Friday, May 27, 2011

I Feel Like There Might Be Something That I Missed

My mother is a good woman. She taught me a lot of things, like how to sew and how to drive a car, how to apologize, and how to sautee mushrooms really well. But she also taught me a lot of lessons that I'm still unlearning, like how pretty girls get the best in life, how self-recognition isn't important, how to want to be skinny, and how to self-sacrifice.

My mother is a strong woman. She's been through a lot. She's given up a lot for her children and for others around her, and I respect her for that. She tried her best to provide what she felt we should have. She set an example of self-sacrifice that I have ingrained into my life too deeply to root out. She taught me that my actions are always in the sight of others and always for others, two realities I am painfully aware of and often incapable of balancing.

But she didn't teach me self-love or self-respect, because she didn't have it in herself. It's hard to model what you don't believe. She didn't teach me how to ask for a salary I deserve, because she didn't know how -- she knew how to sacrifice, but not how to demand and negotiate. She didn't teach me to take care of my health and my body in positive ways, because she didn't know how to do it for herself. She didn't teach me how to live within a budget, to financially sustain myself, because she didn't know how.

These aren't the lessons that all mothers teach, but these aren't unique experiences, either. So many women teach these same lessons and learn these same lessons. I know that many of my actions are motivated by my wish to support, sustain, and take care of those around me -- that's how I spend my money, my time, my career, my relationships and friendships, and often whatever else I have. It's hard for me to justify doing something for myself, whether it's buying clothes or going to the doctor or having a hobby. I know I give much of my time in unpaid labor, and a part of that is because a) I haven't learned to value what my time is worth and b) volunteering satisfies my need to give in a very specific way. I know I hesitate to ask for things I need -- whether it's from a supervisor or from a friend -- because I don't truly believe my needs are important enough. It has and will hold me back in a workplace, where I have forgone recognition or a salary request or place at the table because I felt like someone else, something else, was more important. It holds me back in relationships, because I hesitate to ask for what I need, and I doubt that my feelings and my needs are important. It shows up as passive-aggressiveness, and I hate that. It holds me back in my ability to take care of myself -- the way I eat and sleep and how I abuse my body and take on stress because I don't view those things as important enough to change my behavior.

I want to unlearn these things, at least, enough not to pass them on.

I do think strength and sacrifice are important -- in moderation, not in excess. I don't want my friends, my children, to believe that they only way they should take care of themselves is for someone else. My mother never bought new underwear because she spent her money on the best toys and clothes and gifts for us. She ate once a day, because she believed it kept her skinny. She never went to the doctor, and when she did, she did so out of fear that if something happened to her, we'd have no one to rely on. It is about self-worth. It is about self-love. We learn the things our parents model. And don't get me wrong, my mother was not the only source of education I received. I learned these lessons from TV, from friends, from family members. I learned them from teachers and school, from the pervasive ideas our society has about gender and bodies and sexuality, from the people I looked up to most.

I want a healthy attitude on this. I want to know that I can sacrifice when I need to, but that my needs are important enough for me to express them and ask for them to be met. I want to take my medication every day not because everyone around me needs me to function for them, but because my health and my life matter to me. I want to exercise and eat well not because I'm afraid of what other people think about how I look, but because having energy, feeling healthy, and taking actions to improve my health improves my life. I want to teach that love isn't always sacrifice. It's also about empowerment. It's a gift of offering someone the model to do for themselves, to take responsibility, to act out of self-love. That is a form of strength -- not the quiet, suffering kind, but the pro-active kind.

I don't want to pass on these feelings of guilt and a lack of worthiness and a fear of not giving enough, not being enough. Those feelings suck. They're not motivating; they're restrictive and negative and harmful.

Enough already.

As someone very wise once told me, "Self-care is sexy."

It's so fucking true.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

More Queer Questions

What does marriage mean to you?

It's a state-sponsored institution with a misogynist history and a lot of gendered ritual. It's a partnership between two people who care about each other. It can be a symbol of love, a sign of miserable commitment, or a partnership of convenience. It's a socially-sanctioned relationship between a monogamous heterosexual, cisgendered couple which is expected to produce children. It's a reason for lower car insurance rates. It's internationally recognized, but not universally defined. It's an institution queer people have historically been denied. It happens in Boston between lesbians. It's a gateway to health insurance in America.

