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.

(an)other human

January 29

I am playing with fire, Les

even with flame smoking

                         out of sight.

                    *

I woke up from a dream

to a dream of texts

composed, never sent,

but received:

I told her “sentiment is waiting”

and she replied about her girlfriend

as if I was referring to us

and how she was glad we had a boardgame to sit

and play because she was waiting

for their anniversary

                     *

What “sentiment,” what “boardgame,”

and         why?

                       *

Why these words after repeatedly

telling me about her crushing—

                       *

When did I become an other human,

not just another human? I break

my rules, Les,

I said never to this happening.

                       *

I am stone and sticks broken

by words

or words broken by stone

and sticks.

                        *

She may be poly, but I am monogamous

with a history

of running. I am not good

with commitment

because I am afraid

of settling

                                      now    or     then

                          *

And I had told her sentiment is waiting

because I am soft

but far (too) stone

for her to receive warmth and flame

from me.

                      *

My limbs are only kindling

cluttered by ice.

through the telescope, on the examination table

January 4

Les,

In another life, I was a 19 year old at the University of Oregon in Eugene. This was a life or two ago. It’s hard to keep track, but it wasn’t this one.  Not this one, where I graduated from Oregon State University in 2015, or realized that the stickiness on the back of my gender labels had dried, girl had dropped, and I no longer considered myself a girl, a lesbian, or much of anything easily defined.

After breaking up with my first girlfriend (whom that word no longer fits if it ever did, but I think it did ring sweet for both of us at the time), I was a wreck. Wrecks, my friend and sophomore year roommate Nata said of both my ex and I, when she and I went out for sushi a few weeks ago. She and I both spent silent minutes letting our giant sushi rolls dissolve slightly in our mouths before chewing. We pointed at our cheeks, and averted our eyes from each other, so as to avoid laughing and choking. We still laughed at times—I turned my face to the front door so the chefs and serves wouldn’t see the rice and fish nearly escape my mouth.

P, formerly K, they, formerly she, and I were both wrecks after the break-up. I nodded about my ghost self and looked away from Nata. I wondered about P. Beyond their first two weeks, beyond that initial shock, did they continue to feel the break? Did they feel it when I sat next to them in their bedroom five weeks afterward when we were back in Eugene, after delivering them my extra bike lights because I noticed they still didn’t have any? Did they still carry scrap metal as I noticed the small hickey on their ear and attempted to joke that the girl they were seeing should be careful? Careful with those ears I had loved so recently? I realized I couldn’t actually joke when they joked back. I was wrecked long before the break-up, Les. I just carried different types of numbness after the separation.

They wanted me to stay and eat the dinner they cooked. I sat on a stool then left just before they were done. They were upset—didn’t I know I was supposed to stay when someone offers food. They had a hickey, Les. I made them promise to use the bike lights, which I had visited the nearby drug store to buy batteries for although I didn’t tell them that. Then I left.

It was 9 months before I held someone else’s hand—once. It was 14 months before I kissed another person. I broke up with P because I was already totaled from depression even if it didn’t quite look it yet from the outside. I broke up with P because deep down I knew we didn’t belong together in the long-run. I broke us up because I was depressed, and I knew I needed to dig myself out alone. I didn’t want them to drown in dirt or water with me. It took years, Les, but I climbed out. I climbed a little everyday. Sometimes I just shifted my feet left or right; sometimes I dropped a couple of feet, but still, I climbed.

I broke up with them four years ago, today, I realize. I didn’t intend for today’s date to bear any significance. This post was unplanned.

We had two terms left in the year after our break up. I stepped carefully. The city was colored with our footsteps and our handholding. Where I accompanied them to peruse comic books, where we ate out when we did, where we would have eaten if I’d had more money. Where we walked. Where we sat on campus and they played the guitar. When I left Eugene for good, it wasn’t because the break-up. But leaving where I spent so much time living and loving with P—and it not being enough—was a plus.

