Archive for March, 2007
I am delicate. This tough guise
comes along with the collared shirts -
briefs – jackets in mudpuddles -
but it is only a performance.Do not mistake it for the same gauge
of pressure it takes to bruise
the skin of my heart. Purple
gives way to red gives way to pink.
Even the strong language I take in
too deep because I have no wall up
between me and you. I have no wall
up but you can’t tell how transparent
I am when I have cried, when I have
asked a question, turned a doorhandle
so you did not have to. I want to take
care of you. I want to take care of
myself, so invisibly that you won’t notice,
then take care of you. But that is not
realistic. I know. I am sensitive,
affected by all the madness marching
around me. I cannot get away from it
some days. Some days I am eaten alive
by the bees in the hive, some days I am
the hive through which everything flows.
I carry around words like brutal and
punished in a notebook and touch the
letters when I need a reminder of
the damage that can be done, can not
be undone. Phrases yielded like
knives. I refuse to use my words
as weapons, though I could, I could
cause hurt, could leave scars. Instead
I choose to swallow, don’t let it out,
don’t let things go, there is no way
to know what the words will become
once they leave my tongue. Possibly
dandelions, possibly stinging nettles,
possibly a poisonous cup of hemlock.
I drink it all down myself instead:
then there can be no misinterpretation.
There were a couple of interesting comments on that post yesterday, related comments, specifically about “just being” rather than working so hard to change, especially as related to gender.First, I want to clarify something. I was born female, socialized a girl, raised to be a ‘woman.’ Granted, I grew up in a somewhat small, live-off-the-land West Coast town where even the feminine women lean toward butch (boots and carharts rather than heels and skirts, that kind of thing) as well as with parents who dismissed many aspects of traditional gender roles, seeing the dichotomy as restrictive and limiting. But I was never the tomboy, never the one-of-the-boys girl. From the time I was about three or four up until second grade, I only wore dresses. As I got older I wore less and less female-specific clothing, but still was generally feminine. It took a conscious choice, conscious intention to develop my butch identity.
Let me say that again: this butch identity of mine is the result of hard work, because that is who I wanted to be. For the most part, I see it as something I perform on my body – the way I move, the clothes I wear, the way I cut my hair, the shoes I choose, the undergarments I choose. There are other aspects of it, behavioral aspects, primarily in the form of chivalry, opening doors, walking on the outside of the sidewalks, letting my girl order first (or ordering for her), the way I feel desire, flirt, and have sex (though that has a lot to do with my identification as a top, too). I don’t necessarily align certain personality qualities – i.e. writing, cooking, working on cars, interest in verbal processing, caretaking – to one particular gender identity or expression.
Of course, the reason that I wanted to adopt this identity at all was partly because of the way that I felt that it fit me, my body, my sense of self, the way I move through the world. Explaining my choice to develop a butch identity is fairly complicated (of course it is), but it also relates to the anxiety and depression that I felt as a teenager being completely paralyzed by the idea of being a fairly intelligent, articulate woman in the world, as I began to understand how women are treated, devalued, sexualized, used, and damaged. (Which is also why I pursued gender and oppression studies as an academic discipline.) My choice to become butch was related to my own sense of the ‘feminine’ as dangerous, in our society.
BUT: don’t get me wrong, I have done a fuck of a lot of work on my internalized sexism, and I understand – I REALLY UNDERSTAND – the value in femininity. But it took me a while, which is why it took me longer to admit (and understand) my attraction to and begin dating femmes than it did to figure out that I was/wanted to date women, and be butch. The third wave feminist movement has done some work on reclaiming “traditional” expressions of femininity (domesticity, Barbies, the color pink, glittery girly things, etc) but I think that hasn’t quite come to full fruition. (That’s another topic, I won’t go into it, though it’s related.)
So: when I decided that I wanted to intentionally adopt this butch identity, I also decided that there was only so much of it that I wanted. I didn’t want those stereotypical masculine traits that I see as damaging, limiting to the masculine gender (those that I mentioned yesterday – lack of emotional expression, inability allow help or ask for help, anger as the only acceptable emotion, valuing violence or the objectification of women).
Which is why I talked about cherry-picking my gender yesterday. And it isn’t as though this choosing of gender just happens once, and then is over – I’ve been developing this identity for five or six years now, made a serious study of it, a hobby, and I am still refining it, remaking it, reworking my performace of it on my body, the feel of it in my emotional inner life, the way I experience and express desire and am recognized by other butches (and femmes, and dykes) because of it.
Gender is policed socially – I constantly watch myself, or others do it for me. Other butches, other femmes, even other folks who refuse to limit themselves to the heterorestrictive gender binary system – at various times all sorts of people have said that I wasn’t “that butch” or “butch enough” or “really butch,” or they’ve pushed me to objectify a woman, tell me jokes about violence and sex and sports and cars assuming that I’ll get it and like it and laugh, as a form of bonding.
