things to think about


today i am thinking about: DEEP LEZ
September 25, 2009, 12:57 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

So I’m having a bad week, friends, or a bad two weeks now, or maybe it’s a bad three weeks, I can’t even tell, maybe it’s a bad 26th year or a bad 2009 or a bad life. And you know what that means my ass is doing? It means I’m sitting here with Ani Difranco on repeat over and over and yes, I know all the words and yes, you know all the words too.

And you know, say it loud, I’m a fucking deep-ass lez and I’m trying to be proud. I fuck girls. I hold hands and make sweet noises with girls. Sure, I would do it with a boy now and again, but I am not generally speaking at this point in time spending a lot of time thinking about it. I reserve the right to change my tune later but I am just speaking generally here. I am not one of those gay bacon lettuce tomatoes who is so deep into wanting to do it with the menz.

I have been negotiating lately with the way in which so many people in the corner of the queer community i live in <3s being a faggeau. and i mean don't get me wrong, i'm all HAY QUEEN HAY MARY HAY FAGGOT SNAP SNAP I'LL MEET YOU AT THE BAR LATER with everybody too. i identify the kind of masculinity I rock as faggoty chic very openly — queeny but masculine, not butch, hey girl, snap snap faggot snapping in the loafers I am so light in. I think it's fun and honestly it is an aesthetic I grew up in and I remember back in the day when I was busy coming out and at first I was like SAY IT LOUD I'M LEZ AND PROUD. And then I got the idea that lez was not my scene after all, girls were all drama, that it was all u-hauls and boring scissor sex and I ran off to the faggots and I pretty much haven't looked back. Faggot faggot faggot queer queer queer.

Here's the thing. I work at the world's premiere foundation with "Lesbian" in the name. I say the word lesbian more times at this job than I think I have my whole life ever. Lesbian this lesbian that lesbian lesbian lesbian foundation for lesbian justice lesbian lesbian. It makes a queer think, sometimes. If this word is an accurate description of my behavior, why don't I like it?

Why am I so udgy about the word lesbian? Why am I so wary of being identified that way? It feels like it holds a cultural meaning that I do not see myself in – a different way of relating to gender, a different way of having sex, a different set of aesthetic goals. I feel like I wear too many bright colors to be a lez, I have this funny concept hair, I have sex that has to do with power, and I want to be FABULOUS in a way that I do not understand inside of lesbian culture. And yet — I say all this as an outsider, as someone who doesn't really hang out with people who identify as lesbian (except maybe at work). What do I know? Why do I sit at the bar and judge? I feel like I don’t know enough.

Sarah Schulman (article from the Times!) my lez root writes in my real lez root, Girls Visions and Everything:

Actually, Lila had often considered the question of marketing lesbian popularity. She looked at other groups of outcasts who had managed to make a name for themselves. The ultimate failures were Communists. In America, they were still at the bottom of the charts. After considering various historical examples, she concluded that the most successful model was that of the Beats. Guys like Jack, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, some of them were smart and had some good ideas and wrote some lasting and inspiring work. Mostly, though, they weren’t all the geniuses their reputations implied. The thing was, they had made a phenomenon of themselves. They made themselves into the fashion, eacu one quoting from the other, building an image based not so much on their work as on the idea that they led interesting lives. Lila firmly believed that was exactly what lesbians needed to do. Why not make heroes out of Isabel Schwartz and Helen Hayes, and make The Kitsch-Inn the new mecca? let kids from all over America pack their bags, sneak out at night and flock to the East Village to hang out with the lesbians. Soon there’d be lines around the block for the Inn’s midnight show bringing those hungry for stimulation folocking to catch the last word in Lesbiana. They’d have magazine covers, syndicated situation comedies, do the lecture circuit, maybe even walk down the street without being afraid.

The harassment I get these days is, ironically, as often about being a fag as being a lez, and generally has to do with my gender. And yet I just don’t trust myself with my own squeamishness about lez as an identity. Am I just someone who saw some bad branding and reacted? Did lesbian do it to itself, get taken over by people whose vision of the world is fundamentally different than mine? This word works for a lot of people – what works for it for them? What’s about the split, and what do I think about it?

