Monday, 29 June 2009

You Say Butch Like It's a Bad Thing

As one of the judges on Sinclair Sexsmith's Top Hot Butches / Sugarbutch Hot List project, I wanted to weigh in on the discussion that's been going on about who's included on the list: namely, whether more feminine women, trans men, trans women etc., 'really belong' on this list.

One thing I like a lot about Sinclair's project is its use of a category of gendered experience that doesn't simply reproduce the old binaries of man and woman. It's a category that reflects the experiences of a lot of people I know and the community I live in. I see it bringing together two threads. First, there is 'butchness' as a particular expression of masculinity, quite apart from biology or sex assignment or sex identification. Second, there is the insight that people who have been assigned female at some point in their lives, whether by choice or not, yet who place masculinity at the core of their identities, well, we have something in common. Finding that common ground, and discussing it together or separately, is not about appropriation or stealing; it's about kinship.

This category is not theoretically perfect nor are its borders rigid and exact. I'm aware, for instance, that the first thread includes people assigned male at birth who still identify as men ('cisgender men') while the second would tend not to. But the categories of men and women themselves are not more perfect. And I believe that trying out new categories, new ways of organizing our experiences and our relationships to others, is an important part of the working of dismantling the dominance of the idea of men and women as seemingly eternal, natural categories. That's exactly why I keep that Judith Butler quote in the sidebar.

One of the very sad things about the debate over this list has been the tendency to insist on those very categories of man and woman. This list is about women, the argument went, and trans men are men. And yet there are many people, myself included, and many on the list as well I believe, for whom neither 'woman' nor 'trans man' is an adequate description.

In my real-life community, that fact is not a problem. The category that Sinclair is exploring and invoking in this list actually functions to bring people together, and ultimately, that's why I believe in it. I believe in a world in which I'm welcome at trans events and my trans friends, FTM and MTF, are welcome at the Dyke March. Which is not to say FTMs ought to go to the Dyke March, necessarily, or that they have to feel comfortable being on Sinclair's list; but it's a matter of individual variation and preference, as has been amply demonstrated by the fact that some of the trans men on the list have opted to be reinstated, while others have not.

This leads me to another thing I like about Sinclair's project. It refuses from the outset the idea that being including on a 'butch' list could be insulting. I appreciate this on a visceral level because of how very long it took me to claim that word for myself, because of how long I spent thinking of it as a bad word for bad women. I think it's an admirable audacity to insist that butch is a good thing. It's one thing to say, if this isn't the category for you, if this isn't a place you want to be, say so, and I'll respect that. It's quite another to concede butch from the outset as something insulting.

This issue has been taking up a lot of space in my brain since the list was published last week. While packing boxes and sorting papers for our upcoming move, I fulminated about any number of aspects of the whole thing. I wrote some angry posts in my head, completely blowing the 'cool' out of MacCool. But time passed and I spent time in my own community, with my own friends, and I realized, I don't want to add more fuel to anyone's fire. Instead, I want this post to be a tribute to the connection and liberation that can flourish when we stop treating the space between "man" and "woman" as a despised, battle-scarred borderland, and start treating it as the center of our own better universe.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Fluff Observation

One of my e-mail accounts has recently featured many ads that are variations of the claim that, by mixing two products, you will be able to cure ordinary complaints such as yellow teeth or stretch marks. Often the ad claims that a "mom" discovered she could effect this remedy on her own.

Does this remind anyone else sharply of the Lily Tomlin movie, "The Incredible Shrinking Woman," which features the fabulous Tomlin as a mom who starts shrinking due to the freak chemical interaction of Galaxy Glue and some other thing?

I loved that movie with a rare passion as a small child. We had a tape of it and I would ask to watch it over and over again, the only movie or show I did that with, as far as I can recall. I guess I had some gaydar even at four.

And you could psychoanalyze even further, no doubt: get rid of excess femininity using two common household products! This mom figured out how! But the sun is finally out and I'm not quite in that sort of mood.

Instead, let's give it up for Lily Tomlin. And let's not start mixing random household substances just because Yahoo says it's a good idea...

