I meant to bring a notebook with me on this trip, the little black one with red edges that I wrote in a lot several years ago. I’ve always found myself to be self-conscious when writing journals, and typing is even worse but for whatever reason when I came across that little notebook sometime last year and re-read it I was struck by how genuine it felt. I think I honestly tried to capture the very thoughts that were in my mind. And the thoughts that have been swimming around in my mind lately need to be captured too, hence my wanting that little notebook on this trip. But at the last minute I couldn’t find it, it’s gotten misplaced in this move to Oakland, so I’m typing instead. Another 3 hours on this flight to Paris.
I was thinking earlier today – I was looking out the window of the airplane as it landed in Chicago – and there was a roof of a house, one of a thousand houses I could see from the plane, but this roof had blue patches on it. I don’t know a thing about roofs, but it was clear to me that that was a roof that’s getting repaired right now. And there I was looking at this roof of this house that I will never again see in my life (or if I do I will have no idea that it is a house I have seen from the sky) – people live in it who I do not know, and I will never know (or at least I will never know them in connection with this particular moment). And yet I know something about them – I know that they live in a house in Chicago and that their roof is currently being repaired. I could see it from the sky, from my one seat out of hundreds of seats in this Boeing 767, row 21, seat A. And maybe one of the people living in that house, if she was home, or he, heard the airplane flying above and didn’t give it a second thought, just the background noise of their day. That flimsy connection, half-way fabricated, yet somehow binds us together it seems. Us: this fictitious but perhaps real person, and if not a person in that house then a person on the ground, any person who heard the plane and either noticed it or didn’t. I – not even I but the existence of myself in this specific moment – was background noise to people’s day. Is that all we are, as humans, background noise to each other? Or are there others like me, who look down look up and wonder, who is in that house? Who is in that plane? We invent each other, even as we also all exist. The world I live in, when I realize how much of it I construct myself, in my mind, becomes suddenly so utterly illusory. There are as many fabrications of this world as there are people in it… and how do they clash with each other? Where do they match up? What happens when they match, is that when we meet each other?
I wonder what a story about someone’s life would sound like if it were told from the perspective of complete strangers’ fleeting impressions. The people in this house in Chicago: I can offer a piece – they are repairing their roof. It’s like this: do you ever wonder how many tourists’ photos you are in the background of? How many photographs you’re floating around in, whose albums you are memorialized in? What if you got all those photos together, what story would it tell about your life? Sometimes I wonder whether that’s all we are, whether that’s more real. Can it be that I am more real to myself, when I’m just one person, than I am to the hundreds of thousands of people I have encountered in my life, however transiently and unknowingly was the encounter? There are hundreds of thousands of witnesses to my life, I start to think they know me better, cumulatively, than I know myself.
I’m moving my fingers typing right now, fidgeting in my seat to try to get more comfortable. The man in the seat next to me, a middle-aged French man, is sleeping. This is part of his life, my witnessing him asleep, feeling slightly embarrassed about having to wake him up to go pee. I can see him sleep, and I know him, in this way, better than he knows himself.
Time to Destination: 02:48. Distance to Destination: 2390 km.
In these words, these pages (digital, real), only truth. That is my oath to myself. I think for the moment I have become too self-conscious to continue with my stream of consciousness. Instead I will write about another thing that I have been thinking of lately.
Just a minute though. I just looked out the window of the plane, creeping towards dawn in Europe. (It’s a short night tonight, playing catch-up with the sun!) I can see the sliver of white light above the horizon ahead of the plane. It’s 6:45am in Paris, and our plane is now southwest of Iceland over the middle of the Atlantic… not that I know the time zones, but that makes it the middle of the night, 3:45 maybe? We’re skipping ahead through time, in the next hour we will be moving into the sunrise and leaving the night behind, both an hour closer to Paris and while it will be 4:45 in the spot we’re at now, it will be more like 5:45 in the spot we’ll be then (as it will be 7:45 in Paris). I will hazard a guess that in the next hour, we will see sunrise… And right now, at this moment (now 5 minutes later than it was when I started typing this paragraph), I can still barely make out the Big Dipper right out my window. Five minutes ago it was brighter, if I hadn’t noticed it then I wouldn’t be able to see it now, because as we fly forward the stars fade away into the light. The night sky looks like it’s peeling back, I have the image of a sticker being pulled off, like the night sky is being pulled off the earth and underneath it is the day, and the more the sticker is peeled back the more the day underneath is revealed. It’s a wedge in the sky, to my left out the window is night, to the right the widening sliver of light and night is peeling back . . .
Time to Destination: 02:34. Distance to Destination: 2166 km.
