Because Bukowski Asked

April 19

 

I get the roar sometimes, I’m telling Bukowski.

Fingers holding pen, pressing against the wart which

maybe is from writing—

pens, did you give me HPV?

(warts come from viruses, yeah, that’s nasty)

I’m nasty, I’m fire, I’m fine

and Bukowski, he doesn’t give a fuck, I know.

22 years with a body in a grave or ashes cast

He doesn’t care, He wouldn’t if he were alive

 

This was his message:

If you care about approval, you’re not getting it—

if you’re writing for others, you won’t get them.

 

He won’t give a shit but I’m still sayin

a fire is roaring

arm hair would scorch if I stayed and didn’t write. this is

for no one

 

There was that time a lover told me she masturbated

after reading my poem published on the Academy

and she came so hard

. Was that foreplay?

I kept my underwear on

 

That she was surprised by my fire

when I loosed words, held their vowel and consonant hands

marched them along, rolled and narrowed my eyes

and purred

 

—As if i couldn’t be a ringmaster

of my own.       No one who expected me

to be timid with my words ever knew me.

 

She didn’t. Bukowski, keep ignoring me

 

 

If you have to say the basics to someone, maybe it doesn’t matter

what you’d ever want to tell them

so I’ll keep it to myself.

There is a roar in me.

 

Do not expect complacency. I’m woken

 

Hey Les. For National Poetry Month, Powell’s Books is running a Poetry Madness 15 percent sale on poetry titles and a fun class superlatives contest on its website. Every few days, folks can vote on a poet for a different superlative. There are a lot of poets I don’t know so I end up researching everyone. Today’s vote was for “Most Likely to Be Caught Smoking in the Bathroom.” I’m ridiculously thoughtful with my answers. Besides thinking about who was likely to smoke in the bathroom or some similarly frowned upon activity, I thought about who would have been caught. Bukowski wasn’t my answer but I stumbled across his poem so you want to be a writer? in the process. I love it. Feeling both fierce and whimsical, I penned a quick response while at my desk. I wish words always poured from me the way Bukowski writes about, but I’m grateful for the times they do.

riding my bike and being my friend: rewriting my story when fear has shaped my identity

April 19

Dear Les,

I biked to work today, I biked home, and that’s a big deal.

When I started this blog, I shared an explanation. I said I was working through gender stuff and that I had a fear of driving. The driving fear I’d work on with a therapist. Gender stuff, I’d write to you about. I’m happy I maintain this blog both because the gender binary and gender dysphoria cause me discomfort, and writing is a wonderful form of expression. I’ll probably never have solid answers to some of my questions and musings, or an end to my gender discomforts, but I think I’ve made some peace with that. My gender troubles pale before my driving phobia.

I may be nervous to come out to my parents as nonbinary, but I don’t expect them to stop loving me. With my fear of driving, however, I’ve often been surprised that anyone could ever love me. This fear and self-hatred, which thankfully have both calmed a great deal over the past two years, made me believe I deserved no one’s love or respect. How could I? I’m someone who likes to do things for myself and dislikes asking for favors—to the point of being unable to flag down servers at sushi restaurants to simply ask for menu items not on the sushi train. I learned young how to balance bags on my arms so as to never ring the doorbell or knock for someone to open doors for me. So how could I possibly let a fear govern me? How could I not manage it? Meet it, put it aside, and become a confident, licensed driver?

It’s not that I don’t drive that bothers me. I don’t imagine I’ll ever drive a lot, even if someday I end up loving it—I want to limit my carbon emissions. What bothers me is that I don’t drive because I’m afraid.

Agoraphobia refers to the (irrational) anxiety or dread some folks experience when they face certain situations, activities, or objects, or find themselves in certain places. I didn’t know the word until my employer used it last week when we were talking about driving; his wife had asked him if I drove and when he realized he had no idea he asked me. I used to dread him asking, dread any potential conversation with anyone in which driving would come up and I’d have to admit I didn’t have my license, and say why. I’m now in a mental place where I can casually share that I don’t drive and sometimes laugh about being afraid. Anxiety doesn’t grip me during these conversations anymore. The discomfort is more of a dull pain. Sometimes I don’t hurt at all.

