Thursday, October 29, 2009
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
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
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
Friday, October 16, 2009
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
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.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
But I decided today to post it anyway. I just got back from a radical queer conference where I was surrounded by happy, happy queer folk; I'm covered in sparkly makeup, and I talked all the way home on the bus about queering public policy in the Chicago public schools with a complete stranger that I met at the bus stop. Being queer has gone from being just an incidental fact about me to being something that is actively important to me. There are many reasons why I value this transition, not least of which is that by embracing more fully this aspect of my personality, I feel braver and surer and more confident every day. I'm surrounded by good role models, friends who live their lives with courage and outspokenness and strength, and it's inspiring me to try to be a little more like that myself. So, um... Here it is.
The Path of Least Resistance
“Oh, are you queer?”
It’s funny, kind of, because I feel like I’m finally owning my queerness in a way that I never have before, using my language and clarifying my own thoughts and wearing my heart on my sleeve as I revel in what is becoming an increasingly important aspect of my life. But even as I feel myself moving towards a more openly and adamantly queer identity than I’ve ever embraced before, I’ve been getting this question with increasing frequency. While I’ve been busy mentally and verbally busy expanding my queerness my physical appearance seems to be moving in the opposite direction, and the feeling that my interior and exterior are at odds has rarely felt so palpable.
Right now, I have shoulder-length hair and generally dress somewhere between somewhat girly and somewhat androgynous, and I’m usually pretty readily identified as a female-bodied person. I’m okay with that, more or less. I look kind of dorky with short hair, and I’m actually rather enamored of the sheer physicality of this new, longer style. (I wrote a while ago that I feel rather like Oscar Wilde, those magnificent pictures of him with that wavy luxurious hair and that air of decadence, cane between his knees as he stares as the camera. If that’s not queer, I don’t know what is.) And I’ve never been a physically expressive person; most of my wardrobe is more or less designed to let me pass under the radar, to allow me to avoid drawing attention to myself and instead stay in the background. In unfamiliar settings I’d rather listen than speak, to figure out things for myself before I begin talking, and it feels kind of hard to do that while wearing, say, neon tights or a really awesome fedora.
Maybe it’s partially the people I’m around lately. I spent most of the past few years in mostly straight company and I was rarely asked about my sexual preference and never about my gender identity, probably because I code as straight. I do my best to out myself as soon as possible (I’ve lectured my straight friends, usually drunkenly, about everything from queer porn to oral sex, with at least a few other topics in between), because I’m fully aware that I pass as a non-queer person unless I bring it up myself. It’s irritating and sometimes awkward to have to identify myself as the queer person in the room, but in some ways that’s almost easier than having to out myself as queer when I’m surrounded by other queers. I assume that straight people think I’m straight; I want to be able to assume that queer people think I’m queer, but most of the time I simply can’t. While I’m infinitely grateful to have finally found a queer community, it’s jarring to come up against my own conundrums again and again.
I’m aware of the fact that this is the opposite of what most genderqueer people experience, and it seems horribly selfish to complain about how much it bothers me to not appear queer when so many of my friends spend so much time and energy dealing with a physicality that is continually being questioned by most of the world. But it does bother me, and I don’t know what to do about it. Because I’m not a physically demonstrative person, I know that it’s not as simple as changing my style; changing the way I look would feel highly uncomfortable, and I’d rather spend my energy on something other than worrying about how awkward I feel about what I’m wearing. But because my genderqueerness isn’t confirmed by my physical appearance, I feel like it’s constantly being called into question, not only by others but also by myself. If I were really genderqueer, wouldn’t I feel comfortable with shorter hair or some tattoos or a tie or something? If I look like a girl, how can I claim that I reject the rigidity of that definition? There’s a kind of fucked-up power to passing, and even while I want none of it I also know I’m part of that every day, just because of the way that I feel physically comfortable.
