Monday, December 28, 2009


""I'm not going to tell you much more of the case, Doctor... [I]f I show you too much of my method of working, you will come to the conclusion that I am a very ordinary individual after all."
"I shall never do that," I answered; "you have brought detection as near an exact science as it will ever be brought in this world."
My companion flushed up with pleasure at my words, and the earnest way in which I uttered them. I had already observed that he was as sensitive to flattery on the score of his art as any girl could be of her beauty."

-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet

Fan fiction and its queer subset, slash fiction, is something that I've never really explored; I think there are a few reasons for that, most importantly the fact that, frankly, I've just never spent all that much time looking at stuff other people put up on the internet. I read my friends' blogs, I check my email rather incessantly, but I don't generally watch a lot of videos on YouTube (although OMG, this Kirk/Spock example won me over quite a bit) or, until recently, read stories about the romantic escapades of Sam and Frodo or Harry and Draco or, most importantly for my purposes, Holmes and Watson. But some things are just too ripe for the picking, and during my recent queer re-reading of Conan Doyle he sometimes seems like he's almost setting himself up, circa the late nineteenth century, for a career in poorly veiled homoeroticism. The first time Watson "ejaculated" a statement while speaking to Holmes, I nearly choked.

There are, however, reasons larger than the adolescent glee I take in the language of 1890s London behind my interest in the original tales of Holmes and Watson, and those reasons are part of what I've been trying and failing to articulate these last few weeks. I simply haven't been able to figure out how to begin. It feels like coming out all over again, and that (among other things) is complicated. But I'll attempt to take a cue from Holmes and reduce this particular series of events down to an inevitable logic: The Case of the Magical Unicorn, as it were.


I've said a few times already that 2009 has been the best year I've ever had, but it's also been one of the most unexpected. The overarching theme has been Personal Growth; I've learned about sex and gender and jealousy and the lack thereof while sitting in a sex toy store, about dating and being single and the importance of personal choice from lengthy discussions with friends and lovers, about how to access and utilize and value my quiet nature even as I begin, when I desire, to overcome it. I've learned some things about who exactly I am and how that relates to who I want to be, and I think I'm increasingly able to see the bridge between what I hope are ever-more-similar selves. I've gained an appreciation for the value of a good adventure when approached from the right angle. None of these trajectories are anywhere close to being over yet, but I feel like even the distance I've covered has so fundamentally changed me that I can never be the person I was before. In for a penny, in for a pound, and if I get to keep feeling the radical joy that I've been experiencing on this path I'm perfectly willing to follow it to whatever conclusion it may have.

I spent a fair amount of the year consciously being single, steadfastly insisting to friends that I needed to be alone to keep learning the things I was learning, to not be distracted by love, to put my energy into things other than dating websites or awkward job-interview-style coffee dates with relative strangers. The more time I spent being uncoupled, the stronger and more alive and better about myself I felt, and I was not particularly lonely most of the time. I was happy with and by myself. And while I was in this good alone space, I got to watch a lot of different types of relationships happening all around me: straight weddings, queer pairings, non-committed semi-casual longer-term connections, polyamorous strings of people, casual encounters, friends-turned-family. It was heartening and enlightening, seeing all of these varying ways to be and how many different ways it was possible to be happy in, and it helped me to understand that there are more options available than just the standard of a monogamous long-term relationship. Nothing against those, I promise, but it's nice to know that there are as many possibilities open to me as I can conceive of for love and affection and connection.

So what does this have to do with Holmes and Watson?

Simply put, I was happy, and eventually I let myself open up again to the possibility of liking people in a non-friend way again, and then I did like someone, and now there are two someones. I fell hard a few months ago for somebody in an open relationship and as of a few weeks ago I'm starting to be incorporated into the fabric of their framework, most hopefully in a way that preserves the autonomy of and individual connections between all involved parties. I'm nervous and excited and optimistic, and my happiness mostly feels smooth and slow instead of sparkly and crackling and actually I think that's a good thing. In many ways, this seems like the logical conclusion to this year: of course I'd end up as part of a queer triad, trio skating in Millennium Park and being cute as hell, because what else could possibly happen? It's a sort of leap of faith, I'll admit, but for all my caution I've never been all that good at resisting what seems right and this feels, in its own unique way, like it might be the best thing that's happened to me in a while. We refer to it occasionally as the magical unicorn of relationships: three incredibly nerdy and kind and rational people, all with different strengths and weaknesses and personalities, who seem to have the potential to form a subversive and excessive unit that is beneficial for everybody involved.

Before I came on the scene my two partners had already been calling each other Holmes and Watson in true dorky slashfic fan tradition, and for the sake of continuing metaphor I have been deemed some sort of combination of Mary (Watson's wife) and Irene Adler (a crossdressing singer with a sharp set of wits who appears in the short story A Scandal in Bohemia) which seems about right. One of the most personally important things I've learned this year is that there are an infinite number of ways to be queer, to resist assimilation and be who you want to be instead of who you are supposed to be; while I never expected that in my own life that would end up manifesting itself in terms of either handholding with a boy or slashfic metaphors, I'm rolling with it. And so, with an attitude of both cautious optimism and perhaps entirely incautious enthusiasm, here I go. Where, exactly, is uncertain, but I think it will be someplace good.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

dance in america

I'm still not a dancer, and I'm not sure how much of one I will ever be. But this paragraph, from Lorrie Moore's Birds of America (a book of short stories that I adore but haven't read in a few years), makes me wish a bit more ardently that I could be.

"I am thinking not of my body here, that unbeguilable, broken basket, that stiff meringue. I am not thinking only of myself, my lost troupe, my empty bed. I am thinking of the dancing body's magnificent and ostentatious scorn. This is how we offer ourselves, enter heaven, enter speaking: we say with motion, in space, This is what life's done so far down here; this is all and what and everything it's managed--this body, these bodies, that body--so what do you think, Heaven? What do you fucking think?"

Thursday, December 24, 2009

there will be singing and dancing

The year is ending, and I'm exhausted. And moody. And sort of down. It irritates me to no end because I know that I have an incredible amount to be rejoicing over right now, at this end of one of the most positively transforming years of my life, and instead of feeling celebratory I'm feeling irritable and worn out and really I'd rather just go back to bed and sleep through something important. I'm not feeling poetic or inspired and words have not been coming easily to me lately, although I wish they would because there's a lot to say. That voicelessness in the face of so much life is incredibly frustrating, even as I know that if I just take a deep breath and wait I'll be able to say at least one or two of the things that I'm hovering on the verge of eventually.

But for now all I can do is soldier on through, go to work and sell unnecessary stuff to strangers, drink as much tea as I can, get on a bus tonight and keep breathing until I'm in the arms of chosen family, try to keep my feet dry and hope that this tickle in the back of my throat isn't the harbinger of something worse to come. I'll be back to joy soon, because really my life is ecstatic in a quiet sort of way and that's not something I can contain for very long, but until then I'll settle for low-key happy and visions of better things to come. I believe that life will improve, not just in the context of this momentary slump--which is probably mostly due to hormones and having a sales job during the holidays--but as a whole, and the idea that I could be even happier in the future than I have been recently is enough to keep me going through any downswing. There is so much potential for joy, and that trumps any sore-throated, capitalist-influenced, holiday-inspired lack-of-sleep low. So screw you, bad mood; I'm looking past you to better things.

Monday, December 21, 2009

jumping the gun

The year is winding down. Holidays always take me by surprise—my life is so full of people and places and things that deadlines often come as a shock—and Christmas is no exception. Last year I mailed out presents to my family in March, which is so clearly unacceptable. This year I’m shooting for January. Early January.

Some deadlines, however, are easier to meet. I'm aware that it is not the New Year yet, but somehow I feel moved to fill out my annual end-of-the-year survey early this time around. There are a few reasons for this. One is that I'm feeling blocked, perhaps because I've been expending my artistic energies in other areas; it seems like when I play a lot of music or cook a lot I write less (and vice versa, of course), and I've been doing a great deal of both of those things this week and so of course my words have run dry. But also, there's the fact that life is good, amazingly so, but in a way that I don't quite know how to talk about yet. I'd rather wait for inspiration than be vague and irritating--any more than I already am, at least--and so I'm just going to be patient until I can write with the heat and passion that recent changes demand. I'm dying to tell you how happy I am, but it seems that I'm going to have to wait just a little bit longer before I can say things as they deserve to be said. Suffice to say that the year is ending well. And so: a survey.

1. What did you do in 2009 that you'd never done before?: Oh boy. A really, really large number of things, many of which I'm not going to talk about here. But here are a few: took naked pictures on a mountaintop in Alaska, embraced my queer self in radically new and beneficial ways, became the top google search result for "naked girls and me" (text and images. boo-ya), got asked to be a best man, and learned how to bake vegan gluten-free cookies.

2. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?

Pay for writing something. Any other improvements I'm willing to wait and experience as they come up.

3. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Seriously? This has been the best year of my life. I'd say that's an achievement.

4. What was your biggest failure?

Breaking up with S. I could have dealt with that situation less harmfully.

5. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Oh hell. Nearly everybody. Notables, in no particular order: Erica, Peter, Lauren, Mugsie, Jonathan, Rose-Anne, Anna P., Anna S., Nicole... And like 500 other people. Really.

6. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Various politicians, as usual. But otherwise, only random people in random moments, none of which I can remember currently or are noteworthy enough to single out. Oh, except for the person who kept my favorite books for three months after I asked for them back. Grr.

7. Where did most of your money go?

Food, plane tickets, instrument repairs. Umm, sex toys, largely for other people.

8. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Have you read this blog? This survey is no good for ridiculously happy people. A LOT OF THINGS.

9. What song will always remind you of 2009?

Most of Cat Power's You Are Free, Amanda Palmer, the Dresden Dolls Delilah, Neutral Milk Hotel's Oh, Comely. Radio Cure, both the Bad Plus version and the original Wilco version. I listen to slow sad music when I'm happy.

10. Compared to this time last year, are you

i. happier or sadder? HAPPIER. And I was happy last year.

ii. thinner or fatter? About the same? Dunno. All my clothes still fit, that's all I know.

iii. richer or poorer? Probably slightly poorer, but I can't say I care too much.

11. What do you wish you'd done more of? Reading. I've been lazy, and caught up in other things.
12. What do you wish you'd done less of? Facebook, mostly.

13. What was your favourite TV program? I don't think I watched anything. I'm not so into visual media lately.

14. What was the best book you read? Probably The Trouble With Normal, even though I still haven't finished it. (I got distracted!) Mostly I re-read things.

15. What was your greatest musical discovery? Emily Wells, an amazing cello band. <3

16. What did you want and get? Good conversation. Joy.

17. What did you want and not get? My alphabet tights in time for Halloween. My librarian costume would have been ten times better if not for backorder.

18. What was your favourite film of this year? I watched like no movies this year. But I saw Up, and it was adorable.

19. What did you do on your birthday? Got a haircut. Went to rehearsal. Skipped down a sidewalk out of happiness.

20. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

What a silly question.

21. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009? Unobtrusive, with an injection of sparkly.

22. What kept you sane? Writing, long phone conversations, a week in Alaska, my cats. All the good people in my life.

23. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? Amanda Palmer. Still.

24. What political issue stirred you the most? Policing of gender and sex, just in general.

25. Who did you miss? Erica, Lauren, Rose-Anne.

26. Who was the best new person you met? Oh man. Overall, Mugsie and Jonathan, Nicole, Shannon, and all my genderqueer friends. Does Peter count? But many others as well.

27. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009. Let things happen instead of forcing them into your own idea of what is best. It is virtually always better to tell the truth than to hide, both for me and for people around me. Happiness is totally possible.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year. "We all do what we can/So we can do just one more thing/We won't have a thing/So we've got nothing to lose/We can all be free/Maybe not with words/Maybe with a look/But with your mind" -Cat Power. Mostly just "We can all be free." We can.

41. Where did you ring in 2009? Haven't yet, but I'll be in Milwaukee being sickeningly cute.

42. What was your status by Valentine’s Day? Made a lemon meringue pie. It was very, very good, and I was impressed with myself.

43. Where did you go on vacation? Alaska! Flagstaff! Kansas?

44. What did you purchase that was over $500? A ticket to Alaska, and that's about it.

45. Did you know anybody who got married? Ben and Martha, and Josh and Anne.

46. Did you move anywhere? No! Hallelujah.

47. What’s the one thing you thought you would never do but did in 2009? Oh God. That's a pretty long list.

49. What’s something you learned about yourself? I can be really cheesy, but also really really happy.

50. What was your best month? Most of them. November and December have been kind of awesome.

51. What pop culture event will you remember 2009 by? Michael Jackson dying, I suppose, and suddenly hearing Thriller everywhere.

I'll write something real soon. I think the words are about to come together. But goddamn, I'm so happy. I'm walking down the street smiling to myself, (usually) resisting the urge to twirl, feeling happiness just gushing out of me at times. Things are falling into place. 2009's motto was "Life is awesome" (also "Boobies for everybody" and "Go team!", but those came later), but I think 2010 has a good chance of being even better. Win.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


I'm hoping that soon there will be words for this past week, but for now the events and shifts and adventures have been too large for me to figure out how to articulate them in the way that I want to. Titanic change requires time to settle, and there has been no time. Instead, watch this, because it's lovely.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

the love we have always had for our own bones

The cold has hit, finally; even though I knew winter was coming I wasn't quite prepared for the drop into temperatures that felt like -7, but in some ways it's a relief to have it here and not somewhere in the distant and dreaded future. Now we're in for the long haul, and all of Chicago can talk about nothing but the weather. I had to get my mittens out, and my scarves and my wool hat that says "light" on it in Chinese for reasons that I will never understand but always makes me feel as if it's referring to some sort of divine (in the human and not the celestial sense) brilliancy beaming from me, straight from the top of my head. On good days, which is to say many days, I do feel filled with light, and so this hat makes me secretly happy even though I generally hate clothing with unnecessary words in other languages on it and only bought this one because it was the best fit when I went hat shopping last year. My window panes have been freezing over, because I haven't shut my storm windows yet and now will have to wait for above-freezing temperatures to do so, but the patterns in the ice are sometimes beautiful and my apartment is warm enough that I don't have to resent them for making me cold.
Which is to say that even during winter, there are things to be grateful for.

Cold Poem

by Mary Oliver

Cold now.
Close to the edge. Almost
unbearable. Clouds
bunch up and boil down
from the north of the white bear.
This tree-splitting morning
I dream of his fat tracks,
the lifesaving suet.

I think of summer with its luminous fruit,
blossoms rounding to berries, leaves,
handfuls of grain.

Maybe what cold is, is the time
we measure the love we have always had, secretly,
for our own bones, the hard knife-edged love
for the warm river of the I, beyond all else; maybe

that is what it means the beauty
of the blue shark cruising toward the tumbling seals.

In the season of snow,
in the immeasurable cold,
we grow cruel but honest; we keep
ourselves alive,
if we can, taking one after another
the necessary bodies of others, the many
crushed red flowers.

Monday, December 07, 2009

crash into me

I will not deny that there are aspects of my life that I partially appreciate simply in terms of their story potential. Maybe I'm wrong, but I feel like my life sometimes lends itself particularly well to this predilection; it's been a busy year. These stories aren't all serious or deep (despite what you might think from reading this blog sometimes), and it helps that I have almost no shame about telling my own stories to other people even if they don't reflect well on me--just ask me about my best drunken story sometime (it involves underwear), or about how at work one afternoon I advised an elderly woman to "not go home and stroke her succulent". But the point, at least for today, is that I suspect that this liking for a good story is part of why I began and have continued playing contemporary classical (or just plain "new") music. Simply put, it's just hard to resist an art form where I occasionally get to play a slide whistle and act all serious about it.

November was completely devoid of gigs for me, but December is, relatively speaking, packed full of concerts and rehearsals. The most personally exciting one, which got a really great review--they said we were disturbing! new music win!--is already over, and even before we started I was aware of its potential to be a "story" concert. One of the pieces I played involved all of the performers keeping track of their place in the music via individual stopwatches; we spent the first twenty minutes of our first rehearsal searching for blackberry stopwatch apps and setting our phones to airplane mode so as not to have the performance derailed by an untimely text message. Each "measure" was a different length, and each player was assigned one note per measure and told that we were also allowed to play pretty much whatever else we wanted as long as that particular note appeared in some sort of prominent way. We could also switch lines at will and play another part for a while, as the fancy struck us. It was basically long-form guided improvisation, which made me nervous (I'm such a stereotypically classically-trained player that the idea that I could do whatever I wanted was somewhat intimidating) but--as often happens with things that initially make me uncomfortable--it ended up being somewhat fascinating.

Here, for reference, are the program notes for the piece:

"The underlying that of inexorable forces (such as politics and plate tectonics) pulling people (and continents) apart, counterbalanced by a reciprocal yearning to keep pulling together, to strengthen community. The title [note: I'm leaving it out for google search purposes; read the review and figure it out] is an indication of the complexity of these relationships and of the strategies for addressing them: implicit, explicit, complicit, duplicity, multiplicity, implication, duplication, replication, etcetera. The score itself is a template for contingency, presenting the performers with recurrent windows of opportunity to assess and reassess their relationships with each other, shift allegiances, and to map out a course through changing sonic terrain."

So when I read that I'll admit I mentally snorted and thought something along the lines of "Plate tectonics? You want me to think about continental drift while I play? Mmmhmm..." Even when we were first playing through and I was beginning to see how we could work together, imitating sonic effects that we heard other performers initiate and slowly changing dynamics and intensity as a group without prior discussion, I only sort of got it. But during the composer's visit to our rehearsal he told us to think about birds and fish, how they change direction with no warning but in unison, how they function as a unit with no thought or leader or hesitation, and I felt a little click in my head, the lightbulb coming on. We didn't have a leader; theoretically we were playing at least three different pieces (plus video installation!) all at the same time, but together we formed a whole, an entire experience. We pushed and pulled on each other, tugged ourselves towards silence and cacophony (or "total freakout", as we usually refer to it in this group), imitated and diverged and formed something new every time we played. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it only sort of worked, sometimes it didn't really work at all; sort of like politics, yes? It was a slow and lengthy piece and I did, in fact, have time to think about landforms crumpling and rising and bumping into each other, the slow and inexorable process of change, and sometimes, for a minute or two I felt like a part of something larger. In other words, it might not be as funny as the slide whistle, but maybe it's a good story nonetheless.

