the geography of my desire so intimately? Does she also know how badly I wanted to touch her?

Friday, 4 July 2008

still alive

i've been back in america nearly two weeks now. the big goal has been achieved: i'm typing this in our new apartment, surrounded by boxes and haphazard furniture and some very forgiving cats. there's so much i want to write about here:
-the overlap between femininity & acceptability in my head, and why i 'girl out' when i'm nervous
-being invisible and the subtle homophobia of perpetrating invisibility.
-how i got wet at the nyc dyke march and relied on the kindness of strangers who are no longer strangers now
and lots more. but as i'm cadging wireless here i'll stop now. i've missed reading your blogs so much. thanks for still stopping by here... hope to have proper internet by next week.