It’s funny how many words there are for fears and how poorly they capture those fears. Words for fears are too loose nets, nylon that snaps, blocks of text away from the on the ground experiences. Agoraphobia as a word can never convey my discomfort when someone who means well asks why I don’t drive yet and hints I should just get my license. Agoraphobia doesn’t share the impact of my heart slamming when I wake from a nightmare in which I’m trapped in a car I have no control over, or worse, I had control of and crashed. Agoraphobia doesn’t share the shame I carry for not living the life I’d prefer: loading up a dusty Subaru every other weekend to go camping or make day trips, going on the semi-regular trip to a national park to then ditch my car and disappear with my framepack. It doesn’t capture the certainty that anyone who knows I don’t drive yet still likes me is deluded, or that anyone who doesn’t yet know is naive and will cease respecting me once they learn.

This great fear is a sickness. A mental illness—a trap I fell into unaware then kept myself in because I’ve lived so long with this fear and shame, it’s difficult to pull out it. Forgiving myself for being afraid and being gentle sometimes feels too good to be true.

But I’ve been working on it.

I haven’t driven a vehicle since I passed my driver’s ed test in Corvallis (beforehand parallel parking successfully on the first try), but I’ve been far more relaxed about my pedestrian lifestyle. Knowing that I am capable of learning how to drive, I can pass a test, and could drive if absolutely necessary eased some of my shame. I want to eventually practice more then obtain my license but I’ve tried to refrain from punishing myself for 18 month break. This gentleness has been important.

I’ve found other was to stretch and grow and take more control of my life. Always afraid of navigating roadways on my bike, particularly downtown, a place I’ve ridden perhaps once before, I’ve never biked as much as I’d prefer. Today I began to change that.

After a couple weeks of discussing it, my coworker and I finally biked to work today. I churned through my tried and true streets to the eastbank esplanade then met him at the Steel Bridge. At 8:15, I followed him across the bridge, looped onto Naito Parkway along the train tracks and industrial section of river, crossed the tracks and cut into northwest streets. It was sunny today, a summer day in spring, and I couldn’t stop looking around, squeezing my handles, readying my feet on my pedals at intersections, and smiling.

I was most nervous about my solo trip back to the river because it was my short day. But after verifying the return route was largley the same, glancing at my map, and eating a snack, I set off. I wasn’t sure where all my turns would be and was a bit anxious about getting back onto Naito Parkway, a large street with some unmarked sections, but I did it.

It was a perfect ride. I was calm and patient while navigating the neighborhood near work and the streets approaching the parkway. I was curious while figuring out a good route, not anxious. I was upbeat and compassionate. I was my friend when telling myself I was doing a good job while pedaling down the wide parkway, briefly sharing a lane with much faster and larger vehicles. I was calm when figuring out how to cross 3 lanes to the sidewalk approaching the river. I made it to the river and beamed at the bridges, the water, the sun reflecting off the ripples, the runners, cyclists, families, and my victory.

I was exactly who I needed to be today. I was exactly the person I needed.

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moments that cry out to be fulfilled

April 16

Dear Les,

There’s a studio in this city that has a pair of my pajamas on top of its dresser and a toothbrush and thing of floss for me in the bathroom. How this happened in a matter of weeks, I’m uncertain. If I told you when the studio apartment’s occupant and I met, I’d spend a few minutes gasping about our timeline. So here’s this for now: things have been going fast, but it’s somehow felt comfortable and natural, and I’ve tried to refrain from second-guessing a good thing.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have some little walls up or brakes installed for protection—who am I without brakes or bricks and mortar? But I’ve felt mostly free of those things since first meeting D. Perhaps time with FKS and our unceremonious parting (ghosting, Les) and my dad’s health stuff shook up me enough that I was in a complete “live and let live” frame of mind when D and I met. I felt relaxed, comfortable in my skin and mind, and (as a result) playful. D was attractive, a great conversation partner, and I laughed and teased a lot from the onset.

