Nothing Makes Me Feel Better Like A Sharp Butch Haircut

Joey, my barber and the owner of Tomcats Barber Shop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, took this shot of me on Friday after he gave me a shape-up (apparently that’s the word for a trim). They do classic and retro cuts primarily, though they have a whole bunch of new barbers there these days that do just about anything you could want. Kristen just got her hair colored and cut there and it’s darker and very pinup.

It always makes me feel better to get a good haircut. Thanks, Joey.

Stories from My Youth

From the Ask Me Anything questions from Sugarbutch’s 4th anniversary:

When you were a teenager, how did you feel about your body? Can you tell a story about coming out as gay to friends or family members when you were younger? Did you ever go to summer camp?—Dora

1.

As a teen, I think I was mostly just confused about my body. I developed breasts early and was curvy, though a bit heavy-set, as I still am. When I hit middle school, suddenly my friend circle shifted away from the ones I’d grown up with, as our different class backgrounds became a problem. They could suddenly afford things I couldn’t, and somehow understood this world of being a girl that I didn’t. I was a reader, on my own, a little bit of a loner, and started hanging out with more and more marginalized crowds, like the girls who also developed early and then, later, the drama kids and the smokers.

It was around then I started getting made fun of for my clothes and lack of “style,” I started getting bullied a little, I started getting made fun of extensively for my breast size. So I got a little obsessed with girl culture, whatever there was of it in the early 1990s, which certainly looked different than it does today. I subscribed to YM and Sassy and then Seventeen, obsessing over makeup and style and shoes, always completely unsure of what I was doing.

It’s only recently I’ve been revisioning this part in my own history a bit, seeing it anew. I kind of figured that was a typical process, this obsession with femininity, these attempts to fit in, the obsession with shoes, the way I hoarded makeup so I could claim to have an extensive collection and know all about it but never used it, my extensive dangling earring collection. Recently, a friend said to me something like, “That makes sense: you’ve always been dapper, even if it wasn’t as masculine.” And I think there might be some truth to that.

I think, too, there is truth to the outsider complex I felt around femininity, especially as a teen. I was terrified of what my life would be as a grown “woman.” I remember having panic attacks when I considered what my life after high school would be like. Not that I loved high school—I just couldn’t understand what was next. That was why I ended up in a very stereotypical hetero relationship, one where we both reproduced everything on TV we thought we were supposed to, which was very comforting: at least I knew what was expected of me.

But that’s a different story.

After a certain about of obsession over clothes and hair and makeup and femininity, and after the teasing and bullying just kept getting worse, I kind of just gave up. I cut my wardrobe down to black, and that was basically it. Black turtlenecks, black jeans. Which I wore year-round. Which I could do, in Southeast Alaska, where it’s mid-60s and 70s in the summer.

The new solid black wardrobe was a bit of a hit, and I fell in with the drama crowd, with more nerdy outsiders like myself, with the folks who were interested in sex and psychology.

I started feeling better about my body. Perhaps because I was covering it up, perhaps because I was getting a bit older (fourteen! fifteen! so different than twelve) and things were evening out, I didn’t feel quite so awkward in my own skin. But I did, of course, and continued to, for years really, until finally arriving at this gender identity, and getting rid of my dresses, moving on from undies that never quite fit my ass, non-apologetically donating my (few) pairs of heels.

I think most teens have awkward relationships to their bodies. Most of us don’t know what to do with ourselves for a while, and need time to grow into the changes. I certainly was no exception. I wonder if I’d stumbled on butch earlier, if I would have been happier.

2.

It’s strange, I don’t really have any specific coming out stories. I definitely told my crew as early as middle school that I was pretty sure I was bisexual, and I don’t remember it being a big deal. We didn’t talk about it, but they knew, and sometimes I would talk about kissing a girl or other classmates who were known to be bisexual. Some of my teachers were gay, a few different women I can think of, though no men that I know of. My band teacher for three years had a flat-top haircut and never wore skirts. (I wonder if she was out, happy, partnered. I don’t know anything about her personal life.) There was a lesbian couple who lived across the street from me, and another down the street. There was quite a bit of gayness around, I guess.

