October 30

Dear Leslie,

You and this blog have been on my mind most of the last couple of days. I always fret about what to say, not knowing the how or what or whether to say and I have drafts piled up. But I’m restless with my self-censorship and missing my fellow queer cats and gender rebels in Corvallis. Job applications and interviews have me extra weary of professionalism and decorum. I’m nearly fresh out of fucks to give. The selfie game is not one I generally play but when pigs fly and the mirrors are cracked with the luck I make, I let the occasionally photo also fly. Note the wrist brace, evidence of long persistent pain, and the lipstick, evidence of jonesin’ for a thrill, or don’t.

You put your face on your books. I can put mine on my blog. I usually feel like I have to post at least one photo myself smiling but I’m not feeling that right now.

IMG_2435 IMG_2454

***Morning after postscript: I never post non-smiling or goofy selfies. I’m still surprised and impressed this happened…and determined to write frequently enough that these photos are soon buried.***

Second Address to Stone Butch Blues’ Jess

You defy laws and wills, Jess. I don’t understand how you survived as long as you did—how you kept winding your clock even when you didn’t know if you could chime again. Does that require faith, strength, or a loss of sanity? My life hasn’t been shaped by the senseless violence yours has. Instead of physical and verbal hate, I’ve instead navigated others’ confusion while holding hands with my own uncertainty and confidence. There have been comments and looks—probably far more than I’ve realized due to my obliviousness and apathy. Not having to be constantly on my guard is a luxury. But since 10 (and before that, until 2), my short hair has confounded strangers. Only my face not broadening and voice not deepening seems to have reduced that. I still feel like a ghost in women’s restrooms and an anomaly in locker rooms.

For Jess

October 28

Dear Leslie,

Today I’m writing Jess from Stone Butch Blues. Here is a letter I scribbled in August and added to today:

Dear Jess,

Even if we were alive and living in the same era within two decades of each other, I wouldn’t expect your gaze to land on me and remain—or minutes or weeks later, seek out my face again. Not with pleasure.I don’t fit that butch/femme binary. My existence would disturb you.  My attraction to you or any other butch would cause you alarm. I am not a Theresa, Millie, Ed, Jan, Peaches, Ruth, or even Frankie. Neither am I a college lesbian saying the revolution disallows any woman who looks like a man. Lesbian has a sophisticated ring to it, but I prefer to dress casually and was never much committed to jewelry; I stopped wearing rings years ago when I feared they weighed my wrists with constriction. And I’m not trying to exclude anyone from efforts for a better living.

Instead, I linger between day and night wondering how I could possibly call myself a lesbian when it connotes words and experiences I do not take refuge in. Woman loving woman remains foreign to me post-adolescent discovery and complicated celebration of learned identity. Today I am simply a human loving other humans—occasionally. Chivalry unnerves me but I’m pro holding doors for everybody. I think extreme femininity (high femme) and masculinity (hard butch) scare me, as do relationships which adhere to heteronormativity, regardless of the individuals’ gender identities—they make me feel distant from others, asexual, agender, and floating in my own body. Even as I know intellectually folks of all types and stripes love and lust after each other,  not seeing it regularly leaves nonbinary living and loving more foreign to most folks than Mars.

This isn’t criticism, Jess. Just commentary. I think we both want some certainty in our lives. Doing what we can to make sense of our identities—passing our own personal laws about who we are and what’s right for us and others we think are like us—can offer comfort. It’s easier to live life “knowing” you are a woman or she-he or butch who loves feminine women or _______. It’s more difficult realizing maybe we know less about ourselves and the nature of love than we think we do, and accepting that uncertainty. Frankie’s love for other butches, for example, deeply disturbed you. I was confused in high school when I experienced a couple crushes on cis-male classmates because I was “gay.” Considering dating a feminine* cis-woman terrifies me because I don’t consider myself attracted to “women.” I want the security of who I can be attracted to, but suspect if I relaxed I might realize I have the ability to love far more people than I realize—and could weather it. The thing that disturbs me the most when considering a relationship with a more “feminine” person is not knowing how I would fit in the relationship as a nonbinary/genderqueer person. My teasing, light steps, and laughter in romantic affairs often stems from my femininity or something I’ve mistakenly associated with the binary. If I was in a relationship with a femme-identified person, I feel that that joyful energy would disappear. I don’t see a place for it. I don’t see how it could exist outside of a relationship with a more androgynous person. But perhaps this worry is unnecessary. Why not just let down some walls and meet new experiences if/when they come?