I have suddenly been struck with the physical realness of the world. I’m looking back and forth between the visual map on the screen on the seatback in front of me, showing the little picture of the plane in the middle of the ocean, and then zooming back to show the entire map of the world and my little spot on it, and then looking out the window, back and forth, cementing the image of this particular horizon that I have with that spot on the screen in front of me. And I’m realizing that somewhere, far off to my front and right, is the continent of Africa. That Africa actually exists, it is a real thing that exists in space that is relative to the space I occupy. It isn’t just real space in other people’s lives, it is real in my life, and there it sits, an immense, huge, unfathomable chunk of land, off there to my right in front of me. I don’t blame my mind for only realizing this now, because how on earth (ha ha) are we supposed to be able to hold that in our minds, all the time? We have such capacity for thought, but our imaginations are better at creating fantasies out of nothingness than they are at grasping the fucking insane and awe-some realness of this actual existence we inhabit.
Things I want to do in Paris:
Wander around the Marais and the Place des Vosges
Read in a park or at a café
Find someone to show me around
Buy a razor, get a manicure and pedicure
Buy cheese and nice things to eat
Buy something lovely for Noelle – a print?
Go to lesbian cabaret? Or a burlesque show
Take photos uninhibitedly
I can no longer see the Big Dipper at all. The sticker has peeled back more and now the sliver of day is no longer just silver and white but is red and orange. The night behind me no longer looks as deep. It’s like sunrise on fast-forward. Real time travel! But think – even when we walk around, we are chasing the day or the night, or straddling the line between them perfectly, every day is a back and forth a chaotic jumble of finding our spot in time, but we can never be content with staying still and letting the ground carry us because we always move around of our own accord paying little attention to the out-of-control spinning right under our feet!
Since the beginning of a new year seems as good a time as any to look back at the past 365 days and forward at the next 365, I thought I’d pop up and say some things.
2011 was a very peculiar year, full of growing pains. My graduate program has been more or less dismantled, which I have been reluctant to go into much here. I finished the spring semester excited for the summer and the following year of learning, but by mid-summer I knew that at least in the fall I would not be in classes and as of a few weeks ago, I am done with that school for good. One year of an MA under my belt and I am bitter. I was supposed to be done with my masters by this summer and instead I’ll have no degree and very few transferrable credits, and I haven’t applied to other programs yet because I loved that one so much and have no idea where I will find another one like it. So in the meantime, I’m working, trying to figure out where I’m going, what the fuck I’m doing, what matters to me. So the year began with direction, purpose, energy, excitement, momentum. And ended, here, with a grinding halt and a giant question mark.
2011 was the year of moving to Oakland, which ML and I decided to do before I found out that grad school was up in the air but which I ended up being very glad of, given that rent at our new place is $700/month less combined. And we have a house! With a yard! And wild blackberries and lemon trees, and I have a hammock and spent many fall afternoons reading in the hammock drinking lemonade. We also have a roommate (a friend of ours from before) who is pretty much my favorite person ever and I actually really like living with a roommate again. And we have a cat, Gilda, who owns all of us, and who knows to sit to get a treat. ML is trying to train her to take to a leash. So far, she’s having none of it.
2011 has been a year of a lot of personal and emotional upheaval, which has been both painful and broadening. I’m trying, probably unsuccessfully, to tow a line between taking risks and making a giant mess, and I think I’ve crossed that line in unfortunate ways at times this year. Maybe, eventually, I will go into some of these things here.
In 2011 I deepened friendships that are so meaningful to me in so many ways, and I watched one friendship between close friends crumble and am still grieving that, especially as I feel in some ways in the middle and don’t know how to support them and also give myself space to be angry at both of them and sad. In 2011 I grew apart from my parents but closer to my siblings and especially my sister who, despite being mystifyingly different from me also, still, can finish my sentences. We now live in the same state!
I came out to my grandparents this year, in the middle of everything else, and sobbed for three straight hours when my grandpa hung up on me. Not that that response was a surprise, but that there was so much of all of this other stuff stagnant inside me and unable to surface emotionally, and that when I started crying about grandpa hanging up on me it turned into crying about everything all at once and altogether. Then I brought ML to Thanksgiving with them, and with my mother and and my aunt and uncle and (gay, but not yet out) cousin and my sister and her boyfriend. And three days later my grandpa called me and told me, awkwardly and hesitantly, that ML sparkles and that he will consider her in our family. And I was like, wow, that was it? Like eight years of agonizing over this and he tells me she sparkles? I should’ve done it a lot sooner.
