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    My daily writing--emails, journal entries, marginalia, more emails, blog posts, and tweets--shapes me as a writer, helping and hindering the big stuff I'm trying to accomplish. Every word counts.

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Let’s Enchant This Garden

Once upon a time, I was a mouse. More specifically, I was in sixth grade performing a role in a play. My partner, a close friend, and I recently watched my performance on the surprisingly-not-so-grainy VHS tape my mother has saved since 1981. I, as mouse, discovered some of the world’s wonders as I ventured out for the first time on my own. My large, round pink ears flopped when I hit my spot and exclaimed in my pre-pubescent voice: “An enchanted garden! How lovely!”

The role couldn’t have fit anyone better than it fit me. I wasn’t acting so much as letting others in on my act. I remember loving the warm rush of excitement of being on stage with everyone focused on me. I stood in the spotlight and practiced pretty flawless comic timing. I was just being myself, nelly as the day is long, and for once, and for a very brief time, I wasn’t stopping myself.

From 30 years away, I’m amazed that none of my classmates at that time made fun of me for acting flamboyantly and obliviously gay. Maybe my openness won them over–the “what” of my identity didn’t matter because the “how” was so damn fabulous?

Perhaps. But the what was and is incredibly important to me (though I won’t deny how fabulous I am at it). Which is why I’m surprised to find some of my fellow queers avoiding specifics in their self-declarations. They’re coming out as themselves, but no aspect of their identities is more important than any other.

Hmmm.

The point of Coming Out Day is to do it your own way, so I shouldn’t judge. But…even more important than how one comes out is the what one comes out as. Regardless of the terminology, today is a day to celebrate being queer. If you have no other day when you don’t have to hide or blend in, this is the day to step out and say what makes you you in terms of sexuality and/or gender. This is not a day for veiled language. This is not a day for celebrating metrosexuals.

The world is our garden, too. Take root, queers and allies. Bring on the enchantment, openly and vigorously. How fucking lovely!

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We Are a Proud People

As Pride month goes out like a fabulous lion belting out a high note, I want to say a few words to you homos who believe the “T” part of the movement is bringing down the “LGB” part, that “they” don’t belong, blah, blah, blah:

You’re wrong.

For one thing, trans people helped start this fucking movement and have always been part of it. If you doubt me, read about our history. Trans folks, like the rest of us queers, are quite deserving of equality and capable of organizing protests, carrying signs, throwing a punch–whatever needs to be done. Duh.

And are you unaware of the tendency most people have to conflate gender and sexuality? (This gets a little complicated, so follow along and reread if you need to.) It’s not just about one’s own sexuality and gender identity and how s/he expresses them. Someone who identifies, for example, as a gay man, by desiring sex with other men, is all-too-commonly viewed as less of a man (than what, no one is quite sure). Let’s not pretend it’s just bigoted straight people who do this. Queer people use gendered commentary as reward and punishment, too. Sometimes we celebrate transgression; other times we use it to justify disapproval according to some fucked-up binary set of genders. (I know you do it, mary, so don’t EVEN…)

On a good day, we could argue there’s something playful about this kind of teasing, that it suggests we’re acknowledging a fluidity of gender specifically and personal identity more broadly. It’s fun to slough off the gender straitjacket. We should all do it more often. Always, even. But someone like you can’t allow the fun to last. When I, a queer/gay guy, tell you I don’t completely identify as male, nevertheless masculine, you’re, like, “What the fuck do you mean? You think you’re a woman?” And I’m, like, “Not exactly, but definitely not completely a guy.” I offer the term “genderqueer” and you make an icky face. You want things simple (they’re not) and give in to whoever you think has power (they have it over you mainly because you grant it) or to your middle-class values (which are shit). You grasp for privilege while shaking off any of us you think might be holding you down.

We’re all guests in our ancestors’ movement. You should respect what they sacrificed. To be clear, they did it for their own well-being–nothing wrong with that–but we’re a lot better off than if they hadn’t fought for progress. We have a responsibility to make things a better, and exclusion is not the way to make progress.There’s no question in my mind that “T” is an integral part of our alphabet soup. You, however, we can probably do without.

