I’ve been excited since I first heard that HBO and the BBC were producing Gentleman Jack, a new miniseries about Anne Lister (1791-1840), a Yorkshire land-owner who kept extensive diaries of her daily life and same-sex affairs. Back in 2010, the Beeb did a quite nice biopic The Secret Diaries of Anne Lister, which I […]
So about five weeks ago, the British costume drama Gentleman Jack started showing on HBO in the United States. So far I have only watched the clips one YouTube user has posted that show snippets of the love story, ignoring Anne Lister’s entrepreneurial and political side, but holy mackerel, it’s good.
We know what we now know about Anne Lister because of her rather compulsive keeping of personal journals, the salacious bits in a code she constructed in her youth. Over the last century, different historians have decrypted and either shared or hidden those bits and their implications. I just read Angela Steidele’s Gentleman Jack: A Biography of Anne Lister, which draws heavily on the decrypted and transcribed bits of the diary. At over 4 million words, there’s a lot that still hasn’t been transcribed.
Sally Wainwright, the creator, writer and main director on the show spent twenty years working with the source material and finally found in 2019 the time was right for this story.
The show covers, in only eight episodes, roughly two years in the life of Anne Lister, and aristocrat who recognizes herself as what we would now consider a lesbian, even though the word had not appeared in the language yet. She considered herself clearly female (and lamented that fact when it stood in the way of her gaining an education or the vote), and said she loved “and only loved the fairer sex.” The show portrays her wooing a richer, younger, and less together, but equally gay aristocrat, with all the societal problems you might expect in the early 1830s of Halifax, England. (As opposed to when she was studying anatomy in Paris a few years earlier…)
We’re only five weeks in on an eight week “season” (or the British word, series), but already the show is kind of amazing.
I came out about three and a half years ago, and not much later realized that I was butch and probably always had been, even and possibly especially during the two years or so when I tried to grow my hair out and meet more guys and yeah, that. I’ve read about quite a few butches who went through that stage.
And then there was this Facebook quiz that showed up on my feed about two years ago and made me laugh, because, before I came out, I would have scored a perfect zero.
Nowadays, I am clearly much, much more high maintenance. Now, I score a grand total of four points. Yeah, not the hair extensions four points, or hair is dyed+nails are painted four points. Nope. Owns 20+ pairs of shoes.
Given that there was a time in the 1990s when I owned one pair of shoes for work, a pair of sneakers, a pair of snowboots and a pair of either flats or low heels for emergencies such as weddings, it still boggles my mind that I might own more than twenty pairs of shoes.
And I thought I owned only twenty pairs of shoes, including sneakers and boots. Nope. The other day I pulled all of my non-sneaker, non-boot shoes out into the living room to get a good look at what I had.
Pretty much, it came down to short boots,
Oxfords (bucks, brogues, wingtips and monkstraps), in black
And other exciting colors
And girly shoes.
The total came to thirty pairs. Who the hell owns thirty pairs of shoes? And when I think that most of them are made of leather, and I do know the problems with the leather industry, how did I manage to accumulate all of these? Or, to put it differently, how did I manage to eat this particular dinosaur? Sigh. One piece at a time. Okay, maybe a pair of pieces at a time. And that means, I suppose, that I can also reduce the excess one pair at a time, right?
To be fair, there is a real reason that I ended up with this many pairs of shoes, and if I look at the shoes I’ve got, the answer is pretty clear. Once I recognized and embraced myself as more of a masculine kinda girl, I wanted to express that through my clothes: blazers, cufflinks, vests, shoes.
Two years ago, I did a purge of all of my clothes. I got rid of 117 items of clothing, including shoes, socks, shirts, skirts, dresses. Things that were worn out but I was still wearing, I threw out. Things that no longer fit me physically, I donated. Things that no longer felt authentic, and probably hadn’t even when I thought I should be more feminine, I donated.
117 things. Gone. But we know that nature abhors a vacuum. (I know my cat does.) Apparently I filled it. With, among other things, shoes.
So this week, as part of a new purge, I tried on all thirty pairs of shoes and managed to winnow it down by one-sixth. One pair, the black oxfords, were simply too small. I was able to give them to a smaller friend who has been pulling together a working wardrobe for her post-graduate degree present. The others, all bought online even though I know that I have narrow heels and usually can’t wear shoes that don’t tie in some way but I was trying to have better girl shoes… Yeah, that didn’t work.
