Mismatched

I wasn’t going to write another blog until I had figured out what I meant by saying “put on some shoes” in my last blog. I was mixing metaphors, I know, what with the walls and the shoes. I will get back to that once I figure out what I mean by shoes exactly.

I had one of those moments last night, however, when things suddenly came together and made sense. Real sense, not just the “I read that and know it reasonably applies to my experience,” kind of sense. This was more like describing the laws of physics while watching a trebuchet. It made sense because I could see it all happening at once.

To begin, I must again make the confession: For the years between my twelfth birthday and my thirtieth I was convinced I was straight. I was CERTAINLY NOT GAY. One of the main reasons why I knew I was CERTAINLY NOT GAY was because I was deeply involved in writing this novel – or series of novels, or collections of short stories, or poems, or long, involved journal entries – about a man. There were also a lot of drawings. Like, a lot of drawings. Like I would probably say the foundations of my current drawing skills all go back to trying to draw this one face. I wrote once, “You have been a fact of my life for years – every story, every image, every song.”

Some serious dedication there.

When I finally came to my senses the summer I turned 30, I said, “Everything is broken. It’s all broken.”  What I meant was that I could finally wipe out all those years of being dedicated to the search for That Man from my Books. I was quite happy to do so, too, because by 30 the whole ordeal had become very tiring and a little embarrassing. Still looking for that guy you wrote about in high school? Yeah, that’s normal. It was wonderful to throw myself into all the actresses and singers and female characters I’d held at arm’s length for years, grin foolishly at attractive women I saw out in the world – glimpses of them everywhere! –  and feel like I was finally experiencing real life. I kept writing, of course, but now I wrote about a varied cast of female characters, all different from one another, all unique. I reveled in their differences and how none of it was at all like that man in that story I’d been obsessed with for so many years.

But it didn’t stop bothering me that for 18 years of my life I had been, as far as I knew, dedicated to the idea of loving a man. It wasn’t just the idea, either – the whole “I need to be in love with a man/a man will fix everything” was entirely subconscious.  What I felt in day-to-day life, what I felt while writing, while drawing, while searching for him in the faces of men I would certainly never meet, was a very intense emotional attachment and, dare I say, love. I don’t know how else to describe it except to say it was really deep-seated, really emotional, and really loving. As mad as it was, it brought an amazing richness to my life because it allowed me to express my own love – it allowed me, at times, to open up wholeheartedly to the richness of human feeling – and that’s where the whole key to this lies.

In the past year I’ve been introduced to a lot of terms I’d never heard before. Heteronormativity. Compulsory heterosexuality. Internalized homophobia. For the first time, I felt like I had an explanation for those eighteen years. I grew up in a very heterosexual household with very clear gender roles and not a hint of an alternative anywhere. Combine that with all the movies and TV shows stressing how romance between a man and a woman is the key to a life of happiness and what else was I to reach for?  So all of that writing and drawing, right down to the “find my Alexander” goal I had published under my photo in my high school yearbook, all of that must have simply been an elaborate coping mechanism for a terribly repressed young lesbian. I may never have gone on a date with a boy, but no one – including me – could suspect I was gay with all those notebooks and sketchbooks filled with this man.

All that makes perfect sense. Heteronormity. Compulsory heterosexuality. Internalized homophobia. I was dedicated  for 18 years to finding this very specific man to love because I couldn’t wrap my head around being a lesbian. Makes perfect sense.

But it still bothered me.

It bothered me more when I started writing my book over, that very same story I had written when I was fifteen, with the characters who had been in my head since I was twelve. I spent a good amount of time trying to figure out how to rewrite it “correctly.” The first thing I did was banish Alexander, that male love interest, from the plot. He was The Man. He could not be used in a story of a lesbian who now would fall in love with another woman. But he kept sneaking back in as possible side-characters; I just couldn’t get rid of him. Finally, I said, okay. Fine. Be that way. Stick around a little longer. But now, instead of being a man named Alexander you’re going to be a woman named Alis. Go right back into the plot as you were and we’ll see how we all like it.

The way everything clicked into place once I did that was almost spooky. Back in the day, I had beat up on Alexander as much as I could in order to make him fit the narrative. He was at times a recovering womanizer or a recovering alcoholic, he had one leg cut off at the knee. He was a tortured creative soul forced into the military, forced to make war instead of music. He was homeless, he was jilted, he was broken-hearted. He was downtrodden. He was – somehow, somehow he had to be – oppressed.

