Moving from A to B

Between any two letters of the alphabet, infinity

Runs rampant, with fragments of letters, fractals

Like the paisley inside the peacock on the butterfly’s

Painted wing. The fractions closer to A are stiff:

Chutes, ladders, railroad tracks going in only one

Direction. As you edge closer to B, you find curves:

Buttons and bees, beer caps and tiny basketballs

Like the ones you see on TV at a bar, from across

The room. And you wouldn’t even be in the bar

Except for the L sitting next to you, rooting for

Her team. You root for her team too now.

 

Halfway between A and B, you find the square

Of the cocktail napkin, but also the ring etched

In water, the rectangular business card, but also

The number scribbled hopefully on the back.

More and more these days, I find myself

Attentive to middle spaces, littoral waters,

The city halfway down the coastline on the map,

The fourth of seven chakras, green like the leaves

Of the lotus blossom growing from my heart.

Other letters also litter the landscape: Q and P

And the letters of my name and after my name.

I will use them all to write this letter

To myself on learning how to be.

The Bisexual Cento

 

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I was on a blog the other day and the poet’s “and” list was exactly like a cento, a poem created from the single lines of other poems. I was looking at the Tag Cloud for this blog today and saw the ones that stand out:

 

Bisexuality, Catholic school, cufflinks,

Joss Whedon, androgyny,

butch, femme, hair, Jesus,

Katherine Moennig, ally,

lesbian, menswear, perception,

shoes.

The Ties That Bind or Free Us

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It’s funny that I started out this week thinking about religion. The word is related to the word ligament and means to tie back or to tie together, and that is definitely what our belief systems can do, constrain us (sometimes from doing the things we shouldn’t do, sometimes from doing the things we need to do) or connect us. I know a lot of people have been hurt by organized religion, but I have been very lucky to find myself in times and places where it has been very beneficial. Going to Catholic school (because we were getting beat up in the public school) in the 1970s right after Vatican Council II meant, among other things, that I got some of the most comprehensive sex and drug education compared to anyone I know, even and especially those who went to public schools. Go figure.

During Holy Week it is easy to see the two sides of religion. The Jewish authorities of Jesus’s day had the Roman Empire breathing down their necks; Israel was a nation occupied by a superpower that didn’t like trouble-makers. Executing Jesus was a way of protecting the status quo that he was always complaining about. In our own day we can see people like Martin Luther King, Jr., whose faith gave him the strength to help lead the fight for Civil Rights and to speak against poverty and war; on the flip side, we see the court clerk refusing to do her job and sign gay marriage certificates because her faith constrains her ability to see that love is bigger and wider than she thinks it is.

Back around Thanksgiving when I was starting to think about these things in earnest, I bought a cornflower blue suede string necklace as a reminder to try to be open to possibilities. It was too long to wear as a necklace so I looped it three times around my wrist and wore it that way for the last three months, day and night, in the shower, at the gym. Every time it broke I retied it. A few nights ago it broke for good and was too short to retie, so I put it away. Its work is done. Now I am on to the next stage, where I write these posts like threads to cast out into the ether and see if anyone out there gives a tug on the other end. As King would say, “We are all tied together in a single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality” (“Letter from Birmingham Jail”). There are worse fates.

Earthquakingly Important or Completely Immaterial?

tsunami

Five years ago an earthquake caused a massive tidal wave that swept west from the middle of the Pacific Ocean and inundated northeastern Japan. Earthquakes are funny things. All the tectonic plates have to do is shift a fraction of an inch to cause a quite literal ripple effect that makes the phrase “solid ground” seem less of a descriptor and more of a suggestion. Watching the Japanese earthquake on YouTube, I could see the ground, formerly known as “down,” fly up sideways as the person with the camera stumbled. The sky, formerly known as “up,” also took a leave of absence from its normally scheduled location.

Sometimes, when I consider the issues of this blog, that is how I feel. At other times, I think my bisexuality now is just as theoretical as my heterosexuality has been for the last eleven years. If I’m not actually dating anybody, how on earth does it matter? I still eat, sleep, grade papers and scoop the poop out of my cat’s litterbox. I am still trying to attend the lesbian meetups and avoiding the presumably straight ones unless there is an interesting restaurant involved. But other than that, and some changes to my wardrobe, how does any of this change my life?