Thursday, December 03, 2009


It seems almost obligatory to post blogs about holidays, and I somehow managed to celebrate Thanksgiving by posting about my own breasts instead. (Whoops.) But really I have a hell of a lot to be thankful for, and not just on one specific day in November. It was my birthday yesterday and consequently I've been thinking a lot about the past year and how much has changed, how my life keeps taking these twists and turns that I would never have expected but that somehow seem to be bringing me closer and closer to something so good I can't even put a name to it, can't even imagine it. A year ago, I was happy; today, I am ecstatic, and there is no end in sight.

Life is complicated, and difficult to sum up in a few short words, whether I'm doing it face-to-face or on a page. When I try--which I do, occasionally--the beauty evaporates and I'm left with something trite and inane, a soundbite version of the absolutely gorgeous cacophony that makes up my life. To really tell you why I am so happy I would have to take my time, to tell you about so many things and people and places and feelings and moments and images, that often I am simply not up to the task. My joy is too large for easy explanation. But here is something true: some days I'm so in love with the world and my place in it that it seems beyond anything I've even previously conceived of as happiness; it's a whole new thing, this feeling. I can't even explain it to myself. Instead I smile, and write or speak as best I can about what the most immediate source of my joy is, and it's never enough.

I spent Thanksgiving with my queer family, my chosen family. It's a term I take seriously. It's been a long time since I felt all that close to most of my immediate family, other than in a joking cordial sort of way, and I think that for a while I lost some of the sense of the intimacy and emotional support that family can and should entail; I had acquaintances and a few close friends, I had lovers, I had family, but they were all separate entities and I managed to keep them compartmentalized as such. But ever since I started on this part of my life that I've been writing so obsessively about for the past year and a half or so, allowing my connections with people to deepen and realize their full potential and to give myself over and open up to those I love, the lines have started to blur as they are so wont to do when you stop making an effort to keep them intact. My family is still my family, and I still have acquaintances and people that I count as my friends, but there is this whole new grey area of people that I love and who love me back, who let me be who I really am and appreciate me for that and reciprocate in kind, and they have become part of the bedrock of my newfound happiness. They are my recreated family, the ones who are in my life because we have things that we want to learn from each other and because we care enough to make that happen.

My chosen family is spread all over the country, from California to Texas to Alaska and beyond, but it started here in Chicago with my rediscovery of my infinitely queer self. There is a significant history of queer familial patternings--the House system described in Paris is Burning, a documentary about the vogueing scene in New York, is an easy example--in part because it makes sense to build solidarity and kinship bonds in the face of discrimination and in part because of the rather different ways that queer people are more likely to define their interpersonal relationships. Michael Warner, in The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life, says this: "The impoverished vocabulary of straight culture tells us that people should either be husbands and wives or (nonsexual) friends." I'd rather pull a bit of a bell hooks and substitute something like "heteronormative patriarchal culture" for straight culture, but the idea stands. Queer culture, however, can become something like this (and I'm going to type the whole thing despite its length because oh, it's kind of perfect):

"There are almost as many kinds of relationship as there are people in combination. Where there are patterns, we learn them from other queers, not from our parents or schools or the state. Between tricks and lovers and exes and friends and fuckbuddies and bar friends and bar friends' tricks and tricks' bar friends and gal pals and companions "in the life," queers have an astonishing range of intimacies. Most have no labels. Most receive no public recognition. Many of these relations are difficult because the rules have to be invented as we go along... They can be complex and bewildering, in a way that arouses fear among many gay people, and tremendous resistance and resentment from many straight people. Who among us would give them up?"

I would not. I can't, for my own sake and the sake of my life. But given that, is it any wonder that my queer family is where I truly learned what chosen family could mean? When I arrived for our superqueer polymorphous family Thanksgiving potluck, in the midst of a full-on dance party, I was greeted by people cheering my name. My relationships with these people spanned the spectrum from friends to lovers to exes to exes' lovers to exes' lovers' lovers; at some point a while ago we made a chart like the one on The L Word and oh my god it was hilarious. That evening there were two different sets of polyamorous familial groups there, both situations where one person had two partners and all three involved parties were in attendance, dancing together and happy and perfectly fine. There is something to be said for being witness to the joyful playing-out of a connective scenario that many people would find problematic, if not impossible, and there are no words for the feeling I got from watching my genderqueer ex-boyfriend's two current girlfriends--all three of whom, at multiple points during the evening, declared their love for me, which I wholeheartedly reciprocated--doing interpretive dance together to Madonna's Like a Prayer. Seriously.

But that was just a reflection of the larger theme of the evening, which--at least for me--was undoubtedly and absolutely love. Here's the thing about love: it's not as scary as it sounds. In the context of relationships it seems like people tend to get all freaked out about it as a word--more so even than as a concept, I'd almost say--but really it means so many different things that I feel like seeing it only in that way is a rather shallow view of something complex and varied and personal. I love tons of people, and things, and places, and moments in time, and trees, and so on. I get all worked up about it, and it makes me feel like a twelve-year-old girl: "Eeeee! You are my BEST FRIEND EVER and I love you SO MUCH!" But I'm of the mind that I'd rather act like a pre-adolescent than lose my sense of love, my feeling that I have a deep connection with things outside myself, regardless of whether that affection is returned or not. (I mean, I prefer if people return it, but I don't ask that of places, etc. Or trees.) I doubt most people would deny that being in love is pretty amazing, but love itself, regardless of particular goals or aspirations, is one of the best things I've ever personally felt. I feel so lucky that, on a day when people around the country express thankfulness for whatever they feel has been given them, I was brought nearly to tears by the simple fact of my chosen family gathered around me, the love that was so palpable in the air that every single one of us were grinning like damn fools in the first blush of a new romance. I felt like I had reached a sort of home.

As I said, yesterday was my birthday. I feel that I can say with complete confidence that these past twelve months have easily been the best of my life, and that I am absolutely happier than I have ever been. I feel like there's light coming out of me, vibrations rumbling in my breastbone from the excessive fantastic exhilaration of daily life. That is amazing, but what is even better is this: I don't think it stops here. I think it's going to keep going, and that my joy and happiness and love for the world is just going to continue to grow until I either explode or my heart stops from the sheer overload of that much life pumping through my veins. I can't wait to see what this next year brings.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

there's blood on my chest/oh yes, i've been carrying bricks

I was at a wedding last weekend--yes, another one! But a Quaker one this time, which was actually quite nice, as you mostly sit in silence and either contemplate divine light and how happy you are for the couple or, if you are vaguely sacrilegious and also flighty of brain (as I am), how happy you are for them and whatever else happens to comes to mind, which in my case on this particular day was breasts. My own breasts; I'm not quite that tactless. And I had a reason for focusing my inner thoughts on them, because I had just that very morning had my very first ever positive bra experience.

This sounds trivial, perhaps, but it's not. Like many if not most female-bodied people (and not a few male-bodied people, I'd guess), I have basically always had a contentious relationship with my own breasts. My mother raised me to be terribly, terribly polite, which means that I like to open doors for people and treat others respectfully, but unfortunately I also took politeness to mean that the topic of bodies and especially their decoration was somehow uncouth, too vulgar to actually pay attention to or, god forbid, discuss. (I think perhaps I was influenced by the large amount of nineteenth-century "nice girl" literature I read when I was younger, because this didn't start until I was about six and discovered Laura Ingalls Wilder; don't even get me started on the possible side effects of the concept of "seen and not heard.") When I was very young this wasn't much of an issue; I wasn't old enough to really argue for makeup even if I'd wanted it, and I think there's a tendency among adults to consider the vast majority of little girls "cute" no matter how they are dressed simply by virtue of their size and femaleness so clothing wasn't too difficult to deal with. The most urgent attention my body needed was the occasional band-aid because I was rather clumsy and spent a lot of time on roller skates. But then, inevitably (and very, very slowly) I hit my mid-teens and breasts, periods, hips, all the hallmarks of female adolescence, took me by surprise and turned my body into something I was both fascinated by and terrified to discuss.

Consequently, my first bra shopping adventure, at roughly the age of thirteen, was absolutely mortifying; I didn't want my mother to see me even partially naked, forcing her to peek at me over the doors of dressing rooms while I wrapped my arms around me and avoided her eyes. Also, I didn't actually have any breasts to speak of (I'm fairly sure we were just acting on principle), meaning that essentially I was trying on a series of tank tops, but I insisted that I wanted lace and she insisted on absolutely no padding whatsoever and basically between the two of us we made it absolutely impossible to find anything that matched all of our criteria and the search took hours and multiple stores and frayed nerves and oh my GOD I just wanted something pretty to make me feel better about being flat as a freaking board. What I ended up with was a tank-style bralet with extremely scratchy lace around the bottom that did nothing for either my self-esteem or my lack of burgeoning bosom. And so it began.