A Rant about Gender in Fiction

According to an article I read yesterday, men behave a certain way, and women behave a certain way. When, as a reader of fiction, you feel a character does not behave appropriately, it’s probably a gender problem.

For example, if a male character wants a relationship more than sex, or if he shows an interest or ability to care for a child, he’s acting like a woman in a man’s body. If a female character wants sex more than a relationship, or if she cares about legacy more than the immediate gratification of dealing with children, she’s acting like a man in a woman’s body. The writer offers no evidence–from theory, practice, or anywhere else–to support her views.

I wish I could laugh at stuff like this. It’s stereotypical crap. Unfortunately, a lot of people accept it as fact. One of the commenters says that although she can’t think of examples to support the writer’s view, the article feels right. Of course, when you go by feel without ever checking in with real life, it’s easy to convince oneself that reality is as it seems. Ah, the power of fiction.

As much as I disagree with these prescriptivist assumptions about gender, what the writer gets right is that readers, editors, and publishers have expectations about how characters may behave in regard to gender. And if men are limited to certain actions and feelings, the options become more limited as other aspects of identity are revealed. For a character to embody a multi-faceted identity (gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic class, and more) apparently risks overwhelming a reader. To avoid problems, some writers follow the rules by keeping their characters simple. They anticipate readers, editors, and publishing asking things like, “Why does the character’s sexual orientation (or race or religion or whatever) matter?” So they willingly create characters with only a few aspects of identity to avoid conflict. This practice resembles that of self-identified “friends of diversity” who prefer to focus on one or two categories rather than acknowledging how complexities of identity play out in an individual. Continue reading

“Ooo-They’re-Gay” Jokes Are Still Cutting-Edge 1980s Comedy

I overheard an offensive-to-me joke–that ole chestnut about insulting two presumably heterosexual men by insinuating they’re a couple. It’s the kind of “humor” that closet cases and straight people who are insecure about their own relationships use to feel better about themselves, blending the ick factor with a dash of gay panic. I do remember that shit seemed fresh in the locker room back in junior high, and did my best to laugh along. (My time in the junior high locker room was all about trying but failing to cover what made me ashamed.)

Instead of simply fuming about the latest telling of this joke, I got a chance to respond directly and in writing. Having some time to puzzle over the situation was helpful, as it usually is for how my brain processes information. I’m all for bringing the funny, and people have a right to say what they want. I’m even open to being the butt of a joke that’s actually funny. (Ha! I just said “butt.”) But when your tired words and ideas enter my airspace, prepare to engage. Free speech is about as multi-player as you can get.

The topic is important to plenty of people other than me in this age of openly pursued “bromances,” which are decidedly “no-homo” in contrast to civil unions or marriages, but not as “no-homo” as plain ole friendship. Gay panic seems to be cooling into gay anxiety, for some, at least. I encourage them to get help with that cultural shit. I probably wouldn’t be alive if I hadn’t.

For what it’s worth, I offer the bulk of my letter here, without identifiers, to inspire, entertain, infuriate, and/or bore my dear readers. Or pick a verb of your very own. Continue reading

The Queer Kids Are Alright. But They Deserve So Much Better.

As advisor to the Gender-Sexuality Alliance at my university, I have to judge when to stay out of students’ way and when to step in to advise. They do great work on their own. For example, a few years ago they decided to change the name from Gay-Straight Alliance to recognize that many students were coming out as trans and genderqueer. But when they want to host an event with a famous speaker, I can help them find funding and coordinate PR. Basically, I don’t really run anything, but I’m pretty much always available if they need help.

Following the heightened awareness of LGBTQ suicides in mainstream media, I’m more attentive if not necessarily more concerned about queer students on our campus. (I’m pretty much always already in concerned mode.) I usually observe when I attend events, although for the Coming Out Day SpeakOut, I shared a story as most everyone else did. What struck me was that my students’ experiences haven’t necessarily been better than mine. Although my mother loves me unquestionably, she said some unkind words as she adjusted to the news that I’m gay, and a generation later, parents still have trouble dealing with the news that their children are queer.

