Monday, 29 December 2008

Quick New Year's Question

What is this thing about the person you kiss on New Year's, or the first kiss of the new year, or whatever? I've never heard of this before the last several months. My family always held hands and sang Auld Lang Syne. By always, I mean the years where we were with my extended family, which includes a great-aunt who insists on that. Otherwise we were usually asleep. Last year FG and I were on an airplane at midnight on New Year's Eve. We didn't kiss. We weren't kissing much anyway, in those days. Anyway: is this a newly invented tradition? Or have I been living under a rock, and you all have been kissing away every year since forever?

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Old Resolutions

It's obviously been too long since I blogged. My browser didn't even suggest my URL when I typed butch... though good old Kyle popped right up, of course.

2008 is almost over. It's been a big year for me. January never seems like the right time to start a new year, spring would be more like it, and in fact spring was when my new year started in 2008. But with all this New Year's Resolutions talk in the air, I remembered a post I wrote back in April about what I intended for myself and my life once we got back to Boston. So this post is a sort of accounting about a kind of homecoming, because I want to see how I've done. (The stuff in italics is from the old post.)

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.)
Check. Big giant fucking check on this, yes indeed. And it's even more awesome than I'd imagined, and so fundamental that I can hardly remember what life must have been like without any of that. But none of them 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.
Yes, I think it's fine, perfectly reasonably safe.

Access to activities nearby, ideally by foot or subway. Readings, shows, cafes, bars.
Well, not quite. Some stuff I walk to. I drive a whole lot more than I used to do, but a lot of that is carpooling, so that's fine, and I'm enjoying the driving, too. And you know, being a designated driver is actually helpful in keeping me from drinking more than I should. The subway is a lot more stressful now that I get stared at a whole lot more. Overall, this one didn't turn out the way I'd imagined, but it doesn't make any real difference.

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.)
Um, yeah, I'm not having any issues with compulsive frugality any more. ::moving on::

A hairdresser I trust. (Major trauma around this one. I’ve actually been told I have too much hair.)
Yeah, I love her, in fact. She's a little pricey (for me, 'cause I'm cheap, not 'cause she's fancy) and I've been flirting with trying a barbershop. But she's also family and it's so, so relaxing to go there. (Next time: Wednesday, thank god! Getting stupidly shaggy at the moment.)

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?)
Check on this, too, though I'm doing a lot more partying and dancing than I would have thought, and a lot less of being the outdoorsy activist type. I guess that wasn't me after all, or at least, that's not me right now.

To have regular, loving, hot sex.
Oh yeah, baby. Like six hours ago. Thanks again for my Christmas present, sexy woman.

To do yoga, eat decently, sleep decently.
Hm, yoga has been a bit intermittent, but I'm doing a bunch of other related exercise things. Eating and sleeping are fine... well, there was a certain lack of sleep this week, but it was a well thought out violation.

To be able to say no to family interactions/gatherings when I need to, and to be myself there when I say yes.
Ok, the first stumbling block. I'm getting there on saying no. Honestly I had no idea what a major issue that was for me, the sense that I just couldn't refuse my mother anything she asked for. But that's getting sorted out. Being myself with my family? It's been a struggle, with some progress. The progress is internal, though--I don't do the destructive femming-out stuff that I used to do constantly, and so I'm not so devastated inside. But that hasn't always gone over well with family members, which has caused its own kinds of stress. I said to FG this morning that I think my family might slowly be realizing what a stranger a I really am , and on some level always have been, to them.

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.
Oh, this makes me laugh. Busy? Tired? Yes. I think I'm running at N + 2 at least, where N = the number of things I can plausibly handle in my life. And honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way, not any more.

To have a lesbian context in which to exist, to stretch myself and test myself and be myself.
Interesting to read this... I feel I've found a queer context, not necessarily a lesbian one. And increasingly I think of myself more as queer than as lesbian, per se. Something for a longer, more thoughtful post, perhaps.

