milk bus baby (the milk on the bus)

March 23

LES.

I’ve had so many funny experiences this week, I’ll burst if I hold them in any longer. So I have to tell you at least one now. I’m glad I already wrote about the cherry blossoms last night, because I’ve been keeping a mental list of these funnies and it’s getting long enough that some memories will soon fade to the ether. Also, for the record, I sniffed lots of cherry blossoms today and I don’t think they are smelly. They aren’t sweet and lovely, sure, but they are nice in their own way. Musky and alive. If my congested sinuses and I are completely wrong, just let me know. But just so you’re aware, I find the bright side of most things, so if you magically float a pile of the smelliest blossoms outside my front door, I’ll probably admire how gorgeous they are and try not to roll in them. I do that sort of thing.

And that’s really only bad for whomever hugs me. So my mom and dad. My dog will be thrilled at the extra smells.

Moving on, I’ll tell you about the milk on the bus. This happened on Monday, at the end of my cherry blossom day.

The new bus buddy

Just after 5 o’clock, T and I boarded the bus together, along with plenty of other off-at-5 employees. The bus stop is directly across the street from our warehouse, and despite being in the industrial part of town, the bus is already crowded at 5. T and I were lucky to find a couple of seats near the middle of the bus. But guess what?

There was a half-gallon carton of milk on one of the seats. Sitting by its lonesome.

Trisha slid past it to sit down. I stuttered in the aisle. Glanced around, asked the guy talking behind us (on his phone, it turned out) and he didn’t know whose it was. The milk was riding solo. I picked up the milk and half sat down then stopped. I could be an assertive human being. I COULD DO SOMETHING.

So the milk and I walked to the front of the bus. I did the walking, the milk chilled in my arms.

I neared the driver and shared that the milk had been left, to which he replied, “I can’t do anything about that while I’m driving.” No, of course, he couldn’t. I knew that! But I also didn’t want to put it in the garbage; it was a perfectly good unopened carton. So I enthusiastically broke one of the most firmly established unspoken rules: I addressed my fellow riders. Standing in the middle of the aisle, I held up the milk, and tried to find its former and/or future human.

With a smile, “Is this anyone’s milk? No one will judge you if it’s yours!….No?

Does anyone want it? It’s fresh—best by April 1 (I refrained saying this wasn’t April Fools), and unopened.”

I gazed at my fellow introverts, and we were a very amused crowd. Who left this milk?? Who would claim it?? I’m sure I said more, but alas, no one spoke up. When I glanced behind me, the driver was fighting a laugh. He told me to just put it next to the garbage.

As I noticed, and T called from her seat, however, there was a hole between the plexiglass and the platform that the carton likely would have slid through (and fallen to the floor). I considered placing the carton behind the garbage can where it wouldn’t fall but also wouldn’t be very visible. The driver shot that down; nobody wants rotten milk.

So, extending the carton between my hands like Simba, I gazed at my bus-mates, called, “anyone?” and slowly lowered the milk into the garbage. People laughed and smiled, but no one claimed it.

After joining T, I lamented not telling folks that the milk was still cold.

We chortled to ourselves about how funny it would have been to put a cap on the milk carton and let it have its own seat. Maybe given it little overalls, too, like the Despicable Me minions.  Later, I shared this idea with my cousin over sushi. We agreed that a bag of sugar or pineapple would be better. If we lived in a less troubled age, and I didn’t worry about anyone perceiving our milk/sugar/pineapple baby as a bomb, I would consider giving one a bus outing. It’d be so great, Les. Imagine a little bag of sugar with a bicycle cap and little shoes just busing around town. What a grand adventure.

 

what’s this for?

March 22

Sometimes I wonder what the purpose of this blog is, because I don’t think you get enough joy from me, Les. And while trying not to be like women shamed into smiling by catcalling strangers or familiar men who don’t get that they’re upholding a double standard by asking women to smile when they wouldn’t ask men the same, I do want to be more joyful here.

Lately I’ve been sharing more pieces containing feelings of confusion, anguish, shame, or other discomfort. I’ve shared letters about dating, polyamory, my dad’s health, sex, asexuality, nonbinary living, and I’ve definitely written many more letters to you I haven’t posted. Back in August, I told you I’d write you about gender and sexuality, and some angst comes with that territory, but I’ve been feeling extra exposed and anxious about my letters recently, and that’s no good. Maybe I’ve been too personal, maybe too negative, maybe too self-absorbed. Maybe all three and then some. Probably the latter.