I have extremely mixed emotions on marriage, but I definitely think it can mean different things at different times. It can take many forms. There is considerable beauty and power in partnerships and relationships, in the emotional and sexual bonds we have with others. Do I personally think all commitments should be for life? Probably not. Would I deny anyone else the right to commit to someone for life? Hell no. I don't really care what the fuck we call it, as long as everyone has equal access to it. I don't think the government should define who gets to take part in social rituals and social contracts. But if that's the only way everyone can have equal access, then government control may be the only way. I don't think my tax rates should be linked to my relationship status, though.

Your favorite LGBT book?

I got into LGBTQ non-fiction heavily a few years ago. I'd have to stay "Stonewall" by Martin M. Duberman (which is about the fascinating history of queer bars in New York, the mob, the three pieces of clothing law, the Stonewall riots, and much more) or "And the Band Played On" by Randy Shilts. There are others, and I own a lot of fiction, too. But those two books changed my life.

Your favorite LGBT quote?

The Bible contains six admonishments to homosexuals and 362 admonishments to heterosexuals.  That doesn't mean that God doesn't love heterosexuals.  It's just that they need more supervision.  ~Lynn Lavner

If homosexuality is a disease, let's all call in queer to work:  "Hello.  Can't work today, still queer."  ~Robin Tyler

Why can't they have gay people in the army?  Personally, I think they are just afraid of a thousand guys with M16s going, "Who'd you call a faggot?"  ~John Stewart

The world is not divided into sheeps and goats.  Not all things are black nor all things white.  It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories.  Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into separated pigeon-holes.  The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.  The sooner we learn this concerning sexual behavior the sooner we shall reach a sound understanding of the realities of sex.  ~Alfred Kinsey, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, 1948

Your first experience with an LGBT organization or event?

My first year of college someone at school told me about the local PFLAG group that met once a month on Saturday mornings at 10am. I started going, taking my then-girlfriend with me whenever she was in town. The woman who ran the group, Sherry, became like a surrogate mother to many of us. It was a varied group and an ever-changing cast, some queer, some families of queer kids or adults. We had children as young as four up to transwomen in their seventies. I don't remember my first meeting. But I do remember that PFLAG opened a lot of doors for me. It was the first time I belonged to a group where I felt welcome, safe, and supported. It was very, very powerful for me. It was the gateway to a lot of what I became involved with. They became the supportive family I needed to help me come at school and in town, when my biological family wasn't supportive.

Butch or femme?

Neither. This is a complex question for me, one I'm still learning to navigate. I respect those who find power in these terms, who identify with them. That's great, and I don't want my rejection of these terms to be taken as why everyone shouldn't use them -- I don't feel like that, at all. But I just don't identify with them. It's like sticking a round peg in a square hole for me. I struggle with how we all love to identify and label each other, and how often "femme" gets attached to me in ways I'm not comfortable with. It's just simply not how I describe my body, my identity, or my experience. As for my attractions -- I find I'm most attracted to certain personality traits, to individual quirks, and not to someone's gender expression or looks. Those are just bonus :)

Political LGBT issue that is closest to you or affects you the most?

I have a hard time narrowing out "issues" because social problems are deeply interconnected. I find connections easily. If I had to pick one political issue that's most important to me, it would probably be employment discrimination. It's incredibly pervasive. I think everyone needs food and shelter and safety from violence first, so those basic needs will always be my priority. When those needs are met, then I'm happy to put money and energy toward other issues. But without a job, those very basic needs cannot be met.

At the root of most queer "issues" is the widespread belief that homosexuality and transgenderism is wrong and queer people are less deserving, less important, than heterosexual cis-people. Why would we need to protect against bullying and against discrimination if everyone believed that queer people were truly equal to heterosexual, cis-people? We wouldn't. So anything and everything I do is not just about creating laws or political equality, but full social equality. The civil rights movement didn't end racism. The gay rights movement isn't going to end homophobia and transphobia. It's a step in the right direction, but we need to change widely held beliefs and ideas, not just the laws.

