Okay. So, recently, as in a few weeks ago, I got married. I married a gay guy, and I did it for reasons that are advantageous to both of us, and they have nothing to do with feelings. It is, essentially, an arrangement that gives me health insurance (so I can get an invasive surgery that I need to get) and gives him significant material benefits that I won’t bother to go into here.
Although it’s a good story on its own (I met him on a Tuesday, we married on a Wednesday, we had to do the whole ceremony and we giggled the entire time, we even drew up a pre-nup and had it notarized all within eighteen hours between meeting and marrying), I’m bringing it up because it has made me think about something that had already been percolating but that this “getting married” really made real for me. It’s made me think of a LOT of things, actually, including the absurdity of government having a hand in this kind of ridiculous institution. But what I want to talk about here is queerness, femininity, and “visibility.”
See, when I got married, I had to get a ring. I had to get a ring because I had to go with my husband into his place of work and waltz around as his wife for two days while getting his marriage all legitimized and getting my and his benefits solidified. My ring is a $20 simple sterling silver band that’s slightly too big because the kiosk at the mall didn’t have my size so I had to go a half size up. And I kind of love this ring. I don’t love the RING, itself, as a piece of jewelry, I mean it’s fine and all, totally unoffensive, but it’s not particularly lovable in itself. What I love about it is what happens to me when I wear it. What happens is, when I’m wearing it, I feel like I have this inside joke with myself that no one else gets. Not that anyone really notices it, or thinks about it much if they do notice it, but that’s almost precisely it — in a way, it’s like the ultimate symbol of straightness, of heteronormativity. A wedding band, right? And so when I wear it, I “pass” as a regular ol’ married woman. I’m a wife. I’m a straight, blond (oh yeah, my hair is blond now), young, hazel-eyed wife. But the thing is, the joke’s on them because they don’t even know there’s any joke. On the surface I would appear to be one, totally comprehensible, sensible thing and yet? I’m so *not*.
And I guess what it did for me in a way was release me from this idea of “visibility” as my aim. It’s like, ok, I look fucking straight. So? And, to whom? Why? And does that even matter? And the answer is, no, it doesn’t. I actually don’t give two shits whether I’m comprehensible, and I don’t think that comprehensibility or visibility as an aim of queer politics is even particularly desirable. I mean, look, I spent years trying to figure out how to be queer, how to be the “right kind” of queer for the straights, how to be the right “wrong kind” of queer for the other queers, how to (and yes, this is a pattern in my life) liquify myself and take up the shape of whatever space I’m in so as to fit right in. To me this has been partly about attaining a sense of belonging (where since adolescence I’ve tended to acutely feel like I dis-belong). And it’s also been about safety, majorly. Like I’ve got this deeply internalized sense that passing and fitting in are the best way to stay safe. Physically safe, sexually safe, emotionally safe.
So what the hell is my point? My point is, I guess, to repeat what I said before, that I don’t think that comprehensibility or visibility really ought to be a desirable aim of queer/femme politics. Like, what does that say about my relationship to the world if the way I organize myself in it is to best appear a certain way to it (or parts of it)? What that says is that my sense of self comes from outside, comes from how others perceive me, or rather comes from how I imagine others perceive me. And that’s bullshit because, honestly, I don’t think there’s any such thing as an “authentic self” or essence of self that can be authentically reflected or portrayed by your outer appearance. I don’t think there’s any way that every part of who we are will ever be visible to/perceived by/comprehensible to “the world” or “people” or whomever we are aiming to be seen/perceived/comprehended by. And like, if you think about it — when we try to be visible or try to be comprehensible, what is it we’re really reaching for? How do we measure what constitutes visibility? What are we reproducing in that effort? When we aim for inclusion, what remains excluded? When we use certain markers or norms or standards as a way to stay safe, what are we committing those who don’t/can’t access those same standards to? How are these standards also silently determined by whiteness, straightness, cisgenderness, upper-classness, ableness? Am I making any sense?
What it’s about, to me, or ought to be about, is just whatever the fuck we want. I just want to feel moderately okay in the world, and I want to measure that feeling according to my own feelings about and perceptions of myself rather than others’ feelings/perceptions of me. Like, I don’t want to seek to look a certain way in order to feel safe or to belong. Instead, I’d like to seek to look a certain way because it makes me feel bold. And by bold I don’t mean daring, flashy, fancy, etc. I just mean, I want to strive for a feeling of taking up space in my body such that my body feels strong, solid, present, and so that I can in turn try to think beyond a politics of comprehensibility and make room, in my own mind, for the immense possibilities that queerness presents to the world in all of its bodies.
Right, so the wedding ring. Yeah, it makes me feel like laughing hysterically when I have it on because everything it is supposed to symbolize — undying love and commitment to another person for a lifetime — is just totally irrelevant for me in my life right now. Instead, for me, it symbolizes this juxtaposition of who I was raised to be versus who I am; it symbolizes my own freedom from the ties of certain expectations; it symbolizes my commitment to myself that I am capable of making my own way in the world; and it symbolizes that I don’t give a fuck whether I’m “visible” or whether I’m “comprehensible” because honestly, it’s too much goddamn work and it’s not work that I even support.