Regardless, I don’t want to overshadow the other stuff—all of the joy, gratitude, and relief, I regularly feel.

Because while I regularly write about complicated topics and let some uncertainty or pain appear in my poetry, life is pretty darn good.

I think I need to make more of an effort to share those joys, even if they don’t seem to directly relate to topics of gender and sexuality. Laughter is important.

Yesterday morning, giggles bubbled out of me and my coworker T as we instant messaged each other from across the office. After expressing my intense need for a hike in Forest Park to her and another coworker (including an inexplicable urge to roll around in the dirt), she told me about seeing a woman smell cherry blossoms on her way out of a grocery store that morning. This woman raised her face towards the flowers, sniffed, then jolted back with an “oh!” T laughed both in the moment and in the retelling. Apparently, cherry blossoms smell bad. T warned me not to smell them, and so of course I promised I definitely would, today or tomorrow!  I have to know! As I still haven’t found a short enough tree, I’m venturing back out tonight to look for one. Someone’s gotta smell the cherry blossoms in the dark.

During my next call, which I answered choked with swallowed laughter, I found a lull in which to ask the customer, a (probably) middle-aged white woman, polite, but not friendly, if she had ever smelled cherry blossoms. I explained why I was asking, and shared why I’d been laughing as I answered the phone. She told me she hadn’t smelled cherry blossoms before either and now she had to as well! We laughed and wished each other good smellings at the end of the call. I asked her not to hold it against the bookstore if it didn’t go well.

My kind of customer service includes conversations like that.  Last Friday I let a caller talk for a few minutes about whale watching in Alaska because I REALLY want to see a whale and there weren’t any waiting callers. Apparently I need to bring my average call time down about a minute but I’m not cutting out that laughter.

Les, life is a mess and that’s not such a bad thing. Sometimes I question what this [life] is for, and but the little moments sustain me as much as anything. I’ll share more of those joys in the future.

I will continue to write you about gender and sexuality. Yes, I have anxiety about my gender, the gender binary, and sexuality, and I get self-conscious about sharing that anxiety on here, but I think that’s alright. Things aren’t tidy and perfect for me or anyone else. The messy is okay. I hope it’s okay with you that I want to keep writing.

Right now I’ve got to go find some cherry blossoms.

Ace While Agender, Always Caught in a Blender

March 20

Les,

There have been years I knew I wasn’t going to date anyone unless I felt like wearing the dresses in my closet. If the desire to wear them never came and my dresses remained untouched, I’d think, “welp, missed the boat again.”

Somehow the me that enjoys wearing the right dress or skirt is melded with the part of me that experiences romantic and sexual attraction. That me flirts and shimmies with a wink and laughter. That me occasionally wears lingerie instead of tight Adidas sports bras and sparks at teasing lovers.

That me hasn’t been around much in years.

For the past two and a half years, more of my time has been spent in a different state of being: agender. I always identify outside the gender binary of woman and man—dress-wearing me is also queer and nonbinary—but agender me feels distant from gender and attraction altogether. With a passport, I can get as close as looking through a window. I can see other people date, identify with “butch,” “femme,” girl, “boi,” and other names, and I can scroll through online dating profiles, but I usually feel removed from it all.

Agender’s not new for me. More of my time just seems to be spent this way now.

Two years ago, I composed a poem, Shapeshifter, about my gender changing with the seasons, as well as a poem called Tea Hour about the ignored dresses in my closet.  I was accustomed to wearing heavier, more gender-neutral clothing in fall and winter, and more “feminine” clothing like dresses and skirts in spring, but my dysphoria at wearing the latter articles of clothing was lasting much longer. I’d sometimes wonder if I should remove the chiffon, velvet, and soft cottons from their hangers, fold them carefully, and donate them. Maybe a part of me was gone.

While I’m agender, I feel somewhat blank and invisible. Asexual, aromantic, and incapable of attracting others.* Not attracting others isn’t a bad thing if I don’t experience crushes myself; I wouldn’t want anyone to experience any painful unrequited affection toward me.

But I do sometimes stress about feeling blank and invisible. I strain against the a’s of my gender and sexuality when they don’t seem completely natural. I want to experience attraction and know some part of me is capable regardless of my gender identity or expression. But in my gender fluidity between agender and a more feminine nonbinary, I get anxious someone will want to trap me in one. I worry someone I may fall for will only want one version of me and I’ll be stuck in clothes and behavior that don’t fit when the seasons switch. Or someone who could like me one way (dress-wearing me, even if I’m not wearing dresses), will never do so if I’m stuck in agender. I realize these anxieties may sound ridiculous. Perhaps they are.