So now, I am 58 pieces of clothing down (including five pairs of shoes), in part because I just ordered two vests and yeah, another pair of shoes. I never meant to be a horrible consumeristic person, or as my sister called me a while back, God forbid, “a clothes horse.”
Life leads us in really strange directions.
The last few days have been absolute garbage. You know that, I know that. I don’t mean to take away from the terrible things currently happening in America and the rest of the world. That’s truly the last thing I would ever want to do, but I think it’s important to focus on little positive […]
Can’t find the other pictures just yet.
There is a logic to the men’s section of a department store that is largely missing from most women’s sections. Take shirts, for example. short sleeves are over here and long sleeves are over there. In the women’s section, this is not necessarily the case, except maybe during late spring/early summer when we are expected to shop for summer. The more formal “dress” shirts are often separated by color, or at least light from dark, and usually by material (smooth vs. rougher). You can easily find what you are looking for without having to look at all the shirts in your size on seven different racks.
And color! Men’s shirts have sensible colors: cranberry, navy, loden green, chambray blue. Black with pink flamingos. Purple with white bicycles. Stripes that usually don’t clash. plaids, the same (except for Madras plaids; there’s just no accounting for those). women’s shirts are a riot of colors: orange and pink paisleys, or jewel-tone flowers on a tomato soup background. Gaah. And turquoise, that irreparably iffy color that can make your skin tone look healthy in one light and fatally jaundiced in another. Sure, in the 1970s even men wore colors and patterns like that, but if the 1980s did nothing else good besides massive benefit concerts, it put to rest that particular sartorial nonsense.
And then there are the pockets. Men’s shirts (and pants and coats and vests) have pockets. And pockets are liberation. It is no mistake that the Nasty Woman Perfume mock ad video that came out back in November put clothes with pockets in the same category as reproductive healthcare and equal wages.
In comparison, the problem that men’s shirts always (if they are long-sleeved) have sleeves that are too long for the average women. But, you can always just roll them up; in fact the kind of women who are likely to shop in the men’s section are exactly the type to roll up their sleeves and get to work.
Well, 2016 was a year of many things, most of them pretty bad. We lost Prince, and Princess Leia, Colonel John Glenn and Major Tom. Voldemort and his chess set of white supremacists gained entry into the White House when Russia took a page out of the US playbook to help make that happen, putting immigrants and queer folks and women and people of color at even greater risk of the kind of things that made Germany into an object lesson eighty years ago (one we have ignored, it seems).
In the midst of all this darkness, it is difficult, but not impossible, to light a few candles.
- In February, my union got my colleagues and me a 26% increase in pay over the next three years, because, yes, that’s how little the school had been paying us.
- In March, I started playing Lesbian Dodgeball on a monthly basis (see #5) with a bunch of overeducated goofballs. This started my collection of Fabulous Dodgeball (and other) Socks.
- In May, I got a fabulous roommate and her Hello Kitty bestest buddy.
- In August, I went alone to Boston ComicCon, wearing an Agents of SHIELD uniform and had a pretty good time. This is also where I got my Wonder Woman and Groot socks.
- In November, I went to the Love Rally on the Boston Common with the abovementioned goofball friends, now in Deeply Serious mode. Then on Supergirl, the Girl of Steel’s sister DEO Agent Alex Danvers figured out that yes, she is into girls, as I had some months before.
- In December, I went on my first date in eleven years.
Now, when I originally started writing this post, I had some vague idea about writing about the tradeoffs a gal makes shopping in the men’s section, but my pen had other ideas. Still, I stand by my title.
Because we could look back on 2016 as the year we lost so many of the best and brightest: Leonard Cohen, Muhammed Ali, Janet Reno, Richard Adams.
But I will look back on this past year as the year my sock drawer–that oft-ignored repository which, like a bookcase, tells the world through its changes how one’s life is changing–got a little fabulous.
So yes, 2016 will go down as the Year of the Fabulous Socks. And as God is my witness, 2017 will go down as the Fabulous Year.
And when that starts happening, I will get back to talking about traversing the men’s section.
I spend my time cobbling together
Words, sentences, strings of pictures
As they flicker against the pale bone
Screen of my skull, like film, a matter
Of illumination. Dreams also enter the world
This way: as pictures we comprehend
Without the use of tongue or voice, letters,
Or any spill of ink. But that only works
When sharing one’s ideas with oneself.