To be able to buy sex toys without fear.
My only fear now is for my credit card. Shopping online is fine, and I've stopped in one of our local (good) sex toy shops and browsed though I haven't yet bought anything there. But I'm sure I will, one of these days.

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?
Yes, though all my personal writing has been here and there's been no guitar-playing at all. But the writing I do here is very important to me. And there's the dancing, which has become a significant part of my life. I would like to do something with making things with my hands but that's a long way off for now. There was also our little porch garden over the summer, too, which has turned into an even littler window garden now.

A space dedicated to my professional work—at home or not—so that I can focus on it there and leave it there.
I have the space, more or less. Just a corner of a room but it does stay there. I'm stressed about work at the moment but this too shall pass...

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.)
Well, I hate to end on a down note, but that's still an issue, actually. It's still hard for me to admit weakness or to ask for the help I might really need. That's something I struggle with and I have not found an easy fix for it. We went to a marriage counselor a number of times over the summer and early fall and it was ok... helpful in some ways, kind of useless in others. (The counselor's take on gender identity issues was to ask me if I wanted to transition, and when I said I didn't think so, to figure the matter was completely resolved, to the point of referring to me as a "lady" at one point... just to take one representative gripe.) Anyway we got to the point where the useless outweighed the useful and stopped going but there are still issues out there for me that need addressing.

One of which is that, if I'm going to claim the "decent sleep" thing, I'd better finish this post and go to bed. It may not be too interesting to read, but I'm pleased to discover that I've achieved or made progress on most of my intentions. And in spite of all the difficulties, in spite of everything that's not so great or easy, I wouldn't trade the life I have now for what I had a year ago, not for anything. I love being alive now, even when I'm tired and stressed and up too late.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, warmest wishes to all of you and yours.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Christmas Meme

I've been casting around for something to lighten the season-affective depression mood here. And what better than a Christmas meme? Stolen from Jess.

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags?
I like wrapping paper better. And I'm cheap that way, too. But I love how easy gift bags are...

2. Real tree or artificial?
Always real, although I don't have anything against fake ones. I think it would be cool to get a live tree and plant it one day, but that's not feasible for now, given our lack of outdoor space. Our first tree together was so scrawny the lady gave us a discount. It was more like a branch, stuck into a little pine disc with a hole in the middle. Then there was the year we carried a medium-small tree two miles through the city back to our apartment. I'll never forget the look of wonder on one little boy's face as we passed. Did he think we were Santa's elves? Or the Grinch's henchmen?

3. When do you put up the tree?
My family had a rule about not putting the tree up until Christmas Eve. We'd buy it a week before and leave it outside. Then, my mom would spend all day Christmas Eve cleaning. In the mid-afternoon my dad would put the tree up, and then either he and I or my brother and I would string the lights around it. (By this time my parents had usually had their annual Christmas Eve fight.) And then, torture of tortures, we had to sit and have dinner before actually decorating the tree. But it was pretty magical to look at the freshly decorated tree for the first time, before going to bed to await Christmas morning.

FG and I are not so strict, though it's usually not more than a few days ahead of Christmas. One year we didn't have time to even buy the tree until Christmas Eve. That was some scrambling--we thought we might not find one, actually. This year, I don't know... no tree yet, but I expect one of us will suggest we do it sooner or later.

4. When do you take the tree down?
The family tradition was New Year's Day, and I've basically stuck with that. FG gets pretty stressed about the tree not staying up too long (that's *her* family trauma) so getting the tree down in an expedient, non-stressed way is something I can do for her.

5. Do you like eggnog?
I used to drink it like it was going out of style. Seriously, I'd go through cartons of the stuff. Now it's a bit too sweet for me. But yeah, I agree with Jess: add plenty of booze and it picks up considerably.

6. Favorite gift received as a child?
No idea. I got a lot of presents as a kid and found Christmas a little overwhelming, honestly. I never knew how to seem appropriately grateful, and all of it was stuff I was kind of neutral about anyway (stuffed animals, Barbie dolls).