I don't think that part of the story is particularly unusual. The thing is, it never really got any better. I've always had small breasts, and finding bras that fit my personal desires as well as my anatomy has generally been very difficult. My criteria: no underwire, no padding, a smooth fit over the actual breast, a wide enough band around my chest. That's it. Sounds easy, doesn't it? A bra that fits and doesn't blow my breasts up by two sizes--large enough that I suspect I'd probably run into things--shouldn't be some sort of undergarment holy grail, always enticing me but never quite revealing itself, but that's more or less exactly what it is. I spent years and years searching department store lingerie sections, looking for the one or two bras which I thought might work but which inevitably had flaps of loose material over my nipples or itched or gave me a uniboob or were just ugly as sin, and when I occasionally found one that fit I wore it until it was so stretched out of shape that it didn't even resemble a piece of clothing anymore. I have a vivid memory of either a journal entry or a letter to my high school boyfriend wherein I ranted about how the lack of bras in my size made me feel like my female-ness was being negated, like my breasts were being rejected by the lingerie department. I stopped thinking about it too much because why the hell would I, but internally I cursed my body, my tiny breasts that were too small to actually shop for, and I approached bra shopping with equal measures of resentment and anger.

I am frequently retrospectively shocked by how willing I am to place blame on myself instead of on outside sources. Because really, it's not my breasts' fault that there were no bras for them; they are guiltless. The fault lies in the marketing industry, which promote the standard of an "average" size that many women do not fit into; the lingerie industry, which responds by making smaller-sized bras with extra padding and reducing styles for larger-sized bras (as well as charging vastly more for them); the world at large, which places breasts front and center in our visual imagery but refuses to actually discuss them in any sort of practical way. One of the biggest realizations I had during my Good Bra Experience was that I actually didn't know how to put on a bra. I've been wearing bras for nearly fifteen years, and nobody ever told me that there is, in fact, a right way to go about putting one on. (In case you were wondering: fasten the hooks behind your back (fastening in front and pulling around warps the band), slip your arms through the straps, lean forward slightly and reach into first one cup and then the other, pulling your breasts slightly up and inward, then grab the top of each cup and jiggle it so that your breast settles into the cup but is also supported and lifted correctly. There are other methods if you have larger breasts but I don't know them; I suggest looking them up, though.) Maybe some of those department store bras would have fit better if anybody had ever bothered to actually talk to me about breasts and bras and how they work together. God forbid.

It is exceedingly likely that I would have lived on in ignorance, bitter and jaded and lacking in pretty underwear, if not for my friend Mugsie. Mugsie wants to take Victoria's Secret down, to make beautiful and functional and flattering bras and corsets and (hopefully, eventually) binders for the people of the world, to spread the gospel of lingerie via a feminist consciousness. (Check out her website here.) She wants your body to be happy, and she wants you to look good. Mugsie is doing her senior thesis on bras and breasts and feminism, and it was from talking to her that I discovered that my complaints are typical of many smaller-breasted women, that the industry regulates visible breast size, that many female-bodied people, when you really talk to them, don't know much about bras at all, often to our own detriment. I learned, most importantly, that it is not my fault that I had a hard time finding bras, and even though I would never have admitted that that was what I had been feeling, subconsciously or not, hearing it said was a huge relief.

She's been telling me for months that none of my bras fit correctly, and finally this past weekend we arranged to meet up at a specialty lingerie store so that I could be professionally fitted and purchase a decent bra for myself. In preparation for the trip I read the bra sections of The Lingerie Handbook, learning about sizing and care and styles and all sorts of other useful information, and as the shopping expedition approached I felt something suspiciously like excitement flutter in my chest. (Ahem.) When we got to the store I was whisked away to a dressing room by a smiling salesperson; I admitted immediately that I had never been fitted before and voiced my suspicion--based on some preliminary home measurements--that I was a 32AA, but after about two seconds with a tape measure she smiled at me and proclaimed me a 32B, or even a 30C, singing out "No double A's for you!" in a joyful voice as she pushed through the curtains. What? I was shocked, but as she brought me bra after bra (this is after the "how to put a bra on" lecture) I had to admit she was right.

She seemed so happy for me, this salesperson, to be helping me discover the world of bras, that I was oddly filled with simultaneous joy at being in the hands of somebody who cared about my body and who wanted good things for me and my breasts and anger that this was not an experience I'd ever had before. My bra experiences had been filled with shame and frustration and resentment and demeaning salespeople who didn't even seem to comprehend what I was looking for; I had to spend what amounts in my current life to a small fortune (especially relative to most of my clothing, which generally costs two dollars at the Village Thrift) on a bra before somebody treated me with any sort of care and respect and knowledge. Your ability to buy important clothing items that comfort and flatter your body instead of harming it should not be determined by a paycheck. We all deserve to be accorded that kind of respect, to wear clothing that fits us, to feel good about ourselves instead of belittled when we leave a store. I'm not just talking about fancy lingerie, pieces you have to spend seventy or eighty or a hundred dollars on, silks and handmade lace. And I understand that bras are complicated items and that there is a certain amount of care and expertise and hence expense that has to go into their production before they will truly support your body as they are supposed to. This isn't like a t-shirt; it would be difficult to make a good supportive bra that only cost a few dollars. I'm saying that, even if you can only spend twenty or thirty dollars on a bra (a relatively small and fairly standard amount, although I realize that for many people even this is out of reach; that's a larger issue), you shouldn't be made to feel bad about yourself while you do it.

My bra is teal. It's beautiful, and like nothing I would have ever picked out for myself before. There is an underwire. I have actual cleavage, something that has never seemed even vaguely in the realm of possibility before. I still want to get some good, supportive bras that are more like the ones I've been trying to find all of my life--I don't always want to have that much in the way of boobs, although it's nice to discover that I have the option--but I can't deny that I'm somewhat in love with this one; I feel like, with its excess and detail and uplift, this bra is some sort of reclamation, a redemptive bit of silk to make up for all those years of unflattering, ugly, and ill-fitting bras in my past. The phrase that keeps popping up is that I feel as if my body has been given to me, not because I have a fancy french bra now, but because I understand more fully that my body is not to blame for the past. I love my breasts, and now I feel like they have more reason to love me back.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

remember, remember

Every November people around the world participate in the Transgender Day of Remembrance, or TDOR; if you are like me, disconnected as I was from my community until recently, this has likely entered your consciousness peripherally if at all. This day, this remembrance, is a very visceral reminder that silence, yes, it equals death, and not always just metaphorically. Trans people face levels of violence which I, being who I am and looking how I look, can't begin to understand, mentally and emotionally and physically, from physical harassment to glances and comments on the train to death. I don't want to talk knowingly about something I haven't experienced personally, but I feel this deep in my chest and I know that the very very least I can do is to be aware, be vocal, make clear where my loyalties lie and and what kind of vision I have for the future. That would be, perhaps, a day where everybody knows about TDOR but where we hold vigils for far fewer of the lost.

I want to think of this as I think of the Day of the Dead, where I can both mourn and release, contemplate passage and presence, cry but also say goddammit, you are beautiful and I am beautiful and life is beautiful and what we should all be doing is to try and make that more true for every single person every single day. There are no exceptions. You could die tomorrow. I could die tomorrow too, but it's far less likely. Such things cannot be allowed to rule our lives, and I know that's easier to say from where I stand but I want to be there with you, to love you and stand with you and say that we are not so different, despite what other people might think. Your life is not the same as mine, but that doesn't have to make you Other; it just makes you a person, alive and variable and lovely in your flux and flow just as I am, and I want to learn from you and love the world more because of it. I want kinship, offered and received on both sides.

Go learn something, ask somebody if you can give them a hug, light a candle and raise your voice and don't forget what has happened, but don't lose the vision of something better. Please, because this is important; it could mean our lives. We are so much more than just a day to commemorate loss. There are so many ways to remember. There are so many ways to celebrate. There are so many ways to fight.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

a short digression

So here's a question: if you did a google image search for "naked girls and me" what do you think you would find?
The answer is this. My blog about my blog about Naked Girls Reading. It's moved from the first to the third result for that particular search, and I've been getting upwards of forty or fifty hits a day from all over the world for it ever since the post went up. Which was cute for a while, I'll admit, and is kind of a funny story, but it's becoming increasingly perplexing to me; what are these people looking for? The word "me" in that phrase is the kicker, because obviously you aren't going to end up with pictures of yourself and naked girls if you use such a nonspecific pronoun. (And even if you used your name, I'd hope you knew where the pictures of yourself and naked women on the internet were already.) I did some regular google searching to see if maybe there was a movie or something that I hadn't heard of that was the source of the phrase, but I didn't find anything in any way noteworthy. And so it's a mystery. All I can imagine is that these people are vastly disappointed when they realize that they've only found a picture of me and a naked woman's back, with a link to an earnest essay about nudity and honesty.

