It’s strange to be a woman who doesn’t want to look pretty. It’s strange to be a woman who doesn’t own a skirt or a dress or a pair of women’s shoes. It’s strange to be a woman who doesn’t wear makeup. It’s strange to be a woman who doesn’t care for the company of men. It’s strange, at times – very strange.
I say these things knowing that many women who read them here might very well say, “That’s not strange! I’m just like that, too!” And thank heavens for that, thank heavens I’ve finally found some kindred souls. But I say it’s strange relative to the women I see every day out in the world, on TV, in the media. Every time I leave the house I keep my eyes open for any woman like me, but seldom find them. I grew up without any female role models I could identify with. I grew up thinking I was strange and alone.
Not that I didn’t try to find role models, especially when I would run into a woman I found attractive and appealing in some way. We could even call it the League of Their Own Narrative. I was in high school when A League of Their Own hit the theaters and liked it so much I had the soundtrack on cassette (with James Taylor’s lovely It’s Only A Paper Moon) and the movie on VHS. We all remember Geena Davis in that movie, right? Before she got into archery and telling Hollywood to put more women in films. This wonderful woman:
I admit, I swooned. And not only swooned, I saw a woman I could relate to. Like her, I was a little taller, a little broader, than the girls around me. I too had big features (though I rounded out the set with a big nose, too) and was very good at throwing and catching baseballs. That movie – bless it – was designed to provide heroes for girls, and I so badly wanted that hero –
And then Bob came home from the war.
For those unfamiliar, Bob is the incredibly nice husband to Geena Davis’s Dottie, and she gives up her incredibly promising baseball career to go home with him. Nothing can change it or alter the storyline. Bob comes home and at that moment my heart would sink and I’d lose interest in the rest of the movie (except, of course, the part where the little sister yells at her for it. Good on you, little sister. I’m right with you there.) She wasn’t my hero after all. She wasn’t really like me.
At some point I simply stopped trying to find women like me and gave in to the prevalence of men. After all, there were men who were “not like other men”, who were sensitive and creative and interesting, who seemed to exist outside of the usual roles. Those men became my role models, and I loved them dearly, always working very hard internally to keep them separated from mainstream male roles. So dedicated was I to keeping them separate that when I would find one of them was married to a woman – and, mind you, they were all celebrities or fictional characters, of course – I would be crestfallen. He wasn’t, after all, something different, something like me. He was just another man married to just another woman just like everyone else. Once again I was left with no one to relate to, no person anything like me anywhere. Just always men, either overshadowing the lives of the women I loved or simply existing instead of any alternative.
It was like finding a pile of broccoli on your dinner plate every day when broccoli turns your stomach and makes you gag.
But I ate my broccoli, because it was all I had. And I felt I had to. I ate so much broccoli I thought I might just become broccoli myself. There was just so much broccoli everywhere I turned, always shoved in my face, always at the end of every pursuit of something else. I look at it now and it feels somewhat like being an atheist in a room full of Christians. Everyone else is seeing something, believing in something, touched and comforted by something I just don’t comprehend. In my experience, going to church as an atheist is boring at best and alienating at worst. Heterosexuality and the overwhelming, pervasive influence of men is, as lesbian, boring at best and alienating at worst.
But what else is there?
It took me until almost sacrificing myself to realize that if I have to live on crumbs I find under the table then I will go under the table and find those crumbs. In fact, if I can get enough of them to strengthen myself, I will go in the kitchen and start cooking with the ingredients I can find. Because no one else is going to provide strong female role models if we don’t provide them ourselves. No one is going to write authentic lesbians if we don’t write them ourselves. No one is going to embrace and support and nurture us so that we don’t feel so strange if we don’t do it ourselves.
During my teenage years, I spent a lot of time writing about a “strange farm girl no man could ever love” and the man – not like other men, of course – who proves her wrong. With a new perspective I revisited this story, this tome of wishful thinking, and I snapped my fingers: why not do what Geena Davis recommends, and make that male role a female role? If I did so, if I wrote the story of two women learning they are worthy of each other’s love, it would become the story I had so needed to read when I was fifteen years old and feeling so helpless and alone. I started rewriting the story (which, coincidentally or not, now made so much more sense) with Nanowrimo in November. I’m about halfway through now and nothing has been more healing. It’s like finally having good food and pure water and a warm bed to sleep in. It is a joy every time I sit down with it. If I try to express in words how inspiring and beautiful it has been I will take far too much of your time.
In my last post I wrote about wanting to center women in my artwork as well, and over the past weeks began to put that resolution into practical application. Could I practice figure drawing, for example, with no male models? Could I only draw and paint women – not as a creative pursuit but in everyday practice? It took some doing to find references of female nudes that weren’t affected by the male gaze, that weren’t pornographic in some way, all breasts and bottoms and arched backs and slightly-parted lips. I don’t want women who have been turned into men’s playthings. I don’t want men in any way involved.
Because now when I draw a woman I’m drawing a person I would love to love. I am drawing her in all her physical presence and all her expressed personality – and without makeup, without high heels, without men. I am drawing the women I needed to see when I was young. My art has never been better and I’ve never enjoyed it more or intensely cared about it more. I keep asking myself, can I get away with this? Can I state as an artist that I focus my creative energy on female subjects alone? Will there be backlash? Will there be criticism? Will there be someone telling me to eat my broccoli?
In the back of my mind, I still feel guilty about that broccoli. I still feel I’m doing something wrong, that I’m disrespecting all the good men out there, that I’m being selfish and indulgent, that maybe – oh, perhaps maybe – I feel they will always condemn me for succumbing to this “twisted perversion” called homosexuality. But if we don’t get selfish and indulgent and give ourselves what we need for the sake of who we are, who will?
I’ve spent most of my life feeling entirely alone, sitting in a corner sadly poking at the broccoli on my plate. And that diet of broccoli lead me down a path I never want to revisit again. Can a person be blamed for saying “No more”? No more broccoli, please. I have something else that nourishes me so much more.
This past week I saw a post on tumblr of Captain Phasma from The Force Awakens, claiming she is “genderfluid.” As if there is some part of her that might not be a woman, some broccoli wedged under her stormtrooper helmet, apparently because her armor has no giant breasts. Step off. Just step off. We will take back every crumb that is our own.
And in the meantime, I’ve got a few things cooking.