2011 was a year of deepening politicization and although this hasn’t been a space where I’ve really talked much about politics, current affairs, and theory much, I’m wondering whether that will change this coming year as all of those things are more present for me than they’ve been before as things I’m constantly wanting to think about, talk about, process. It was also a year in which that politicization has changed me personally, changed my sense of self and my sense of possibility in the world, and that feels exciting and that regardless of my grad program no longer existing, that energy is still simmering and I am running with it still.
Things look a lot different from this end of 2011 than from the front end. Maybe I won’t even bother trying to look forward; maybe I’ll just take this next year little by little.
There’s something on my mind recently that I’ve been struggling to put to words. When I was out last weekend with ML, we had a good conversation about it and I intended to write about it right away but then I sat and stared at a blank document for a while, the words bottlenecked in the tips of my fingers and I couldn’t type. Maybe this time will be different.
[Trigger warning: this post discusses violent rape.]
There’s a serial rapist in a neighborhood in San Francisco where many of my friends live and where I go to frequently, and he’s struck multiple times. The attacks have been violent and in public in early morning hours. And I’ve been really turned off by the way it has been discoursed in communities I’m tangential to and in general by the patterns I have witnessed over and over in the past, repeated here, as responses to extreme violence against women.
I found out about it because of an email blast by the local rape crisis center to all of its volunteers; the email gave the details of the attacks, I guess just as an advisement to the volunteers about potential hotline callers. It also said that the police are on the case but that they’re asking that it not be brought to media in order that they can find the rapist more easily; media attention might alert him that they’re looking and he could relocate. Before too long this email had spread throughout the various networks I’m a part of and I got it sent to me in various truncated forms several additional times, always along with some sort of cautionary note by the sender about being careful, not walking alone, taking appropriate measures, and finally “be safe.” People are hyperaware and there has been a palpable climate of anxiety.
There are multiple layers of all of this that I struggle with. There’s the obvious fact that the sensationalizing of the street attack and the stranger rape is highly problematic, especially given the ubiquity of rape, sexual assault, and violence perpetrated by non-strangers. For me, though, that’s a more difficult argument to grapple with given that for me it is not a myth, it is not sensational. Still, I can’t write about the problematics of what’s going on in SF right now without bringing that up, the hyper-paranoia and perhaps exaggerated response to this sort of rape, especially in contrast to the silence around all other (and way more common) forms of sexual violence. Related to and beyond that, though, I’m angered by the way this kind of information is just sent into the world to live its own sensationalized life and that it seems like the only real possible reaction to it is fear, and the result is a kind of social control of women operated through this fear. One of my friends called the rape crisis center to ask if they were planning or knew of any organized community or collaborative response and she said they just sounded annoyed and dismissed her. This isn’t to say that it’s their job to put something like that together, but that given the way they disseminated the information and offered no container for coping with the gutteral punch of the email other than to suggest that individuals who have feelings about it call the crisis hotline, a dismissive response to my friend’s inquiry just seems inconsiderate and even irresponsible to me.
I’m also struggling with the faith in the police that that initial message conveyed, and particularly with the lack of questioning the police’s methods which, in this case, was essentially “don’t tell the media because we need to find the guy and if he knows he’s being hunted he’ll move” and to me reads as “we need him to strike again so we can catch him” or, “it’s more important that our strategy for catching him not be interrupted than for the community to be able to feel safe.” When I was subletting in North Berkeley in summer of 2008, there was also a serial rapist who was breaking into the homes of young women who were living alone and violently raping them. I was, in fact, living alone and in the immediate vicinity of his previous attacks when the police knocked on my door, handed me a flyer with “information” and how to contact a tip line, and then left me alone in my ground floor apartment with windows that didn’t lock, shrugging and saying “sorry, can’t help you there” when I asked them, panicked, “well what should I do??” What we should do, apparently, is fear for our lives and our bodies, because what else does this method of disseminating information call for? And, why did the crisis center that historically only will cooperate with police to the extent that it is forced to so blindly follow in the police’s footsteps in this case?
Then there’s the fact that eventually a local newspaper did release a blurry black and white still from a security camera of the suspect, and that the only thing about him that is discernible from this photo is that he is black and that he was wearing a dark hoodie. What is the purpose of this circulating when there is no chance that anyone will actually be able to identify him based on that photo and instead it just sends the message: “be afraid of black men in hoodies.” This is such an ugly dynamic and it’s one that I don’t really know how to untangle. But sending that out into a world in which black men are already racially profiled in super intense ways and experience intense criminalization on a daily basis is irresponsible at best and nasty and racist at worst. This is not to say that it’s racist to talk about a black man being a rapist, or to identify this one as a black man. I’m not saying we should pretend he’s not black or refuse to engage what comes up around his race. I’m just asking, in this case, what is the point of that blurry photo being circulated? If the rest of the messaging around there being a serial rapist is “he’s brutal, he comes up from behind, and he isn’t deterred by fighting back” then how is having a blurry and unidentifiable photo of him helpful for the community? If the logic is the paternal “ladies, just stay inside” then it seems to me that this photo will only exacerbate that as the message by bolstering the public imaginary that all black men are to be feared. It’s just ugly.
