Year of the Fabulous Socks

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.

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. In May, I got a fabulous roommate and her Hello Kitty bestest buddy.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. In December, I went on my first date in eleven years.

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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.

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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.

SAQGA: Situation Abnormal Quite Good Actually

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.”

Well.

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?

Love Rally in the Common: #1 Wingardium Leviosa

So when I came home Friday night after attending the Boston Love Rally in the Common, I went to clear my email, and came up against my first experience of homophobia.

This was an extended Facebook post in response to a meme I had shared:

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I did not think this was a radical statement, but rather the sort of thing any reasonable human being would agree with.

Oh, but Facebook.

The commenter was the leader of a popular culture Facebook group. I had had one disagreement with him before, when I posted something about rape culture, which he disparaged as propaganda. At that time, I acknowledged that women didn’t generally talk about these things but that I was sure if he talked to his mother, sisters, aunts, female friends, he would hear stories of sexual harassment and sexual assault, so many that it would surprise him.

This time he said, in small part: “I don’t like queers. (I’ll use the word queer as I can never get straight the ever changing alphabet soup acronym) I met my first one when I was 6 or 7. I of course did not know why I did not like him. I did not find out what he was until 20 years later. Same for a certain guy in high school. Again, I was unsophisticated, didn’t have a label for him. Found out later. Some I seem to have no issue with, many others simply provoke a sense of unease and physical revulsion. But get this, I am JUST like a gay person. I don’t deserve to be attacked, called names, shunned or marginalized because of my natural feelings. This is the thing you CryBullies do not embrace. If people are not with you, you attack them. Now, do I go around attacking queers because of my physical revulsion? No. Live and Let Live. I simply avoid them. I LOVE Trump because he is anti-you, —- —–. You and all of your CryBully friends. Martin Luther King would NOT be doing as you do. He would support what he chooses, but he would NEVER attack those who choose to not believe as he did. MLK would NEVER be a CryBully. Think about that.”

I have put a few things out on my Facebook feed since the election ended, and some things were probably less than even-handed, it is true. But why is it this particular meme that seemed to enrage him with my extremism? That is what I don’t understand.

I am glad that I did not see this until after midnight. In the time between its posting and then, my brother, his wife and son all posted defenses of me and what I had shared. This made me feel safer. (Never underestimate the power of allies when they step up.)

Obviously, I have left that group. I have not unfriended him and I have no intention of responding to him directly in any way, although like many of my friends, I will be posting a caveat and invitation to unfriend me if they disagree with what I post.

I have never claimed that Obama’s America is perfect. Has he stood up against policy horrors like the Trans Pacific Partnership? No. Has he stood up for Standing Rock? No, he is just letting that play out. I have been writing letters and signing petitions on these issues all year. Meanwhile, far too many acts of police violence against people of color and brutal murders of trangender people and white men raping women on the local level have soaked our newsfeeds red, and the law fails to support the victims. (More letters, more petitions.) So no, America isn’t perfect.

But for a long time it has been better than when we had segregation, and lynchings, and legal discrimination–oh, wait, that’s been returning lately. It has been better with more representation in the political process and the media of the non-white, non-male, non-Christian, non-straight Americans who make up a very big portion of America.

And in the last decade or two, it has become relatively safe in most parts of this country, especially in cities, for LGB people, who are out and even married. So I thought we were getting somewhere.

So much for that dream. Silly ignorant white girl. You should have known better. Just because it was good for you doesn’t mean it was good for a great number of people in this country, people you couldn’t see because they were far away or you just weren’t paying attention while you worked your three jobs.

So yes, now I am paying attention. And now I commit to act in more constructive ways for the people I haven’t been paying enough attention to. I cannot choose the reality of what America is: racist, sexist, homophobic. But I can choose the truth of what America always has the possibility to be: diverse, welcoming, egalitarian and loving of our neighbors even when we disagree. Have I always been good at this? Hell, no. But I can start now.

The haters are going to hate. You can’t change that. But I have been training all my life for this moment. Let it come.