Monday, November 16, 2009

and it's also true that i lost the map

Kansas was one of the places we drove across when A and I moved here from Arizona at the end of the summer of 2005, and although all I remember is flatness and a larger-than-life tableau set up to honor the Wizard of Oz, I didn’t have anything in particular against it as a state. Flatness isn’t a huge sin in the Midwest and there were plenty of places to dislike more, like the Texas panhandle, which smelled of cowshit and was hot and flat in a completely different and far less tolerable way than Kansas was. Frankly, I didn’t give the state much more thought until I started my present job, two years ago; my co-worker Martha, a sweet redhead, and her boyfriend Ben, were from Kansas, and I was soon schooled in some of the finer points of the state’s geography, history, random facts, and general goodness as a place. It turns out that Kansas people love their state, and that there are a great many more of them in Chicago than I was expecting somehow; for awhile, it seemed like every other person I met was from Kansas. (Now, it seems like they all work in sex toy stores or whatever. I don’t know what that says about the trajectory of my life.) But at any rate, I spent this past weekend in Kansas, helping Ben and Martha get married. Or rather, I spent most of my weekend in the process of getting to and from Kansas with a little subsequent time for eating and drinking too much coffee, and Ben and Martha got themselves married with considerable help from friends and family.

Since I moved to Chicago, I don’t drive much. I left my car behind and flew here when I began grad school and I’ve been exploring public and personal transportation ever since, spending hours on buses, trains, bicycles, and my own two feet in order to navigate this city I live in. I almost forget that I used to spend a significant amount of time inside one of the metal machines whose presence I generally only register for as long as it takes me to swear at them when they come close to running me down. But it’s true: I spent my childhood driving around the western half of the country as my dad moved from job to job, I spent two years of college driving across Arizona—approximately seven hours round trip—every other week for music lessons, and in the summer of 2005 I drove first from Tucson to Alaska and then from Flagstaff to Chicago. At this point I feel like I can consider myself an experienced road tripper; I’ve driven through extreme weather conditions sans windshield wipers (out of necessity, of course, not out of a need to show off my road skillz), I’ve driven through sunrises and sunsets and alpenglow and darkness, and I can cook a veggie burger on my engine block while in transit and eat it using condiments I’ve stolen from the food courts of strip malls. I have favorite driving music that I can scream along with until I’m hoarse even when I haven’t heard it in years; I have detoured hours out of my way to see the world’s largest frying pan. I have repeatedly push-started a van on streets and highways across Poland, and my only regret is that I didn’t get any pictures.

The trip back to Kansas, however, nearly killed me. First off, I don’t recommend sleeping a mere three hours before a ten-hour road trip, even if you mostly didn’t sleep because you were making podcast cds for the trip that will eventually save your sanity as you head towards Topeka. (Also, there was cookie baking. Naturally.) I also don’t recommend assuming that, just because you once drove to Alaska more than four years ago, you can power through a six-hundred-mile trip without physical and mental side effects that range from unpleasant to downright painful. Last and not least, let it be noted that the engine blocks of Toyota Corollas are not well set up for cooking. This made me very sad.

But I made it through, largely due to The Moth and sheer willpower, and I’m glad I did. In addition to road trips I’m also experienced in regards to weddings, although most of the time I’m just making your boutonnieres or playing in your ceremony, wearing black and snarking behind the backs of the guests when the officiate says something unintentionally funny. I did those things this weekend (I am a killer wedding guest, albeit a sometimes tactless one; I can’t deny I snorted when the person leading the ceremony told us that both the bride and groom would be giving and receiving in their marriage. I know what he meant, but I have an incorrigibly dirty mind and hell, I made some nice boutonnieres to balance it out), but the difference was that this time I actually knew the people I was doing these things for. I go to a lot of weddings, presumably way more than the average person, but they are nearly always for strangers and I am there in a purely functionary way; I have been to exactly four weddings where I actually knew the people involved. Marriage is something I don’t feel inclined towards—I could get into this, into the gay rights movement’s emphasis on marriage as a way to somehow end homophobia and such, but I’m not going to—but I don’t particularly begrudge people who desire it as long as they aren’t using it for nefarious purposes. Weddings are one of those times when I let my theory go and allow practice to take over; I’m simply not mean-spirited enough to let my politics get in the way of my friends’ happiness when what is being celebrated (at least in the moment—I’m not talking long-term import here) is emotional connection. I am, in point of fact, happy for people I know who get married, because it is a joyful thing for them and because I want my loved ones to be as joyful as possible.

Ben and Martha are people I love dearly. They have helped me through the beginnings and endings of relationships, listened to me blabber about the wide variety of things that come into my head, spent evenings eating soup and watching funny internet videos while they pet my cats. I saw the last Batman movie at midnight with them, after a frantic and unfulfilled search for Red Vines; we’ve gotten drunk at work parties and hugged each other way too much. (Or maybe that last one was just me.) They are my friends. And their wedding was an affair of friends and family in a way that I wholeheartedly approve of. My manager’s mother made Martha’s dress, out of material she got from a vintage lace dress; my boss’ husband, a rabbi (neither Ben nor Martha is Jewish) led the ceremony; they had friends planting the succulents they used as centerpieces, videotaping wedding confessionals in the entryway, and even baking the cakes. And yes, I did help with the flowers, and I played some Bach for the processional and Moon River for the bride, and I shed my first ever wedding tear, although it really was mostly just because other people were crying and that gets me every time. Really. But truly, it was such a pleasure to feel happy for my friends, to appreciate their relationship and see how their bonds to the people around them had brought us all together.

I’m running the risk of cheesing out completely here--wait, who am I kidding? I always cheese out--but it’s nice to see the heartfelt side of weddings. I spend so much time playing for strangers, people who I don’t know and who furthermore cause me stress and anxiety in exchange for never-ending repetitions of Pachelbel’s Canon so that their Special Day can be just like nearly everyone else’s. It makes me bitter and jaded. And even though I’m still skeptical of marriage on many levels, I’m all about love, and that was ultimately what I was there to witness--not only between Ben and Martha but between them and their many, many loved ones, the people who helped them to get there and brought us all along with them. There are so many types of journeys; some of them end with twelve hundred more miles added to your lifetime driving record and muscle aches and an excess of snack food, and some of them end with wedding rings. Some of them end solitary and happy, curled up with lonely cats and stuffed animals in your tiny studio apartment, writing about love. All are worth celebrating, in some form or another. I guess what I’m trying to say is this: weddings aren’t always so bad.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

this isn't precise, but very vaguely right

I was an only child for the first six years of my life, and one of the many in-my-head games I played with myself when we were on the road--which was often, as I lived in at least twenty different places before I was five--was to pick one little spot, on the pavement or a passing tree or whatever, and tell myself that I was the only person in the whole world that was looking at that particular speck of birdshit or streak of rain discoloration. I presume I did this either to make myself feel special or because I was incredibly bored, although it's hard to remember exactly. Kids are kind of weird. But whatever my childhood reasoning might have been, I think the actual unspoken desire was to connect myself to what was going on around me, to establish a sense of place in a world where I was constantly being displaced.

What I think of as my adult version of this game is neither particularly original or quite as pointless; every few weeks, I find myself engaged in some activity and I think to myself, "Every previous moment of my life has led directly up to this one." Depending on what I'm doing, this thought is either comforting or depressing. If I'm involved in something like playing a really amazing concert or having a personal breakthrough or even just reading a good book I feel like I'm heading in the right direction, but if I'm doing something like cleaning up cat puke or I'm at work unpacking a zillion Christmas ornaments for the third year running it's distinctly less thrilling. But whatever I'm feeling like at the moment I have the thought, I'm still comforted by the connectivity of my life, by the fact that I am someplace and I got here somehow and that I'm alive and mostly happy. It means that even bad things can lead somewhere good, and even if I'm not doing something pleasant right this second it won't matter in the long run; it's just part of the process of life and time, growing older and learning things. I have to be here in order to reach what happens next.

When I was still a student it often seemed like everything was connected. I'd be in a general-education linguistics class when suddenly we'd be talking about the same philosophical theory I was discussing in my second semester music history class earlier that day, and I'd sit and marvel at how the same ideas applied to both fields. It seemed uncanny how often it happened, but since I graduated it's been interesting to see that that particular phenomenon hasn't ended but has instead merely reasserted itself in a wider variety of ways. Right now, for instance, I'm reading two radically different books: Michael Warner's The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life, a book about sexual shame and its impact on politics and life, and my own journals from high school, which I unearthed from a box in my closet over the weekend. Both are terrifying in different ways--Michael Warner's in terms of systematic oppression and the impact of the politics of fear and shame and censorship, and my journals in terms of acute embarrassment and late adolescent awkwardness--but there are surprising corollaries between them that I wasn't entirely expecting.

I started thinking about reading my own journals over the summer when I was in Alaska and spent a few evenings watching old episodes of My So-Called Life, but in reality I'd brought them back to Chicago almost a year before as the result of a bad dream in which my diaries were stolen and somehow used against me in some unremembered but totally unexpected way. I saved room for them in my suitcase the next time I went home, but after I brought them here they proceeded to sit unread in my closet because, in all honesty, I afraid to read them. I think most high schoolers experience various degrees of low self-esteem, and even though I realize that my own youthful pangs have been mostly harmless in the long run, I also remember how deeply I had felt self-hatred and I wasn't quite ready to read it in my own hand.