I hate being defined by something as trivial as my haircut or whether I’m wearing a dress that day, but the friction between those external details and what I can’t seem to help feeling I should be presenting as is disarming. A queer should not defined by hir clothing, but all too often that’s what people, myself included, use to set up categories and definitions. I don’t know what to do about my personal discomfort, but I’m trying to use it to inform my own readings of others, to not put people into those oh-so-convenient boxes until I talk to them and have at least a cursory understanding of where they’re coming from. I can only hope that the people I meet will do the same for me.
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
Lies serve a purpose. We use lies to protect ourselves and others, to make things easier, to avoid doing unpleasant things, or because sometimes the idea of telling the truth is too terrifying or painful or hard. The problem is that, at least for me, it often ends up backfiring; I don't tell the whole truth and suddenly I'm unhappy, with the situation I'm in and with myself. (I think there's some sort of lie-to-discomfort ratio, where a white lie provokes mild discomfort and a large one makes me miserable, but maybe I just like that as a concept. Or maybe it's just me.) Lies and truths are both types of freedom: lies allow you to hide yourself, to free yourself from the task of showing all of who you are, but truth allows you to cut through the bullshit and connect with people without the interference of facade. There are a million grey areas, of course, and all I can do is try and see what happens, but ultimately for me it comes down to figuring out what's more important: the safety of hiding or the intensity of connection.
Luckily I have friends who, intentionally or not, have made it relatively easy for me to come out of my shell and begin to figure out who I am without all the artifice. I was talking to one of them a few months ago when she told me that the thing that amazed her the most was how honest everybody was, how the way they lived and the way they wanted to be seemed so much closer than it is for many people. I've been watching people through the lens of that idea ever since, and the happiest people I know are the ones who act with a greater degree of truth and understanding and honesty on a daily basis. I don't think that's a coincidence.
One of these friends left recently--well, many friends left, but this one is just for her--which is the point of all of this. Rose-Anne was somebody I met during my first year in Chicago, and then we didn't really talk for at least three years after that aside from occasional meetings with mutual friends. But this past year she rocketed back into my life, and I feel so lucky to have shared many evenings full of food and conversation with her before last week, when she moved to Texas to begin a post-doc position doing scientific research on fruit flies. Over the past year or so we have talked about boys and girls, about food, about our lives and anxieties and families and just about everything else, and never did I feel like there was anything but the most honest of connections. She's one of my biggest cheerleaders and also a voice of reason when I'm feeling thrown by life. She's a good friend, indeed.
The last time I really saw Rose-Anne was this past week, when I helped her pack up her kitchen. It seemed symbolic, as we'd spent almost all of our time together baking and chopping and flipping through magazines for recipes, and so we spent a last evening together swaddling glasses in bubble wrap and packing cookbooks into boxes. We made her favorite salad and she introduced me to the magic of roasted chickpeas (her blog post about this made me cry, I'm not too proud to admit), and so we ate our last duo meal together until I hopefully visit her in Texas next year. I miss her already; I miss knowing that sometime soon I'll be sitting in her kitchen, sipping tea and discussing the finer points of pastry crust or grain-free baking. It's always difficult to say goodbye to friends, but I'm grateful that not only did she get a job in what seems like it will be an excellent situation for her but that we were able to become friends before we parted ways.
I know I range so often into the realm of Excessively Cheesy on here, but it's so hard because I tell myself every damn day how lucky I am: lucky to be happy, lucky to be doing things I enjoy with my life, and most of all lucky to have such amazing people all around me. If I want anything from life it's some degree of truth and happiness, and on my best days I feel that I approach that. Life is not always so complicated (although it can certainly seem that way); the things that really matter in the end are simple. The autumn sun on my face, a night spent telling histories and personal folklore until the sun rises, or a simple dinner shared with a true friend are all parts of what I want my life to be like. I may not have grand goals right now, but at least I have friends and chosen family and good memories.