I ramble, but I’ll put order these thoughts into more sensical formations in time.

*I still have problems with the words “feminine” and “masculine” because I feel both are constructed. I use them because the words communicate information most people understand about the gender binary/stereotypes.

After the Memorial Service

September 20

Dear Leslie,

Two days ago, I attended a memorial service for someone my age for the first time. I am twenty-three so I have at least twenty-three reasons I am fortunate. I’ve known people my age who have died, including a 9th grade P.E. classmate who was shot dead the night before my first day of college—a death with considerable impact on my heart despite the limited nature of our interactions. But while my brain anxiously scans archives out of fear there are faces I have forgotten–peers I might have already said bye to at the grave then let their memories recede like their bones into earth–I cannot think of anyone else I shared childhood years with  before they flew from life.

It was Jane who died.

Unexpectedly, my first reaction upon receiving my sister’s text that Jane had died earlier that day was excitement. I was so pleased to read Jane’s name and think about what it would be like to catch up with her that I couldn’t process her not being alive. My mind looped between joy and confusion, settling closer and closer towards grief like a maple’s double-samara fluttering toward pavement. Neither my sister nor I had been close to Jane, but she had been an important part of my childhood as a player on a sister Mt. Tabor soccer team, and we had greeted each other in the halls at Mt. Tabor Middle School. She had teased me on the size of my backpack.

Whereas I was a small child with shoulder blades like wings, often likened to a pixie, Jane was a giant. She was tall, muscular, and vibrant with confidence.

Jane was alive.

How did you enter rooms, Leslie? How did you leave? Did you dress your heart in kevlar for all new faces, or did you manage to maintain some kind of open heart policy? As a human, as a white butch lesbian, as a transgender warrior, did you greet people with optimism, or did you, regardless of your outward demeanor, expect and plan for the worst? My best times are when I walk beaming into a room, enthusiastically shake hands with new-to-me souls, or casually joke and converse with folks, but this is not my everyday. I think I’ve always carried some fear and insecurity with me—false or prophetic certainty that I am inferior to others and will be rejected. I tiptoe in my own life and don’t ask many favors because I’m certain I’m asking too much.

Every person who spoke at Jane’s funeral shared how warm, gregarious, and sincere she was. She also invited herself into people’s houses and helped herself to what was in the fridge! She was shamelessly herself. The auditorium overflowed with individuals from her childhood neighborhood, Nordstrom, elementary school, middle school, high school, sports teams, and even Alaska. They walked easily or carefully with canes, or rolled wheelchairs. I recognized some faces and wondered which chapters we shared.

 Her service taught me many lessons.

I still believe that one of these days we will have a soccer reunion and we will crack up with laughter on Upper Clinton while shooting goals. The ground will be cracked with grass straining upwards or a hive of holes in mud from cleats and showers. Dirt will fleck our knees as it did when we were kids. Our shorts and jerseys will stain as we laugh breathless, our muscles tightening from exertion of our kicks and the joy of still being kids after all this time. Jane reminds me of what it is to love and be loved. And what it is to live.

Rest in peace, Jane. Rest in peace, Leslie. The world keeps spinning, but I think a great many of us are richer in life and braver than we would have been had you not once been here.

I began this letter on September 20. I will keep the date for that reason.

What’s in a Name

October 3

Dear Leslie,

Names are powerful. I’ve written about this before in regards to gender identity and the names we are given at birth on my invisible About page, amongst other places. On my other blog, I shared a poem called Emily, which plays with my complicated relationship with my first name. It’s incredible what effects the names we call ourselves or others call us (or the pronouns and nouns used in reference to us) can have on our sense of self. When people use the correct names in a respectful manner, we may feel seen. Present.