What magic happened when I made him a woman I never would have understood until now, until I’d grasped the basics of feminism and what the patriarchy is. Alis, the woman, doesn’t need any of those contrived character attributes. She has two legs. She doesn’t drink to excess or play the sympathy card of being a recovering anything. She hasn’t been deeply wounded by not being allowed to chase her dream of playing the cello. She’s simply a woman and a lesbian in a patriarchal culture which oppresses her. Her entire story, all its heartbreak and triumphs, unfolds naturally from there. The entire plot, including the relationship between the two main characters, suddenly makes perfect sense.

And the character never changed. I find myself writing the same looks, the same smiles, the same phrasing of dialog that I wrote for that male character over a decade ago. The same exact personality. It has disturbed me at times, making me question if I ever really left Alexander or still have some ties to that man. I think we all question our sexuality sometimes, and this kept making me question mine, until it all unfurled last night as I was trying to get to sleep.

You see, radio dramas have been bothering me, too. I’ve been listening to BBC Radio 4 Extra while I draw lately, and I can tell, nine times out of ten, if a drama has been written by a man or a woman by the way the female characters play out. At times it’s been really, really grating. I’ve heard similar perspectives from female artists who have said they can almost always tell if a woman has been painted by a male or female artist. One female artist I was listening to on a podcast this past week was asked why she most often paints women instead of men. She said, “It’s the body I live in. It’s the experience I know.”

That was lingering in my mind last night as I tried to get to sleep. I was thinking of Alis and the deep, emotional attachment I feel for her – that feels just like what I’ve always felt, a fact of my life for years. And I was thinking about the creative process and what it means to be a man or a woman, and how often I see reblogged by radfems, “A man can’t feel like a woman. A woman can’t feel like a man.” The experience of the opposite sex is something totally foreign to us – I learned that when I went through my trans thing last summer.  We can learn about what it means to be a man or a woman and try our best to replicate it, but it’s always a replication and never the real thing. How the hell did I think I could write a deeply emotional portrayal of a man when I was fifteen? What was I actually writing? What was I actually so attached to?

Sure, we’re surrounded by men. Our media is inundated by men, and by poorly-constructed women created by men. That struck me, too – my female characters are nothing like the female characters I hear on Radio 4 Extra. They are, however, just like me, and just like the voices of women I read in blogs, in articles, in intelligent online arguments where they pull out all the stops and state things as they are. They are like women written by women – even though I never thought they could be. How ruined was my image of women by the world around me, by the media I consumed? So ruined I couldn’t relate to the women around me. So ruined I couldn’t accept myself as what others called “woman”. So ruined I could certainly never realize I was actually writing a woman – what I knew, what I loved, what I was myself – and not a man.

How could I have written anything but a woman? In my own voice, in my deepest, most sincere desires for love and attachment, with no effort at all – oh, it never took any effort – how could I have written anything but a woman?

After all, that man Alexander – I never drew him naked. Not once. I never wanted to. I never described his body in any other words than the most soft and elegant. I insisted he was soft and elegant and not hard-edged or “masculine” in any way. I toned him down from the default male excessively, which made him almost impossible to draw. I kept trying to draw a man who was actually supposed to be a woman. Page after page after page of the same face, the same portrait, never looking quite right to my eyes, because I was using the wrong body, the wrong format, all along.

I can draw Alis without thinking. She falls onto the page. Last week while practicing short poses I gave every one of them her hair and her face because the model had a body like I imagine hers to be and gosh was that ever motivating. When she’s introduced in the book, her features are described as “tight and hardened” because her innate female “softness” is automatically covered by her sex. There’s nothing to prove, nothing to search for, and all the same love.

This realization flowed over me last night with the kind of comfort that only comes by seeing a theory proven, by knowing the laws of nature and watching them play out before your eyes. Maybe I had gotten the body and the pronouns wrong because of all those other things – because of heteronormativity, compulsory heterosexuality, internalized homophobia – but I had been writing her, loving her, all along. I had been a lesbian all along.