Monday, 22 June 2009

Making Trouble

Like many of us I've been following the news from Iran, hoping for the best and admiring the courage of all those who've had enough and are taking a stand, despite the danger. I wonder what it feels like to reach that point and I wonder if I will reach it in my own lifetime.

I remember being transfixed by the demonstrations in Tianamen Square, twenty years ago this spring, when I was nine years old. My family generally watched the evening news every night (60 Minutes on Sundays), sometimes with dinner and sometimes afterwards. I wondered if the students would be able to force their government and their country to change, and I was genuinely shocked as well as horrified when the government instead forcibly put them down. I have memories of images of the empty square, evidence of violence in the midst blowing trash and broken dreams, but I don't know how much I'm imagining or filling in from later descriptions.

I was also shocked by my grandparents' reaction. My grandmother in particular argued fiercely that the Chinese government had done the right thing: by killing some students, it had averted a much larger conflict that would have killed many more people. Although emphatically liberal on most issues, my grandmother believes in the value of strong leaders and governments; in certain respects, from my adult perspective, her views remind me of some of the proto-Fascist intellectuals of the 1920s, before Fascism was forever discredited by Nazism and all the rest of it.

Implict in her stance was a sharp rebuke to the protesters, idealists and troublemakers who were only going to bring suffering down upon their society. My child's soul rebelled against that interpretation. I wanted to man the barricades and fight for the right, the just, and the true, come what may.

I thought that all I had to do was grow bigger and stronger, and I would do just that. I didn't realize what an effect that injunction to keep quiet and keep your head down had had on me. In spite of disagreeing about things like Tianamen, I adored my grandparents and strove to earn their respect and admiration. I was ashamed to make too much noise and to ask for too much; in my own real life, I didn't even know where the barricades were.

My increasing self-confidence and my newly unorthodox gender expression have, not surprisingly, introduced an element of distance or even strain into my relationship with my grandparents. What took me by surprise was that my graduation and new job, rather than easing that distance, seems to have increased it, even though my decision to pursue this career was very much part of an effort to live up to their values.

And yet perhaps I should not have been surprised. In embarking on this profession I am claiming authority and power. I am asserting that my own words matter, that they can contribute to knowledge and that they should be read. And I am doing so at the very moment where I emphatically make too much noise, take up too much space, demand far too much from my society at every turn. I insist on my right to exist even if it offends, and if I die for it, I insist on my right to choose to die for it.

When I saw them last month their reaction to my news was strikingly lowkey. A few polite questions, a few awkward jokes about my new job & its associated title. A long discussion about how perhaps I should have been a judge instead (a slightly more entertaining variation on the very old theme that I should have gone into finance like the pretty young women on the business TV shows). And avoidance of my new name except to make jokes about it, more or less. Even references to me as "Miss [Oldname]".

I processed all that, vented to FG about it, and thought I'd moved on. But a friend who hadn't seen me for a few weeks called me on it as soon as ze saw me, looking tired and apologetic and profoundly subdued. I realized I hadn't felt genuinely happy about the graduation & job since seeing my family. I was subdued: I had been put in my place.

I'm faced now with some dilemmas. How do I un-subdue myself? And how do I do that as I take the first steps in a career that was, originally, all about earning love and approval and now must fit into a life that seeks, if not to man the barricades all the time, at least to raise the hell that my child-self longed for?

Friday, 19 June 2009

It's Still Rock and Roll to Me

I'm turning 30 in a little under two months. I'm looking forward to it. My main concern at the moment is whether my party will kick enough ass and involve enough champagne. (Or other, cheaper, bubbling options. I'm not hating on cava, spumonti, or prosecco here.)

When I was a child, I felt old. Or rather, I never felt the way I imagined a child was supposed to feel, and I often didn't act that way, either. I was quieter and more cautious, wary of revealing too much and never trusting too soon. I always felt large and clumsy and deep-voiced. (I consciously changed my voice in my adolescence to sound more light and feminine, which has now become an ingrained habit that I'm slowly and painfully trying to unlearn. It's a process, rediscovering your own voice twenty years on.) People described me as serious and mature, always.