Dating is really weird when a person stops to consider. (Two or more people engaging with each other in ways they don’t engage with others, including, in some cases, physical intimacy? How and why?) It’s tricky, too. As comfortable as D and I seem to be with one another, I’m not without my reservations about dating right now. What we’re doing feels like a relationship but that’s not what either of us were looking for.

But it’s sweet to hold someone’s hand and be myself with them, and sense, despite having recently met, that they are at ease with me too. I’ve been leaning in to this clover-filled patch of my life and thinking about how Mary Oliver would finally smile and approve of my abandon. My life isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s a lovely, beautiful mess that’s being lived. Perhaps that makes it a masterpiece.

 

“Moments” by Mary Oliver

There are moments that cry out to be fulfilled.

Like, telling someone you love them.

Or giving your money away, all of it.

 

Your heart is beating, isn’t it?

You’re not in chains, are you?

 

There is nothing more pathetic than caution

when headlong might save a life,

even, possibly, your own.

 

-From Oliver’s book of poems, Felicity

Tulips and Appreciation

April 10

Were you ever in love with the world, Les? So darn enamored you caught yourself from tripping? I find that just like with colors, I can’t pick a favorite season. I’m in love with the the spin of the earth on its axis and our trip around the sun. I’m in love with living in a place that experiences changes in light and warmth. So it goes, there’s something to love about every season. For a while this year, when pondering possible least favorites, I considered winter. But while in Yosemite, I saw the leaf- and star-shaped ice in puddles in the red earth floor below sequoias. Perfect replicas of leaves in ice, no leaf detritus in sight. And I remembered I lived in a world with wonders in every season. Every single day there’s something to celebrate.

Every year, spring swells my heart with the sight of tulips. I can’t explain how excited or peaceful I get. How I will stop wherever I am if I feel drawn to admiring a flower more fully. I can’t not acknowledge every patch or lone tulip around and admire the differences in shape, size, pattern, and color. The petal tips pointed like a swallow’s wings, the classic rounded ones, reminding themselves of the Netherlands.

I fall in love with the world every time I see a tulip. I just do.

Maybe because there are so many kinds and I haven’t seen all of them yet. Maybe because they complement each other. Maybe because the rains can knock their petals from them, and scatter the ground with wilting color. Maybe because their bulbs can grow soggy under ground and we’ll never know exactly what will rise. Maybe because every year they are a gift.

I was born into this world, in this place, in this age, and I don’t know how I feel about that sometimes, but oh god, these colors, Les. I’m so glad to live in a world with these tulips.

 

 

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3 Strikes and Someone Owes Me an Ice Cream Cone: How to Get Folks to Stop Misgendering

April 6

Dear Les,

Last week, a brilliant idea struck me. Okay, brilliant may not be the right adjective here, but I’m sticking with it. I thought of a way for people to pay attention to the ways they refer to me and stop misgendering. Being called girl, grrl, lady, woman or any other feminine noun just doesn’t do it for me, especially if someone knows better. Actually especially if I still need to share my preferences with someone, but let’s focus on the people who do know better.

If I share my nonbinary gender identity with someone, they should honor that by referring to me in gender neutral ways, both formally and informally.

I understand some individuals playfully address many people in their lives as “girl/gurl/grrl”, but it’s important to recognize not everyone may be comfortable being addressed in this manner. I’m not. Calling me a “grrl” after I’ve indicated I’m uncomfortable with girl nouns isn’t cute. If a person knows an AFAB individual doesn’t identify as female, they should reevaluate their wordplay. They can even ask that individual! The point is it’s not okay to ignore another person’s discomfort and pretend everything is okay and funny because “everyone” is girl.*

So what’s the idea?

If a person continues to misgender me (pronouns, nouns) after I share my preferences with them, I will playfully but firmly tell them that if they misgender me three more times they owe me ice cream, juice, or a slice of pizza. This is a somewhat fun and funny way of asking someone to pay closer attention to the way they address me. Rather than being aggressive, it says that I care about them and our relationship (enough to spend time getting ice cream, etc with them), and I care about my health. Of course, this is best used with friends and other folks you are on good, possibly fun terms with.