Styling Saturday: The Giraffe in the Room

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So I was wandering around Pinterest last week and I saw this illustration and immediately had a visceral reaction to it: Yes! That’s it!

After my self-revelations last fall, I started the new year intending to test out the possibility of bisexuality, but how does one do that? Eventually, I realized that the local Meetup had some groups for lesbians, so I nervously signed up for a few—one at a museum, one at a dance at a local hotel, a concert, a movie, and one at one of the few gay bars in town (apparently). For all of these events, I dressed carefully in my work clothes: French cuff shirt, blazer, earrings and necklace that complement my cufflinks (because duh), boots with two-inch heels because I am not particularly tall in flats… The very first event I went to, a woman said, “Nice outfit,” which was a huge shock; I cannot begin to tell you how much I never, ever hear that.

Most of the LGBT women I know I met at either seminary or church, and priests do tend to dress a bit conservatively (luckily a black shirt with a white collar goes with everything, dear). But at every event I went to it was pretty much 96% women you would pass on the street and not be able to tell whether they were gay or straight from any stereotypical markers; 2% women in menswear; and 2% women in plaid flannel.

What did I expect? That I was a Clydesdale and the bar would be filled with zebras who would sense my deception immediately? That the room would be filled with quarterhorses and I, a giraffe bicycling my way into the mix, would smack my neck on the rainbow, the gate also become the gatekeeper?

SPOILER ALERT: That didn’t happen. (Big surprise, right?)

At one lesbian happy hour meetup, I was talking to an older women—short grey hair, dress, good jewelry: the kind of woman I would expect to be a dean at one of the schools I work at—about how surprised she was that it was my first time at that bar; presumably when there are only two or three gay bars in town, one naturally assumes that everyone who is there has been there before. I explained that I had just recently realized I was bisexual. She said (more or less), “Seriously? I totally thought you were a lesbian.”

Reader, I thanked her. Contextually, it was a huge compliment, while at the same time explaining why I haven’t had any dates with guys for the past eleven years.

Somewhere in heaven, God and Joan of Arc are sharing a huge laugh at my expense.

Also, apparently, there’s nobody here but us horses.

Metanoia on a Monday

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So yesterday, I actually went to church, in part because I was reading the first lesson, and when I realized that the gospel was going to be about the prodigal son, I thought, “What is left to say about that?” I went to Catholic school for eleven years and had many opportunities not just to hear about Jesus’s parables but also discuss them and do skits about them. Enough already.

But then the priest giving the sermon talked about how this is a story that never uses the word “repent.” Rather, when the younger son is starving in the far country after squandering his inheritance, Luke says, “He came to himself.” The word used is the Greek word “metanoia,” which means turning around, converting, transforming. The priest asked, “What would it mean for us to come to ourselves? Imagine seeing yourself in a much brighter light and on a much larger canvas.”

I feel like this is what I have been doing lately. I just don’t quite know what to make of it.

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Stylin’ Saturday: Closet Clearing Criteria

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One of the unforeseen outcomes of my unexpected insight back in December that maybe the way I dress for work is actually just fine is that thinking about clothes has become less of a negative Why Do I Even Bother sort of thing and more of an adventure. I like adventures, but they do tend to cost money and take up room in my closet (not that closet). So I came up with a method to both make room and postpone new purchases: for every piece of clothing I buy, I have to get rid of three. So far, this includes shoes; I haven’t decided yet whether or not to include jewelry. It will probably depend on the price: a $3 pair of earrings, no; a $40 pair of cufflinks, yes. (And you can see why people have been complaining about the way I dress when you consider that I think it is completely reasonable to pay $3 for a pair of earrings and $40 for a pair of cufflinks.)

The 3:1 ratio is strategic on two levels. Physically, it is obviously a matter of limited space in my apartment. I have held on too long to some ten-, fifteen-, and twenty-year-old clothing that hasn’t fit in a long time or is basically falling apart, however beloved.