I came home one winter holiday and wore a rainbow necklace with two intertwined woman symbols—you know the kind. I remember my mom asking, “Are you trying to tell us something?” I laughed and said no. It was just what I wore, every day, constantly, at that time. But I guess I was telling them something … perhaps I thought it wouldn’t really matter to my parents, so I didn’t need to make a big deal out of telling them. So I didn’t. I probably should have. It was probably a way to avoid confrontation, even if I didn’t expect it to be negative.

Not as though it was a secret—I told them as soon as I was dating someone new, my mom and I especially remained quite close and knew a lot about my life and what I was doing. We started having elaborate, extensive conversations about feminism and women’s history as I worked on my Women Studies degree.

I feel like I should have some better coming out stories than that! I’ll keep thinking. But I think that was the extent of it: I never made a big deal out of it, and nobody else did, either.

Well, somebody did: my ex-boyfriend, Mike. Late in our six-year relationship he became a bit obsessed that I was going to leave him so I could come out, and, well, I did. I don’t recall any specific conversations about my sexuality, but once I did leave him, he and I both knew I was coming out.

3.

Yes, I attended fine arts camp for a few different summers, maybe three, which isn’t quite what most folks think of as “summer camp” but is the closest I’ve got. It wasn’t residential, and was at the high school, so it isn’t quite what most people’s sense of summer camp is. I studied writing, art music, singing, drama, and dance, and attended a couple different summers. In other summers I took a theater intensive only, then later started working at my dad’s store during the summers.

I don’t remember a lot of kids going to summer camp—perhaps it was the isolated nature of my hometown, which is land-locked and only accessible by boat or plane, or perhaps my friends, especially later in high school, were from families who weren’t particularly well off financially—but I (and other kids) did attend the Methodist Camp that was out the road. I never attended it through religious organizations, it was rentable by others and the only time I was there was through school.

Camping is just The Thing people do in the summers in Alaska, especially in my hometown, so I spent a lot of time hiking with friends, camping out, renting cabins for the weekends, building fires on the beach, and much of those other campfire summer camp activities that it seems are common for you lower-48-ers.

And what about you all? Did you go to summer camp? How did you feel about your body as a teen? What was it like to come out to friends or family or both?

Books That Changed My Life

Back when Sugarbutch was a little baby new blog (did you know it will turn 4 in April?!), I used to write a Sunday Scribblings prompt often. This week’s prompt was “the book that changed everything” and I already happened to have a halfway done list in my drafts, so I figured I’d go back to it and finish it up.

It was going to be a “new year, new you” type of post, which gives away that I started it in January, and which kind of explains the self-help-y list. But of course I couldn’t make a list and show it off here without adding some of my favorite sex books, too!

But first, the stuff to enhance your renaissance-man (regardless of gender!) fabulous self. In alphabetical order:

  1. The Art of Civilized Conversation: A Guide to Expressing Yourself With Style and Grace by Margaret Shepherd. Excellent for dating, deepening relationships with people you already know and like, and generally elevating the discussion around you. I especially remember the part about how conversations between two people should start with facts, move to opinions, and then and only then should you discuss emotions.
  2. How to Cook Everything (Vegetarian) by Mark Bittman. Whether or not you know how to cook, this is a fantastic resource. I got a copy of the vegetarian version over the holidays. Though Bittman isn’t famous for his desserts (pastries aren’t really his strong point, or, let’s be honest, so says Kristen) he has a little bit of everything in here and chances are, it’ll be a great starting point, if not an excellent recipe. Lots of great tips for technique, too.
  3. The Modern Gentleman: A Guide to Essential Manners, Savvy and Vice by Phineas Mollod and Jason Tesauro. I have dreams of writing a butch equivalent, but shh that’s a secret. This contains excellent thoughts about conducting oneself socially, manners, conversation, style, how to tie ties, how to order drinks, how to be suave on a date, all sorts of things that a gentleman would want to know. Not impressed with the sex part (cheesy!) but hey you can’t win ’em all. Along with Dressing the Man: Mastering the Art of Permanent Style, this is one of the books about masculinity that I recommend most.
  4. The Power of Less: The 6 Essential Productivity Principles That Will Change Your Life by Leo Babauta. You probably already read Zen Habits, so you know Babauta’s style and simplicity. This book is a lovely collection of philosophies on productivity, minimalism, moving on, getting shit done, and focusing on what you really want to do. Along with The Four-Hour Work Week, this really changed my attitude about my time (a non-renewable resource!) and how I make decisions.
  5. There Is Nothing Wrong with You: Going Beyond Self-Hate by Cheri Huber. Huber is a buddhist monk, founded two zen monasteries in California, has written about twenty books, and travels widely. I found her writing when I was in high school and have been reading and re-reading ever since. It’s kind of self-help-y, yes, but there’s a lot of spirituality, philosophy, and psychology in it too, which the best self-help books contain. She has many other titles that I’d also recommend, The Depression Book: Depression as an Opportunity for Spiritual Growth literally changed my life when I first read it, and Be the Person You Want To Find: Relationships and Self-Discovery is a great book for those of us seeking long-term valuable love relationships. Speaking of love relationships, I can’t not mention If the Buddha Dated and If the Buddha Married by Charlotte Kasl. Both were very life-changing and eye-opening to my own patterns and tendencies, and very useful. Kasl is a buddhist quaker feminist psychotherapist, and her perspective is so full of lovingkindness and sweetness and understanding that you can’t not be drawn in, only to learn about yourself and your tendencies. Though it’s pretty hetero-focused in its example couples, I tend to change the pronouns (or pretend it’s a butch going by him/her and a femme). Kristen and I have been reading through it aloud and discussing it, which can be intense but has been great.