It would have been so much easier, had I known. So much less angst and loneliness. So much less tearing myself and the world apart searching for what I loved. That what I loved should be female hadn’t been an option for me for 18 years. Thank heavens it is now.

This is all deeply personal, deeply internal stuff, I know. This is all stuff up in my head, all fiction, really – but you’d better believe if I happen across a grey-eyed, ginger-haired woman with a particular smile I am asking her out for dinner. What matters in all this, though, is the latent personal truth so often flowing just beneath our consciousness, sneaking out even when we’ve closed ourselves down, even when denying ourselves has become part of our daily chores. I scroll through the creative richness of tumblr sometimes – and yes, it is so often madness – and I see the drawing, the writing, the anguish and the desperate hope for love all spattered across the screen. Set against all that expression rings the constant questioning: What am I? What am I? What am I?

Some night, some afternoon, some dark and rainy or clear and sunny morning, the pieces fall into place, and you know. Some afternoon, far in the past, more than a decade ago, I watched a TV show I can’t remember and heard the words “No love is ever wasted.” Those words made me start sobbing when I heard them. They have always stayed with me, have always meant so much, and I never knew why.

Now, I know.

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Towards the Removal of Barriers

I keep reading lately about women and walls. Maria Catt wrote a week or so ago:

The people in my life generally are not great at letting me talk, at length, like an adult, about these experiences. They just mostly don’t get it. They don’t like that my stories are messy and complex and challenging. I sound like a broken record. My sister once told me I was the angriest person she knew.

Oh my gosh, yes I am! And my anger has stuck around because I keep running up, again and again, against the parts of reality the people around me won’t acknowledge. Now that I’m getting some reality confirmation through this blog oh my gosh I feel so much lighter. I feel like, ok, I can start not running up against the same stupid walls. It’s just so much easier to move through anger to action when someone will confirm you’re speaking about reality.

Then this morning, I read on Glosswatch’s blog:

I didn’t realize, at 18, how hard it is for women to tell their stories. By which I don’t mean write a novel or a blog, but just have the simplest utterance absorbed by another person, rather than bounced straight back off an impermeable wall… You won’t find the right words. Even if you can write the most beautiful, passionate books, it won’t be enough to give you the last word on who you are.

These two quotes keep running through me, parallel to each other. On one hand, we know that when our experience of reality is confirmed by another person, things get easier. The walls dissipate and we can move forward. I think this is why therapy, even simple talk therapy, is so helpful and healing – just to be heard and have your reality confirmed.

On the other hand, that confirmation is a rare find. Society is, unfortunately, made up of walls more than anything else. We like to talk about personal freedom these days (maybe because for so many of us with the time and ability to write blogs on the Internet, we don’t have more pressing concerns to worry about) but our society is less like the openness of the natural world and much more like a carefully constructed labyrinth. Even if you’re wandering on your own, choosing your own way, you’re still surrounded by walls.

This comic has been going around tumblr lately, doing a really good job of pointing out the persistence of walls. It can easily be applied to a lot of my usual conversations here. Why should I need a box in order to see over this wall? Why should I need to call myself a man in order to wear men’s clothing? Why don’t we just remove the wall? Why don’t I just wear this comfortable shirt that fits me?

tumblr_o71h1g4R3n1rvhu1ro1_1280

Lately, I’ve been getting reacquainted with my body hair. Last year while doing the trans thing I let it all grow out (getting up on my box as a male) but never really accepted it. On the surface I said oh, I don’t like the way the breeze feels through my leg hair, and oh, it’s hard to apply deodorant through this armpit hair, but really I was self-conscious. I wanted to look “right” again. I wanted to be able to go out in shorts and not feel like a hairy beast. I wanted to see smooth, unhairy armpits in the mirror. So I shaved everything again, and all was right with the world. No bouncing off those walls at least.

I remember when I was twelve going to a lake with a friend and her family where they had a membership and could swim, have picnics and so forth. All the families there were familiar with each other and we found ourselves swimming with a classmate I wasn’t well-acquainted with, just knew from seeing her face in the halls. She was very Italian, had deep olive skin, huge brown eyes, thick black hair and full eyebrows. While we bobbed in the water on a sunny summer day, I caught sight of something else – little wisps of dark hair straggling from her armpit, shocking against her teal-and-pink swimsuit.

