Styling Saturday: To Tie or Not to Tie

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Vivienne Westwood says, “You have a more interesting life when you wear impressive clothes.” Now, Westwood is an old British fashion designer, apparently known for bringing punk clothing into the mainstream, so on the one hand, she would think this. On the other hand…I dunno if it’s true, but it sure feels true.

This also reminds me of the last time I wore a necktie, around 1986 or1987. It was the eighties, so I was not being ironic or gender-bendy in any way. I think I wore jeans and brown Oxford bucks, a light blue button-down Oxford shirt, my jeans jacket and a narrow light blue necktie with pink flowers. My hair was short, just as it is now. I was singing the final song at the top (bottom?) of my lungs, as I always do. Afterwards, the little old lady standing next to me patted me on the arm and said, “It’s so nice to hear young men singing in church!” That was the last time I wore a necktie.

I often get “sirred” at the grocery store. I don’t really care, but it always makes the person who says it get embarrassed in the following moment when they take a closer look at me and focus less on my fedora and more on my earrings, etc. I recently bought three modest neckties at SkinnyTies.com (one black, one navy, and one powder pink), but I don’t think I will probably wear them, or at least not until I learn how to do my makeup better. I don’t think I could pull off true butch, and I don’t think I would want to. But when I look at something like Katherine Moennig or Julie Andrews just looking so darn cute in a tie, I wish I could carry it off.

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Shakespeare, Young Americans, Et Al.

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So I just watched the single season of Young Americans, a Dawson’s Creek spinoff, via YouTube last week. Although the main stories are about the townie, Will, and his efforts to fit in with his richer classmates, and the townie, Bela, and rich kid, Scout, who start to fall in love and then find out that they might have the same father, my favorite plot line is about Jake and Hamilton. Jake is actually Jacqueline, who has used her computer hacking skills and gender-neutral looks to enroll in the school as a boy, hoping that her absent mother will finally notice her; complications ensue when chemistry arises between “Jake” and Hamilton.

For a show about summer session at a (very white) boys’ boarding school, there is a surprising number of women in it and most of them aren’t total clichés. Bela is a mechanic working at her father’s gas station and Jake is a computer hacker who claims convincingly that s/he hacked NASA. The males are also nuanced. Finn, their rowing coach and English teacher talks a lot about literature, and Will writes poetry (and they steal a plot device from Cyrano de Bergerac, with a love poem and mistaken identity). So first of all, hooray broader representation of women and men!

You have to hand it to the WB, the television network that produced this show: they were horrible at racial diversity but they told interesting stories. The show played around with the awkwardness between Jake and Hamilton for about three and a half episodes, until Jake finally tells Hamilton that she is a girl, but since he needs to keep her secret, they end up having to let the other guys think they are gay. In the final episode, when everyone’s secrets get revealed, there is a moment when Hamilton turns to Jake and says, “Next you’re going to tell me that you are really a lesbian pretending to be a straight girl pretending to be a guy, because I might actually be into that.” This is funny mainly because the actress playing Jake, Katherine Moennig, really was exactly that, and it reminded me a lot of Shakespeare.

In Twelfth Night, we get Viola, a woman who gets shipwrecked and then dresses as a young man and works as a page for the Duke Orsino who is in love with the Lady Olivia. Viola has to pass messages between them and Olivia falls for her/him. And for audiences of the day who knew that the actor was of course a man playing a woman pretending to be a man and avoiding the lady’s advances, this was apparently just as chuckle-worthy. But I am not sure why it is so funny.

I think some of it is similar to what happens when you tell a little kid that the sky is green and they laugh hysterically because (they might say) the sky is most definitely not green, so claiming that it is seems funny. (And I should point out that in really terrible weather, such as right before a tornado, the sky can be green. Pray you never see it.) Humor often is the result of turning expectations inside out, and the stronger and more inevitable the expectation is, the funnier it is to see it transgressed, transposed or just tossed out the window. Apparently masculinity and femininity are two such expectations, or otherwise why are we still telling these stories and being entertained by them?

I feel like this matters in part because if we could figure out what we mean by masculine/feminine, male/female, we might also begin to unpack all the irrational fears underlying these ridiculous new bathroom bills. Given that transphobia is “fueled by insecurities people have about gender and gender norms” (Serano, qtd. In “Transphobia”), and can have horrific consequences when it leads to harassment and violence, our society needs to get a grip. And this is a deeply political social problem because, as Jody Norton writes, “male-to-female transgender incites transphobia through her implicit challenge to the binary division of gender upon which male cultural and political hegemony depends” (Norton).

 

Norton, Jody. “’Brain Says You’re a Girl, But I Think You’re a Sissy Boy’: Cultural Origins of Transphobia.” International Journal of Sexuality and Gender Studies. 2, Number 2 (2) 1997: 139–164.

“Transphobia.” Wikipedia. 12 April 2016. Web. 14 April 2016.

Ode to Toaster Ovens

for Katherine Moennig

 

I used to think of toaster ovens

As practical things, a way of making bread

Warm and crisp, heating frozen pizza,

Recreating an unfinished meal when

The microwave was on the fritz. No more.