Or is it my own misogyny? My own bad idea of lesbianism? Lesbophobia? Just not feeling like it is the right word for me? Different places around the world have a different reaction to this word; what does being in the US, and the urban US, do to affect mine?

So I am going to work on a little bit of a project. I will be doing little interviews and posting what people think. I am trying to get to the bottom of this. Who loves the word lez? Who hates it? And why?

I worry my own sentiments as expressed in this post will shut people out. I am trying to be honest, even when it is hard; I am trying to own what I think in a public sphere because honestly, I don’t think I’m right. I don’t think I do the right thing when I value fag so highly but bash so hard on lez and I want to do more thinking about what that is. Conversely, I imagine a lot of people who would say something like “well, lesbian just doesn’t describe what I do” — but does fag, either? Does queer? And even within the queer community, why is faggotry valorized and lesbianism denigrated? Can’t we pull from both?

Please leave your lez thoughts in the comments. This is open to people of all genders and identities and orientations, obvs, although especially from folks who have more personal involvement with the word.

Work it out, queens!



today i am thinking about: I QUIT GENDER
August 7, 2009, 10:47 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

I realized today how much I anticipate scorn. I am constantly preparing for someone to bash me — to call me a fag, to call me a dyke, to call me both, to stop me in the street, to yell at me about eating pussy, to yell at me for sucking dick. People who harass me can’t even decide HOW they are going to harass me most of the time. I get more shit for being a faggot than for being a dyke. I wonder what they think when I yell at them in my voice, my voice which definitely sounds female.

I am ready for the fight, you know. I feel like in some ways I want it. I want to have to fight for the right to be myself. I want to actually carry bruises around and I want to throw punches and I want to fight dirty, like a crazy person. I want to fight someone else for the right to be myself. I want it to just happen to me already, like I know it will someday, like I know it has to so many of my friends. I am tired of anticipating violence. I know that’s fucked up but it is how it is.

When I used to present in a femme way, I was dramatic. I took up space, like I do now, but in a different way. Skirts. Lots of curls. Red lips. My breasts and hips have never been pronounced but I looked like a girl, and a hot girl at that. I was loud and I used my hands and I took up space. I got a lot of street harassment then, too, mostly people telling me they liked what they saw. Just as fucked up, right? But the thing was, it felt safer.

Even when people got dirty, it felt safer. In some fucked up way, it was an affirmation. It was an affirmation I was doing it right. It meant I was hot, I was desireable. I was a successful woman. The harassment I get now — “hey faggot, where do I go to suck a dick?” “What is it, a he or a she” — the harassment I get now has everything to do with my failure to conform and be read. Who would want to fuck me now? Who would I want to have sex with? No one has any idea out there in the world, and even if before they were wrong — I was not really looking to sleep with cis men — the idea was that the sex I was having was at least normal.

Oh, fucking normal. I was shopping with my sweetheart — femme, small but solidly built — and I was wishing for someone, anyone, to come remind me about normal. I am too big for women’s normal sizes. I am, in fact, an XL in men’s sizes, sometimes a L — around my hips but around my shoulders, too. I do not fit in a lot of “normal” sizes, even if I wanted to. Even if I did fit, I probably wouldn’t want to wear it, for some combination of gender and style. I can’t just wear men’s clothes, right — I have to wear some perfect thing, it has to fit right, it has to drape just so, and it has to wink.

Yes, it has to wink. It has to be a little ridiculous. It has to acknowledge how implausible that here I am, sweet babyfaced me, sweet soft skinned me, sweet motherfucking sweet me, in this body I do not understand, this hairy lez fag body so few other people understand either. It has to acknowledge that yes, I take up all this space, and with my sunglasses on you think I’m a boy, and with my sunglasses off you know – think? – know? – think? – that I am a girl. It has to suit my body, it has to look like me, and yet somehow it has to look ridiculous for me. I know it’s ridiculous that I look like I look, even as I sort of want to believe it’s not. I looked different earlier in my life, and I felt ridiculous then too. I got home today and I thought maybe I should shave my head — aside from my payess and top curls — and shave my legs and wear lipstick and eyeliner and motorcycle boots for a while. Just to remind myself this is all ridiculous, it’s all window dressing, it’s all just advertising anyways. Is this all about body hair? Is it all about being fat? Is this honest or just more drag? I told myself I would stop questioning myself but at this point nothing makes sense any more. I don’t even know if it has anything to dow ith me.