I was appalled. I was twelve-years-old and I was appalled. All the walls that had ever been built around me – my mother’s armpits, my grandmother’s armpits, all the women’s armpits I had seen on TV and in movies – were perfectly smooth, or – at worst! – showing a little dark stubble. What even *was* that stubble? Is that what it would grow into? Straggling dark hairs that clung to the skin, that floated in the water?

My own dark stubble has grown into nut-brown wavy hairs that are softer than I expected. I made up a batch of natural deodorant based on coconut oil that rubs in easily and works as well as any chemical stick I’ve bought in a store. The hair on my calves is darker and longer and not as pleasantly dense. I’d almost rather it be denser, in a weird way. I am still unaccustomed to how the breeze feels through it. I still haven’t worn shorts out this year.

I have sat down in the midst of the labyrinth to study the walls.

We, as women, want to define what a woman can be. We want to proclaim our experiences, we want to say yes, we can have body hair – it’s only been a century of razor use, if that!  Our voices echo off the walls. And, more frustrating, we see other women – and men, too – grabbing boxes to clamber over, take short cuts, use the walls to get where they want to go. Is there anything more frustrating, after all, than seeing a trans woman in makeup and ultra-feminine dress rewarded for her courage while a butch lesbian in a tuxedo is escorted away from her prom?

We, as women, want to define what a woman can be. But all these walls seek to define us. I recently watched – and highly recommend – the historical documentary The Ascent of Women by Dr. Amanda Foreman (it’s on Netflix.) As she tells the story of important women in history she reiterates time and time again what they were up against – the walls, so often literal, surrounding them. At least once in each of the four episodes she reminds us of the ancient Sumerian law (ca. 2350 B.C.) stating that if a woman should speak out of turn, her teeth should be smashed with a brick.

How many of the walls around us have women’s teeth scattered at their base? Is that not intimidating?  How many of us hurt from the bricks we’ve already received?

Returning to Maria Catt again, she left a simple, short list of lifestyle advice for managing dysphoria in her guest post at the very important Youth TransCritical Professionals blog that I just happened to stumble across the other day. The first piece of advice:

Making reducing stress the number one goal of my life- reducing stress about money, reducing stress about bodily safety, reducing stress about accomplishments, reducing stress by separating myself from stressful people

One of my favorite Buddhist stories talks about a man who was afraid to leave his house because the floors inside were worn and smooth and the paths outside full of stones and thorns.  A monk said to him, “Would you walk the outside the world if it were all covered with smooth leather?” And the man said, oh yes, he certainly would, but how long would it take to cover the whole world in leather, and where would so much leather even be found?  Then the monk said, “Why not simply cover the soles of your own two feet?”

For the past four weeks now I’ve been working with having had my words rebound from a wall like a brick to my teeth. I’ve been trying to figure out how to handle the experience, what to take from it, and I’ve been comforted by learning it is not an uncommon one for many women; it is written into our very history. These walls are only slowly being worn away, and in places, in these times, they’ve been reinforced. What can we do for ourselves? How can we cover our feet?

I used to think there was a way to transcend it all. Listening to Paul Simon the other day I was reminded of lyrics I had printed up and taped to the wall when I was just into my twenties:

I said Take this child Lord,
from Tuscon Arizona
Give her the wings to fly through harmony
and she won’t bother you no more

But I never sprouted wings. I never rose above the society that had made me such a bother, and after years of trying I’m thinking it’s an awful stressful way to go about it. We’re so often encouraged to work with our problems, to find solutions, to put up with people, to keep turning this way and that through the maze as if at some point it will open up into some blissful space where there are no walls, where we can sit and talk and listen and grow out our body hair – maybe that is the haven I hear about when Michfest is invoked. And I find myself trailing back to what I’ve spoken of before and why I titled this blog the way I did – the need for a personally defined space, a space to be, to breathe, to heal, to share. A space where our words don’t bounce back at us because they’re caught by someone else before they strike the walls that still surround us. It isn’t a mythological space that needs to be worked towards – again, this isn’t transcendence. Perhaps it’s just a matter of defining our lives for ourselves within the walls that exist.