More to the point, their problem seems to be that their children aren’t heterosexual, and sharpening that point even more, there’s disappointment that their expectations for the child’s future aren’t going to be met. It’s not that parents don’t support their queer kids, but there’s a break in the support. For those of us lucky enough to have trusting relationships with our parents, it’s painful to watch them for that moment–maybe longer–and wonder if unconditional love is no longer guaranteed. Our relationships with our parents are changed forever by that experience. If all goes well, the break results in a stronger bond, as with a bone. But it was clear as I listened to my students’ stories that a few of them are still waiting to find out if their parents love them as much as they used to. Continue reading

How My First Time Became Never

I first thought about killing myself in bio class junior year of high school. My teacher probably thought I was thinking big bio thoughts. My obedient behavior apparently gave her the impression that I cared about what we were doing. I had learned that the only reason to talk to her was to affirm that she was right.

The plans I was considering came from movies and TV, mostly. I knew not to talk to my teacher about them. She wouldn’t have drawn on her knowledge of human biology to help me choose the most efficient option. She would have told me I was wrong, and probably referred me to the appropriate administrators. Maybe I would have gotten the help I needed, and probably for that very reason I didn’t risk telling her or anyone else.

I’d already been through the psychological support process in fifth grade, when I freaked out in class about a gray cloud in the sky and panicked that a tornado would kill us all. I ended up spending six months or maybe a year in weekly sessions with the school district psychologist. We met in windowless storage spaces. She measured my IQ. One week we built a model airplane together as we talked. I thought she was a weirdo but trusted, and still trust, that she had some good intention. I just didn’t get it. And if it helped me, it didn’t work for long.

When I moved from elementary to junior high school, I had panic attacks throughout the first month of school, my body’s way of rejecting the transition that I didn’t want to go through. The school counselor did his best to talk me through it, but basically I just got used to the discomfort of the new environment. A lot of my classmates turned mean and, along with kids from the other schools that fed into our junior high, they turned on me. I’d taken some crap in elementary school; I’d been called “sissy” so many times I lost count. In junior high, it only got worse. They called me “faggot” and other slurs. When dressing out for gym class, other boys would point at my fleshy chest and say I had breasts, which was an extreme version of the more common attempt to insult me by saying I was a girl. I don’t remember teachers saying anything like that except my gym teachers, who called us “ladies” when we weren’t moving fast enough. Later, I would learn about gender expression and identity and come to understand that the “insult” hurt because it was mostly true for me.

So by the time I got to my junior high bio class, I felt pretty worn down. But I didn’t act on my plans. Things got better senior year. I made friends, spent more time with the friends I already had, and learned I had some talents I’d hoped I had. Although the good times didn’t erase the pain, I was too busy to acknowledge the feeling that everything would surely fall apart. I was avoiding the problem, yes, but I wasn’t aware of how I could get help. I did what I had to do to stay alive.

Continue reading

Glee Loves Gays? Oh, Puh-leez, Mary!

For a show supposedly dedicated to the importance of people being themselves, Glee doesn’t push the boundaries of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. On this week’s episode, “the boys” play songs by Kiss, and the girls (and Kurt, the “faggy” guy, as described by Finn, one of the boys), praise Gaga.

As in the other three episodes I’ve watched, there’s way too much auto-tune punctuated by after-school-special moments of lesson-drenched monologues. In the most annoying one, Finn gets lectured by Kurt’s father, who won’t allow Finn to stay with them because of his homophobic attitude. (Okay, I’ve got to give the show a few points for that.)

But at the end of the scene, the father touches Kurt on the shoulder, literally at arm’s length, and the second Kurt touches his hand as a sort of reply, his father pulls his hand away. After such an impassioned tirade against homophobia, the gesture suggests, “I care about you, Kurt, but I’m not sure I love you.” Continue reading

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