I want to believe that this — what I am doing right now — is true. That this is me, or closer to me, or at least I am making progress. I just added all these old Seattle kids on Facebook and one of them had a comment from my mean ex on his wall — and I was overcome. What would he think if he saw me now, with a moustache, with the same chin hairs he said scared him? What would any of them think? Would they even care? Would they dismiss it out of hand? I want somebody to fight with me about this because I want to see how I stand up for myself. I want to earn a bruise or two fighting for myself because that feels like a choice. A choice to say yes, even like this, I am worth it.

I don’t know if I really believe that I am. I don’t know if this is really where I’ll land and I don’t know if I believe this is worth fighting for. If I didn’t have to make a professional go of things, remain stable, remain predictable, I’d probably change things up again, just to see if I liked it or not. Just to see what it’s like to wear a dress again, shave my legs, look like a girl. But the idea I am doing that out of fatigue, out of not being able to take it like this — that makes me ashamed of myself for a hundred reasons. I really don’t know where this is going, and I think I am going to end this for now, unfinished, because the fact of the matter is that it IS unfinished. It is, and I am, just a work in progress.



today i am thinking about: MY GENDER IS NOT YR GENDER
June 23, 2009, 3:52 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

I am all for community projects. I am all for people trying to do something awesome for their community. Sometimes I feel myself refuse to put things out there because I feel like I haven’t sufficiently “vetted” them — what if this person found it problematic? What if that person found it problematic? What if I’m being white supremacist? Classist? Just a jerk? I feel difficult about the ways in which queer communities, especially, shut stuff down sometimes completely rather than work within projects to make them better in that way that means there is 1 person organizing something and 15 people sitting around bitching about how imperfect that person’s efforts are without doing anything to try and fix it or making their own thing or doing anything more productive than sitting back and critiquing the imperfection of the person who at least has the nerve to try.

Which brings me to http://www.tophotbutches.com, Sinclair Sexsmith‘s project about, well, I’ll quote:

Top Hot Butches: The 100 hottest butch, masculine, androgynous, genderqueer, transmasculine, studs, AGs, dykes, queers, and transguys. […]I am using [butch] instead of another term – like androgynous, genderqueer, or transmasculine – because I, personally, want more butch reclamation and visiblity, because I think butch identity is more widely varied in range of expression and identity than is usually represented, because I think it is the most accessible and recognizable word representing some sort of female masculinity, because I want to encourage its reclamation and intentional display, because it is sharp and satisfying as a title, and because it is slightly controversial and will stir up interest.

I mean, I am all for some visibility of butch people. I am all for visibility of people who come under the rubric of “female masculinity.” I am all for putting a bunch of hot people up on the internet.

There are obvious problems with this — namely, the inclusion of trans guys on this list — that I actually feel have been covered pretty well on this Feministing thread. There is a hot discussion going on on Twitter at #tophotbutches. Sinclair quotes S. Bear Bergman:

I know what butch is. Butches are not beginner FTMs, except that sometimes they are, but it’s not a continuum except when it is. Butch is not a trans identity unless the butch in questions says it is, in which case it is, unless the tranny in question says it isn’t, in which case it’s not. There is no such thing as butch flight, no matter what the femmes or elders say, unless saying that invalidates the opinion of femmes in a sexist fashion or the opinions of elders in an ageist fashion. Or if they’re right. But they are not, because butch and transgender are the same thing with different names, except that butch is not a trans identity, unless it is; see above.

– S. Bear Bergman, from “I Know What Butch Is,” the first chapter from hir book Butch Is A Noun.

So I want to leave for a minute the idea of whether trans guys have a place on this list in some large and categoric way and instead talk about something else: the importance of self-identification.