I have a lot of nicknames both as an Emily and carrier of a unique last name. During any given week, I hear many variations of my names, or am addressed with entirely different, yet no less valid nicknames. Through all these names, those collections of letters and syllables, I am the same and yet also different person to so many. Meeting new folks is always interesting, especially in regards to names exchanged; sometimes I catch myself wondering which to offer. As someone who is usually upbeat but formal during introductions, I share my first name. When others are doing the introducing, I find myself a spectator on the bleachers, wondering which name of mine will sail through the air and be tossed to the other team.

I’ve always been protective of one of my nicknames because of how vulnerable it makes me feel. It’s mostly reserved for my youth soccer team and two of my cousins. It’s a softer and sweet contraction of my first name and I associate it with affectionate mutual love and understanding. I feel playful, seen, and loved when my teammates, their families, and my cousins call me this name. Naturally, I don’t let just anyone call me this. It’s a matter of self-protection. Because the name carries a level of intimacy, I don’t share it with strangers, acquaintances, or even most friends. Maybe this sounds strange, but I feel like it would give them the power to hurt me. To misuse that name would be a betrayal of trust.

I used to shift uncomfortably when friends introduced me to others as as “Emi.” I wanted to correct them, or just offer “Emily” to the other person instead. I could tell my friends, “I’m only Emi to you. I’m not that person for others.” My beliefs remain largely the same on this. My gut reaction to being introduced this way is alarm and discomfort at being so exposed. For the most part, I would prefer to be regarded and addressed as one of my more common names.

Yet, I’ve also noticed something beautiful. When one of my friends whom I met through several mutual soccer friends calls me by this nickname, it is with the same level of warmth and love shared by the teammates I grew up laughing with and passing the ball with as a kid. Although I was first offput by the ease with which she called me Emi, I find myself touched. I call her the nickname our friends shared with me. And somehow, even though we did not grow up with each other, even though we were not part of the same circles and forming the same memories, we have bridged some of those divides just by sharing friends and using these names for each other. What a gift.

In light of these revelations and the tragic mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in my state this week, I remind myself that we need to come together as individuals and communities rather than erect or buttress more walls to divide us from each other. We should never deny ourselves or others the right to love or be loved, as long as the love is considerate. There are many shades of love—different ways to show our respect, understanding, support, and affection for others. We have had so many mass shootings in this country—so many individuals whom for whatever reason, feel isolated, misunderstood, numb, or just hateful. I don’t know what all causes someone to cut others down, but I do know that we can better reach out to each other. We can actively appreciate those around us through genuine greetings, and respect for their beings. We can be brave and allow others to hold our names and even lives in their arms, hoping that they will honor us as we honor them.

Sometimes there are beautiful benefits to allowing ourselves to be vulnerable —Brene Brown describes how in her powerful TED Talk. It is through pushing through initial discomfort that we often find ourselves grow. The courage to try new things and be open with others is unspeakably important if we are to transcend fears and prejudices which can hurt ourselves and others.

Perhaps we should surprise ourselves sometimes by letting others use our names.

balancing act

October 2, 2015

Dear Leslie,

I haven’t forgotten about you. On the contrary, I’ve started and stopped multiple letters—some of them lengthy. But I haven’t been sure what to post, or even what is appropriate. A childhood friend, or rather, someone who was undoubtedly stitched onto the same quilt as I, another patch, on a greater design, died last month. She crashed her car in southeast Portland two miles from my house and died after three days in the hospital. I wanted to write about her. I did scribble in my journal and on the floral paper at her memorial service. I wanted to write about this person who was just so ALIVE I couldn’t fathom her being gone. She was so alive, it’s almost difficult to mourn. I know that if there is any afterlife, I will see her again. But I was just a childhood acquaintance friend. We played on sister soccer teams. We passed each other in the hall in middle school. Who am I to say these things? Life is fleeting. Her sudden death reminds me of this. Perhaps I will write more later. Maybe not. Jane, if you are out there listening, know that you are so loved and missed.

My radio silence is also embarrassing because I should probably be able to balance multiple projects as a writer, but I’ve instead been tied up with a Fulbright application. Which requires multiple pieces of writing! I found a grant for a master’s in creative writing and have been working around the clock to complete solid applications for both the university and Fulbright. Because I want to be admitted to this program so badly, I’m hesitant to share more.

Also, I read the first pages of Transgender Warriors. Once again, your words ensnared me. Thank you for that beautiful preface.