And then for me there’s the very personal level of struggle. I have been feeling a lot of anger, resentment, irritation with people who have been talking about this and have been having difficulty articulating why. I don’t think even I have really been able to understand myself why those emotions are coming up for me. It came up for me a lot when I was hanging out with one of my friends who lives just blocks away from the most recent attack and she insisted on walking me the one block to my parking spot when I was leaving around midnight. I wasn’t angry at her or irritated at her but I was feeling a mess of angry/frustrated emotions that I couldn’t quite place. I guess the best way for me to explain it is that, for me, this serial rapist on the loose doesn’t change things. I don’t feel any less safe knowing that that’s out there. I don’t feel any more safe at any other time when there isn’t a known rapist on the loose. I always feel that fear, I always feel like any second now it could happen again. I know that when it happened to me there hadn’t been any community warnings and so I guess I just feel like, what do these warnings do, what are they for, if it happens anyway, whether we are prepared for it or not. And, what does it even mean to be prepared for it? It’s impossible, you can’t possibly. I feel like I just have so much resentment that I can’t understand the fear that other people have about it, I can’t understand fear from the side of not-knowing. It makes it hit home for me so much that I live in a different world than they do. My normal is so wildly different. And it’s occasions like this that bring it all back to me when in general I feel like I do a pretty good job of dissociating from it in my daily life. I do a good job of intentional forgetting. Not forgetting that it happened, there is not a single day that goes by that it is not present for me, but forgetting how it makes me different, forgetting the anger and bitterness about it being the background of my daily life.
I didn’t really intend to end here. I wanted to go into a sort of brainstorming session of what might a robust and healthy community response to sexual violence look like, and how might we organize around that more rather than stopping at feeling trapped and afraid? I have thoughts. But I’m feeling drained, so I’m going to stop. More soon. Xoxo.
I hardly even know where to begin. It’s easy enough to talk about the “stuff” going on in my life — getting our kitten next week (reader poll: Should We Name Our Cat?: a) Gilda b) Greta c) Simone), moving to Oakland at the end of July, starting my summer practicum in a few weeks, seriously considering staying for a PhD but also looking seriously at other PhD programs elsewhere, my part-time library job, which I actually love, family goings-on, the stuff I’ve been reading and obsessing about… and I’m sure I’ll write about more of that stuff here in the coming weeks. It’s summer, after all, and I’m not in class. I’m not intending to let this place die.
But today I want to write, again, about my hair. I wrote about it here already, last fall, when I was starting the project of growing it out. Now it’s nine months later and I’ve got a just-below-chin-length bob and just-above-brow-level bangs. I get my hair colored, too; it’s a sort of auburn with golden streaks right now. It’s funny, when I had quite short hair I never felt unfeminine and as I started identifying more as femme in the past four years or so I always was adamant that I wasn’t femme despite the short hair but rather that the hair was an integral part of my femininity. And certainly this in no way reflects on short-haired femmes in general, but for me — wow, I had no idea how much having longer hair would affect my sense of myself.
I feel so much stronger, so much fiercer, so much more solid in my body. I feel so much more myself, sexier, more flippant. It’s hard to know, actually, how much of that is related to just the hair and how much is related to other things (like this education, my graduate program, which is hardening me and breaking me all at once), but I have felt it as being integrally related to my hair. I don’t feel more feminine, per se, but I feel do feel more femme — like the way I want femme to feel for me. This sounds funny, but I feel more visible — not more visibly queer (in fact I think it’s the opposite), but more apparent to the world. And that doesn’t mean that I’m more apparent to other people but that I’m more apparent to myself. I’m showing up differently, somehow.
Though there is the thing about being more apparent to other people and that’s what I really wanted to write about. The longer my hair has gotten the more I’ve been a target of street harassment. Again, this is not a generalization of women-with-long-hair-get-more-street-harassment, not at all, but that has been my experience, and as I’ve felt more powerful in how I show up and walk around in my body, as I have felt sexier, I have also been getting a lot more desperately unwanted attention. And I don’t know what to do about this because I hate it, that isn’t strong enough, I don’t just hate it I loathe it, it makes me shake with rage.