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“There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.” J.K. Rowlings

In Search of Queer(-Enough) Hair

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In her essay for PopSugar, “I’m Asian, I Came Out of the Closet, and I Finally Cut My Hair Short,” Jo Chiang writes about the difficulties of fitting into a white-dominated US queer subculture within the dominant gender-binary-heavy US heteronormative culture as an Asian, given the differences between Asian and Euro-Caucasian hair. She says, in part:

“Androgyny has always been about that hard-edged balance between masculinity and femininity. But when Asian masculinity is desexualised and Asian femininity is infantilised, twists on gender presentation don’t quite make the same impact.[…] It’s an ongoing journey to feel positive about my queerness, my race, and my hair on top of that. Even out of the closet, I would often feel awkward and ill-fitted. I tried new haircuts. My hair wasn’t fine enough to pull off the pixie cut or flexible enough for a pompadour, and my cowlicks were too tenacious for anything asymmetrical. It took trial and error and error and error, until I figured out a solution. I found a Japanese hair salon. They knew my texture, the quirks of my part, and the shape of my skull. While they did not share my Taiwanese heritage, they understood the very specific struggles I had with my hair.

“Instead of going wild with a clipper, my stylist brought shape to the back of my head with careful trimming. She left the sides and top long to let my cowlicks bear down with their own weight, but added a choppy texture to keep it from flattening. When I stopped bringing in photographs of models I wanted my hair to resemble and instead worked with my stylist to understand the ways my hair grew out, I finally settled into cuts that suited me and my queerness.

“I walk the streets happy to confuse strangers with my gender presentation.

“There is no one way to look queer. A haircut isn’t a requirement for coming out. But the decision to resist against assumptions of gender and femininity and race can be a healing and invigorating aspect of loving and accepting yourself in a world that continues to police beauty.

“These days, I walk the streets happy to confuse strangers with my gender presentation. When I feel especially frisky, I style my hair up with some grooming cream, and when frisky is too much work, I wear a hat. Either way, long or short, my hair will always be as queer as me.”

I like the way this essay targets the intersectionality of identity–the flipside of the intersectionality of oppressions, since, after all, we get oppressed because of our identities. Having lived in Japan and been a martial artist for more than half my life, I have had a lot of East Asian/Asian-American friends, and it is good to learn a bit about their realities. One of the things I will consider this week is where hair texture is not the only problem a person could be facing in the Queer Hair Dilemma. But Chiang’s meditation is a great place to start.

I say this because I think we all look for quick fixes, believe that quick fixes are in fact possible: “Now that I know who I am, I need to declare it. Declaring it will be easy. Declaring it nonverbally may even be easier than doing it verbally.”

Ah, fond hope, so soon dashed for most of us. I am putting this out here as a hypothesis, which I intend to test this week by talking to my queer/lesbian friends.

H1: Most people struggle to find a haircut that represents them as they want after they come out.

Wish me luck, children. I’m goin’ in!

 

Jo Chiang, “I’m Asian, I Came Out of the Closet, and I Finally Cut My Hair Short,” PopSugar.com.au. 16 Aug. 2016. Web. 16 Aug. 2016.

 

This Week: My Half-Gay Agenda

  1. Coffee. Every day. On Monday, fireworks like glitter in the sky.
  2. But tomorrow, a coffee date. With a goil. Oy veh. How exciting!
  3. I am about ten pages in to my newest novel, about the search for the perfect butch. Wish me luck. Send me ideas. Send me warnings. (You could send me money too, but I have enough good sense to know how unlikely that is.)
  4. There was something else. Rainbow-colored boas were NOT involved. I think.

Permission to Notice

Yesterday at the gym, after spending an hour on the weight machine circuit doing drop sets, I walked past the gorgeous personal trainer (let’s call her PT) and nearly walked into a wall. Last week I caught myself checking out her butt. That is absolutely the first time that has ever happened. I mean, sure, I’ve been checking out guys’ butts all my adult life. That just meant I was awake and my eyes were open. But a woman?

As near as I can figure, I have only been allowing myself to notice beautiful women for about eight years. The first class I took in seminary was an anti-racism/anti-oppression class, where I realized how institutional racism and sexism were, as my brother would say, a thing, and I also realized that I had classism and homophobia to deal with. Working in academia for two decades means the classism is being continually reinforced from the outside, but Boston is a fairly liberal city, so aside from the same old story of heteronormativity, I feel like the homophobia is coming from the inside.