Does this happen to anyone else? Does your sexuality (regularly) fluctuate with your gender? Do you worry about dating as a genderfluid person? Did yours change when you lived as a man, Les?

 

*What we take for our realities often aren’t so true. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded how limited our perceptions are, even if we don’t connect with what others tell us. Once, I told my coworker and friend at my university’s pride center that I felt invisible to others when it came to dating. I stated this as a matter of fact in passing, coupling it with my gender dysphoria and asexuality. He disrupted the conversation to wind things back and tell me that multiple people had approached him about me. I was just surprised. A confused block of ice.

letter to a lightning lover after the clouds have passed

March 15

Les, this letter isn’t for you, today. It’s also not going to the person I addressed it to a month ago. These words are just dissipating into air like water particles during a rainbow. Shining briefly then disappearing. Never really meant to be touched.


Dear         ,

You tell me that you are a hot mess yet say this is the cleanest you’ve ever been. You shared over your vegan biscuits and gravy that you will always be a mess—you can’t tell me otherwise. And you look at me as if these were my words for you: “hot mess.” They weren’t. They aren’t, although you seem to think you have my measure, seem to believe you know what I think, want, or expect from you. Maybe you’ve made a home in those words,            . Maybe you’ve brushed aside the t and s’s and pulled the furniture of those two words together.

I don’t think you are a hot mess and I don’t view you poorly. I look at you and listen to you and see that we are different people with different ways of moving through the world. And I think that we both have big hearts albeit with different wiring. While I perhaps have more reason to be open and trusting, I keep my walls high (even when it appears I am a meadow: calm and open). I struggle to be intimate with even one person but intimacy with one person is what I prefer. If more than that, perhaps holes would form in that muscle called a heart, light would shoot out, it would crack, and I’d be left unwired, ungrounded, un-me.

You, however, despite the many experiences which could have influenced you to shut yourself off from others entirely, seem to love easily. You’ve got so much, you share this with multiple people. You are sweet, kind, gentle (or not if it’s consensual), and supportive. Curious, engaged. That’s not a hot mess, beautiful. You just live and love differently. And I wish I could say your polyamory didn’t make me sad, but it does.

And while my heart twinges, I marvel that I can feel anything at all.

You asked me what I was looking for, at that two-person breakfast table. You asked why I was on Tinder. I answered honestly. I wasn’t looking for, but perhaps for an if — if I could, my bones damp wood left outside of a woodshed, feel anything with anyone. We met at Cruz Room that first night and I held myself away from you but during our laughter and talk I felt myself warm slightly, move from the flyaway drops of rain. The wind still cut through me as we waited at the bus stop. You experimented with holding my hand for a moment after I casually said hand holding was my favorite thing in a relationship although a poor fit of hands was telling. I thought your move was presumptuous, especially for someone with a girlfriend. I wasn’t sure how I felt about our hands fitting. I apologized for my icy fingers. Shoved you playfully, danced away.

In your polyamory, I found both more walls in myself, sadness, and relief. Relief because I wasn’t looking for a relationship. Relief because there’d be less pressure on me to be somebody’s everything. I could never be someone’s everything and they could never be mine.

There are many shades of love and I’ve looked through my box of crayons trying to find a color for what I feel for you. I can’t. I kept thinking periwinkle, but I think I’m just hung up on periwinkle. I’ve never been good at singling out colors. I also know using those four letters jars minds and mouths.

But I’m calling bullshit on that insecurity (mine and others’). Because there are different shades of love and I don’t need to desire a relationship, be in love, or be loved, to know the strength of my care. There are no strings attached here. No expectation. Just as I do not expect the tulips to bloom for me every spring even though they cause me much jubilation. At the end of the day, I would rather feel this open and trusting than nothing at all.

I think I know this about myself,         : I am some kind of stone, but I can still care. And that affection, despite its surprising appearance, is not riddled in expectation.

                  , I am answering you again, a month later. Even if you are a hot mess, you are not my storm.

I hope you are well. Safe travels to California.


This letter has diagonal lines through it in my journal, and the note to myself: Not now, Sugar. Nope. Mostly because of the paragraph about shades of love. Mostly because a letter was too much to write at all.