Sunday, October 04, 2009
Well. Obviously one didn't want to be "nice." One wanted to be "spunky" or "vibrant" or even "kind," but "nice" was just boring, a word that belonged to a barbie doll or those inevitable preteen popular girls that I felt myself to have absolutely nothing in common with. And yet, that is the word that has been continually applied to me for most of my life: I am nice. Sweet, on a good day. My first girlfriend called me too nice, and I attempted to retaliate because really, can you be too nice? (Well, yes, but I didn't get it at the time.) Even recently, I've railed against the idea that I am simply a nice girl, and I suspect that trying to show that I have my own "bad" parts factors into the presence of some of my vices. Does a nice girl smoke? Swear? Get drunk and fall over? Probably, but not in Zilpha Keatley Snyder's world.
I think that the problem with this middle-school analysis of the concept of nice is that it's very one-dimensional. It makes it sound like being nice is so difficult (and also asinine--if I recall correctly it took Wendy most of the book to reveal much in the way of personality, and in the end it seemed like she was mostly redeemed by being somewhat low-income and having a lot of siblings) that it is nearly impossible to still be a nuanced person who is capable of more than sugary sweetness. I don't think it's bad to be nice or sweet or kind; you just have to make sure there's some spice in there too.
Which brings me to cookies. My favorite types of cookies are more than just saccharine; they have salt on top or semisweet chocolate or cayenne pepper in them, and the contrast between the savory and sweet is what makes them infinitely more satisfying. But I recently stretched this concept to its utmost--and grossed out not a few of my friends--by making (drumroll) Vegan Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies (!!!).
I'd actually heard a fair amount about fancy cooks and bakers putting bacon into sweet items (maple applewood hot chocolate, anybody? bacon cupcake, perhaps?), but I never thought I'd get to try it because of that whole pesky vegetarian thing. But truly, it was a revelatory experience in many ways. Not only did I put fake meat into a sweet baked good, but I had my first run-in with Bacon Salt (motto: "Everything Should Taste Like Bacon"), a vegetarian seasoning that is capable of making cookies into bacony bits of deliciousness. These cookies were so far beyond the sweetness paradigm that I ate them for dinner last night and only felt a little bit guilty. The thing is this: at heart, they are still cookies, even if they taste somewhat like bacon. There was still chocolate in them, and maple syrup, and brown sugar, and if you really concentrated they were, in fact, sweet.
Sugar doesn't have to be one dimensional. Neither do people. I never wanted to be anything other than nice; I just didn't want that to be all I was. But you know what? That argument is so far gone that I don't even know why I'm still internally debating it. I've always been more than just a nice girl. I don't know if I'm quite to the bacon dessert stage, but hopefully there's at least a little pepper in there somewhere.
(Vegan) Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies
The original recipe came from this link (and I left her snarky bits in, because they're funny), but we modified it slightly. I'll add these modifications in italics. Do it!
1 cup butter or Earth Balance, unsalted, room temperature
1/3 cup powdered sugar
2/3 cup maple syrup
2 cups flour
1 pinch bacon salt
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
6 strips cooked bacon or Smart Bacon or other bacon substitute, crumbled (you can use more, if you like)
turbinado or brown sugar
Extra maple syrup
Preheat the oven to 325.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, and maple syrup until fluffy and thoroughly combined. Toss in the pinch of salt, and then add in the flour. Stir until just combined.
Add the bacon and chocolate chips. Pause for just a moment to consider what you are doing. Ignore that tiny, worried voice in your head, and continue.
The dough will be very wet and soft. You can either roll it up in cling wrap and chill it for an hour (which will firm it up somewhat) before slicing into cookies, or do what I did and just roll out little balls with your hands and squish them into cookie shapes on a parchment-lined baking sheet. You will not want them very big-- these cookies are quite rich, and work best as slightly-more-than-bite-sized morsels.
Sprinkle each cookie with a tiny bit of bacon salt and some coarse or brown sugar, at about a 1:2 ratio. Drizzle the tops with a smidgen of maple syrup. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the bottoms of the cookies begin to brown.
Let cool until you can handle them, and then taste.
Either curse my name or send me flowers, as applicable.