Removing stresses. I made a new tumblr over the weekend, a whole new fresh account, simply because I didn’t want to feel the walls of so many people who have watched me for years. I wanted to be able to post lesbian stuff without offending anyone; I wanted to be able to post my art without thinking of how former friends would judge or critique it or how they would tell me they just didn’t like that style. I wanted a fresh start, a stress-free space where I didn’t feel the constant need to edit and censor myself.

It doesn’t remove the walls – for heaven’s sake, it’s tumblr, and I expect to get TERF’ed by the end of the month – but it’s an act of self-love, self-acceptance, of giving myself the space and the right to exist in that space. I’ve tried for years to do it the other way – to conform, to be lenient, to be quiet. When I was a teenager, my dad told me, “There will always be people you don’t like and people who don’t like you.” and I thought I could just grin and bear it. There will always be people appalled at body hair. There will always be bricks and there will always be walls. There will always be stones and thorns in the road, but I have to do more than grin and bear it.  The very least I can do is put on some shoes.

The alternative is best described by another popular internet comic:

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And that doesn’t work out well at all.

The Wanted Project — Purple Sage

A must-watch.

The Wanted Project grew out of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and it’s designed to inspire and support gender nonconforming women. From their Facebook page: “The original WANTED project was inspired by and for attendees of The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, an event intended specifically for women that were born and assigned female. Womyn sent […]

via The Wanted Project — Purple Sage

The Little Lesbian Handbook – Outline

Finally got some time this weekend to work out a basic outline for the Lesbian Handbook PDF/pamphlet!  I’d like to keep it short and sweet, something that someone could download and skim through, but packed with as much info as possible. I’ve tried to concentrate on things I wish I had known before now – not just the obvious stuff I wish I’d been exposed to in high school but also the deeper “the patriarchy’s been tough on us” kind of things that helped me through the roughest patches.

If there’s anything you feel I’m missing please comment!  All of these are just topics for now and will each have following explanations, etc. Most words are just notes for myself for now.

Here’s to hoping I can copy/paste right from GoogleDocs and keep my formatting!

 

How do I know if I’m a lesbian?

  • What is sexual attraction/orientation?
    • Not just “sex” in sexual attraction – attraction to a particular biological sex plus sympathy and admiration
    • the “straight crush”
    • lesbian feelings and relationships with men positive and negative
  • Am I bisexual?

Accepting yourself as a lesbian

  • Comfort in your own skin – appearance, clothing, etc.
    • Photos of lesbians
  • Lesbian sexuality
    • masturbation
    • overview of lesbian sex, sexual health, etc.
  • Expressing your orientation, from creativity to crushes
  • Coming out – to family, friends, publicly (as needed)
  • Lesbian relationships
    • The nature of lesbian relationships (equal partnerships)
    • Marriage and weddings
    • Children
    • Flying solo
    • Community
  • Finding other lesbians
    • local/women’s groups/festivals
    • online/social networks/websites/apps

Lesbians and Gender Identity

  • Gender Dysphoria – causes and symptoms (desire to not be a woman)
    • Coping skills for dysphoria
    • Non-binary gender identities
    • Transition/trans men
  • Lesbians and trans women/non-binary males

Lesbian History

  • Examples/presence throughout history
  • Reasons for underrepresentation/misrepresentation
    • Social pressure – heteronormativity
    • fetishization/pornography
  • Famous lesbians past and present
  • Lesbian terminology – homosexual, gay woman, dyke, butch, femme, queer
  • Lesbian symbology

Lesbian Resources

  • Lesbians in Literature/authors/books/etc.
  • Lesbians in  movies and TV series
  • Lesbian musicians

Words from fellow Lesbians

In the Club

For Mother’s Day, I went to church.

My mother still goes to the church I grew up in, where I was baptized. I stopped going in my mid-teens and was an atheist by twenty; even my mom took a break from it for a while, explored some interesting New-Agey Christianity and Eastern thought before finding her way back for the familiarity and community. I can’t blame her – at her age, the camaraderie between the elder women of the church is warm and welcoming, always busy baking cookies or collecting clothing for those in need. Having known these women for fifty years, they share a lifetime of common experiences through the church – sons and daughters, marriages, grandchildren, the passing of parents, the changes in their own lives.