I would think, in a list about transgressive gender, the right of everyone to self-identify is SUPREMELY important. On some level, all these gender wars that my generation of queers has been having has a lot to do with the difficulty of finding a world where we all really do retain ultimate control of our identity. What does it mean to have everyone tell you you are a boy but you want to be seen a girl, only maybe you don’t want to get surgery on yr crotch? What does it mean if everyone tells you you’re a girl, and you agree, only you want to wear a moustache and ties and seersucker suits and fuck your dates with a cock you identify as yours even if you put it in a drawer at the end of the day? What if all these categories strike you as frustrating and ridiculous and damning and you want to come up with some other word for who you are? For how you want to be seen?

The liberation I am fighting for is a liberation where I don’t feel like a crazy anomaly. Where I am not second-guessing myself for wanting to put myself together the way I want at any given time. So why is it ok, in the name of more gender options, to start throwing people in categories they don’t belong to? Just because some people think “butch identity is more widely varied in range of expression and identity than is usually represented” — is that really true? Even if people don’t take that word on themselves? Aren’t we, as queers, supposed to understand the importance of self-identification?

So I definitely have problems with the lumping of trans guys into this project. But I have problems with the lumping of a lot of people into this project. Does everyone here identify as butch? Does everyone here feel they have a place with this word? Just because you are picking a transgressive word to lump everyone in doesn’t in fact mean that the lumping is itself transgressive. What does it mean to put other people into an identity they are not necessarily selecting because it’s convenient, because it’s controversial, and because you think it is more important than the identity they have themselves selected?

I admit it: I have a hard time with the word “butch” for myself. Some of that is my own butch-phobia and shitty messages I got when I was younger. Some of that is my own worries about my credibility as butch or that people won’t believe me as butch, something that I think Sinclair’s statement is even trying to address. Some of that is just feeling like that is not me — that I need some other word, and I have made those other words. Erasing those other words doesn’t feel good to me. It’s not as if I have never heard the word “butch” or that I am some exotic variant. It’s just not a word for me.

In the interest of how this post started, here’s what I think. I could see this project working if everyone on the list did identify as butch. I could see this project working if it wasn’t assigning people to a category without their permission. I could see this project working if it was named something different, something bigger — and yes, I know, the words are ugly sometimes, and that’s part of our challenge. I am curious what Sinclair says about the criticism coming from the community about the inclusion of trans guys, and this general elision of people into the word “butch.”

S. Bear Bergman hits it on the head — some trans guys do have a place on the butch spectrum. Some trans guys don’t have a place on the butch spectrum. But to be a trans guy doesn’t make you butch. To be a female-assigned person who identifies as female and likes to wear a tie doesn’t make you butch. Claiming butch makes you butch. Isn’t that what we’re all fighting for?



today i am thinking about: PERSONAL MASCULINITY
May 19, 2009, 7:09 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

I am not sure this kind of writing is interestinginteresting appropriate. There is a normal interestinginteresting post coming tomorrow or the next day, and it’s related, but I feel like posts about queer masculinity don’t exist very much in the blogosphere. So I am answering Sinclair’s call and ruminating a little bit. Part two, the analysis, will be up tomorrow.

I want to be a good man when I grow up. This means I want to be fair, strong, and mean what I say. This means I want to be known for my integrity and good ethics. It means I want to always say what I believe and have the courage to stand up for my convictions. It means I want to take care of the people I know and love and help them when things are hard. I want to be generous. I want to be kind. I want to be tender when needed but also fierce when appropriate. The kind of person you want to have around your kids. The kind of person who doesn’t give too much but always gives enough. In control of my emotions but not afraid of them. A little bit lecherous but in the way that feels good all around, not gross and objectifying. A good man, the kind of guy you ask for advice when you want to hear the hard thing but you want to know it’s said in love. A man of steel and velvet.

Click on that link and take a look. It’s a book written by Dr. Andelin, the husband of Helen Andelin of Fascinating Womanhood fame. It’s a book about how men are the strong pillars of granite around which women flit like butterflies. It espouses the exact same things I want to be. A provider. Efficient. Capable. Trustworthy. Strong. Dependable. I want to use my power to support everyone else’s own personhood. I want to be a good man. And yet I don’t have a model for what that looks like, not enough of one. I say these things and I feel like Dr. Andelin, some jerk reiterating the same sexist stereotypes. I don’t cook but I let people cook for me. I don’t care about tchotchkes but I appreciate other people’s. I talk about “girls” as my desire objects and I do mean objects and I do it in reductive ways. I like to be pandered to in this gendered way, quietly, although I’d never say it out loud. I want points for not being a douche, the kind of dude points dudes get when they manage to not be total assholes. I do not trust my own lack of misgyny. I do not trust my own ethics in this regard.