But less literally, there is also something to the idea I learned back when I was a life coach, that if you want something new in your life you need to create a vacuum. I keep going back and forth trying to decide if discovering myself to be potentially bisexual is earth-quaking or completely immaterial; at some point I’ll dig into that question further. But for right now, I am holding space in head for the possibility that it might be both–a chance for transformation, thinking of myself less as a moth and more as a butterfly.

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So I decided that I would get rid of clothes that:

  • have holes or tears (I wear my clothes to death); or
  • don’t fit quite right (and still won’t even if I can lose the six pounds I intend to lose by the end of the year); or
  • don’t make me feel attractive; or
  • aren’t simply comfy for binge-watching Netflix.

So far since New Year’s I’ve gotten rid of two big garbage bags of trash (paint-covered jeans, shirts sans elbows, etc.) and two bags of give-away clothes (The Epilepsy Foundation has a collection bin in front of my laundromat). So I’m improving my look, clearing physical and mental space, and doing some good in the world.

Not bad for a few weekend’s work, eh?

Let’s Talk about Categories!

 

shane categorize

I have been reading a lot of blogs lately trying to sort out all the new stuff in my head, and I am interested in how much energy goes into the words we use for ourselves. Having spent decades being more concerned about how I used language to explain my religious affiliations, especially as they changed, since “straight” is the unmarked category that doesn’t have to bother naming itself, wrapping my head around this new tangle has taken up more of my brain time than I would have expected. Perhaps it is not so surprising, as I learned about white privilege long before I saw how privilege impacts my life in other spaces as well. I am white, middle class, educated and Christian (although at the time I was still Roman Catholic, which is not the problem that it was for my father forty years ago, but at times it can be a problem). Yes, I have heard every Polish joke in the book, but on the other hand, I speak unaccented American English with the very good vocabulary of a born English teacher. So I floated along, clueless.

It never even occurred to me to wonder what my sister went through when she came out of the closet 25-30 years ago. I assumed it was traumatic, as it coincided with transferring schools and taking time off and then going back. But we don’t talk often and when we do, we focus on the present, as I am always catching up on at least a year of her life. Going that far back would push our phone conversations to marathon length, and neither one of us can afford that kind of phone bill.

Anyway, for those of us who haven’t known since we were young that the world was going to be a very…interesting place for us, figuring out how to talk about who we feel we are seems like a difficult thing indeed. This is especially true, it seems, given the power that the ideas of “butch” and “femme” seem to have in the LBGT* world. One writer even described being told when she came out, “We’ll just have to wait and see what kind of lesbian you are,” as if she were a little bird sticking her beak out of the cracked egg and was going to have to find out whether she was a duck, a swan, a toucan or a phoenix.

James Dawson, author of This Book Is Gay, writes, “It’s human nature to label things, and if you’re having some confusing thoughts, giving a name to the situation may make you feel better because you can be part of something–a bigger support network–the International Haus of Gay, if you will” (17). And as he points out later, some of the names we might choose in this instance can act both as subcultures (allowing us to recognize each other) and stereotypes (allowing us and others to think they know more about us than maybe they really do).

And in any case, how do we figure this out? Well, apparently the same way the birds do, by looking at our feathers. This works relatively well for the folks who dress on either of the extreme ends of the spectrum. What about the other 90%?

I did wear skirts when I started teaching, especially when I lived in Japan right after college. My go-to “No, really I AM a teacher” outfit was an A-line skirt, a blouse and a blazer. If you added kneesocks and tie shoes for my nylons and flats, I would have been back in high school again. At some point in the time I have been teaching college English, I dumped the skirts and flats for pants and short boots or Oxfords, and I have been happy as a clam ever since, although, yeah, the dating scene was pretty thin.

Then when I went to one of the queerest non-Roman Catholic seminaries in the U.S. (for an MA because I was burnt out; I’d make a horrible priest), I realized I had a French cuff shirt a roommate had given me, but no cufflinks. So I bought pair of cheap cufflinks. And I REALLY liked how that looked and felt, so I bought more cufflinks. And then of course I had to buy more French cuff shirts, first cheap ones through Chadwicks and then somewhat more expensive (But Very, Very Nice) ones from England.