I don’t quite know how to manage it. When ML and I were talking about moving to Oakland, one of the things she brought up was safety — is that neighborhood safer than, equivalent to, or not as safe as the Mission? And to be honest I can’t take those questions seriously because I never feel safe, ever. Ever. I’m always on my guard, no matter where I am, no matter who’s around. I’ve learned first hand, multiple times, that safety, for women, is an illusion and I feel like debating the nature of the safety of neighborhoods is the privilege of people who do feel safe in places. That probably sounds crass, and intellectually I know it probably is, but what I’m not saying is that we should throw ourselves in the path of danger or, through ignorance, subject ourselves to more of it. (Though even that sentence is victim-blaming, do you see it?) So I try to engage those issues seriously and with care but I end up generally getting really impatient and feeling like it’s all a farse, because honestly whether one neighborhood “seems” safer than another feels so arbitrary and so fictive. Also, racist. But at the same time, I don’t want to be flippant.
And still every week I get yelled at, whistled at, followed, groped, cat-called, in every neighborhood and no matter where I am. I feel less safe with the longer hair, feel somehow more vulnerable as I also feel stronger. Perhaps it’s that as I’ve felt more like me, I’ve felt less like I’m hiding — in short hair and in my body in general — and as I’m hiding less I feel more vulnerable. I don’t know, maybe that’s not it, maybe I’m entirely off base. But I need to figure out a way to respond, for my own sanity… And my hair grows longer.
I also just have to say that there is an adorable, tiny kitten playing on my lap trying to get my attention right now. So I’m going to go dote on her :)
Well hello there. It seems like I’m beginning every new post in the past few months with some iteration of “it’s been a while.” It has been a while. Schmeesus. Grad school is kicking my heiny. In the best possible way. Also I have two friends visiting from Germany for three weeks. Four people in our tiny little apartment is a bit, um, crowded. And have I mentioned that grad school is a lot of work? It’s a lot. Of work.
This semester I have to decide what I where I want to focus my research, and it’s daunting. My professor last week posed some guiding questions for us to figure out what directions we might go in: “What is difficult for you? What are your histories, your legacies, your family’s histories and legacies? What excites you? What work will make you feel beautiful?” For me, all of those questions have many potential answers, and the answers to all those questions aren’t necessarily coinciding. So I’m mulling over a lot.
I met with the professor individually on Saturday because she noticed, I guess, that I was having a hard time in class with those questions. Not that we were being called on to answer them right away or out loud, but nonetheless I was struggling and she is so intuitive that she noticed. And asked to meet with me. And when we met we spoke about my struggles around identifying where I want to do my life’s work because on the one hand, there are the things that are incredibly personal for me, that come up for me in major ways, that I know I could throw myself into 100% — anti-sexual-violence work being a main one, obviously, and queer/gender identity stuff being another. But I don’t want these things to have to necessarily define my life; I want to be allowed to be excited about other things too; I just struggle with this feeling somehow of betraying myself and also with a fear of stepping into an unknown. When I do work around rape and around gender and around queerness, I can do it boldly because I’m working and speaking as myself, on behalf of myself. On the other hand I would like to cultivate an ability to do other work boldly too, to have faith in my ability to be critical of and participate in the world in ways that do not have to rely on my personal experience as some sort of “expertise.” I want to take risks. So when I met with my professor and talked about all of that, shared some of my life and experiences and struggles, she invited me to think of work that I’m excited about not as a betrayal of my life and struggles but as a way of carrying myself into whatever work I do do. I do not have to leave myself at the doorstep.
So carrying all of this around in my mind, I see a world of possibility.
Mostly for myself (but also in case any of you are vicariously interested in what I might be studying and researching and living the next while), I want to write up some of my excitements. Right now it’s all boiling in my brain, utter chaos, and I want to see it out in front of me. So, here are some of the things I’m feeling excited about:
- How are people in various ways self-reflexive about their genders? Not so much in terms of how they perform gender, but in how they inhabit it. How do people situate themselves in gendered ways in the world? What are their struggles around it? As a femme, for example, if I were my own research subject: how do I make decisions about presenting myself to the world? What do I think about and consider, what do I not think about or consider about my gender? What compels me to femininity? What has been my process of identifying with femininity, or not? How do I understand my gender? What feels exciting/comfortable/scary/uneasy/ambiguous/etc. to me about it? How do I understand my relations to other gendered beings? How is my reflexivity about gender tied (or not) to my understanding of my sexuality? How open am I about my gender, (how) does it shift? Are there ways I feel constricted or confined by my gender, and if so what are they? What is hard about my gender, and how do people react to it? These and more questions… and not just questions of myself, but of others.