Because what makes that being a man? What makes that mean I want to be a man? Why do I locate this outside of femininity, outside of womanhood? Women are strong, and competent, and ethical, and providers, and in control, and all of these things that I am listing out. Why do I suddenly list myself outside of this category? Why does it feel so weird to be called a woman? Why do I say I want to be a man? Isn’t it better to fight against these stereotypes, to hold the space that I have been placed into by virtue of my vagina?

It wasn’t always like this. I was femme for a long time, back in Seattle. I wanted to dress up like someone’s doll and be taken care of. I wanted someone to treat me like a treasure, and I read these books, Stone Butch Blues, everything Leslea Newman ever wrote, these book about this brave dangerous love with femmes who tended and butches strong like pillars. I was a teenager who had to be an adult so soon and the idea that there might be a strong butch to take care of me, put her arms around me and treat me like a prize, that was porn for my crotch and porn for my heart. I wanted it so badly and it never happened. Did I just give up? Did I just grow up? Do I have some stone wall around me now? How do I honor that person I was and still be the person I am?

Because I like who I am. I am loud, I am strong, I am learning to take up space, and for once I don’t feel I am doing it wrong. I think I am doing it just right. I feel hot, I dress the way I want to dress, and I feel coherent. I feel sturdy. I feel like this is the person I am supposed to be, this competent person who gets it together, who says what she believes, who wears a tie to dress up. Who knows how to tie a tie, what kind of tie to wear when, and who is always dressed correctly. I feel more correct in this role at this time than I have previously in other roles at other times. I think I am being the person I want to become.

I don’t mean I want to be a man in a trans way. I don’t want to take testosterone, get surgery, change pronouns, change names. I am who I am and I like who I am and how I am in the world. I don’t want to be a boi — I want to be a man. An adult. A success. And I can’t help but feel that that is some lack of imagination on my part, that if I was more flexible or queer and less invested in rigidity that I would be able to create some kind of identity that wasn’t so bound up in oppressive gender norms and normativity and heterosexism and all of these fucked up things I am trying to create.

Because what about butch, right? That is a word with a history and an honor behind it. But there is something about the word butch that I find incredibly challenging. Do I want to be a butch? A butch woman? Someone’s butch? The answer is no, or maybe not right now, and I don’t know why. Every answer I have is fucked up, has to do with my own biases. My mom, when I was younger: I don’t care if you’re gay, just don’t be the butch one. The rigidity of a certain kind of masculinity that I don’t feel applies. I don’t feel like that history is my history. In so many ways it applies, but I just can’t do it and I figure it has to do with my own anti-butch biases. I pay attention to the masculinity I wear, I am light in my loafers, I tie my tie with a different knot depending on the situation. None of these things disqualify me from being butch, none of these things have anything to do with butch or not butch, some of the butchest people I know do these things. Here I am being an asshole — I AM BEING AN ASSHOLE, INTERNET — and coming back to these things again and again as reasons I cannot possibly be butch. I still want to be a peacock — not a peahen, a peacock. (Look at the difference!) And I don’t want people to look at the girl I am seeing — who is femme — and wonder if she’s satisfied with what I give her. I don’t want to challenge people’s beliefs about what is or isn’t possible. I am not interested in being an outlaw. It just seems to work out that I qualify, and I admit it: it makes me uncomfortable.

I put this very squarely on myself and my own rigidity. Part of being this adult I want to be, this man, is learning how to be flexible. I have not accepted that there are some basic ways I like to hold my space that run counter to the way America expects me to run my life. Presenting like this scares the shit out of me — I keep waiting for someone to walk up to me and declare me a failed woman, someone who couldn’t get it together, too hairy, too stocky, too strong, too loud, too all these same damn things that misogyny tells me I shouldn’t be. I worry THAT is why I want to be a good man when I grow up, secretly, under all the other reasons — because no one in mainstream America will look at me, as a woman, and judge me a success.

So much for radical new gender norms.