letter from early 2017

February 5

Dear Les,

It is odd to return to this blog, even for a quick second, even for a short post, and find that it has just as much traffic as ever, if not more. Most of that traffic, after scrutiny, is for a url delivering folks to a pdf of your words, a pdf of Jess Feinberg, of Stone Butch Blues.

It’s 2017 and there are many stones, many butches, many queers, and many with the blues clamoring for recognition. Clamoring for hope and good news. Hoping and itching to see themselves on pages.

I’m not butch, I say it again. I don’t identify with butch or femme, masculine or feminine, but I’m still strung up and over the binary, still fighting the gender on the little band placed around my premature wrist twenty-four and a half years ago in a hospital after doctors and nurses saw what was between my legs. Tiny holes, tiny folds.

It’s 2017 and I’m speaking. It’s 2017 and there are some things too heavy to say.

Les, I hope you are well. Wherever you are, if you care to, please send energy to the resistance.

the stone i am

About the stone bit,

Leslie. Am I supposed

to feel swirls of storm?~

everyday i feel

ice crystals expand

my femur, eleventh rib,

and pelvis. My right ankle

creaks before freezing complet

ely. Bones grow

until i fear exhales.

if i crack open, Leslie

will I be a purple slushy,

grape staining someone’s tongue?

will I be a geode,

quartz exposed?

will i be beautiful

so beautiful

someone presses their fingers

to me,

and gasps at their own

pearls of blood?

 

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.

Kinds of Quiet

August 30

Dear Leslie,

There are multiple kinds of quiet in a storm. There is quiet when winds pull and push air molecules, and water violently and lovingly beats and scrubs gutters, rooftops, and sidewalks. There is quiet when the storm passes, and sound is vacuumed with it. Quiet takes on a different form—different from that audible roar. So much non-sound creates its own pounding eardrums, compelling everything and nothing to be heard.

I experienced both kinds of quiet while reading Stone Butch Blues. I sequestered myself from the rest of the house while reading and have remained still since. Still, quiet, churning. It’s not a bad quiet, Leslie. It’s the kind of quiet that is loud, full, and promising of good. Even when it hurts.

Thank You

IMG_1980

I bookmarked pages upon pages last week

as summer waned into early autumn, Leslie.

I huddled with your words

on the floor of my bedroom, on the couch,

outside, and in my therapist’s lobby

but didn’t know what else to say

during or after the reading besides this:

Thank You.

August 22

Dear Leslie,

I’m not butch. I guess I have to share that. No one catching me scampering would ever mistake me for butch. No one who sees me joyously twirling or shaking my shoulders in a silly shimmy. I’ve been called a pixie and fairy more times than I can count. All my life, whether I welcome it or not. If someone did call me butch, my friends would raise their eyebrows or laugh if I told them. I know from experience. Luckily, I don’t claim butch identity for myself, although I’ve been wistful at times. But I do know stone* and I know the blues.

Just to put it out there, I don’t mean to presume my interpretation of and lived experience with stoniness is the same as Jess’ or yours. I need to respect that we have different stone experiences, Leslie. I have the fortune of never having been being sexually assaulted (yet/hopefully ever). Yet even without those kinds of oppressions, I feel myself as stone. I rarely welcome touch. It seems I have forgotten how to melt into hugs even with those I love, afraid of getting too close and afraid of sharing too much. And I’m just skeptical of contact. I bristle at being mistaken for soft sometimes, afraid someone will confuse that joy or warmth for weakness. Like a peach, at the core I am a stone. Maybe not all the time, and of course pits grow into trees if the circumstances are ripe, but I do often shut down and lie dormant in wait for rain or simply dormant, forgetting rain ever existed.

*In your 1996 interview with Julie Peters, you shared that stone means “very” in African-American vernacular. In the context of “stone butch,” it mean “very butch.” I never knew. You also wrote, “The second colloquial usage here in the states is that *stone butch* means a person who has been so wounded sexually that it is difficult to allow oneself to be touched. I chose to bring to life a *stone* character so that people could see how this particular form of oppression–like incest or rape–sometimes forces people to *shut down* sexually for a period of time, or for a long time. I don’t think of it as a strategy so much as a reflex.”

Why

August 20

Dear Leslie,

I will write you.

Why? Because my copy of Stone Butch Blues hasn’t even arrived yet, it’s still in Franklin, MA, but the first chapter I read online stilled my heart. For five minutes, I was completely engaged. Present in a way I’m normally not. I need the rest of the words and not from a book that has to return to the library. Although, you should know my library doesn’t even have a copy. One of the best library systems in the United States and no Stone Butch Blues. I imagine someone snuck it out just for the hope and validation its pages would provide or the comfort of having it on their shelves; copies aren’t easy to come by these days. I hope your loved ones are able to provide a PDF online (here, eventually) because I know what you have to say is important and it should be accessible to all those who want it.

I’m not just writing you because of your work as a transgender warrior, or because you were/are butch, transgender, lesbian, she/zie & her/hir, but because your activism wasn’t constrained by ignorance/apathy toward white privilege and supremacy. I’m not saying this very well, but you engaged in anti-racist, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist work, and I admire that. Too often white LGBTQ+ activists are blinded to their white privilege(s) and are too proud to entertain the possibility(reality) they hurt people of color by not recognizing and addressing their privilege. I don’t wish to put you on a pedestal as perfect, Leslie, but you give me someone to look up to. I thank you for that. I wish I had explored your work sooner. I didn’t think it was relevant to me or I was simply deterred by “Blues,” but I’m making up for it now.

Stone Butch Blues will arrive shortly. I reserved Transgender Warriors at the library and I will soon read Drag King Dreams, too.

As I ponder gender, sexuality, race, class, and nation in my own life, I will learn more about you and your work.