I first tried this with the person I went on a first date with a week and a half today. She thoughtfully asked my pronouns while we walked to a sushi restaurant; she had noticed I wrote “genderqueer” on my Tinder profile. We had a casual conversation about my gender then moved on to the next topic. After she accidentally misgendered me a couple of times (including “grrl” with that “everyone” explanation, but an apology), I told her if she did it three more times, she owed me ice cream. Four hours later, she slipped for the third time and I laughed and told her she owed me an ice cream. I already knew we’d go out again, so this wasn’t an uncomfortable request. On our third date, with me in a pizza mood, she delivered on her promise and bought me pizza.

She hasn’t misgendered me since.

Some limitations to this fun idea:

It’s not the best if you think someone will intentionally misgender you to get time with you. My date didn’t but she could have if she thought it was a way to ensure a second date. If you feel harassed by someone, don’t use this with them. Unless you feel safe/respected enough to assertively request something that doesn’t involve spending additional time with them, like a pack of gum. (“Tom, if you do that 3 more times, I’m going to have to ask you to buy me gum.”)

The point of this exercise is not to get people to buy you food or treats, but to remind them of your preferences and get them to be more conscious of their behavior.

So far it’s been great.

 

*Two months ago, I found myself looking down at the person I was with and thinking, “really?” when she called me “girl” during sex. I’m a pretty easygoing person and I wasn’t angry or sad, but I did feel unseen and not respected.

Alternate title for this piece:

Give Me My Gender or Give Me Pizza: How I’m Getting Folks to Honor My Identity

 

who are you doing this you for?

April 4

Hey Les,

International Transgender Day of Visibility was last week and I wish I could say that I came out to the rest of my oblivious peers on Facebook, but I didn’t. I’m out as nonbinary to many people in my life and have few qualms about making a statement about my gender on Facebook but haven’t. I haven’t had a conversation about my nonbinary identity with my parents yet, and out of respect for them, I’m waiting. I’ve posted genderqueer, beyond-the-binary content on my page, including my featured Boobed and Not-So-Dangerous post on Neutrois Nonsense, but I haven’t directly stated that I’m not a girl.

It’s a really kickass and affirming thing to be out to the world and not carry the daily weight of others’ false ideas of your gender, but I want to write about the opposite now: how it’s also okay and valid to not be out sometimes. There are some really good reasons people remain quiet about their identities.

There are many reasons folks remain quiet about their actual identities but I’ll focus on mine. To begin, here’s the question that inspired this post.

Who are you doing this you for?

I scribbled this question in my work notebook last month while thinking about the identities and titles we adopt and why, including the compromises we make with ourselves and others, whether they are necessary or not. While reading Gender Failure this fall, I was moved by something I’m pretty certain Canadian artist, musician, and performer Ivan Coyote wrote; while I haven’t been able to refind it in my book yet, I’m pretty sure I didn’t imagine it.* Ivan Coyote,who uses they/their pronouns, mentioned they go by “she/her” when working with young women in schools. Why? Because they want “girls” who may not actually fall within the binary as cis-girls to see who they could grow up to be. Or to show cis-girls that they could grow up to do nonconformative things too. That moved me, Les. The idea that we can adjust how we identify to lend a hand or hope to our younger selves is powerful.

Did I completely imagine that passage? Even if Ivan Coyote doesn’t identify as she/her to young women, I think it’s a lovely and bittersweet to edit our public presentation (title, not appearance) to ensure young people can find gender role models. I’m a pretty comfortably frank queer and genderqueer person (with some exceptions, as I share), but it took years to get here, Les. My younger self wouldn’t have imagined I was trans. My 12 year-old self couldn’t have guessed I’d end up here. Maybe if I’d known of more nonbinary and queer people, I would have seen more of a future for myself. But I wouldn’t have found it by looking for trans and nonbinary folks. I didn’t know what being nonbinary was.

A few weeks ago, I posted a piece that I tagged “lesbian” and for days afterwards I felt uncomfortable. I’m not actually a lesbian-identified individual. Those days are gone. I tagged the piece lesbian because the girl I was seeing in the poem identifies as one and I wanted to honor her identity and acknowledge that some lesbian-identified folks on this site might identify with some of the content. But tagging it that way made me feel a little sick for days afterwards. Like I was lying about who I am. Like I was pandering for likes when I’m actually just here to write to you and read other lovely humans’ writings.