And it's true: my journals have made me cry. But more--or at least equally--often, they have made me laugh hysterically. The underlinings and extraneous capitalization are enough to bring me to tears, and I'm not even ready to get into the song lyrics I felt a need to copy into the blank pages between rambling entries. (A funnier post will follow later, if I can find enough excerpts that don't make me cringe uncontrollably.) My fifteen-year-old self was incredibly melodramatic, and also neglected to either date her entries (at least in volumes one and two) or mention much in the way of specific incidents, and as a result I am usually left guessing about what exactly I may have been ranting about. There's a lot of grey area, which can be irritating, but partially because I was so damn vague there's also an awful lot of what could have been subtext that is very much in the foreground and considerably more interesting to read now than a laundry list of my daily life would be. In fact, I find it somewhat fascinating that I kept a journal without calling it such; I think that the lack of dates is possibly related to a subconscious rejection of the narrative-driven structure that I associated with diaries, a format I had never succeeded in mastering. Instead of blocking myself into "writing in my diary," I chose to ramble, free-form, about existential crises and feelings and reactions. I placed emphasis not on what was happening, but on what I was feeling.

Which was, basically, angsty and uncertain alternating with moments of joy and even, very occasionally, insight. My first cursory readings made me laugh and wonder how that teenager ever became who I am now, but when I go back and look more closely I can sometimes see the very vague ghost of my current self, hidden deep inside of a phrase or word or thought that transcends the miscellany that comprises most of my journals. These moments make me feel better about the rest of it, which mostly horrifies and alarms me: Did I really think those things? Was I ever really this person, who was so uneducated about race and class, sex and sexuality, gender roles? I seemingly desired nothing more at fifteen and sixteen than to be a good girl, to embrace the worst stereotypes of femaleness and conservative values and keep my mouth shut, my legs tight together, to completely reject and even rail against the idea that I might be as smart and lovely and proactive within my own life as I almost certainly was. I also wanted, more than anything, to be "normal", a word that I began using obsessively partway through volume one, perhaps tellingly around the time I turned sixteen and began dating, confronting my own sexualness for the first time.

Normal is a strange word, because its meanings are varied and often misunderstood. As Michael Warner, the author of my other current reading material, notes, nobody is completely normal; if they were, that itself would be somewhat abnormal. Just before I reached the point in my journals where I began consistently referencing a desire to be seen as normal, I read a section of Warner's book that dealt specifically with the origins and cultural constructions of the term and idea, and the way that I consequently saw my own writing reflected through that lens brought things into a new type of focus. The concept of "normal" was influenced by the rise of statistics as a form of social analysis; before we were bombarded with numbers that seemed to represent an ideal way of being, there wasn't such pressure to conform to some sort of standard. Part of the problem is that we often confuse statistical norms, which contain no value judgement and take the form of numerical values, with evaluative norms, which propose to define things in terms of moral or ethical worth. When these two ideas blend together, it's easy to mistake normative behavior as good and anything aberrant as less valuable.

I think the real meaning (or one of the real meanings) of my journals, filled with adolescent blood and guts and tears and desperate attempts to sound like I wanted nothing from life except the Cult of True Womanhood, is that I didn't feel normal and so I considered myself bad. I wanted to be smart, to run wild in the streets like the boys and "bad girls" I knew, to have sex, to read everything in the world and go to college and transcend my life, and none of those things fit into what I had somehow decided was average--thanks, TV, or maybe just Laura Ingalls Wilder and those Little House books that I read obsessively; I think you played a role in that one--and the conflict nearly brought me to my knees.

Connectivity is not a linear thing, as I believe I've been envisioning it. It is a web, a knot, with curves and lines that connect multiple points and ideas that float around waiting to find the spot or spots that they will eventually illuminate. I grew up deeply fearing the potential of my own abnormality. Now, years later, I read and I am comforted by these lines from Warner: "...normal and pathological are not the only options. One of the reasons why so many people have started using the word "queer" is that it is a way of saying: "We're not pathological, but don't think for that reason that we want to be normal." People who are defined by a variant set of norms commit a kind of social suicide when they begin to measure the worth of their relations and their way of life by the yardstick of normalcy. The history of the [gay rights] movement should have taught us to ask: whose norm?"

I no longer want to be normal by any standards except my own, and I am a happier person for it. My high school self is finally, finally giving up the ghost and letting me see her for who she was; I love her, for all of her insecurities and self-deceptions and oddities, just as I love my lonely five-year-old self with her desire for a sense of place and my self of last year, unpacking the same damn Christmas ornaments that I just dug out of the basement at work yesterday. My own particular form of queerness as I understand it is a process instead of a definition, and it is more valuable to me than True Womanhood or average dreams or statistical norms ever had any hope of being. I love all of me, whether I am considered normal or not. I think that's called growth.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

heaven is right out there

A few years ago I was in Flagstaff, sitting in my favorite coffee shop with my oldest friend, when I picked up one of the new age-y hippie vortex-heavy newspapers that leak all over Northern Arizona from their mystical epicenter in Sedona and began spontaneously flipping through it. As I idly scanned the ads for crystal healing and seminars on channeling your spiritual contact, my eye was caught by the following headline: "Reality Is All The God There Is." And I thought to myself, yes; perhaps out of all the crap in this smudgily copied newsprint, all the things that I don't even remotely believe in, this is the one thing I can lay claim to, the one concept that I will take as my own from this morning full of too much coffee and mountain sunshine.

Some time later a friend of mine, a person who is deeply invested in a type of spirituality far from my own, looked at me and said, gently and slightly sorrowfully, "You just aren't a very spiritual person, are you?" I thought for a moment before answering no, and I still think of her and that particular moment every time my damn horoscope seems full of portent (as it does this week; thanks, Rob Brezsny, for muddying my lack of belief) or something miraculous befalls me seemingly from the ether. It's not that I'm not spiritual, exactly; it's just that almost all of what might be considered spiritual about me comes from my daily life, from reality. There's a border to where my mind, my skin, my sense of self, exist, and I'm coming to the realization lately that what feels holy to me is when that line between myself and other is crossed.

I was recently described as "sensual" and I think it may now be my favorite adjective for myself. I feel like it explains so much. Sensuality doesn't only relate to sex, although that can certainly be part of it; for my own part, I like to use it to describe my body's relationship to the world. When I was in elementary school we had to take a series of really frustrating tests--even at that tender age I resented having to choose inflexible answers to flexible questions--to determine our learning style; I was classified as a kinesthetic learner, somebody who learned by doing, a "hands-on" sort of person. At the time I thought this was faintly ridiculous--I was about the least physically-oriented person I knew, and I spent almost all of my spare time sitting on the couch in my parent's living room reading book after book--and it wasn't until years later that I began to understand that kinesthetic didn't mean shop class necessarily, but rather that I had to be physically involved somehow in the transfer of information in order for it to register fully.

What this means for me in my daily life is becoming clearer. Learning is one of my favorite activities (because I am a giant nerd), and I learn by doing, even if sometimes it's only the act of holding a book between my hands. When I was younger I think I confined my definition of learning to the classroom and the novels that I devoured, although I was always passionate about it; I was the student who read the unabridged versions of novels that we read isolated chapters of for school, who told my baffled fourteen-year-old friends that every book I read, no matter how crappy, contained something to learn, be it a new turn of phrase or a word I'd never heard before or just new possibilities for how to live and be. I believed that deeply and I still do, because I believe that nothing that happens to me is a waste. But I also believed that I was almost purely a creature of the mind, that my body was a grumpy hanger-on, that what was in my head was Life and everything else was more or less incidental. In other words, I was a bit of an egotistical little shit.

I'm expanding my definition of learning as I grow older, allowing myself to understand that I learn from the world that is around me all the time and not just from formalized collections of words or classrooms that smell of pine-sol and dust. The overlap between myself and the outside world teaches me, and learning is as close to god as I'm ever going to get. I learn from hiking alone up a mountain, feeling the sweat build up between my shoulderblades and the blood coursing through the muscles of my thighs, observing the plants and wildlife and weather and sunlight. I learn from walking down a city street and watching how children interact with each other. I learn from reading but also from writing, and from talking to other people and paying attention to what they are actually saying. When I sit on the train and stare out the window and sift through the dreck that floats through my mind to pick out the interesting stuff, I'm learning. When somebody touches me and I feel their skin against mine and I shiver, I'm learning there too.

A new idea has always filled me with elation, and if it's something really mindblowing I can feel myself nearly vibrating with the force of it rattling around inside of me; learning and mania are sometimes, often, very close together. It's only recently that I realized that I felt something very similar from my interactions with the world, from people and movement and taste and sensation. And so, for the sake of knowledge, I'm making an effort to finally give both my mind and my body credence. A well-turned phrase or a new way of looking at the world still makes me shudder with joy, but so does the sunlight that shines red through my eyelids and, for a moment, becomes the most important thing in my immediate worldview. If learning is joy, then perhaps joy is also learning.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

we have lost people

Yesterday was Halloween, a day I have not traditionally enjoyed all that much since I moved to Chicago. There have been breakups, aborted parties, snow, and all sorts of other inconveniences, and until last year I don't think I ever even had a "real" costume, only half-assed ones that I had to throw together for children's concerts with my old orchestra. This year I was a librarian, which mostly involved awesome shoes and a glasses chain made of a necklace and some string; I saw my very first ever Rocky Horror Picture Show at a local theater, and then ate incredibly greasy diner food, and then I fell asleep far too late. It was a good night.