Somehow it is incredibly easy when developing a butch identity to adopt all those masculine traits that I would rather reject and not incorporate. I saw it happen with my group of young dyke friends as we were developing out of that awkward baby-dyke stage: we were all on the butch side of the gender spectrum, but they wanted to stare at pretty girls from across the bar, make lewd gestures, tell stupid (offensive!) jokes. I quickly developed the reputation as The Feminist, which of course meant “not butch,” as if the two things are mutually exclusive. I was teased constantly – one girlfriend of my best friend used to do things like slap my friend’s ass, and then glance at me sheepishly saying, “oops, sorry Sin, I didn’t mean to objectify her …”
I never could quite articulate the difference between sex and sexism, the difference between playfulness and objectification. I still grapple with all of this, but I feel much more confident in my understanding of my own personal gender identity and expression, and in gender in general.
Back to the comments, though: I’ll ignore the mention of my “gender identity issues” and just pretend that means “gender identity complexities” or something (’cause issues is a bit of a triggering word for me, I guess, implying that there are problems or negative behavior as a result).
I am actually very interested in the study of Buddhism in general, especially the concepts of a beginner’s mind, of staying clear and open, of calming the self and allowing things to flow through our bodies and minds. So “I just am the way I am” and allowing myself to “just be” really resonate with me, and my initial reaction is to be a little outraged: “of COURSE that’s how I address things!” But clearly, that’s not so true, not when it comes to Callie.
This is a place where Callie and I differ greatly. She is constantly remaking herself in opposition and reaction to what others around her need. She is always in flux. In some ways, she has very little self-definition and needs someone else to give it to her. That is not how I am, nor do I really understand it in its entirety.
This particular issue that I’m facing – of consciously working to get into and maintain an emotional space where I can have access to what I’m thinking and feeling, and what I need, and feel confident and safe enough to express that to Callie consistently – was one of the conditions upon which Callie and I got back together. She said she would work to make that space safer for me, and I said I would work to express my needs more often, so I wouldn’t go along like everything is fine when things aren’t, and then pull away seemingly suddenly (and cause her great pain, because of her great fear of abandonment and rejection).
So, I suppose the question of whether or not we’re going to be able to make those changes remains. I told her I would try it, and I am. The rewards of being with her are great, seriously great; I’ve never been in love like this before, I’ve never felt such great heights, I’ve never had this kind of physical connection with someone. This mini-crisis has reminded me that, if I want to keep her, and stay in this relationship, I need to keep this skill at the forefront of my mind a little more consciously, otherwise I am going to explode with anxiety and resentment.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I can’t “just be” in this relationship – yet. She needs more from me than my own default and ingrained behavior can provide. (Just for the record, she is working really hard changing herself to better accomodate my needs too, in many very successful ways – she’s not only placing demands on me. I will write in depth about that another time.) I’m not used to that in relationships, but I love how much I am growing as a person, and I still suspect that it is going to be worth it, if we can sharpen our skills, sharpen our tools with each other, we can reach a serious state of bliss that will be sustainable, possibly for the rest of our lives.
And I’m not willing to give up that possibility just yet.
PS: subscribe to Sugarbutch via feedburner, thanks!
Questions from Viviane over at the Sex Carnival
When did you start blogging?
in 1998 I started the only feminist blog there was called Feminist Media Watch. it was collaborative, and got extremely popular, at one point we had about twenty-five authors and had very high traffic. I’ve had a personal blog here or there since about then too, which has moved around.
What do you like about blogging?
my most successful blog projects have always been deeply personal, semi-anonymous explorations of my relationships, sexuality, and personal dramas. I’ve met some fantasic and wonderful people through my blogs, many of which have stayed in my life for many years.
Is blogging a major or minor way of connecting to other people for you?
Both, I suppose; it is a major source of deep connection for me, in that I am often sharing serious and intimate information about myself, but I do a lot of socializing in my peer groups in person too. So though it is major, it is not my only source.
Where’s your blog? Do you use a free hosted service (Blogger,Wordpress, Livejournal, AOL, Google Pages, etc.) or do you have your own domain and web server?
Both; I have four domains, and accounts at blogger and wordpress. I primarily blog at a blogger account at the moment, the others are more stagnant.
What do you do to promote your blog or your writing (using tags in your post, blog roll, del.icio.us, Digg, Pingoat)?
very little, actually. I always visit my commenter’s websites and try to link to them, to encourage them to come back and comment/write more, and I go to their sites and comment on their writing too. so I guess I’m more into individual advertising than any sort of major site promotion. Every once in a while I get on a kick and try to make my profile on technorati or feedburner fancy, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference. I contribute to sugasm sometimes, that always enhances my traffic. Other than that? I try to write every day, so people will visit every day, but that’s about it.
