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.

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.

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.