I come along a few times a year, as a gift to my mom (usually with brunch at our favorite cafe promised afterwards.) Everyone is always friendly. They’ve known me since I was born, though when introduced to the new pastor I wanted to reply to his welcoming “Good to see you here!” with “Dude, I was running around this sanctuary before you knew it existed.” It is an average, decently liberal and tolerant white American Protestant church. The denomination recently voted to allow individual churches to decide if gay people could be married, which was nice of them, erasing an ancient ruling of “Absolutely not.” A number of churches left the denomination because of it. My mother’s church has an amazing and much-loved gay organist/choir director, and his partner is often present at church events like any other member of the church family.

I have never noticed any possible lesbians there, though.

It is a city church, so there’s a touch of diversity, but it was founded by middle-upper-class white people and the pews are still mostly filled with middle-upper-class white people. The men wear suits and ties and the women dresses, skirts or dress pants, hair and makeup touched up for Sunday. For the most part the kids are dressed in “Sunday Best” – perhaps not what it was years ago when I had to pull on tights and a dress but many little girls still wear dresses, and boys their better shirts and pants. Now and then a man will come in wearing jeans. I’ve never noticed a woman wear jeans to Sunday service, though.

I wore jeans to the Mother’s Day service, as I don’t have any dress pants at all right now. I wore my best jeans with my men’s brown leather chukkas (polished that morning) and a new lovely cotton/linen white and blue button-down under a black jacket. My hair, in an awkward stage of growing out, has no style to speak of, male or female, and I honestly don’t even know what makeup is. I saw no other women who looked like me in the pews on Sunday.

There was a young teen girl, however, in the pew in front of me, who came in wearing jeans and a plaid shirt and purple Chucks Taylor’s. Her wavy, natural brown hair was held back by a folded kerchief. She sat very close to her mom. I wondered if she similarly felt out of place, and if it meant anything to see me, if she did.

The children’s sermon focused on the love mothers give to nurture us and how we all can show that same kind of love to each other.  At the end, the pastor picked up a basket of long-stemmed carnations and said he’d like the children to help him pass out a flower to every woman in the sanctuary, in thanks for all the love and nurturing they have given others, as all women are – or have the potential to be – mothers in some way.  I shifted a little nervously, watching these little kids be handed flowers to pass out, guided among the pews towards women in their dresses and skirts and hair and makeup and shoes. I wondered – I honestly wondered – if I would get a flower.

I have gotten a lot of stares from children in my life. I’ve heard the whispers of “Mom, is that a boy or a girl?” since I was thirteen. Depending on a child’s exposure, they can have no idea what a man or woman might look like. My own niece asked me if I was a boy or a girl when she was three.

When the little red-haired girl with big blue eyes headed down our aisle, I watched her nervously. I saw her gently pass flowers to my mother’s friend and her daughter, and then to my mother. She came to me and I actually whispered – I actually whispered – “Do I get one?” as she handed the flower to me.

Then I had in my hand a long-stemmed red carnation, like every other woman in the room on Mother’s Day.

A year ago, hating my body so much I denied my biology, I wouldn’t have wanted one. I had Failed at Woman, after all – I didn’t look right, I didn’t act right, I didn’t love right – and was intent on being something else entirely, free from the discomfort of being a woman in jeans and men’s clothing among all the dresses and makeup. But this year – oh, maybe my uterus was showing. This year, despite everything, I was one of them. I was equal to every other woman in the room. We all had flowers. We all were women.

Later in the service, as I still held my flower, we sang “Be Thou My Vision.” There are very few hymns I will sing in church (Christmas carols excepted) but I do love the tune so stood and at very least hummed along. But in my Mother’s-Day woman-centric mindset, I kept tripping on the words: “Lord” “Father” “Son” “King”. As we reached the last two lines I saw “Ruler” coming up and couldn’t bear it, not to this beautiful tune, so dared sing something different instead:

Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Mother of all.

What a difference that makes.

I have read a number of lesbians and women in general who are big on the Goddess. And yesterday, I could appreciate that point of view, if only to take what man has made of religion and return it to something truly loving and nurturing – truly mothering. And perhaps that’s a female stereotype – not all women, after all, are nurturing or loving or mothering (I myself am only mother to three cats and that is enough mothering for me.) But what a refreshing change from the Father King Lord Ruler of All.

And what a point of unity for all women – mothers or no – to have a female entity at the heart of spirituality, that we could identify with on some level, if only through our shared biology. She is like me and I am like her and we are all in this together.