At one point that year, I expressed interest in attending a rugby party a few blocks away. I was interested in meeting other lesbians, other queer folks. I wanted to get out. Nata told me they (the rugby players) would eat me alive. They partied hard, and I was myself. Was there a joke about me not being butch somewhere in there, Les?  Nobody has ever called me butch. Or maybe this: if anyone did, it was a joke. Or if they meant it sincerely, I looked at them stunned, or nodded my head and felt amused while rejecting its validity. I cannot imagine anyone meaning it sincerely. What Nata meant was this: I was a wisp. I was a pixie, I was innocent. I don’t know what any of us ever means by innocent. Also, anyone could lift me. I had 3 inches on both P and Nata, but they outweighed me. I do not like my feet to leave the ground, but many people I have met, including Nata, enjoy lifting me. Does anyone lift a butch?

I’ve had bike lights stolen. This summer or fall, someone came up on my porch and stole my helmet. Can you imagine safety being stolen?

Can you steal or protect safety?

Which life am I in now?

No More L Word

December 5

Well, Leslie, I tried. I really did. I watched an entire season of The L Word, plus an episode of season 2 and I just can’t force myself to watch more. I know many folks fan hard over the show and I’m glad the show was made because some lesbian and trans representation is better than no representation, but I just can’t watch. The drama is too much. Why so much infidelity? Why aren’t folks kinder to each other? Is it necessary to tell so many lies and manipulate others? Again, why so much cheating?

It’s not even worth it to keep watching to see more of Shane, Ivan, or the rumored Max, who I wouldn’t even know about had I not read Raye’s post. I just googled Max a minute ago, swooned over Daniela Sea’s character, and nearly felt like changing my mind about my No More The L Word declaration until I read he dated Jenny. I can’t stand Jenny. I rarely dislike anyone even if I disagree with them or find their mannerisms irksome, but alas, I resent Jenny for her faux-innocence, no conscience cheating, childish way of speaking to avoid honest conversations, and strange eye contact which I would compare to an animal’s but I don’t dislike any animal enough to compare it to Jenny. I feel guilty and soul-less writing this (where’s my patience and compassion?), but on a gut level I hate Jenny. When my buddy told me they were murdered in the last episode, I had to bite my tongue from replying, “Good.” I don’t want to ever feel that way about anyone (except maaaybe Donald Trump who unfortunately isn’t fictitious*) so I obviously shouldn’t watch a show that brings out the worst in me.

There are definitely great things about the The L Word, but I look forward to a day where there are more positive representations of lesbian and queer folks in television and cinema. I’m tired of watching shows and movies where one of the protagonists finds love (but first lust) by cheating on her boyfriend, husband, girlfriend, or wife. It will also be wonderful to watch shows featuring greater diversity in terms of race, religion, nationality, body types, class, and ability. And gender identities, of course. The options are few.

 

*To be clear, I’m anti-killing anyone!  I simply wish an out-of-touch, racist, xenophobic, sexist bigot like Trump wasn’t faring so well in the presidential election. His popularity is troubling.

Late to The L Word, Curious about Lisa

December 2

Dear Leslie,

I’ve gotta be one of the last lesbian-ish people to start watching the The L Word, despite having known about the show for years. I previously let the show lie in the ether because I wasn’t interested in unnecessary drama, especially infidelity. Why do most lesbian shows and films feature infidelity? Anyway, my concerns with The L Word were well-founded because by the second episode a main character named Jenny had already ensnared herself in a messy affair with another woman—Marina.  Overall, however, I’ve appreciated the show for what it is, an often humorous look at fictitious wealthier, predominantly white lesbians and bisexual women in southern California. Predictably, I’m attracted to Shane, but I have been curious about Lisa, the lesbian-identified man Alice dates in season one, and troubled by Alice and the other characters’ reactions to Lisa’s identities.