UPDATE (3/16) – I don’t mean to imply the person I address calls herself a hot mess for being poly, although that seems to be what I respond most strongly to in this letter. Her life is turbulent for many reasons and I wish to honor that. Perhaps every syllable of this letter is too much to let loose from a journal, including this addendum, but I really don’t want to convey that any human is a mess simply for being who they are.

Andrea Gibson, Hawthorne Theater, Anxiety, Menstrual Storm, Living

March 9

Dear Les,

I wrote the following poem last night while waiting for Andrea Gibson to come on stage at a local theater. My buddy and I have passed by the landmark brick building all of our lives but hadn’t entered since it became a theater in high school. I’ll admit I’ve long associated it with bands I don’t recognize and shivering goth/emo/queer teenagers waiting outside.

In trying to show up on-time early, my buddy and I unwittingly showed up two hours early and were some of the queers waiting outside in the rain. My buddy was excited to see Gibson and nervous about the possibility of seeing their ex with her new girlfriend. I was tired, unsure about an evening where I might run into FKS, and bleeding from my vagina. We were soon joined by their girlfriend whom I met for the first time and her two friends. I was humbled that they were all kind, warmhearted, and easy to talk to. Upon obtaining entry to the theater and collecting wrist ink, we still had an hour to kill before the opener. There was a bar accessible to everyone but me; in walking to the theater, I’d forgotten everything but my journal, pen, and PANSY at home. I waved off the others, leaned against the sound box, gazed around the dark theater, unsuccessfully squinted at a couple of pages of PANSY, then opened my journal and let my pen race. It had been a long day, and week, and month.

 

The new version of anxiety is lucid dreaming

of wooden deck chairs tattooed onto the big toes

of an old friend and the first girl I ever fell for

at a dinner in a formal sun porch dining room

of my house which was not my own—

she and her friend at the table, and a man

my dad’s age having a heart attack and me jumping,

running to the landline, not thinking

of my cracked but still croaking iPhone on the table

in front of me or the other smart phones in the room.

I guess I just needed some tether to the land to hold

one week after surgeons cut open my dad’s chest

for open heart surgery.

Last night, I woke up with pressure in my chest

several times, a dark curtain descending.

At work this morning, a coworker said it could be gas—

I wondered how the air knotted itself so high

in my chest cavity.

 

And I write this from the blue light periphery

of the sound box in the teenagers’ Hawthorne Theater,

waiting alone in the nonbar section, which is the main section,

which is not, of course, the main section,

with my journal for my friend and their girlfriend and friends,

and headliner Andrea Gibson,

and perhaps the girl who ghosted me and took a minute

to apologize and admit she was ghosting me

and perhaps her ex-girlfriend who could have retired the

e and x, and perhaps the departure of these gas molecules,

this anxiety.

I look around. I wish I had a wooden deck chair beside me.

 


After writing this poem, I gave my buddy my stuff then ran the .7 miles home in the rain, where I switched rain jackets, grabbed my wallet and keys, went to the bathroom, lay on my floor for thirty seconds and yelled/laughed to my brother (“my gas is so bad”), took two aspirin, went to the bathroom again, then ran back to the theater—outpacing a far more sensibly-dressed man running with his dog. I made it in time for the opener, SOAK, with minor menstrual storminess. Both SOAK and Andrea Gibson were wonderful. I didn’t run into FKS, but my buddy and I did happily share hugs with P, who ended up being there with a friend. In that fishbowl of queers, I think my buddy and I were both relieved we avoided any interactions with exes/folks with whom things might not have been as comfortable.

Also, maybe you already read this from wherever you are, but Gibson dedicated PANSY to you. The dedication:

“With gratitude for the art and activism of Leslie Feinberg who died of Lyme Disease on November 15, 2014.”

And your quotes:

“Gender is the poetry each of us makes out of the language we are taught.”

“I do not believe that our sexuality, gender expression and bodies can be liberated without making a ferocious mobilization against imperialist war and racism an integral part of our struggle.”

A fitting tribute, Les. I hope you are well, wherever you are.