- What are ways in which queer politics can be stretched and expanded in exciting ways to form new alliances? I’m thinking about, for example, ways in which queers make families push against heteronormative family models, and ways also in which people of color resist white/heteronormative family models as well. What opportunities exist there for alliance, for together re-defining for society what “family” is and how “family” can and should be protected and understood. This, to me, is more meaningful than a fight for marriage, which I see as one way for queers to form family, but not by a long shot the only way. This isn’t to say I disagree with the marriage equality struggle–I think it is hugely important in many ways–but I am more excited by ways of thinking beyond that in ways that also make room for alliance in struggle. Another example of my thinking around this: ways in which queers and folks of color, especially immigrants (and also keeping in mind that those two loose categories are by no means mutually exclusive) are both targets of nationalist rhetoric and politics in the US: we’re dangerous, a threat to national security, “Other.” And look what’s happening in schools — inclusion of curricula that address our curricula are being threatened, excluded, targeted as dangerous. This is not at all to say that our struggles are the same or to compare them in any quantitative or qualitative way, but rather to point out spaces for possible alliance, ones that I am excited by.
- I’m stirred, for obvious reasons, by issues surrounding sexual vi0lence. What would it mean for targets of sexual violence, including cis and trans women, children, elderly, homeless, sex workers, etc. to be able to find empowerment? How can sexual violence education be targeted towards potential perpetrators rather than towards potential victims? (And I don’t mean specifically men but rather, turning the lens of education away from “ways to avoid being raped” and more towards “ways to have justice and cultivate a society free of sexual violence, and ways for folks to be aware of and accountable for their actions and ways of moving through the world.”)
- Moving away now from the stuff around my personal legacies now… I’m interested in Islamophobia and ways in which the West v. Islam bifurcation is harmful to our freedom and justice in the US. Specifically I’m really interested in going to Germany to study this — I think many Western European countries are much more clear-cut case studies of the rise of anti-Islam sentiment in the world. Germany is an interesting case on its own: it has a long history of Turkish migrant workers in the country, many of whom after several generations still do not have citizenship. Turkey, too, is a place with its own West/Islam struggle — Istanbul seeing itself as more “modern” and European in many ways and then eastern Turkey aligning itself more closely with “tradition” and the Middle East (these are gross over-generalizations to be sure). So Germany’s relationship with Turkey is quite illustrative of global trends. In addition, Germany has its awful history of anti-Semitism, which I think in much of the West informs our relationship with Islam in that we are paralyzed by guilt and feel the need to be unreflexively allied with Israel. And, Germany (and Berlin especially, which is where I would want to do my research) itself has the fascinating history of being divided in two after WWII, being split between (capitalist) West and (communist) East. This is not the same split, obviously, as the West/Islam split, but I think it still does strongly inform Germany’s conception of itself with and in the world. There is so much material here. And I would love to be able to go back to Germany and continue fostering my relationship with it.
- At the end of last semester, I wrote a paper about multi-national tourist corporations and the post-tsunami (the December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, that is) reconstruction efforts in specifically Sri Lanka; how tourist corporations, US aid agencies, and Sri Lankan government leaders saw the tsunami reconstruction less as a project to re-build what was lost and more as a project to capitalize on coastal land freed of inhabitants by the waves. So (again, an over-simplified narrative, but still one that holds truth) reconstruction of homes and small businesses was forbidden along much of the damaged coast, and a green light was given to large-scale tourist operations to move in. The idea was that this would stimulate the national economy and provide jobs, but what of people’s homes? What of their autonomous fishing livelihoods? Are those really so easily replaced by jobs as concierges in luxury hotels? The lack of consultation with the tsunami-affected themselves is astonishing, and I was appalled that the money I donated back then was likely not used in ways I would have supported. This paper excited me, motivated me, angered me. And so I’ve developed a strong interest in multi-national corporations and politics of “Third World” development. How can we do “development” work ensuring that people’s lives are prioritized, accounted for, heard, respected, and also ensuring that global nations are growing sustainably and without perpetuating reliance on (and indebtedness to) the US, Europe, Japan?
These are just some of what my mind is busy with these days. Perhaps more to come. What are your thoughts about this? What excites you?
I will continue to write when I can. Miss you all greatly, and much much love.
I’m trying to grow out my hair. The reason I bring this up is because I got an email last week asking me if I had thoughts about femmes and hair, and I responded that “DO I EVER.” Well, that’s not exactly what I said, but something to that effect. I have thoughts about femmes and hair especially now because I’m in the middle of trying to grow mine out. I say “trying” because I am at the point right now where I’m on the verge of tearing it all out because it’s pissing me off so much. (Awkward in-between stage much?)