7. Do you have a nativity scene?
No. We both had creche scenes we were attached to as kids but have never found one that seems right for our household. Maybe someday, maybe not.

8. Hardest person to buy for?
I'm not great at buying presents. Either inspiration hits or it doesn't. I finally learned to stop buying people books I either loved to death or wanted for myself or both. When FG and I were going through bad times, I had a very hard time buying presents for her. She got some stinkers as a result. (How romantic is a $10 Chinese tea pot? I mean, really.)

9. Easiest person to buy for?
FG, generally speaking. The only limitation is money--there's so many things I'd like to get her. But I know she'd like us to stay solvent, too. ;)

Oh yeah, the cats are easy to buy for, too. And yes, they've got their own stockings. How sappy is that? But they're cute.

10. Worst Christmas gift ever received?
My aunt used to send, for Christmas and birthday, little dresses or frilly nightgowns. The really awful part was that she shopped for them based on my cousin's size. Although she's two weeks older, I've always, always been bigger. Luckily my mom didn't make me wear them, but they always made me feel terrible anyway. Knowing she meant well (she lived across the country and didn't really know me at all) helped, though.

11. Mail or E-mail Christmas card?
To receive? Mail. We used to send lots of cards by mail, too, but not so much any more. Yes, you see the theme emerging, we've really become pagan heathens over here.

12. Favorite Christmas movie?
It's A Wonderful Life. I know, I know. I can't help it. I cry every. single. time. Donna Reed completely melts my heart and I identify with George Bailey 100%. Zuzu's petals, the fight with the teacher's husband, oh don't get me started.

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas?
Haha, today! Except I bought FG's major present weeks ago, and gave it to her then, too.

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present?
Of course, lots of times. What am I supposed to do with all those terrible candles from random people? That's what they did too, right? There's just a few of those candles making endless circuits through Secret Santas and Yankee Swaps, I'm convinced.

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?
We have a little tradition of making something new each year for our Christmas celebration. So I'm going to say, whatever FG comes up with for the new thing each year. Now, there's one exception to that, when she made something so awful that words cannot do it justice. FG, this is your story, my dear. And may I suggest you beg her to post the pictures, too? Oh my god, the pictures.

16. Clear lights or colored on the tree?
I love them all: big and darkly colored, little and brightly colored, clear, pink. For my own tree, my only preference is not to have them blink.

17. Favorite Christmas song?
Jehovah (this isn't super common but I like it--it's about the birth story, and all the logistical problems of finding a place to stay, and the refrain is Jehovah, Hallelujah, the Lord will provide. I'm not really religious at all but I find that a very comforting song & notion.)
I also like Bruce Springsteen's version of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, and I've always loved Silent Night.

18. Travel at Christmas or stay home?
Stay home. My favorite Christmases are the ones FG and I have spent together, enjoying the peace of the day, making a special supper, playing with whatever new toys we've gotten each other...

19. Can you name Santa’s reindeer?
No, Santa did that already. It would be rude to give them new names at this point.

20. Do you have an angel on top of the tree or a star?
A funny blue blown glass ornament that I call a star but it isn't, exactly. But it belonged to my grandparents and they gave it to us for our own household and it means a lot to me as a result.

21. Open presents Christmas Eve or Christmas morning?
Usually Christmas morning. Sometimes one the night before. Two years ago, we opened them all the night before. Good thing, because FG was coming down with the chicken pox and was too sick to do anything by Christmas day.

22. Most annoying thing about this time of year?
How stressed people get and how much negative family energy gets generated. There are such high expectations to achieve in such a short time that there's always disappointment. I'd rather have it be a time of quiet, winter-solstice reflection, without all the booze and presents and enforced togetherness that isn't always desired or appropriate.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

"You Can't Take The Weight of a Single Ounce of Shame"

If it's gotten boring over here, blame my dissertation. I'm trying to finish it this year and folks, it's getting me down. I don't want to write too much about my professional stuff here but let's just say poor Freedom Girl is probably sick to death of hearing me rant about whether I'll ever finish and why I can't write short drafts and how miserable I am. And also how working in a room that hovers around 60 degrees Fahrenheit most of the time is not impossible, but is not massively pleasant, either. End of rant. Follow me on Twitter if you want this self-pity in real time.