Here are some questions I have:

Does Lisa identify herself as a woman or man? What are her/his pronouns? (S)he identifies as a lesbian, but does she also identify as a man, or is that an identity everyone else places on her?

Is Lisa trans?

Are Alice and the other characters transphobic towards Lisa? Regardless of the answer to this, is their treatment of Lisa’s identities problematic?

Consider Episode 7 of Season 1 in which Alice and Lisa have sex during a party on Harry’s boat. Lisa wants to use a strap-on, but Alice impatiently laughs at that and comments something along the lines, “You have the real thing. I want you to use it.” Lisa does not want to make love that way, but Alice still reaches for Lisa’s penis, coercing her into sexual intercourse without the strap-on. Afterwards, Lisa is upset and clearly feels Alice did not honor Lisa’s identities and preferences.

If Lisa identifies as a man rather than a woman, I don’t know what to make of her lesbian identity. Like Alicia, Bette, Tina, Dana, and the others, I’m stumped. But as gender and sexuality are infinitely complex with countless identities and experiences of different identities, shouldn’t Lisa’s preferences be honored?

It would be easy to laugh at a man calling himself a lesbian, but perhaps Lisa’s character on The L Word compels more critical thinking about gender, sexuality, and the ways in which we treat each other, regardless of whether we or our lovers identify with the genders we were assigned at birth.

My Journey in Gender as a Genderqueer Scamp (not complete but I’m also still breathing)

November 5

Dear Leslie,

Did you ever watch V for Vendetta? Given your class activism, I wouldn’t be surprised if you also liked it. I still recite “Remember, remember the fifth of November….” in my head every November and I’m still such a fan of Natalie Portman shaving her head. But that’s all an aside; it just seemed appropriate to say something given the date. What I’m really here to ramble about is growing up inside/outside of the binary. I must write more often than I think I do, because tonight I found this lengthy piece (sans another page) buried in Word—I wrote it July 27.

The hasty title was “Transgender Awareness.” Here it is:

I got a haircut today. I get them occasionally after putting them off for months—no small feat when your hair is short and grows shaggier everyday. Sometimes it’s just financial reasons why I delay visiting a salon or barbershop. Mostly though, it’s gender-related anxiety. But when I was a kid, haircuts were better than candy. Better than the cool watermelons my dad still handpicks every summer from different grocery stores. As good as a rush as anything. I’d practically salivate for the opportunity to plop myself in my hairstylist’s black swivel chair and go on a hair journey with her. In third grade, I buzzed the hair above my neck. That bob with a twist, you know? A bob with a shaved neck so my hair was soft or poky, depending on how one touched me. My classmates eagerly pet the base of my head, excited at how different it was. When I was on my way out of my eleventh year, I finally chopped off my hair. It was Kelley’s first time cutting my hair and I wonder if she ever had a smile as big as mine in her chair. I’d wanted to cut off my hair for so long.

I’m not going to go through all the years of my life or all of my clothing choices and haircuts in the past 13 years. Gender isn’t hair and hair isn’t gender—not for me, anyway. Hair is just one way I express myself, and because hair has been shoved into and cultivated in the gender binary, I am pretty keen on using my blonde medium to express myself. I’ve grown my hair past my shoulders (and felt awfully strange), shaved my head, gotten an undercut, multiple faux hawks, and let it grow shaggy. The shaggy look is as much of a statement as anything, whether anyone reads it or not. Mostly I think, “I’m cool being me. Not gonna bullshit with the binary. Not trying to fit on any side of any line. Just doing me.”

As a kid, I was easily upset while clothes shopping. Agitation was a cloud over the children’s clothing sections as I moseyed up and down the racks and shelves in Target and Fred Meyer. I’d admire the silky, bright girls bikini-style underwear, scowl at all shirts emblazoned “Princess” “Daddy’s Girl” and “100% Angel,” then intentionally wander into the boys section. Sometimes I’d march. Sometimes I’d casually stray. Whatever the rhythm of my steps, I did my best to communicate to anyone who might see me that I had a mission. I wasn’t there by mistake.