Even within queer culture, within subgroups and power structures, I often see the same play out -- men who don't see women as capable and equal, gays and lesbians who don't see trans people as equal, etc. I want a nation, a culture, and a society that values difference and uniqueness instead of discriminating against those that don't assimilate, those who aren't the majority. I don't think that's too much to ask for.

An LGBT image that makes you smile and an LGBT image that makes you cry or makes you angry?

These are images of imprisoned gay men at Buchenwald, one of the Nazi concentration camps, who are marked by the pink triangle to symbolize their group status. This image breaks my heart. 

The first two images are from the Stonewall Riots in 1969. The second two are from the first gay liberation march, on the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots. There is nothing like the power of individuals taking to the streets, to public spaces where they can be condemned, beaten, murdered, and instead, they are proclaiming the power of their love. These photos are also testimony that the Gay Lib movement was made up of a diverse group. It wasn't men or women. It wasn't black or white. It wasn't old or young. It wasn't gay or trans. It was everyone. 

I'm grateful that there are photos of history to remind us what a difference three and a half decades makes. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Queer Questions

The school semester has ended, and in honor of this, I want to do something mind-numbingly easy. So I cut some questions from some silly survey, and here are my answers:

1) Your sexual orientation or gender identity.

(Why one or the other? Everyone has both.) Honestly, I identify both as queer. For me, being queer is about my politics and inclusion, which is the "radical" notion that all people should be treated with respect and equality. Queer is how I explain my sexual attraction, which is not limited by someone else's gender. Queer is about disrupting norms and refusing classifications, which I firmly believe in and practice. Queer is about sex and gender as shifting, fluid, and often ambiguous. I am a cisgender female, though I don't have a tight grip on that identity. It's something I'm still figuring out. I'm not genderqueer, by most people's definition of that word. But I also don't subscribe to a lot of tenets about gender, so I do queer it in some ways. Call it what you will -- I usually don't call it anything. 

2) How old were you when you knew? 

Knew what? I was 3 when I knew I hated mustard. I was 21 when I knew I wanted to live in New Orleans. I was 15 when I knew I was sexually attracted to someone of the same sex.

3) The first person you came out to and that story.

I did a couple shots of whiskey and realized I wanted to kiss my best friend. And I didn't want to stop there. A few days later, I called my most recent ex-boyfriend. We'd only been broken up for about two weeks. The break up was completely mutual; we stayed close friends until his next girlfriend got jealous of our friendship. (I miss him. Haven't seen him in years. Can't seem to find him, though) I told him about that night, and that I thought I was attracted to my best friend -- me, not the alcohol. He was completely supportive. No jealousy, no creepy "I want to watch" crap, just support. I remember him telling me to talk to her, to go for it. Even now, I'm still floored thinking back on that moment. 

4) Thoughts regarding inner turmoil about your sexuality; did you have any? Did it escalate to self-injury or suicidal thoughts?

I really didn't. Back then I followed my heart before my head. (Not till years later did that get me into trouble) I remember trying the word "lesbian" on for size, and not really finding comfort or understanding in it. Looking back at my journals from high school, I never used it. I didn't need a label. I had love. 

I was suicidal and prone to self-injury in high school, but that was not connected to my sexuality. I was severely depressed, angry, and in the middle of some fucked up family stuff. Anything I could claim as my own, including my sexuality, became a source of power -- not a detriment. I didn't give a shit. I jumped head-on into dating a girl. I had few fears. It wasn't until it started raining hell -- my parents, hers, people we knew, bullies, etc. -- that I realized I was in well over my head. But I had the honeymoon period of a relationship with a girl I adored to gloss all the rest into the background. I was very, very lucky. I can't imagine going through that hell alone. 

5) Did you face any problems regarding religion?

Personally, no. I had walked away from the church by that point. I was already on a politically and socially radical path. Like I said, I followed my heart then. '

My mother wasn't a big fan. But she had trouble with the God argument. She and God were never that close.