And because I can’t make a book list without having sex books on it:

  1. Moregasm: Babeland’s Guide to Mind-Blowing Sex by Rachel Venning and Claire Cavanah, founders of Babeland. I’ve already mentioned this book on Sugarbutch recently, but it’s worth mentioning again. Modern, fun, wide-ranging, inclusive, sexy, kinky, open, welcoming. And the design is just so damn cute. If I had coffee table books, this would be one of them.
  2. The Topping Book and The Bottoming Book by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy. I recommend these books constantly to folks who want to get more involved in power play or topping and bottoming roles in their sex lives. So many of my philosophies come from these books, and they are incredibly full of useful tips and ideas about aftercare, safewords, top drop, negotiations.
  3. Urban Tantra: Sacred Sex for the Twenty-First Century by Barbara Carrellas. Tantra books are usually way too cheesy for me to even get through, and I have some experience with tantra. But this one is different. Carrellas (@urbantantrika) is as grounded as she is woo-woo, as queer and kinky as she is accessible and open. If you’ve always been curious about tantra, this is a great place to start.
  4. Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino. There are very few smart books written about polyamory and open relationships (The Ethical Slut, now in a new edition, by the authors of the Topping/Bottoming Books, being the classic cannon), and this is the most recent. I’ve admired Taormino’s work for a long time, since her sex column at the Village Voice (collected into a book called True Lust), and she’s done some pretty amazing things in mainstream porn since then. I love that she’s bringing and underground queer feminist perspective to the things she’s doing, it makes her work even more complex and fantastic. Her most recent book (aside from Sometimes She Lets Me: Best Butch/Femme Erotica!) is The Big Book of Sex Toys, which I don’t have my hands on yet but will be reporting all about when I do.
  5. Exhibitionism For the Shy: Show Off, Dress Up and Talk Hot! by Carol Queen. The Amazon description says “[e]xhibitionism as a consensual erotic pleasure and a means to overcome shyness and body image issues” and I LOVE that idea! I’m not actually sure where my copy of this has escaped to, perhaps I lost it in a break-up, but there’s a relatively new edition from 2009 that I should get my hands on regardless. Want to feel more sexy, show off, but feel self-conscious? Pick up this book. In case you don’t already know Carol Queen, she’s the owner of the Good Vibrations toy shops and director of The Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco. She also wrote one of my favorite erotica books, The Leather Daddy and the Femme.

Whew! Okay, that should keep you busy for the next few months, hm? I hope at least one of these is interesting and might enhance your life in some way. Books can be so magical like that.

I’ve included the links to Amazon, and while if you click through those links I do get a teeny tiny kickback from your purchases, I still encourage you to visit your local independent bookstore and support them by ordering these books through them. If you want them to be around next year, that means spending your money in their shop. I know they aren’t as cheap as Amazon, and probably not quite as convenient, but you’ll miss them when they’re gone. Or at least, I will. A lot.

So? What books changed YOUR life?