I could say a lot about my journey in gender. Describe the shame and joy I felt about wearing bright, flowery clothing; long cardigans, skirts, and dresses. I could tell you that in elementary school, it wasn’t cool to wear “girl” clothes aka dresses and skirts so most designated- and self-identified girls did not wear them. They might be teased or shamed by other girls. I internalized that shame. That insecurity in femininity even while joy bloomed at wearing the right skirt or dress. Lace, velvet, polyester, cotton, whatever. I had my stone cold machismo down young. Don’t want to appear weak? Crush those urges to wear that clothing.

So silly. Because I was the kid being mistaken for a boy every day. I reveled in it even while saying, “Nope, I’m a girl.” And I got to the point where I happily wore whatever kind of clothing any day, with a few exceptions. “Girl” clothing, “Boy” clothing, whatever. I did me. And for the most part, I was good. Some people lock their identities in chambers. I think I do that with some stuff, certainly some adventure dreams, but I’ve been digging through dirt, busting knuckles, inhaling minerals and organic matter for some time now and I’ll keep going. When it comes to attire, I’ve been real with myself (yet accepted limited choices due to my size). I don’t know if that’s because I’m stubborn as anybody else in my family, or because I’m undisciplined—unwilling to bend outside of my comfort zone.

I don’t think it’s all that comfortable to always be myself. I just don’t have the patience to be anything else.

When I was twelve and realized I had feelings for a girl, my world collapsed in on itself then swelled. I was terrified, thrilled, and infatuated. And while the infatuation wasn’t ideal and unrequited feelings (and closeted feelings) aren’t anything I’d recommend, feeling beautiful because I felt so strongly for another human being was special.

When I was 17 years old and sitting in the passenger seat of a car driven by the boy I had a crush on, I didn’t feel like a love-torn girl. Despite my best friend sharing it was painfully obvious I had feelings for this boy (thanks, Rach) with a laugh after my confession and, “Roses are red, the sky is blue, and Emily loves ______”, it didn’t feel like a regular ridiculous crush to me or something to pursue.

The reasons:

  • I’d been in “love”, or adolescent infatuation before (let’s not belittle these feelings, but simply recognize that I’d later experience mutual attraction in a relationship and it was less intense, more open, still awkward, and lovely), and knew that whatever I was feeling was not the same. Some depth was missing. Probably because he was a boy.
  • I felt inferior to him and like a joke—–like, obviously he and everyone else knew I had a crush and whew, not ideal. Right?
  • Sitting in the passenger seat in his driveway that night, I felt my long hair, my bangs clipped back, felt my kinda girl-ish clothing, and felt myself float out of my body, knowing instinctually that I wasn’t right for the situation. There would be no boy + girl thing between us.
  • I wasn’t a girl.
  • I wasn’t a boy, either.
  • I was just awkward and out of sorts of regular gender designations.
  • He was smart, muscular, driven, community-oriented, and smiled nice when he meant it. But he was on a track machines would never glide me toward.
  • My feelings for cis-gendered males only went so deep. But even beyond that, I couldn’t do a hetero relationship because I existed outside of female.

If you befriend an alien does it fall into another category? What happens when unknown becomes known and other becomes our?

If people become more informed about gender as a construction and female and male as socialized identities, will more people recognize, understand, and honor other identities? Will I stop being a casual or uncomfortable alien?

Chances are extremely good I am an overly self-centered individual at this period in my life with far too much concern for identity. Some of this concern may be selfish, because there are so many other things I could be pondering—like when Shaun the Sheep will return to Netflix, how to best facilitate criminal justice reform as a 23 year-old white person, how to make or purchase an affordable little free library, and so on. Solid ideas that must come to fruition. But I’m going to be real:

The gender binary (and its associated privileges and oppressions) is not healthy and upholding it as a natural fact of life without even exploring other realities and histories poses harm to those who exist within and outside of the gender binary of man and woman.