This post will self-destruct as soon as the archives are updated, or when it drops off the front page, whichever comes first.
has spring yet arrived? now that we are saving daylight things seem impossibly bright and warm. sun for many extra hours a day. illusions, all of it.
last night I dreamed I was walking, walking, wandering somewhere, all of that is so hazy and unclear, and then eventually I ran into that girl I’m dating and she reached up, took dark dark glasses off of my face, and everything was bright and clear. though I’m glad my subconscious thinks this makes sense, I feel little more than a vice-grip in my chest where my heart used to be.
what are you today? are you nebulae? are you full of marrow you cannot make into blood? are you loving, and loved?
I’ve mentioned this before, I think, but: I am a performance poet. I write, and perform around New York City usually a few times a month; I’m involved in a writing group and a book group. I take this pursuit very seriously.So, as such, I have a bio that I use to describe myself; the first line describes me as a “queer butch writer,” specifically.
A few weeks back, I was asked to be a judge for a state-wide performance poetry competition for high school students that is happening this Thursday. I’m not going into the details (not that you probably couldn’t find it, or that this won’t totally reveal myself) but that they are high school students is relevant, because the coordinators for this event asked me, after receiving my bio, to “tone down” the language so as not to be potentially misunderstood, potentially inviting problems from the “upstate and rural” New Yorkers who are “not as tolerant as we are down in the city.”
One woman actually said, I kid you not, “I mean, I don’t have a problem with it – I have LOTS of gay friends.” Which, though she was trying to comfort me, is a really horrible thing to say. Of course! It is never YOU who is oppressing ME specifically – it’s all those other people, ruining the fun for everyone.
Plus: she is implying that, if I called myself a queer butch, and IF someone was offended for whatever reason, there would be reason to be afraid. That that person would be RIGHT to be offended. That they could create a LEGITIMATE complaint that would potentially damage the organization.
If that’s not true, the organization would be strong enough to stand up and say, no, actually, this isn’t a problem, there is nothing wrong with someone calling themselves a queer butch, and if you have a problem, that’s your fucken problem.
But: I really want to participate in this. I really want to go, network, be a visible queer butch for these high school kids.So I agreed to change the word “queer” and emailed my revised bio back, leaving in the word “butch” – i.e. “self-defined butch lesbian writer” – explaining that gender identity and sexual orientation are two different things, that I’ve worked hard to claim this word and that I feel it is integral and important to my identity and my self-definition.
But, no go: “we are still really afraid that [the word butch] has the potential to be misinterpreted by some of the attendees. We completely understand that the word has significant and special meaning for you, but we’re afraid that it won’t mean the same thing to others and that it might have the potential for causing a backlash from a parent or teacher.”
I sat on it over the weekend, and toyed with ways I could be subversive and still participate in this competition. Wear a work shirt that says “butch” on the patch. Get “butch” tattooed on my foreheard. Include “marginalized freak lesbian writer” in my bio.
“Queer butch” does not equal “lesbian” — and that is exactly the point. Exactly one of the reasons why I call myself those words. POWER.
And? It’s a POETRY competition. This entire event is all about words, and they are asking (telling?) me to change mine. To choose words that are less scary so their homophobic uptight audience and participants don’t have to be shaken in their little privileged suburban worlds. That is the entire point of my poetry, of my artistic fucken mission even.
I suppose, under all the frustration and hurt cracking feeling in my chest, this is reminding me why I do this kind of work, why I want to be visibly queer, why I want to use words like butch and dyke and cunt and queer, words that have power. This is exactly why I need to go to that competition, to walk in and LOOK like a queer butch dyke and then talk and sound like an articulate, emotional, thoughtful POET.
Because I seek to be a bridge. I want to become suspended between worlds, create new pathways over which to travel.
And, actually? THAT – being a bridge – may even be my more powerful, stronger artistic mission than what I just mentioned about shaking things up. Those two things do go together, I think, despite seeming to contradict, and I seek to do them both.
I’m working on a formal letter, conceding the point because I want to participate but officially stating my position in protest, but meanwhile, I have agreed to let my bio be changed to describe myself as a “lesbian writer.”
I hope they won’t be disappointed when I, a queer butch, show up.
So, welcome visitors! And thanks Jefferson. He & I were actually at the same party on Saturday night, and he got to meet Callie, but briefly.
A conversation with Morgan. In print, it seems so long! It didn’t feel that long when we were chatting.I have more to say, especially on the subject of the New York poetry competition I am judging next week that asked me to edit my bio and omit the words ‘queer’ and ‘butch’. but that’ll have to wait until later.