In many ways I feel younger now than then. I am much less burdened with the weight of shame and fear. I think so many fewer things are impossible or off-limits, and so slowly I'm learning, for the first time, the spontaneity and enthusiasm that one is supposed to lament losing at my age.

In other ways, of course, I feel ordinarily chronological. My insights feel more saturated with context and history than the quick, sharp observations of people ten years younger than me. And I don't have quite the manic Gumby-flexible energy I did as a teenager, though I'm physically stronger now than I was then, by a long shot.

I wonder in what ways being queer shapes our experiences of chronology and life stages, beyond the obvious questions of access to marriage & reproduction milestones. My thoughts on these lines are shaped by Jack Halberstam's 'In a Queer Time and Place'. Halberstam argues there for a kind of prolonged adolescence as being characteristic of queer subcultures, which reject the reproductive calendar of their straight counterparts.

Sitting in the library the other day, I was staring out the window, as you do in libraries after a while. And I was watching a middle-aged man have a conversation with a police officer. It looked like they were probably friends. The man was wearing a polo shirt and khakis; he was solid, beer-bellied, and ruddy, and I imagined him as the respository, in a way, of all that was respectable, normal, and, in the words of my youth, as it should be. I wondered about the burden that must be, carrying all that legitimacy around, maybe watching out worriedly for transgressions, maybe just carefully ensuring that the rounds of barbeques and high school graduations and conservations with your pal the cop went on in perpetuity, preserved for the next pillars of society.

And that got me wondering if that burden and those immense privileges that accrue to carrying it are, in the end, what really growing up and being mature are about in our world. Maybe that is why queers seem like eternal adolescents: by the very nature of our lives, we are never going to ascend to that level of legitimacy.

A colleague recently remarked to me that rock and roll is dead, which he then amended to the observation that rock and roll dies for everyone at a different moment, because it is the music of youth and rebellion. But maybe, I thought, youth and rebellion are ultimately the same thing. And the reward that we get, the queer and the marginal and the deviant, is that for us, rock and roll lives, like Frodo, for ever.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Question for Vegetarians, Current & Lapsed

Less prominent among the great events of 2008 was the transition into full-on vegetarianism for me and FG. I haven't eaten any meat or fish since a smoked salmon sandwich one mid-spring day about a year ago.

In some ways this was a natural evolution. We were already eating very little meat and had been for quite some time. On another level, for me, it was not an obvious choice. Whereas FG used to reject meat and opt for tofu even as a little, and always complained that things like hamburgers made her stomach hurt, that was never me. I like protein, a lot, while I think she could subsist on bread, potatoes, pomegranates, and cherries.

Back in the day, I'd start to get a serious protein craving, and I'd take myself out for a burger, or I'd ask FG to make pork chops or roast a chicken, or I'd invite her out for a sushi date. Nowadays, things seem not quite so easy. Too much soy makes me feel unwell, so a constant stream of soy-based replacements is not the answer. And I don't seem to get quite the same sense of satisfaction from things like chick peas as I do from animal proteins--which means a lot of omelette requests, in my case.

So I eat a lot of eggs and a mix of soy and non-soy meat substitutes and dairy stuff and some legume-stuff too (I love peanut butter). But I still feel this relatively constant, low-level craving for MORE PROTEIN. And on occasion, when I eat an almost-all-protein meal (like fried eggs & fake sausages) I get a rush of well-being and strength, so I think I'm not just crazy or deluding myself.

If you've made it this far... fellow vegetarians, past & present, do you know what I'm talking about? Do you have any advice? I have to admit, I'm getting close to falling off the wagon & getting myself some fish or something like that...

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Fruit in Bed

We're moving, I'm graduating, it's time to shovel out and organize and throw away bags of accumulated crap. I have a hard time throwing stuff away. Part of it is an obsessive need to have documentary evidence for everything, as overcompensation for the lack of recognition given to our household. Need proof we paid for electricity in March 2003? I've got it. (See also: frantic cleaning of the house before straight people visit. I've got hang-ups. Of course I do.)