So, femmes and hair. The best angle I can really appropriately come at this from is that of my own experience and relationship to my hair, obviously, so I’ll start there. I used to have long hair. And now my hair is short. I had straight, long, light brown hair that went halfway down my back. Someone told me once that he didn’t think he’d ever seen me wear my hair the same way twice, and though that is definitely NOT true, I was able to do a lot of different things with it. I wore ponytails, obviously, when I was feeling particularly casual. “Princess ponytails” (as my mother dubbed “half ponytails”) were for when I was feeling particularly feminine or girlish. I would also wear braids, or half-ponytail braids, or pigtail braids, or French braids, or messy buns, or what’s that thing called where you turn your ponytail inside out? Yeah, that. Often I would just wear my hair completely down, blow-dry it… I had a habit of twirling a strand of hair around my finger when I was bored.
When I was 20, I cut my hair short. Pixie short. Largely, this was part of my coming-out process. It was a signal that I wanted to be taken seriously by the queer community at my women’s college, that I wasn’t a LUG. (That is a whole sociological can of worms right there.) As I’ve written before, I understood that being taken seriously as gay necessitated toning down femininity and taking on androgyny or masculinity. (What I didn’t understand was that having a pixie haircut did NOT automatically make me androgynous or masculine!) It turned out that I *loved* the short hair. It framed my face better, made my eyes more prominent (I already have pretty prominent eyes as it is), was super easy to take care of, and looked flirty and fun. Once I passed safely to the other side of my masculandrogynous stage, I totally embraced my pixie hair as femme. Not in an “I’m femme… but I have short hair” way, but in a “hell YEAH I’m femme and I have short hair!” way. No “buts.”
And, yeah, I definitely think that’s put more of a burden of proof on me, in a way. In a community that has so much protection around labels (another whole sociological can of worms that I’m not going to open right now), there have been plenty of occasions I’ve felt weird about my short hair, have felt that I can’t actually be femme with short hair, and that I’m co-opting someone else’s identity by claiming I’m a femme with short hair. (White) femininity and long hair are closely linked in a biconditional relationship in our culture — if you’re a white woman with long hair, you’re perceived to be feminine, and if you’re going to be perceived as feminine, you need to have long hair. It’s a closed loop. But of course, there are so many exceptions to this. Winona Ryder, Natalie Portman, Keira Knightley, and now Emma Watson are all white female celebrities who totally pull off the short hair but still feminine thing.
And yet. Female celebrities cutting off their hair is generally perceived by society-at-large (and forgive the sweeping generalizations) as a bold step away from docile girlishness and toward the re-defining of the self as a “strong woman.” When I Googled “emma watson cuts her hair,” the underlying themes in news articles and blog posts linked in the search results seemed to me to be shock and trepidation: words like edgy, boyish (though I think she looks *far* from boyish), and drastic, and questions posed to the audience like “what do YOU think about Emma’s new look?” underline the notion that white women cutting their hair short is “making a statement” that people can agree or disagree with. Comments to those blog posts and news articles tend to go in one of two directions: either people support the “bold move” and take a “rock on, girl” pro-girl-power stance, OR they think it looks horrible and wax nostalgic about her long hair, regretting the move away from traditional femininity. Long hair, then, can be read as a symbol of traditional white , while short hair is a symbolic move towards liberation. (Emma even calls it “liberating” and “incredible” herself.)
Obviously, Emma is straight (or at least, she has a boyfriend and has never made any statements to the contrary), as are the other celebrities I mentioned. So how do femmes fit into this? I think white femmes who typically pass as straight (which is probably most of us) probably are perceived similarly to straight white women in terms of our hair: long hair is more traditionally feminine, while short hair is a distancing from traditional femininity. Since gayness is also a distancing from traditional femininity, at least in terms of dominant definitions of femininity (which define it in oppositional and exclusive relation to man/masculinity), it makes sense that cutting one’s hair short is a move many women make when trying to find a place in the queer realm. On the other hand, many femmes participate in actively re-defining femininity as un-relative to men and masculinity, partly just by virtue of not being sexual partners of men, and partly by their intentionality in regards to their gender presentation. In that sense, a white femme having long hair, I think, uses a traditional marker of white femininity in a non-traditional way, thus also “queering” the discourse around traditional white femininity. (I think I’m talking in circles now.) A white femme having short hair is still probably read most often as being non-traditionally feminine (if read as feminine at all by hetero-dominance — I think there are many folks in my life, for example, who take ONLY my hair as being signifying of my gender presentation, and assume that just by virtue of having short hair I *can’t* be feminine) and, because even queers are typically socialized by hetero-dominance until a certain point in their young/adult lives, white femmes with short hair might not be taken seriously as feminine by fellow queers, either.