Jess
wrote recently about making a plan to live and eat more healthily. It's an admirable goal. For me, the thing I need to make a goal for is not so much how I eat (it's ok, I'm not worried about it, and FG makes sure I don't run off the rails too much and survive on cheese, granola bars, and coffee alone). It's more about mental health.

::crickets::

That's not easy to write about... but here it goes... as I've mentioned before, I have a problematic relationship with my family. My dad and I didn't even talk for over three years, and though things are ok there now, well, there's some leftover baggage, how could there not be? And more pressingly, my relationship with my mom is just so damn fraught. I sometimes wonder if I should migrate to Wordpress and do a whole series of ranting passworded posts about her which no one would actually have to read, of course, but which might do me some good. Is that a big hassle for everyone, the Wordpress migration? Or is there any way yet to password protect a Blogger post?

I blogress. So there are issues. And mostly I muddle through, putting FG through lengthy sessions of venting and decompressing after family visits or phone calls, but mostly getting on with life. Other times, though, I have to be honest: I fucking fall apart. The scary thing for me is that I don't know know what will set me off, or when.

As Tina would say, TMI ahead.

The other night, FG and I were messing around. And in the course of this messing around, which was getting serious but had not yet progressed to getting nekkid, she grabbed my boxer shorts, a handful on either side, and pulled me down towards her, and I freaked out. I felt myself grow cold and a wave of feeling tiny, small, helpless, and saturated with shame overcame me. Gently, I disengaged from her, and tried to explain what was wrong. Of course she felt terrible, though it was not her fault at all, really. I really couldn't move past feeling upset. She tried to comfort me and I couldn't let her even touch me. Eventually I explained enough and she went to sleep, as did I eventually; the only way I could get comfortable was curled up tight, one arm in my stomach and the other over my neck. For context... ass-grabbing is a perfectly normal & acceptable part of our repertoire. But something about pulling my shorts instead triggered something in my head. I don't know exactly what it was, though. I'm pretty stone, and that's fine with me, but this was something more, this was not a sane boundary but a minefield of distress that I've barely even acknowledged.

In the course of talking about this incident the next night, and all the feelings about my childhood and myself that it brought up, FG said two things that struck me and that have led me to write this post. One was that I really, really need to talk this stuff over with a therapist. So, I thought, if Jess can post her physical health goals, maybe I should post my mental health goals, too. I'm reluctant and it's logistically a bit challenging (see re: dissertation, above) but in the new year, I aim to start to address these problems in a systematic way, with hopefully effective professional help.

The second thing she said was that she can't be my entire support system; and in the context of that, she said how I go through life and everything seems ok, and, "I'm the only one who knows something is wrong." That's a powerful point. I think somewhere in my head I believe that if only she sees me fall apart, it means I've got it under control. Which of course is nonsense. So to lighten her burden, if only symbolically, and in a gesture of combating shame, I'm saying to all of you--I go through life, and mostly it's fine, but something is wrong, and I know I need to deal with it, and I'm working on it.

Post title: Melissa Etheridge, "Heroes & Friends"

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Monogamy, Part II

Hey, thanks for all those thoughtful comments on my last post. I'm not sure posting it was as courageous as you give me credit for--it's nothing that FG and I haven't already talked about, at length, in one form or another, for one thing. But I'm not sure my balls have ever gotten that much praise all at once, so thank you on their behalf, too.

One point I want to clarify is that I absolutely don't think monogamy is correlated with boredom. We've had boring times and toe-curling, hair-standing-on-end, scream-so-the-neighbors-across-the-street-can-hear exciting times and everything in between, through a decade and a half of monogamy. And my current thinking is not fuelled by a sense of boredom. I don't write about sex too much here but... boredom, not an issue in these parts at the moment. (FG's cough & ear infection? The two wisdom teeth I had extracted on Wednesday? Those are the obstacles to fun & games here.)