The Tumblr Discourse Battle of the Week has been between the “hetfems” and the lesbians. Having just begun to recover from my own personal schism of the sort it’s been frustrating to watch.  For most of my life – up until this past year – I thought being a lesbian made me masculine, made me like a man, and that was why straight women didn’t like me. That was the perception taught to me by the media, by society, by depictions of lesbians as man-like women (I won’t get into the pornified depiction of femmes at this time.) I sat in church feeling “othered” from the straight women in the room because with my jeans and my men’s shirt and shoes and my lack of makeup and femininity they would surely see me as man-like, as male, and I would not get a flower. But that is the farthest thing from the truth.

A lesbian existence is fundamentally women-centered. Fundamentally. Though there are a thousand reasons why any individual lesbian may appear “like a man” – from personal style to public safety – her life is still founded on fact she loves women. Straight women can other us on that false perception that we’re “like men” all they like, but the actual fact of the matter is that we love women and only women, and that means something.

The Discourse brought to the surface an issue far deeper than the superficial “lesbians are like men” perception. A lesbian dares offer the perspective, “You know, you can live a women-centered life, with female friends and female community, and no men at all if men are a trouble to you” and is attacked viciously. “YOU WANT US TO MURDER OUR HUSBANDS??” rises the response, more or less. As everything is always exaggerated beyond logic and belief on Tumblr, the best we can do in these times is wait for the worst to pass. But I couldn’t help but pick up through these posts subtle shades of what I’ve experienced in my own life.

Lesbians are not othered and erased and made invisible entirely because of the perception that we are “like men” and must be held at a distance. We are othered and erased and made invisible because by our very nature we challenge the system set up by the patriarchy, and force other women to see there is another possibility, another way of life. Of course they don’t want to see it when they have been shuttled into relationships making them dependent on men. Of course they don’t want to validate or value the idea that any woman can live a woman-centered life a little less oppressed – or at least without that oppression coming from within their own homes. It is, perhaps, too hard a truth to bear in the face of their own suffering.

This is not to say I don’t believe men and women can have loving relationships and live together, but I do think we need a very different, radical new way of going about it, one that releases women from the oppression of men and gives them the resources and support to stand on their own as equal human beings. And the first thing other women could do, instead of denying women-centered existence and pushing lesbians to the side, is to recognize us as their sisters.

If only in passing a flower.

Small Cruelties, Healing Scars

While reading the comments about The Incredible Importance of Boxer Shorts, I started to get a little jealous, I admit. I am jealous of women sleeping in less clothing than I do; I am jealous of women wearing tank tops. I am jealous of the casual, almost joyful flippancy of wearing nothing to bed. Jealousy might not even be the right word – perhaps consternation.

I used to think that people are, more or less, what they are innately.  If someone is prudish, for example, it would be because they are a prude, because it’s just in their nature to want to cover up. If my exploration of the transgender and lesbian experience has taught me anything, it’s that those kinds of tendencies don’t usually arise on their own – generally, some event or circumstance brought them into being.

I have a reason why I find myself envious of women who can wear tank tops out and nothing to sleep in, and why it’s so confounding to me that I can’t.

It’s not that I don’t want to – that’s the thing. After years of various fitness endeavors (not always healthy, mind) especially the last year of lifting weights, I’ve got a body here I’m rather proud of. Broad shoulders run on one side of my family: my brother and father had them, my grandmother, a competitive swimmer in her day who was still ice skating on racing skates at age 80, had inspiring shoulders and often wore sleeveless tops. Bodyweight exercises and dumbbells have sculpted my own, and believe me, I’d love to wear a tank top and show them off. But I just… can’t.

It all goes back to my 10th birthday.

Before my 10th birthday, I hadn’t a care in the world what I had on. I grew up with 47 acres to run around on and throughout my childhood cast off shoes and tops and pants sometimes and it never mattered. I slept in my underwear just like my big brother and thought nothing of it, as neither did my parents apparently.

For my 10th birthday I had three friends over for my first sleepover, all girls of course. We did some crafts and went to a hibachi place for dinner and had cake and opened presents and took pictures of each other brushing our teeth with toothpaste foam running down our chins. It was all great fun. Then we got ready to go to bed, and the three girls changed into their nightgowns or pajamas or whatever they slept in – but they all slept in something. I just took off my clothes.