6) How did your parents take it?

Not well. My mother asked if we were together before we were, and I told her the truth -- that we weren't. So months later, when I decided to change that story, I knew it would be rough. I chickened out and wrote her an email; it had some other stuff in it, too. We didn't get along well. Ok, that's an understatement. We fought probably 2-3 times a week. That night, she came home, and she was dead calm, which was very unusual. She wouldn't come near me. She cried and said she would "fix this." She drove me to a psychiatrist the next day. I talked with him for a bit, and he told her he "didn't see what the problem was." I wish he had straight up told her she was the problem. 

I've had a tumultuous history with my mother. She's in a ten year divorce; they haven't handled property settlement yet. She has let it eat away at her and my family, and I wish she end it. We don't agree on much. She has never admitted I was queer out loud, not in front of me anyway. She has trouble acknowledging anyone I'm dating. We don't talk about a lot of things. It's still very contentious. I've been out to her for six years. I realized long ago that my biological family will never provide unconditional love or support. I don't even speak to half of them. I have an incredible queer family, though, who has taught me the power of giving and receiving strength and support. I love them all.  

7) Your favorite LGBTQ movie.

Oh, so many. Angels in America. D.E.B.S. 20 Centimetros. Soldier's Girl. Loving Annabelle. But I'm a Cheerleader. Bent. Queer as Folk. Hedwig and the Angry Inch. That's all I can think of off the top of my head, but there are definitely more.

8) Your favorite gay joke.

What do you call a lesbian dinosaur? A lick-a-lot-o-puss.

I know, it's ridiculous. :)

Relationships, Queered

So. I like this girl.

(which sort of sounds like something I would have said when I was 15.)

Honestly, it's a lot more than "like." I'm well past that. I mean, we've been sleeping together for almost four months. Sometimes she sleeps over, and we don't even have sex -- because we're too exhausted -- and I don't even care. I just want to be able to wrap my arm around her and fall asleep. Clearly, this is not a friends-with-benefits kind of thing. She's cute and funny and sweet and smart and all those good things, plus a whole lot more. She's got a huge heart. And enough music on her iPod to last for a roadtrip. She's a mess of contradictions and passions (which always gets me). And she lights up when I walk in a room.

(Did I mention we have fantastic sex?)

But best of all, when she falls asleep in my arms or kisses me on a streetcorner, my heart melts into a big puddle. 

Then there's me, who is sort of gunshy and twitchy about commitment (even the low-key forms). I go from fiercely independent to cuddly and sweet at the blink of an eye, and it's a bit unpredictable. I struggle to voice my feelings -- and sometimes to even just identify them. (Feelings are HARD.) I stay busy constantly. I stress often. I either have very strong feelings about something, or no feelings at all. Oh, and I'm a Leo... which translates to "pain-in-the-ass." 

Amid all this what-is-a-relationship mess that has been going on in my head, I found this chart on Autostraddle, which definitely made me laugh. 

So for all of us who have been in a situation without labels and without definitions, I give you this :)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Winner of the $25 EdenFantasys Gift Card

The contest for the $25 gift card to EdenFantasys ended on Sunday. Thanks for all the great entries, everyone! The winner is Sylvia McKinley for this gem of a story ending...

"Beat me?" I whispered it; she smirked at the fear and embarrassment in my voice. "Is that a question? You know how I feel about your answering a question with a question." She straddled my back, slid her fingers through my hair and grabbed a handful, firmly lifting my flushed face from the sheets. "Try again, and say it like you actually want to please me." "Please, beat me. Bind me with the spreader bar and spank me." I closed my eyes as I confessed my desires; it was as if someone else had said it. "I want you to hurt me." She released my hair, slid off of my back and set about her work, pulling her Spread'em bar and cuff set from under the bed and cuffing my ankles to it. She slid onto my back again and leaned to me ear, growling her final order before she began. "I'm putting this dildo inside of you. I'm going to start with my crop; if this dildo slips out, I'm getting the belt."

Hm... Makes me wish I was getting laid tonight instead of writing a paper for finals :/