Today is the Day of the Dead; every year I try to think of who I want to remember and it always comes back to the same person. L was my high school boyfriend's mother, a more-than-slightly wacky older woman with a sense of logic that often defied my straight-A student mentality at the time. I simply could not wrap my head around someone who would one night take us to a midnight movie and stay talking in the parking lot for hours afterwards (that one got me grounded) and the next would forbid her son to play a booked music gig because he hadn't finished his dinner the night before. She was a former Vegas card dealer, a possible former alcoholic, and a presumably current lesbian, although I never saw her be remotely connected with anybody; many of these things were aspects of her personality that I only understood later, after she had died, and some of them are still only guesses. When I knew her, I simply thought of her as a little crazy, a wild card that was so different from my own mother that it was like a whole different idea of what parenting should be. I loved her but I was also wary of her, because I also knew that she was unpredictable and occasionally irrational.

She's been dead for a little over six years now; she died in a car accident the day before I got back from my first summer teaching in Poland, and my father didn't tell me for the entire ride back from Phoenix. When I got home and hugged my mother, jetlagged out of my mind and excited to share the details of my month-long vacation, she suddenly pulled back and her mouth turned into an O. L was dead, and her son, my ex, was in the hospital, because he had been in the car with her during the crash. He had been thrown free, and she had been crushed and died almost instantly. I had been avoiding her for the entire summer prior to my trip, because the last time I had seen her she had been a little weird and I'd felt uncomfortable; I wasn't used to seeing her without his presence to temper things, and it made me nervous to receiving her undivided attention. During my vacation I'd felt guilty about the avoidance, and so in my bag there was a postcard that I had written to her but not sent, which I'd promised myself that I would give it to her in person when I returned and now it was too late.

I saw her van, dark blue and beat up, for years after that, and I would scan it for her coke-bottle glasses and shaggy hair. I still see it once in a while, but I don't look for her anymore. It's been six years, and that's long enough. I eventually covered the back of the card with paper and wrote a postsecret on it, because I couldn't bear to have it in my keepsake box any longer--it just made me feel guilty. My life has been rather remarkably free of mortality; other than L, the only person close to me who has passed away was my grandfather, and he was so sick with Alzheimer's that we both cried and rejoiced for him when he finally died because really he'd already been gone for a long time. L, though, it took me years to let go of. She had left so suddenly, leaving in her wake an emotionally and physically shattered son and a string of questions and blank spots, and I didn't understand why. I finally let go one winter day; I was back in Flagstaff for Christmas and so was my ex, and he asked me to drive him out to where he had scattered her ashes. I hadn't seen him since the accident, almost two years earlier. We drove, mostly silent, away from the city, until he told me to pull over, and then we walked together out towards the lake and we talked. He talked to me for the first time about what had happened, things that I had never known or even really suspected and that are for once too personal for this public forum, although I've occasionally told some of them to people I've been close to because it wasn't something I could just keep inside myself. We cried together, holding on to each other and resisting the cold wind as we stood in the bright winter sunshine, and I knew that that was the closest we would ever be.

L was my first subversive role model, and she also scared the shit out of me. I wish I had known her later, when her particular form of crazy might have made more sense and we could have talked more about things that mattered, about her life, about being a single dyke mother and radical politics and dealing with rage and shame and fear and poverty. I wish I could have been an adult with her. But I wasn't, and all I can do now is remember her in all her excess and imagine what that would have been like. I don't think of her with sadness exactly anymore, but she's who I come back to every year when I think about who I want to mourn and celebrate. Life is so much more complicated than I gave it credit for when we knew each other. I wish I could tell her that I learned that, in part, from her.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

the plot hard to follow, the text obscured

As a reader and a consumer of other media I have long known that, for me, plot is far and away one of the least important aspects of a work. My favorite part of a book or movie, especially a plot-driven book or movie, is almost invariably the beginning, before things start happening; I'll be far more engrossed by the interactions between people and their environment than I am by an alien invasion. I like things to move slowly, and I like to watch how the parts fit together. I used to think that this was a rejection of the change that invariably happens once the plot picks up (something I resisted in my own life), but I'm starting to wonder if maybe it's something deeper and more complicated than that.

Along with plot, I also have some issues with language, and I'm beginning to think that these two discontents are more connected than they seem. I have a deep-seated love of reading and of books and a respect for the way a string of well-placed words can sometimes almost chime, but I also have an equally deep abiding resentment at the limitations that language places on what I perceive as reality; I get deeply concerned about definitions, how they limit and change our perceptions, and I fear that using the "wrong" words can distort both my meaning and my understanding. Maybe this sounds a bit dramatic, but language is a large part of how we touch and understand other people, and often it seems so completely inadequate.

But lately I've also been considering the fallacies of trajectory, of plotline, when placed in the context of reality. Life is not a book, and yet I think there is a desire to shape it into a sort of storyline, to place events into a concrete order with a logical progression, to make assumptions about what may or may not have happened (or, even more dangerously, what will happen) and to manipulate actuality into a neat little package with all of the correct narrative elements represented. This may (or may not--I'm not sure) be fairly harmless when the context is an amusing vignette designed to make people laugh at parties, but it can be incredibly harmful when it is forced onto the messy, incomplete, and thoroughly glorious lives of real people. Language becomes not just definitionally problematic, but suspect in terms of authenticity.

The narrative that prompted me to this realization is one of transition, which makes sense when you consider personal change as a frequently integral aspect of plot arc. Many, many of my queer, genderqueer, transgender, and otherwise transgressive friends have been told or have had it implied to them that they are "not trans enough", a phrase which boggles my mind and seems to defy all logic. It implies that there is a way to be trans and, consequently, a way not to be trans, and that if you haven't fulfilled some sort of completely imaginary guidelines then you are a failure as an identity, as a person. This particular narrative arc seems to require you to start off as one thing (a man or woman) and become another (a woman or man) and that there is a way in which this is accomplished that is neat and correct and strictly defined, but it could be applied to any number of personal identity choices. The moral of this particular story is that if you choose to define your own identity, either theoretically or physically, you are a eyed with distrust. You are disrupting the arc.

This is bad enough when it is considered in terms of interactions with friends and acquaintances and such, but when you consider--for instance--the medical rhetoric regarding transition (or intersexuality, or queerness, or mental illness, or femaleness, or any myriad of other things at any given point in history) it becomes a much scarier prospect. The policing of narrative falls hardest on those who don't follow the storyline, and the consequences can range from discomfort to forced conformity to pain and death. It drastically reduces the possibilities available to us by criminalizing those who don't agree to follow the rules.

There are so many narratives, and by trying to see them as stories we can so easily negate their actual lived value and blind ourselves to what we could be learning from them. I'm not trans, so that isn't my narrative. But I don't want to be defined solely by my actions; I want to be defined by who I was and how I felt while I was doing things, and by the small moments of connection and insight that I witnessed along the way. This does not mean I am not prey to the wiles of story, because this blog and many of my daily interactions are full of stories. I don't know what that means. I don't want to impose order on the disorder of life, but it's so damn hard to communicate otherwise. That is the power of language: it is everywhere, and it is flawed and imprecise. I have no answers, just a lingering feeling that I'm either creating or destroying something, or maybe both.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

we won't have a word for this except perhaps religion

Some nights I feel like, if I could just find a linguistic toehold, I could write something that felt really good. My mind is searching for that one sentence, the word that will trigger an idea that will grow into a chain that has--hopefully--some semblance of coherence, and that you will consequently read as you drink your coffee tomorrow morning. There are other things I should be doing rather than trying to write tonight. I should be, at the very least, doing dishes, and probably I should just be sleeping; this last while has not been kind to me in terms of awake-to-asleep ratios, and really I'm becoming too old to sleep so little. But I feel like the words are on the verge and I haven't been writing as much and I miss how it feels when it goes well and so here I am, waiting for my laundry to finish drying and for something to occur to me.

Life has been good to me lately (well, other than the lack of sleep), as it so often seems to be this year, and I've been using the word "win" a great deal. (Probably rather more than is strictly necessary. See also: awesome and amazing.) I smile a lot. At times like this, when everything seems to be more or less working in my favor, I often describe myself as sparkly, because I can almost feel the glints of light shining off of me, some sort of physical manifestation of deep and powerful joy that surely must be visible to others. I think sometimes people can tell when you're feeling a thing this strongly. It's like when I'm on the bus and thinking about sex and suddenly everybody seems to be smiling in my direction, except with happiness instead of hormones or pheromones or whatever. It feels like a wave inside of me sometimes, nearly strong enough to knock me out.