LL Cool Joe and others pointed out that there are other ways of defining faithfulness and intimacy as well, and maybe that's really the larger point I'm trying to get to: connection and intimacy (not necessarily sexual) with people outside of our singular relationship, which will hopefully strengthen us, singly & together, rather than tearing us apart.

This is a huge deal to me, perhaps more than to a lot of people. (Including, I suspect, the ever-patient FG herself.) To say that my childhood was characterized by solitude would be a serious understatement. I went to school, I had friends, but I spent unusually large swaths of time strictly alone and at home. And I also spent a lot of time being my mom's main companion. So this business of connecting to other people, and especially of finding for myself, in a variety of friendships, the emotional sustenance and support I need... well, it is a big freaking deal, and I'm all over the map about it.

I'm feeling a little radical, too, perhaps in a long-overdue reaction to my convent-like upbringing, and not wanting to place any limitations on us from the start--friendship is ok but crushes are not, flirting is ok but touching is not, this part of you is yours to share but that other part is mine alone. I'm feeling tired of relationships as possession, and perhaps it's not really about monogamy at all, but about shaking off some very, very old chains.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Monogamy

It's been on my mind lately. FG and I have been together nearly fifteen years. As readers of the last post will have gathered, we got together in high school. We've had plenty of problems over the years but we've both been strictly faithful the whole time. (Or, to be realistic, I have been, and if she hasn't I don't know about it. But honestly? I think we've both been faithful.)

Some of that time was characterized by hot sex and mad jealousy; I was insanely jealous over a series of straight guys, always convinced that eventually she was going to 'come to her senses' and 'get a real man'. (I mentioned the self-hatred and internalized homophobia sometime, right? Sigh.) And then after our marriage we sank into a long stretch of what doesn't qualify as lesbian bed death but was surely lesbian bed terminal illness. I was the one saying things like, "No, we have sex! I remember, we had it ... wait... was it last Saturday or the one before? But it was nice, right? Wasn't it?" I was so out of touch with myself that it was literally a nightmare to have to be naked and intimate; not because she wasn't sexy and hot (believe me, she always has been) but because I was so ashamed of myself and in such denial about how my sexuality and gender worked.

Part of what has been revolutionary about this year for me has been a full-on sexual reawakening. And part of the reawakening has been a new awareness of sexual attraction towards other women, and from them, too. This is true for FG, too, she tells me (though her experience of our lbti was much different from mine).

This brings up lots of difficult issues. Sometimes I think, I'm going to die and I'll only have slept with one person, and it drives me batty. And I think, I've locked up her and my own sexuality for so long--I thought on such a deep level that marriage was about deluding some pitying woman to chain her life to yours at your one moment of attractiveness--isn't it time to break out a little bit? What if we negotiated some freedom? Would that even work? Could I withstand the jealousy of her being intimate with anyone else? (Yeah, there's a double standard at work here in my head; I'm not defending it but there's no sense in lying about it either.) Would that be fair to the potential other people involved? How does any of this work in real life, outside of permanent committed polyamory situations (which is not what I'm talking about or looking for)?

As you can deduce from the previous paragraph being written all in question form, I don't have any answers about any of this. One thing I know is that the only prospect that seems just chokingly, unbearably sad is that of not having her in my life and by my side.

And the other thing I know is that I don't want to repeat the layers of jealousy, controlling, and hypocrisy that was modeled for me in my parents' marriage(s). I don't think it all comes down to sex, either; I remember my dad would be in trouble even for seeming to notice a pretty woman on the television. I don't know if FG and I ever will try sex with other people, at least as long as we're together; but I do know that I'm relieved to be done being the jailer of her sexuality, her ability to flirt and dance and feel alive outside the tight orbit of our relationship. More and more that ability seems to me to be a fundamental human right, something no one has the right to steal from another.