All of this a round-about way of saying: I have short hair. I’m femme. Even if you don’t perceive me as femme (especially when I’m wearing jeans and chucks and no make-up), I’m still femme. Short-haired femmes and long-haired femmes alike are re-defining femininity in our own images, distancing ourselves from a male-defined and male-owned femininity. [Aside: this isn't to say straight women can't participate or aren't participating in re-defining femininity in their own image too. Of course they can and are. I do think, though, that it's probably gotta be a more intentional thing for straight women.] AND, my growing out my hair right now has nothing to do with changing my orientation towards or relationship with my femme-ininity. The reason that I am growing out my hair is that I no longer have an income, and so I can’t afford haircuts. That’s it. The end! Though I think it will be very interesting to see how my understanding of my queer identity and my position in queerness and in community changes, both internally and in terms of external perceptions, as a result of growing longer hair.
In other news, our date on Sunday evening was perfect. We went for a walk up to Corona Heights, got winded, sat on a bench overlooking the entire east side of the city and felt appropriately invigorated. We ended up deciding to eat out (graduate student budget notwithstanding) and that was an excellent decision because it was so nice not to have to wash up dishes and whatnot. Plus, we got cocktails and fondue — you can’t argue with that! And then, just as planned, we camped out on the living room floor with our featherbed and lots of pillows and blankets and watched old movies on our projector. And then we fucked. It was awesome. It also really subdued my rising anxiety about not having time for and with each other. I feel a whole lot better. This week has been very busy, too, and not without its moments of frustration and anxiety and stress between us, but my anxiety is no longer consuming me in quite the same way it was before.
[9/20/10 Edit: I was thinking some more about this this weekend and realized that I needed to clarify that I'm talking about white femininity and its queering so I went back through and added "white" where necessary. As a white woman, that's the world I have the most thorough understanding of, and I don't feel comfortable making sweeping statements about discourses around femininity in WOC and POC communities. That's actually a topic I'm interested in delving into in graduate school -- but that's another post...]
At my Frameline volunteer shift the other day, I was doing will call with an older gay guy, John, and since it was the middle of the afternoon and thus a fairly quiet shift, we got to chatting. And by “we got to chatting,” I mean mostly that I asked him questions about his life, which he warmly and enthusiastically answered. He’s lived in San Francisco for over 35 years, in the Castro for 35 years. He was 22, he said, when he came out here, realizing he was gay. He moved here because of the Cockettes, whom he met when they were on tour in Milwaukee. He hung out with them after their show and just decided to go with them on the rest of their tour and then back to San Francisco.
He lived in San Francisco during the Harvey Milk days. He teared up when talking about the sadness and anger and overwhelming solidarity when Milk was assassinated. He lived in San Francisco during the AIDS crisis, and had to stop talking for a few minutes, he was too overcome with emotion to speak.
He told me that he sees the splintering in the gay community as tragic. “What splintering?” I asked, curious about what he was referring to.
“Everyone’s concerned with their own issues,” he said. “People come together to fight for marriage equality, sure, but at the end of the day marriage equality is about personal relationships. It’s about us as individuals. It’s not about all of us, together. And it allows us to think we’re fighting for ourselves rather than for each other.”
“During the AIDS crisis,” he said, “there was a real sense of camaraderie. I have such close, intense relationships with many lesbians from that generation. They really came out of the woodwork in support of us during that time. There hasn’t been anything like it since. Everyone does their own thing now.”
I said I thought so too, that I’d noticed something similar. I thought of the post I wrote last week.
He said, “it’s sad. What we’ve been fighting for all along is happening, equality, justice, acceptance, visibility. All of that. It’s happening, at least it’s happening in San Francisco. But it means that there isn’t as much of a need for us to watch out for each other anymore. Straight people don’t all watch out for each other. Being straight is hardly something to think of as having in common with each other. The more we get what we’ve been fighting for, the more we become normalized here, the less ‘being gay’ is something that brings us together. We’re becoming complacent.”
Is this true? I hadn’t thought of it this way. Does getting to a place where we’re no longer oppressed, where our society is no longer heteronormative, where we are fairly represented in government and where we’re systemically, institutionally, and socially equal to straight folks mean that we won’t have solidarity with each other anymore on the grounds of being queer? And if that’s the case, is it worth it? To me, that seems like such an unbearable loss. And John, tears in his eyes, seems to be suffering that loss. Or are his thoughts just tainted by nostalgia? After all, he knew three quarters of the people who came up to will call while we were sitting there together, men and women alike, and they all seemed to have so much love and support for each other.
I don’t know. What do YOU think?