It is strange. I have always thought beauty was a neutral category. (There are no neutral categories.) I thought that I noticed attractive people (men) simply because they naturally stood out, like a streetlight on a dark road. Undoubtedly, there are a handful of Outrageously Beautiful People for whom that’s true, who walk onto the train and the squeaking of all the passengers’ heads swiveling to follow them is deafening. But they’re the exception, not the rule.

The first women I noticed was about twenty years older than me, a white-haired dean who was 95% of the time breathtakingly efficient and capable. Nervously, I asked a lesbian friend if the dean was hot. “Absolutely” was the reply. Okay. Good call. (Trust your instincts.)

So yes, I guess I understand that giving yourself permission to see things or people in new ways can open up new possibilities. But when did I become the kind of person who walks past a beautiful woman and nearly walks into a wall?

The Manual Typewriter of Choicelessness vs. The Fabulous Rainbow Socks of Acceptance

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In case you weren’t sure, this will be a not-entirely-aimless post about my first out Pride and all the thinks and all the feels. Be warned.

In preparation for my first (real, not as an ally) Boston Pride, I looked for rainbow-striped socks. It took me five places and the one I just randomly thought might on the off-chance have them, Party Favors, did, although the socks have piano keys on them, but who is going to notice that?

Tonight was the Boston Dyke March. We gathered on the Boston Common, women wearing their hair in ways from the sublime to the ridiculous to the fabulous and EVERYTHING in between. Rainbows everywhere, including the flag under which we, the lesbian dodgeballers and friends, gathered (after five women figured out how to enlarge the holes in the flagpole with keys and make the zipties smaller with the same tools. I knew I should have brought my pocket knife, but there you go).

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About twelve or so years ago I went to an arts conference that had Adrienne Rich as the headlining speaker. I thought then that I was seeing a lot of lesbians. Wrong. I have never seen this many lesbians in the same place, and even weirder (queerer?) that the same place was a place I have lived, studied, worked and shopped: Boston Common, near Emerson College, the Back Bay, and environs.

I never thought I would be the sort of person who would find herself chanting, “We’re here, we’re queer. We’re fabulous, so don’t fuck with us.” But life, as it turns out, takes you in directions you could never have anticipated. This is not a bad thing.

Strange, sure. Surreal, absolutely. But bad? Hell no.

One of the things that made it surreal was the police detail directing traffic around our march. Being Hermione Granger, she who “when in doubt, go[es] to the library,” in advance of my first official pride weekend, I went to the library and borrowed David Carter’s Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution. (Well, honestly, I am hardly going to celebrate a holiday I don’t understand or know about, am I?) Reading about the police entrapment that led up to the Stonewall riots and police brutality that occurred during them and then seeing the Boston cops waving at cars, waving at us, smiling at us: wow. Just wow. I was barely one when Stonewall happened. In my lifetime, all these things have changed so much, not just going from riots to parades, but going from the social stigma of same-sex couples holding hands or dancing together to the Supreme Court ruling for same-sex marriage…it’s all so overwhelming and fast.

A friend of mine tonight said that the difference in speeds between the struggle for rights for gays and for racial minorities probably was caused by finding gays in one’s family and neighborhood, something that is less likely or impossible to happen with people of different races. I had never thought of it in those terms, although certainly my sister being a lesbian started me off as an ally in the first place, and my older parents as well. (My brother was a theater major, so he didn’t probably need the family thing. Also, he is straight enough to make up for both my sister and myself, and that has to help too, I suspect.)

Still, I have only been out for five months. And before that I had no idea that I was in. When I was growing up straight was the default font, but not the way Microsoft Word makes, say, Cambria 11 point default and then you have a hundred options. When I learned to type, I had a Royal manual typewriter, that had Courier font in only two sizes, 12 and 10. Being straight was default: Courier 12. Being gay was not default: Courier 10. If you were not one, you were the other.

And maybe that is one of the coolest things about the rainbow: it’s not so fucking binary. It is by definition Both/And rather than Either/Or. It’s All Of The Above and Multitudinous and We-Are-Fucking-Legion.

So even though I still don’t feel 100% that I belong in this really amazing huge parade of women doing themselves in their own very particular ways, I have friends who say, “Oh no, you totally belong here.” And that makes me feel a little bit more okay with all these recent changes.

Which is, let’s face it, kinda fabulous.