Mind you, this is at least six years ago, around the same time that I bought the Victor/Victoria broadway poster. But I am pretty slow.

I seem to have begun to catch up very fast in the last six or so months. I remember after a friend said (based on a number of posts I had made on another blog), that I seemed to really like the tough beautiful women on TV lately… And I had to put into words what I had been wondering about myself: “Am I bi?” “Sure looks that way.”

A while after that I started wondering if the way I dressed might not be–not only NOT a problem–but actually kind of perfect. Blew. My. Mind.

So yeah, I have been thinking about categories lately. I jotted these down in my little pocket notebook on the train on Monday evening:

Androgyny

Tomboy/Femme (OK, I stole that from a blog)

AndroFun.

Beer & Boots

Cufflinks & Cosmos

Liberating Menswear (I stole that too, from Wild Fang clothing)

Hourglass Plaid

Tweedy Silk

I don’t know what any of it means, but as a writer, I guess having words for things is kind of important to me.

 

Dawson, James. This Book Is Gay. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2015.

Are We Victor? Or Are We Victoria?

215px-VictorVictoriaBroadway

So I have been thinking about androgyny lately and looking at other folks’ blogs for inspiration on how to dress. As a cis-woman recently considering the idea that I might be bisexual, in part because of how folks react/respond to the way I dress professionally, in part due to how folks tend to call me “Sir” and then immediately apologize when they shift their attention from my fedora hat to my earrings (I suppose), and in part because of that lovely Gateway Drug to the LGBT World, Katherine Moennig (Shane McCutcheon of The L Word [which is not to say Shane, who would break my heart in five minutes, and from whom I would reluctantly run screaming, if you see what I mean]), I have recently been reconsidering how I dress.

How much of it is instinct? How much of it is social pressure? How much of it is based on fashion ignorance based on the eleven out of twelve of my pre-collegiate years being spent in Catholic school uniforms? (And yes, that really does have an affect on people.)

While I suspect such a background was useful in many ways, it also had its downsides. Primarily, it made me not care what other folks thought of what I was wearing, since the VAST majority of people I knew were wearing the Same Damn Thing. (Admittedly Saturday night mixers with the all-boys Notre Dame High School were somewhat a different problem.) On the other hand, I only had relationships with guys every five or so years, when I was younger, and there was a longer time lag as I got older. Women evolve at one speed; guys, apparently evolve a little slower. I do believe they will catch up. I don’t think, at this point, that I will benefit from that glacial movement.

Luckily? the world has been changing in the last several years. I am lucky enough to live in a very blue state, where gay marriage, at the very least, has been legal for a while, and that has made people more blase about it, hallelujah. In the meantime, we are all working toward a more mixed idea about gender, and although this Killers song is not expressively about this issue, it comes to mind when I think about it.

I give you their lyrics. Eventually, I will find the poem I wrote about it…

Human

I did my best to notice
When the call came down the line
Up to the platform of surrender
I was brought, but I was kind

And sometimes I get nervous
When I see an open door
Close your eyes, clear your heart
Cut the cord

Are we human or are we dancer?
My sign is vital, my hands are cold
And I’m on my knees looking for the answer
Are we human or are we dancer?

Pay my respects to grace and virtue
Send my condolences to good
Give my regards to soul and romance
They always did the best they could

And so long to devotion
You taught me everything I know
Wave goodbye, wish me well
You’ve gotta let me go

Are we human or are we dancer?
My sign is vital, my hands are cold
And I’m on my knees looking for the answer
Are we human or are we dancer?

Will your system be all right
When you dream of home tonight?
There is no message we’re receiving
Let me know, is your heart still beating?

Are we human or are we dancer?
My sign is vital, my hands are cold
And I’m on my knees looking for the answer

You’ve gotta let me know
Are we human or are we dancer?

My sign is vital, my hands are cold
And I’m on my knees looking for the answer
Are we human

or are we dancer?

 

Are we human

or are we dancer?

 

Songwriters
FLOWERS, BRANDON / KEUNING, DAVE BRENT / STOERMER, MARK AUGUST / VANNUCCI, RONNIE JR.