But in amongst the boring things (taxes) and the sad things (angry letters from my dad) there are the sweet things. And so I present to you "Fruit in Bed," a very short story I wrote on March 16, 2001, a few months before I graduated college and a year and a day before FG and I got married. I don't remember exactly, but I think it's safe to say this is not very heavily fictionalized...


We lay in bed together in the dark. We weren't touching but I knew she wasn't asleep. Still, she'd said she was tired, so I shut my eyes and played the game that had often lulled me to sleep as a child--imagining myself on a small raft floating down a gentle river or in a calm bay.

The water thing just wasn't working that night. I opened my eyes again.

"Wouldn't it be cool to sleep on grapes?" I said.

"On what? Grates?"

I rolled onto my back. "No, grapes. Red grapes or whatever they used to make wine. Wouldn't it be cool to sleep on a huge pile of them?"

"No, that would be sticky," she said.

"And I guess they'd roll away. You'd need a vat, really, and you could sleep on top."

"But they'd break. I think that would be gross. Why not oranges or grapefruits?"

"Too hard. Picture how grapes would compress and bounce, like a perfect mattress. Oranges wouldn't do that. You need something soft," I said.

"Tomatoes, then," she suggested.

"Not that soft. Picture how the grapes would massage your back. Tomatoes wouldn't do that--they'd just mash down into a paste if you rolled. Mangoes maybe..."

"No," she said. "Too sticky again, plus that funny shape. You'd want symmetry. Kumquats." She sighed deeply and sleepily. I was feeling sleepy myself, imagining kumquats rocking me gently and supporting my slumber.

"Kumquats. Perfect," I said, and drifted off thinking: marriage will be great.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Back from Mercury

I'm bouncing back, it seems, from a trough. This trough was so bad I was almost paying attention to remarks I saw around online about Mercury being in retrograde until June 7. That's it, I thought. It's that damn Mercury.

Which, I don't know, maybe there's truth in that. Any astrologically inclined readers? I'm yours to persuade. But Mercury or not, the fact of the matter is that my mojo was grievously injured by a rough weekend with my family-of-origin. I'm seriously considering starting a password-only blog just to vent about stuff that's too private for the general internet but amenable to that special dynamic of blogs that gets me to sit down and actually write about stuff. Which is good for me, at least, and maybe sometimes entertaining for visitors here, too.

Anyway, on the drive up to the weekend, I felt alive and strong. My radio-sing-along version of Bohemian Rhapsody was virtuosic. I thought there was nothing I could not handle. But once I was back home, I sank into a proper funk.

This past weekend, though, was an excellent dispeller-of-funks. On Saturday morning, I went to softball practice, then to coffee. I flyered for a queer event (hi thisfrozenlake!) and when I got home, FG and I decided to stay in and--what was it Jess used to call it? Oh yeah, we reconnected and had some nice bonding time. ('Cuz you know, hugs are the best cure for stress, of course.) And eventually we got really hungry and we went out for ice cream and got burrito-makings for a late dinner. The next day, I had a softball game. We were slaughtered, as usual. But! FG was there, cheering us on, and I caught a fly ball for the very first time. There was more lazing about, some chores, and the weekend was capped off by FG making a brilliant blueberry coffee cake.

As I ate it, I felt so glad just to be alive, with this woman beside me. I realized that I'm hardly reading fiction this days, just because my own life is interesting enough. And maybe I've had enough of the days when my motto was "People say life is the thing, but I prefer reading." [Logan Pearsall Smith] Life is the thing, especially when the mojo is finally back.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Yay Genderlabel!

Good stuff. You can do yours here.


My gender is

activist, aggressive, amorous, BDSM, boi, boy with a vagina, boy with boobs, bulldagger, butch, crossdresser, cute, diesel dyke, differently-gendered, dog lover, dominant, dyke, FTWTF, female-assigned, feminist, femme-fucking, femme-loving, full of love, gender deviant, gender liberationist, genderqueer, gendertrash, hyper-sexual, kinky, LGBTQI, lover, loving, macho, misrepresented, misunderstood, non-op, obsessed, pro-sex feminist, queer, radical, same sex different gender oriented, sex positive, stone butch, stud, teh gay, top, transmasculine, tribade, trustworthy, woman-loving

What's yours?