 

polite company

March 6

Les,

I live, perhaps, my own experiences of asexual

sometimes a, sometimes sexual, always x—searching for some answers

a month ago, while still flirting with another feral soul, i wrote

about a night

I nipped, whispered, and stroked

her to moans and yeses at 3 or 4 in the morning

when her room and house were dark and silent

waking her somehow from slumber beforehand,

apologizing between kisses

for keeping her awake, smiling into her neck

when she replied it was her favorite reason

to be awakened

She offered to cut my hair

if I had a buzzer

And so, while perhaps this was not

the stuff of casual (or is it)—it is was

not for the long term either

I warned her to ignore my body

when I told her I was cold, but later

                                                –

my teasing body atop hers, softening slightly,

I could feel the beginnings of warmth

so perhaps there is sway. I wish I could say

with certainty

   _                         that I feel

the way lovers would like me to.

Addendum:

I do not wish to erode

                                                  to sand.

Would my dad have been treated as well if he was trans? Gratitude and questions after a defused time bomb aneurysm

March 5

Dear Les,

I was going to post a piece I wrote on Thursday about gender identity, health, and hospital visits as someone with a loved one in the hospital, but it was written through half-mast eyelids and repetitive. The gist was this:

I am exhausted. I was and remain bone tired from worry, care, and hospital visits, but my family and I are all better than we would have been had my father received lower quality and less compassionate healthcare. We are exhausted from this sudden journey into the serious side of the healthcare system, but one thing that has lowered our stress levels is the way my dad has been treated. When we waited in the surgical waiting room with our noses in books or eyes on the still-bare deciduous trees in the courtyard, we were at the mercy of the surgeons working on his heart in the operating room. When we stood in my dad’s critical care or general cardiological unit rooms lacking any medical expertise of our own and deferring to every single doctor, nurse, physical therapist, and dietary ambassador who came in, we were at their mercy. We were, it seemed, at the mercy of everyone helping my heavily wired and IV-clad dad. And thankfully, they were excellent.

We felt powerless, but knowing my dad was in good hands made us all healthier.

What if my dad was trans? FtM, MtF, or genderqueer? Would he have received the same level of care? I think we live in one of the best cities for trans individuals, but even if hospital workers meant well, I’m sure he would have had to deal with some uncomfortable looks and questions. A stressor that does someone with a serious heart problem no favors. If he were trans, would my dad have even visited a doctor in January or February? Would anyone have caught the aneurysm before it burst? From what I understand, aortas are normally as wide as a garden hose. The morning of surgery, surgery he was scheduled for as a priority patient, his aorta was the size of a large fist. A time bomb defused how long before detonation?

Les, I think about how your life could have been longer if you’d had access to gender-inclusive medical care. How early your tick bit could have been caught and treated before you developed Lyme Disease. How even if it hadn’t been caught in time, you probably still would have been able to achieve a higher quality of life had you been able to reach out to a physician knowing they wouldn’t mistreat you because of your gender identity and presentation.

I want to live in a world where every individual, regardless of their identity, receives healthcare as compassionate, competent, and respectful as the care my dad received this week.

My dad’s life was saved on Tuesday. I am thankful.

 

night before surgery

February 29

Dear Les,

It’s Leap Day, the 29th of February, a day that reminds people who stop to think about the unusual date that there are actually 365.25 days in the year. Not 365. 365, a number most folks take for granted, doesn’t cover everything. In some ways, that number is arbitrary. But no matter how we write our calendars, we still revolve around the sun. Still spin in a solar system with Mars, Jupiter, Neptune, Saturn, and even Pluto.

And all of us, no matter what gender identity we were assigned or have claimed, are all breathing until we don’t.

In 10 hours I’ll settle into an impersonal chair somewhere in Providence Portland Medical Center two miles from my house while surgeons open my father’s chest and work on his heart. He has an aneurysm that by many accounts would have killed or hospitalized most people. Instead of dying back in January, my dad and his super heart just went to work on Monday. One of my dad’s surgeons told my parents that in his entire career he’d only met one other person walking around and living almost normally after an aneurysm like that. I hope my dad’s heart keeps up the good work.

I’ll wake up tomorrow and hug my dad before he and my mom head to the hospital at 5:15. I’ll go to the hospital myself when he heads in to surgery at 7:30. And I’ll wait.

Maybe sometime after he recovers a good deal, I’ll sit down and begin the gender conversation we’ve needed to have for years.  Five years ago this month I came out for the last time to my parents as queer (last time as in this is it, I’m queer and will always be queer). It’s about time to finally come out as genderqueer.

But right now, that doesn’t matter much to me. All I want is for my dad to have a successful surgery. I want to see him smile when he regains consciousness and hear a cheesy joke when he’s less groggy. I want my dad.

I’m going to bed, Les. I’m getting up early tomorrow.