I think it’s fine for some trans and nonbinary AFAB folks to hold onto their “lesbian” tags but I’m not sure if it’s right for me yet. I want to be able to offer a hand to my younger self, if she ever goes looking for help, but I’m unsure if I can bear the weight of “lesbian” right now, even for her. My muscles no longer hold that weight.

Who am I out to as queer?

As far as I know, most people in my life know I’m queer. Most passersby probably know I’m queer. My parents, siblings, extended family, coworkers, classmates, and employers know. If my dog understands romantic relationships, she probably knows. It’s not an issue. And if it was, I wouldn’t really care. I’m out to my family and I have their support (although coming out to my parents was initially rocky), and that’s all I care about. My core support network is solid. Nobody else gets to affect my sense of self. No one can make ya feel inferior without your consent, so says Eleanor Roosevelt, but we often give consent. I don’t anymore. Anyone’s possibly negative opinion of my sexuality means nothing to me these days; I don’t give anyone that power over my sense of self.

Is it harsh to say I don’t care what people think of me? I do for many other areas, but not this.

Who am I out to as genderqueer?

Most university coworkers, friends, and even some faculty

Most good friends (if not, it’s because we haven’t spoken in awhile)

FB friends who pay attention

siblings

As of last week, my current coworkers in the Contact Center; I shared in the blurb about me in the newsletter that I prefer gender-neutral nouns (person, friend, coworker, scamp, etc)

Who am I not out to and why?

As a nonbinary human, my parents. Anyone else, it’s probably because I’m not out to my parents. I try to restrain myself from running around yelling “I’m not a girl, please don’t ma’am, miss, or lady me!” As I mentioned, I’d like to post a statement about my gender on Facebook and request to be addressed in gender-neutral ways, but can’t just yet. My mom’s on Facebook and I haven’t told her or my dad. I don’t want her to feel shocked, hurt, and angry at finding out I’m queer from the Internet rather than a conversation. I know I’m playing with fire by maintaining this blog—my mom could probably find this one following a link to my poetry and photography blog from my Facebook.

This is my guilt: knowing I’ve invested so much time in gender exploration but haven’t shared key aspects of my identity, including/especially preferred ways of being addressed, with my parents.

But I think I also deserve to feel safe and comfortable.

Why not come out?

Sometimes it’s just not relevant to the conversation or matter at hand to share one’s sexuality or gender with another human. Who the heck cares what my gender/sexuality is while talking sports or the prison industrial complex? Unless somewhere in that conversation I feel I’m being mis-identified and feel safe enough to say something, I don’t see a reason.

Other reasons to not come out?

Safety. Sometimes having a roof over one’s head or food is more important that coming out. Not for everyone, but for some people. I don’t think my parents would kick me out for being nonbinary, but I’d feel much more comfortable having our conversation after obtaining my own place. I don’t want to feel dependent upon them for basic needs when I come out. If the conversation is difficult, it’d be more comfortable for everyone probably to be able to part ways then rejoin for further conversations after some dust settles. It’s difficult to advocate for yourself if you feel like you are going to lose something important—shelter, relationships, safety, etc.

There is strength in taking care of one’s self. There are multiple ways to practice self-care as a trans, nonbinary and/or queer person, and sometimes it involves waiting to come out, or not coming out at all.

I love and respect my parents and I don’t think my coming out will be disastrous, but I know it will be difficult, Les. It will take time before things smooth out and we all feel comfortable enough talking about gender and my own not-a-girl identity. I hope to come out soon. Hopefully within the next few months. And while I feel guilty for waiting to share such important information with my parents (perhaps I’m overestimating how difficult this conversation will be), I’m glad that I’m trying to take care of myself. I’m glad that I’m trying to prepare myself for our conversation.

Next year, I’ll post something on International Transgender Day of Visibility. I don’t plan on waiting until then to finish coming out.

*If I was mistaken about the Ivan Coyote thing, please correct me, Internet. Why/where did I get that idea?