The Bisexual Cento



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,


The Ties That Bind or Free Us


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.

The Hatbrim of Perspective


I have heard it said that the person least likely to know A Terrible Truth about someone is the person him/herself. The people around them have all the information, and those closest have generally processed it unconsciously, accepted it unconsciously, and moved on. Most people are far too preoccupied with their own concerns and troubles to give much mind to those of other people unless they are explicitly asked to. I have seen this for myself more than once.

In my Catholic high school, most of our teachers were habited nuns, young, vibrant, smart and funny. When, during the fall of my freshman year, I had a powerful spiritual experience of the presence of God, I automatically felt I was going called to enter the convent. (Context is everything. Had I grown up evangelical, I probably would have just taken Jesus as my lord and savior and gotten on with my life.)

I suppose, in retrospect, it was a lot like being in love. Every song on the radio was a message from God. I still can’t hear “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” when it comes on suddenly in the grocery store or gym without tearing up. But as strongly as I felt this pull, I also knew I had to keep it to myself. Although my dad is Irish/Polish Roman Catholic, my mom is a WASP. Over the years, they would often argue “about religion”; I was in my forties before I realized that, all those times, they had really been arguing about social class markers. And my sister had refused to be confirmed and stopped going to church long since, so I knew she wouldn’t be too pleased by my decision either.

I kept this secret for three years, and I wasn’t totally wrong to do so. When my parents finally found out, my mother refused to talk to me for two weeks. My dad, who long ago had briefly considered the priesthood, understood and passed messages to me from my mom until the worst was over. But here’s the thing. When my sister came home for Thanksgiving that year, I told her, nervously anticipating her loud disapproval. Instead, she said, “Yeah, I know.”

Go figure.

At the end of my first year in college, I told God to find something else for me to do. Poverty and obedience were not problems, but lifelong celibacy was something I just didn’t think I could do. I can’t decide if irony is one of the seven virtues or one of the seven deadly vices…

Anyway, this was the mid 1980s. The only reason I knew anything at all about the existence of homosexuality was the scourge of AIDS. I graduated college and moved to Japan to try my hand at teaching English. While I was there some of the American teachers were passing around Alison Bechdel’s book Dykes to Watch Out For. I read it and things shifted in my head. At Thanksgiving the year I returned to the states, my sister brought up the subject.

“Yeah,” I said, “I know.”

One the one hand, denial is not just a river in Egypt. On the other hand, when it comes to family, it is a navigable river. I loved my sister, even if I didn’t understand her. End of story.

I am thinking of these things in part because of an experience I had the other day shopping downtown. (I know you’ve been thinking, “When are we getting to the hat? I came here for the hat!” Fear not. The hat is coming.)

So last week I went to Downtown Crossing, the shopping district in Boston, looking for something—I don’t remember what. I passed the fenced-in hole in the ground that was all that remained of a burnt-out, torn-down, and otherwise hyphenated building. This week I went back (looking for cotton crew socks, unsuccessfully; don’t even get me started) and glanced up to see a thirty-story shiny highrise in the place where just last week I could have sworn there was still a hole.

I stopped in my tracks and took off my hat to gawk. Then I put my hat back on and looked across the street again: no building. Standing where I was across the street, the three-inch brim of my hat (the Henry Jones, from Goorin Brothers, Merry Christmas to me) just cut off my view of everything above the twenty-foot fence around the highrise construction site.

So I am thinking, when it comes to perspective and perception, you can’t help the twenty-foot fence society puts up, but you can choose to take off your hat.

Foregrounding/Backgrounding Identities


As I was pondering what to write for International Women’s Day, I recalled a conversation I had with my mom maybe fifteen years ago. I don’t remember what started the conversation, but I remember her saying that she was a woman first and a person second, and I could not fathom that order, nor could she comprehend my saying that I am a person first and a woman second.

Now, mind you, we are only twenty-five years apart. She is a Baby Boomer, born during World War II. I am part of the lost generation, born between the end of the Baby Boomer era in the early 1960s and before the Gen Xers got started in the mid-1970s. That decade, 1963-1973, was not coincidentally the heart of the Vietnam War. The fact that my father was born during the Great Depression is what separates me, and others from the same period, from the Gen Xers both of whose parents are usually Baby Boomers. Because of these things, I think that my siblings and I got a mixed bag of values. On the one hand I cannot waste food and I tend to hold onto things that might be useful far longer than I should because you just never know when you might need it and the money to replace it might not be there when you do. On the flipside, it is a lot easier for me to get used to new technological advancements than it is for people born even ten years before me.


From the perspective of popular culture, this period had some powerful influences at work in terms of the portrayal of values. People born when I was started watching Andy Griffith (1960-1968) on television and ended up watching the early years of MTV (1981~). During this time gender roles were being questioned. Before this period, you had shows like Leave It to Beaver (1957-1963), with the suburban nuclear family and stay-at-home-mom who actually wore dresses to do housework; after, you have The Bionic Woman (1976-1978), with a cybernetic woman-turned-spy. Although a lot of the cultural questioning got shut down by the backlash of the 1980s, the effect of what came before remained. What is seen cannot be unseen.

Anyway, this is how I usually try to explain to myself how I came to see female as a fairly neutral term and gender roles as being a generational glitch rather than a God-given hierarchy. It helps that my parents treated my brother and sister and me pretty much the same and told us all we could do whatever we wanted in life. They didn’t bat an eye when my sister and I turned out to be good at Olympic-style target rifle or when my brother joined the cheerleaders (in order to, as it turned out, meet girls, since the cheerleaders for his all-boys Catholic high school went to my all-girls Catholic high school).

It probably also helps that I am white, because I suspect seeing any label as being potentially neutral is going to be a lot easier if what society sees as your primary label is privileged. Similarly being Christian (although for the first forty years Roman Catholic, which can have repercussions) and assuming I was purely heterosexual probably also made it easier not to question labels. And humans so love labels in part because they make it clear who is in and who is out, who can act in the space and who can’t. And sometimes, not knowing what you “can’t” do enables you to do it and then wonder what all the fuss was about.

But that suggests that a “lack” of perceivable labels means the unmarked category, and in gender terms, that pretty much means male. So I increasingly wonder whether my assumption that “person” is gender-neutral is true, or if really what I was saying to my mother was that I was a man first and a woman second, because I saw my ability to act in the world as my foregrounded identity and any restrictions based on feminine gender roles as my backgrounded identity

And how much of this is based on my really, really not getting femininity and its value on its own outside of the power structures that people apply to it to keep it from becoming too dangerous?

Metanoia on a Monday


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.


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:


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


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?


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…


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?