To communicate to another, we need patchwork
Rag-words sewn together into quilts
Of meaning. That, and the shine of eyes.
So before Thanksgiving, I went to a Meetup at a bowling alley in Cambridge. I haven’t been bowling in maybe thirty years and it showed (I scored 47 after an hour), but I had fun and met some nice ladies. Then this past Saturday, I went to another Meetup at a beer place, and met three of them again, along with a whole lot of other women I had never met before.
I am telling this story just because it was an odd night. It took me half an hour to get the server’s attention, and it took another three or four women’s help to finally get served. Then when they asked me what I do and I said, “I teach writing,” everybody was thrilled.
Strangest response ever. This is not the way people generally respond when I talk about my work. Mild interest, yes. Excitement? Heck, no.
It turns out that almost all of them wanted to be doing (more) writing (again) (like they used to). They are all avid readers and spent the next half hour sharing lesbian authors/novels and talking about the writers groups they were/are in, advice they got from published writers, including Natalie Goldberg, and talking about how people really, really need to make art.
Then if that wasn’t strange enough, I got pulled over to an empty-ish table and engaged in a long and interesting conversation with one of the women I had met during bowling earlier: let’s call her A. And then another, older, woman came over and asked if I was me, because she had been amused by some things I had written in response to her questions on the Meetup site and wanted to meet me (let’s call her K) (note: this is the second time that has happened).
The three of us got talking, and although I didn’t really notice it at the time, the younger woman, A, gradually got quieter and quieter, and then said she was going to the restroom and would I watch her beer? I noticed that her best friend, J,whom she had brought to both Meetups went with her, but heck, we’re women, we always go in tandem. (Also, the doors to the stalls were mis-hung so they don’t close all the way, so I figured they wanted to keep each other’s doors closed.)
Well, she didn’t come back for quite a while, and eventually the older woman, K, noted on it and wondered if she had just left. I said, “She wouldn’t leave her beer.” K said she hoped she hadn’t mucked things up for me, since she thought I might have been getting somewhere with the girl, and I was my usual, “Not bloody likely. That never happens to me.”
K left and went back to her table with another ten women (who she apparently told about me). The younger woman, A, came back and told me she had been afraid that I was interested in K and that had bothered her a lot because she really liked me, and her friend, J, had spent all that time in the bathroom trying to tell her to keep her courage up, and to come back and tell me all this.
Of course I was immensely flattered. She seems sweet and open and is interested in travel and language and loves Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Relationships have been built on a lot less than that. It was one of those conversations with a lot of eye contact and touching each other’s arms, (which I had never been in before, although I have read about such conversations) and she had a couple of beers that had a higher alcohol content than I think she is used to (and she is also not big), and she repeated that she really liked me and wanted to see me again, but that she needed to get home early because she had an early day the next day. While she was in the bathroom, I went to her friend to make sure that she would see that she got home okay.
They left. I went over to the table where K was talking to about ten women I had not met yet. They immediately turned toward me and asked, “How’d it go? We were watching you. It seemed like you were doing really well!” Then I got about five high-fives.
OK. I watched The L Word. I have heard about lesbian gossip, blah, blah, blah. But seriously?
So I have been thinking hard about the safety pin thing this week.After the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, where a majority of voters voted for the UK to leave the European Union, an uptick in race-based and other hate crimes was followed by people wearing a safety pin somewhere visible on their clothes to show that they were allies and willing to help people facing such crimes and other harassment. Similarly, after this recent election in the US, we are seeing an uptick in hate crimes and the stepping forward of people willing to stand in the way.
I have read pieces, both for wearing the pin and against it, and this is what I have come up with. I am not going to wear one on my coat. Thirty years of on and off again martial arts training is a fine thing but what I really need is some serious training in de-escalation tactics, and I do know there are some places in Boston where I can get some. This will happen soon, but not this week. I am still struggling several times a day not to vomit when I think about my fears for our fascist future. Presumably, this physical response will go away in a few days or weeks. I really hope so. Or at least that I could just literally vomit and get it over with.
But I have put a safety pin on the lapel of each of my blazers, because I want my students to know that I am a safe space and a resource. For now this seems like the best compromise I can come up with.