I’m not getting any younger here. I can’t return to the boys’ section of target to shop for basketball shorts and cargo pants. I’m at an age where I’m expected to find serious employment and dress business professional. I’m at an age where people date. I’m at an age post-puberty where my gender has been decided for me both because of what was between my legs at birth and because my chest and waist followed suit and grew in ways cis-gendered males’ chests and waists do not. Choices have already been made for me. In clothing shops, hair magazines, sports teams. You’re one or the other. If your body has got a certain type of equipment, you’re supposed to be that gender. (If you’re intersex, the challenges are undoubtedly greater.)

I can’t fit into “men’s” clothes as a petite, 5’5” estrogen-high human. I experience anxiety attacks in thrift stores and department stores at the abundance of “women’s” clothing. Not simply because I’m disinterested in wearing most clothing in the store, but because it’s assumed that I’m a woman. And that that’s the kind of clothing I want to wear. I’d probably feel more comfortable wearing some of the dresses or skirts or blouses that cause my breath to grow faint if I wasn’t afraid of people mistaking me for something I’m not. I could completely happily wear those clothing items (provided I approved of the style and cut), if I also had access to form-fitting blazers, t-shirts, and quality flannel. Pants with pockets as the rule, not the exception.

It’s been two years since I last identified as “girl” or “woman.” Genderqueer, nonbinary, transgender, and queer are the words I use for myself. I’ll explain how I happened upon those terms at another time. The reason I didn’t stop identifying as a girl in 2nd or 5th grade is because I didn’t have the words for it. I didn’t know I could be something else.

I was fighting something I didn’t have a name for in my determination to simply be myself.

I’m tired of fighting. I’m exhausted of being guilty at my nerves, fatigue, and discontent. But I’m also not interested in forcing smiles and laughter when I have reason to be upset.

Not everything is peaches and cream. I don’t even like peaches and cream—I’m glad they exist and other people enjoy eating that sweet treat, by not everything is peaches and cream. Sometimes outrage and melancholy is necessary. Discontent needs to be broadcasted.

Joy and sass with ourselves needs to be broadcasted too. I’m happy to be genderqueer and queer. If we do live multiple lives, I’d be delighted to come back queer in both gender and sexuality.

First Day of College

September 8

Dear Leslie,

Five years ago on a late September morning, my mom and I loaded my things in her red Nissan Sentra and left Portland for Eugene. In carefully packed boxes and bags were my linens, toiletries, very new computer, school supplies, and clothing for life at the University of Oregon.

We drove south through the Willamette Valley on I5 to UO, before joining the zoo of excited and frazzled first years and parents trying to navigate parking and a somewhat helpful campus map. We carried my things into Hawthorne, an old “honors” residential hall, and a 4-story brick building with students on the upper three floors; “girls” on the second, “guys” on the third, and “girls” on the fourth. The dorms.

Designated housing for honors college students, I would learn Hawthorne actually contained a broad mix of various honors and non-honors students compared to DeCou and Dyment. This would be the place where I met my next door neighbor and fell in a goofy and sweet love within a couple of months. This would be the campus where we walked hand in hand for a year and called each other girlfriend, curling up in the comfort of our lover’s “her.” I knew none of this my first day while standing in my room. And I didn’t know I’d be touched by licks of depression as early as my first term while staring at a star-flecked Willamette River or end up nearly submerged in an ice-capped ocean I’d barely survive my second year. I didn’t know I would leave Eugene without a backwards glance in June 2012. I didn’t know that my soon-to-be girlfriend, eventual ex, eventual near-stranger and I would adjust our pronouns and nouns for each other years down the road. I didn’t know I’d stop calling myself girl and lesbian. Left smelling the sweet grass, trees, and sand from the volleyball court, and the carpeting, furniture, and cleaning supplies of Hawthorne while chatting with my new roommate and planning my side of the room, I was just filled with excitement.