They thought it was hilarious or weird or remarkable in some way, that I slept in my underwear. They laughed and took up my camera and started taking pictures of me. I tried to hide under a blanket on my bed, begging them to stop; they didn’t, so I ran downstairs to my parents, in tears. I remember being curled up crying on my dad’s lap while my mom went upstairs to see what was going on. I don’t know what they told her because she doesn’t recall the whole event, probably just a bump in the birthday plans and kids being kids. At some point I must have put a t-shirt or something on and went to bed, as I don’t remember what happened after.

I do remember seeing the photos, though, once they were developed, my little ten-year-old body in flight, my hands holding up my yellow blanket, trying to cover myself. I remember seeing the photos and I remember throwing them away.

That year we all went into the 5th grade in the big Middle School building, and for the first time had to change for gym class. I was terrified of revealing my body to the other girls. I would put my gym shirt on over the shirt I was wearing then squirm out of the one underneath and pull it through the neck of my gym shirt. Twice a week of that anxiety throughout the school year, for eight years, firmly planted the idea in my mind that my body was not to be seen. In high school I tried to calm down about it, simply turning away like I could possibly crawl into the little locker beside me. Sometimes I would say I needed to use the bathroom and change more comfortably in the stall.

I always thought I would be laughed at. I always thought I should never show my skin. I was so excited when I bought my first nightshirt – Roger Rabbit on the front – because now I could be like them, be more accepted: they wouldn’t laugh at me now. I went to other sleepovers, always with a long nightshirt or two-piece pajamas. To this day I still wear two-piece pajamas over underwear.

That kind of conditioning is hard to break through, but for one short period of time I was able to.  A year ago, convinced I was not a woman and I should possibly try to become a man, I told myself if I was a man, I could sleep in my underwear like my brother always had. In fact, if I was a man, I could sleep naked if I wanted to. I could do anything I wanted to – after all, I was reinventing myself. And I did. Just for a week or two I slept in just underwear or nothing at all, but for that time I broke through all of that childhood trauma, cast off the pajamas and allowed myself that freedom.

At the root of my experience with transition was a rebellion: a rebellion against my established sense of self and all the expectations ever imposed upon me. Just like a bloody revolution against a despot can lead to a more just government, my experience identifying as transgender allowed me space to dismantle that conditioning and recover myself as a woman and a lesbian. I was the despot and I was the revolution; I was the lesbian trying to express herself and I was the repressive thinking decades old keeping her in chains. It took something as radical as risking everything in order to find what was really worth saving, and I am grateful for it now.

I came out of it weary and weakened, and I did cover up again, if only to heal. But now the possibility of a different way of life shines before me; I may envy those women with their tank tops but now I can say to myself, “You know you can do it, maybe someday. You know you can – you’re just like them.” Perhaps I can take inspiration from my grandmother’s amazing shoulders, her confidence carrying them. After all, she never would have laughed at me, and only would have taken pictures to show how proud she was of her greatly-loved granddaughter.

Life is cruel, and ugly, and unfair, and we are so often cruel to each other in a thousand ways, from the ignorant mocking laughter of children to the harsh words adults throw at each other in judgement and defense. That is a part of humanity I’m not sure can ever be altered, no matter how much we wish for a kind and enlightened society that does nobody any harm. But that harm doesn’t need to be permanent, doesn’t need to fetter us our entire lives. We can learn to take our shirts off again. We can learn our own freedom was never something to hide.

Doing Something About It

After reading the interview with Gender Critical Dad  over at 4th Wave Now this morning, I found myself a bit dismayed (again) at the lack of … how to put it… lesbian guidance for young lesbians and their parents. I’ve often mentioned how frustrating it is that being a lesbian doesn’t come with a handbook, and I started to wonder if, hmm, maybe one should be written – at very least as blog post or a PDF!

So for all my readers who are lesbians, or if you identify as something other for whatever reason but “AFAB exclusively attracted to AFAB” could describe you, I would love some input as to what could have made accepting yourself as a lesbian easier for you – anything parents or family members or friends or even society in general could have done for you. I have a few points in mind already, but I’d love to get as many perspectives from as many different circumstances as possible.