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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.

    My name is James Black. I'm on Facebook and Twitter. Friend and/or follow me if you like.

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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

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