I spent most of my life in a sort of self-imposed mini-lockdown; I decided when I was very young--around seven--not to hope too hard for things, not to trust others too far, in order to protect myself from being hurt, and I essentially lived within that decision for the next two decades. I told myself that the only person I could really trust in my understanding of was myself, and that even that was precarious because how was I to know whether I was being rational? The world was an uncertain place, and I deeply feared a lack of rationality. Even after I got older and at least theoretically began leaving these ideas behind, I held myself in so tightly that I ended up with anxiety disorders and dysfunctional relationships, and my connections with other people suffered because it took me an unreasonable amount of time to believe that they were doing more than merely tolerating my presence. I was silent a lot. I never knew how badly this lack of trust, of hope, was hurting me until I stopped giving credence to it, began believing that I had worth and that it was more important to learn from others than to stay safe, but when I did my heart opened up just like it does when I fall in love and I felt suddenly and abruptly weightless, aloft on possibility.

I'm hyperbolizing, perhaps. It's both difficult and problematic to try and pin down the impact of an idea, never clearly articulated in quite this way until just now, on the past. All I know is that I was often unhappy and now I'm mostly not, and that the biggest change I can think of is that I finally believe that good things deserve to happen to me. I feel like such a cliche, one that says that I am beautiful and worthy and strong and dammit, hear me roar! but what I don't understand is why, if this is a concept that we for some reason feel comfortable mocking and holding up as overdone (those feminists with their "woman power..."), we don't yet entirely believe it. I suppose I shouldn't speak for others, but I know for myself and for many many people around me, there are far too many crises of faith.

I don't believe that I don't need to change, that I've reached some sort of higher level of self-love and personal actualization and it's smooth sailing from here on out. I'll always be changing. But I do believe that the way I am right now is completely wonderful and worth valuing as such, and that change is not merely a necessity; it's something that I can allow and appreciate and learn from and experience instead of just tolerating. I trust that I can survive it. I hope that I can do more than just survive.

I found this on a friend's tumblr tonight. I think that means maybe I was writing about the right thing.

Monday, October 26, 2009

hug an intersex person today, or every day

I swear I'll write something of my own soon. I've been kind of...distracted lately. Also busy. But this is from Queers United.

Oct 26th marks the 5th annual celebrate intersexual awareness day! Today is the (inter)national day of grass-roots action to end shame, secrecy and unwanted genital cosmetic surgeries on intersex children.

What is intersex?

Intersex refers to a series of medical conditions in which a child's genetic sex (chromosomes) and phenotypic sex (genital appearance) do not match, or are somehow different from the "standard" male or female. About one in 2,000 babies are born visibly intersexed, while some others are detected later. The current medical protocol calls for the surgical "reconstruction" of these different but healthy bodies to make them "normal," but this practice has become increasingly controversial as adults who went through the treatment report being physically, emotionally, and sexually harmed by such procedures.

Beside stopping cosmetic genital surgeries, what are intersex activists working toward?

Surgery is just part of a larger pattern of how intersex children are treated; it is also important to stop shame, secrecy and isolation that are socially and medically imposed on children born with intersex conditions under the theory that the child is better off it they didn't hear anything about it. Therefore, it's not enough to simply stop the surgery; we need to replace it with social and psychological support as well as open and honest communication.

What's so significant about October 26?

On October 26, 1996, intersex activists from Intersex Society of North America (carrying the sign "Hermaphrodites With Attitude") and our allies from Transexual Menace held the first public intersex demonstration in Boston, where American Academy of Pediatrics was holding its annual conference. The action generated a lot of press coverage, and made it difficult for the medical community to continue to neglect our growing movement. That said, events related to Intersex Awareness Day can take place throughout October and does not necessarily have to be on the 26th.

Ideas for Action:

Pamphlets for organizing intersex awareness day.

Click here to print out some articles to leaflet on intersexuality

Get some friends together and rally/demonstrate in front of a hospital or medical school demanding an end to genital mutilation.

Show a film or invite a guest speaker to speak about IS issues.

Learn more and get active with the Intersex Initiative.

Monday, October 19, 2009

hello, kitty

Well. I'm not sure I have the words to adequately describe this, so probably you should just watch it. Personally, I'd like to know who authorized this and who they thought their target audience was. Because really: Alice crawling through freudian tunnels of pink fabric to BDSM Hello Kitty world? Amazing.

Friday, October 16, 2009

the quarter-life crisis of Dionysus

Tonight I gathered up all of the books lying loose around my apartment and put them on shelves, in an order that made at least a small amount of sense. It's part of an ongoing effort on my part to make my apartment into a better and more "adult" living space, to have a desk relatively free of papers (we're not talking scattered pages here; we're talking stacks of sheet music) and a minimum of cat hair on the floor. It's always felt like some sort of moral disorder, my lack of tidiness; if I were truly a good person, I'd open all my mail and throw away my old magazines, or at the very least get rid of the old broken kitchen appliances sitting under one of my dumpster-dived (dumpster-dove?) chairs. But as it stands, I seem to be quite content to live at a certain level of sloth, and as long as I don't cross certain vaguely-defined lines ("not embarrassed to have the maintenance person come by" is a good one) I happily co-exist with my piles of outdated student-composed quartet parts, thrift store postcards, and a rather puzzling number of spare vacuum cleaner bags.

If I normally live somewhere in the Dionysian realms in terms of cleanliness, I do occasionally enjoy exploring my latent Apollonian tendencies. There's a certain satisfaction in having a sink free of dishes and a visible desktop; if nothing else, it makes me feel virtuous, like I've accomplished something I could potentially tell my mother about on the phone. So tonight, as I talked to E about unexpected mortality--and, alternately--survival and witnessing a forty-one year old's ecstatic personal breakthrough (which oh, I wish I could write about), I was also gathering up the books that I'd managed to slip onto every available surface over the past month or so. I started sorting them into vague categories, like wilderness books, political books, books by Toni Morrison (there were three). But the biggest category was roughly entitled "books I'm happy I've read and so want to have somewhere visible in case you've read them too and we can talk about it while we drink tea." Really, my pretense of virtue was just intellectual snobbery, a vice.

This is illustrated best by the fact that my desk is still six inches deep in sheet music. After I got the books shelved, I decided that, for tonight, my room was clean enough, and I wrote this instead. The books were the most important part anyway, and I can rest easy tonight knowing that, although the Toni Morrison is all shelved together, the Ed Abbey is spread out over three different sections of shelf. Even in my order, there has to be a little chaos.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

semilla besada

Fall is not messing around this year. Have I talked about the weather lately? Because it's been a little odd. The spring was cold; the summer was late and never got all that hot. And then, within days of the autumnal equinox, we'd been catapulted into a rainy, cold, grey fall. Trees have been changing their colors for well over a month, presaging the actual season by weeks as the weather got steadily cooler.

On my block, although the other trees have finally started to yellow and drop their leaves, there is one singular tree that has been brilliantly orange and red since at least mid-September. I've picked up its fallen leaves as I walked by, maple leaves colored that amazing neon red with the veins still outlined in vivid green like a child's idea of someone getting electrocuted, the articulated skeleton bright beneath the flesh. Fall has been my favorite season ever since I moved here from Arizona and realized that it actually existed; even though it means winter is coming, there's something about the way the air feels that makes me profoundly happy. I wonder what it means that my favorite season is the one where things are falling asleep, or dying.

If spring is when I make my resolutions, fall is when I feel the most reflective. After a summer of exposed skin and fast bike rides, I'm beginning to break out my favorite and most comfortable clothing, scarves and corduroy pants and well-worn jackets. I'm walking places again, hands in my pockets while I take my time and memorize the street names and try not to look like too much of a peeping tom while I sneak glances into other people's lives. I'm an incorrigible eavesdropper, but I'm trying to get better at hiding it. I'm letting the chill air remind me of quilts and hot chocolate and cuddling instead of bitter cold and gritty ice, but I know that it's all tied together anyway. In order to have this time, this season of comfort and small but significant pleasures, I'll have to live through what comes after.

I swore, last year, that I would not stay here through another winter. In my mind, in the first actual "life plan" I'd made since graduation, I'd be living in Denver right now, adjusting to a new city and griping about the shitty public transportation because some things are the same everywhere. Instead, I'm here in my studio, looking at the grey sky and watching my cats tussle on the carpet. I don't regret it. It's (perhaps) unlikely I'll be here forever, but for right now I think this is where I'm supposed to be. My time in Chicago is not done yet, and in many ways I feel like I'm just beginning, five years after I first set foot here, confused and heartsick and terrified of the big city and grad school and pretty much everything. A year ago I felt like my time was winding down towards a logical conclusion, but it turns out I was just gearing up for so many changes I would never have guessed what was in store. I'm happy here. This is, for now, home.

I once had a postsecret published, and it seems increasingly relevant. I was sort of embarrassed at the time (and, frankly, I still am a little bit), because it was cheesy: a postcard, found at a thrift store, of a giant walk-through model of a heart that they have (or used to have) at the Museum of Science and Industry. I wrote it shortly after my graduation from Northwestern, deep in the middle of what was easily the worst time I've had to live through, on a relatively good day when I was trying to pull myself up by the metaphorical bootstraps. The words I taped to the front, full of the tentative hope that somehow the act of creating this card for a stranger would release me from some of my pain and sorrow, were these: "I'm so much stronger than I ever would have guessed." (Which is fine, except it was also followed by the word "Yay!" Oh cheese, we go way back.) At the time, my strength involved mere survival; three and a half years later, I feel actually strong. Strong enough, I suppose, for at least one more winter.