 

The transformation they call to mind

Now still contains heat and crispness, still

Takes the frozen unfinished thing, warmly

Embracing it, making it not only nourishing

But more desirable. Heat enhances flavor,

 

Teases the tongue, tells us it is time

To gather around a table, light candles,

Uncork and pour the wine. Heat reminds us

Who we are and what we hold most dear,

Especially when we thought we knew, and didn’t.

 

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.

Queering Holy Week, Cont’d.

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So Wednesday, my church did the Women’s Stations of the Cross, a service made up of short (1 page) monologues by all the different women that Jesus interacted with and healed, recalling their relationship with him and watching as he makes his way to his death. Written by Katie Sherrod, it’s a moving service, especially for those of us reader involved in it. The last time we did it, I read his mother Mary receiving his body, Station 13, which was harrowing. This year, I did 12, Mary Magdalene watching him die on the cross. Sherrod uses some of the ideas from the Gnostic gospels rejected from the canon by Constantine in 325, including that Jesus called her “beloved disciple” and that Peter was jealous of her–these details get seeded into a few of the other women’s parts as they look to her as a leader among the women followers. We love the service in part for its good theological and elegant emotional writing and for its being a service led by non-clergy who are all women. So not transgressive in a big way, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t play well in Rome.

I was going to go to the Holy/Maundy Thursday service on Thursday evening but ended up binge-watching Season 5 of Ellen instead. Watching the earlier seasons I remembered why I had stopped watching it in the nineties–her funny but hapless dates with men in the first three seasons reminded me too much of my own failed efforts in that directions. Oh, the irony. Season 4 and 5 are encouraging for similar reasons.

Since I had already gone through the crucifixion on Wednesday, I spent Good Friday evening at a lesbian happy hour, a monthly meetup that always draws 50-80 women of a variety of ages and backgrounds. A woman I had met the previous month and found interesting did remember me (teachers are better at remembering names than other folks apparently). She is a flannel shirt butch but also kind of feminine with a brightness about her that draws people to her, so she is always surrounded at these events. I met almost a dozen women, from a physical therapist to an MIT grad student

A doctor who is recently out and I were talking. She looked past me at a woman sitting at the bar, fifties and relatively feminine, and asked if I thought her attractive. Assuming she was asking for encouragement to go talk to her I said, “Sure.” She turned to the woman and said, “My friend here thinks you’re attractive” and introduced us. Luckily the woman’s older friend was a realtor, so we could talk about how the Internet has changed her field and I managed to conduct a four-way conversation about nothing much until I could drift into another small group. Before she left, the doctor said, “I’m always looking to help people!”

Thanks, doc. The next time I need a wingman, you won’t be the first I’ll call.

Another set of women, finding out that I’ve only been thinking I’m bi for three months, reacted in a way I’m getting used to: not quite hysterical laughter. Finding out I’m only out to four people, they assured me, “Oh, honey, your parents already know. They might not know they know, if they’re old, but they know. Your siblings and friends too.” Yes, yes, terribly funny. Glad I amuse. I suspect that being lesbian is more straightforward than being bi (you should pardon the expression).

They also thought that “since you like men” might explain my attraction to somewhat more masculine women like Katherine Moennig and Ellen Degeneres (and the lady in plaid behind me regaling her new friend about the gay scene in Santiago that she should check out on her vacation next week). I managed to get myself back into that conversation, successfully guessing that the vacationer was Swiss (I recognized the accent). I was drinking a mai tai, which had a purple flower in it, which I gave to the Chilean who talks like a born American and she tucked it behind her ear and went off and joined other conversations.

I met a writer who gave me bad advice about writing and relationships, neither of which I intend to take. When I saw Flower Girl again she told me she had gotten a lot of compliments on it. She wondered out loud whether she would get anyone’s number by the end of the evening.

I said, “You could have mine.”

She looked surprised, so I said I thought she was cute.

“It’s because of the flower, isn’t it?”

“No, it’s why I gave it to you.”

Eventually, we exchanged cards. This flirting thing is hard. I feel like I am trying to flex a muscle I haven’t used in years and never was very good at in the first place.

Pi Day

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Because I work at that great Mecca of Nerdiness, MIT, I celebrate Pi Day, March 14, i.e., 3.14. Last year they got very happy when it was actually 3.1415. About two seasons ago, the TV show Person of Interest had one of its main characters, a reclusive billionaire computer genius go undercover as a high school math teacher, and he gave this lovely speech about pi and the universe of infinite possibility.

“Let me show you. Pi, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, and this is just the beginning; it keeps on going, forever, without ever repeating. Which means that contained within this string of decimals, is every single other number. Your birthdate, combination to your locker, your social security number, it’s all in there, somewhere. And if you convert these decimals into letters, you would have every word that ever existed in every possible combination; the first syllable you spoke as a baby, the name of your latest crush, your entire life story from beginning to end, everything we ever say or do; all of the world’s infinite possibilities rest within this one simple circle. Now what you do with that information; what it’s good for, well that would be up to you.” (Dietz)

Person of Interest is important in the origin story leading to this blog. Joss Whedon’s show Angel introduced me to Amy Acker. Amy Acker is on Person of Interest, constantly flirting with Sarah Shahi’s character. Sarah Shahi led me to The L Word, which led me to Katherine Moennig, who made me rethink pretty much everything I had considered standard and static about sexuality. So, thank you, POI.

Dietz, Dan. “2 Pi R.” Person of Interest. 2013.

Are We Victor? Or Are We Victoria?

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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.