There’s a lot more I could (and maybe will) say about this stuff in relation specifically to femme politics and femininity. But I’ll save that for now.
The end! You may now congratulate me on my recent nuptials.
EDIT: Someone just alerted me (god y’all are quick, that was like half an hour) to this post on femmetech.org on “deprivileging in/visibility” which is very much along the lines of what I’m getting at only she does it much better and with way less rambling. I don’t agree with everything she says but I do with a lot of it and I’d like to think about it more… hmm…
Today, my friend told me that they marked me as queer right away. I asked what it was that made them think that, and they said they couldn’t place it. Something about posturing, or something.
Score! I’m queer-ifiable!
And then I went home and told ML and she was dubious. And spent twenty minutes messing with my hair to try to see if she could make it look “more queer.” Apparently it needs to be “piecier.”
Evidently, whether you “look queer” to someone is entirely subjective. Who knew?!
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’ve been feeling pretty politicized, lately, which has contributed to my not writing as much here (that, and midterms, obviously). What I mean is, this blog has been, for most of its life, an account of my personal life. My verrrrrry personal life, haha. The main reason for that, I think, is that since this blog began, the stuff in my personal life has been the most interesting stuff going on for me. I was working a job I didn’t care for, hadn’t situated myself squarely in any community in the city (part shyness, part being busy, part general feelings of liminality), and was spending most of my intellectual brainpower, outside of work, on thinking about my relationship and my burgeoning personal identities (primarily femme, but also, in smaller ways, “survivor”, feminist, queer, sex-positive…). Thank God for all of that, and for this blog and all of you, because it enabled my mind to continue to open up and expand when my work life was encouraging it to stay stagnant.
Now that I’m full-time in a graduate program (having lost my part-time work, eep. I really need a new part-time job…), it’s like my mind is blowing up. It’s brilliant, it’s like a re-birth. I’m navigating new relationships with classmates and professors, which is time-consuming and exciting. I’m reading a TON of stuff, mostly assigned, but I’m amazed that the assigned reading is actually motivating me to go out and read non-assigned stuff, both for context (e.g. Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge) and just because it excites me (e.g., Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl, which, GO. READ. I’M SERIOUS.). I’m writing a lot for class. And I’m having a ton of conversations both in and outside of class, about things like what I posted about in my last post (which, don’t worry, I’ll be doing follow-up posts on) and about other things: midterm elections, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Tea Party, local politics. (Y’all, San Francisco just passed the most effed up bit of city legislation: Sit/Lie, a law that will *criminalize* sitting on city sidewalks, for any reason, which is ableist, classist, and a total betrayal of our city’s history and the folks that made SF the “free love” city that it is.)
And I’ve hesitated, I guess, to write about all of that stuff, because it’s not my personal life. It’s not just about my own personal identity anymore, but about my identity in the context of larger social and political forces, and just about those larger social and political forces on their own. I feel a bit strange about starting to use this blog as a sociopolitical soapbox (to be clear: when I talk about social politics, I’m not really talking about partisan politics (except in the context of these midterm elections), but I guess something more like progressive identity politics. I’m just not sure this is the platform for that. But you know what? It’s what’s on my mind, so I guess I’ll just roll with it. We’ll see what happens. And for the record, I love feeling more politicized. The blood in my body feels quicker, I feel more alert, more purposeful, more engaged with the world. I’ve been sharing a lot of stuff on my personal Facebook page, and I think I might start moving some of that to this blog’s Facebook page as well because I want to start having those kinds of conversations over here, too.
In the meantime, life’s pretty good. The weather here is gorgeous. Halloween came and went, and I stayed in all weekend; it was rainy and cold and I wasn’t feeling well anyway. ML is super busy with grad school applications and preparations, but this week we’ve actually managed to have dinner together every night so far, which is very welcome after three weeks of hardly eating together at all. My midterms are over and I’m already swallowed in more reading and beginning to prep for finals. I’m frantically trying to find part-time work but haven’t had any time to put into the search. This week, hopefully. Anybody have any Bay Area progressive connections?
One last thing: Apparently, the Giants won the World Series. I think I was probably the last person in San Francisco to find out. I truly live under a rock in many ways. But guys, the city erupted. It was almost as bad as Massachusetts when the Sox won in 2004. Sports fans!!!
PS: My next post, currently in draft form, is about the consumerization of femininity. It’s been fun to think about and write. I’ll finish it up and post it in the next day or two. Can’t wait to hear feedback…
Midterms, y’all. I forgot what it’s like. I’m coming up for air.
I’ve been thinking about a lot, lately. I’ve been thinking about queer as a politicized identity: what does it mean to me to identify as queer? In what ways is it more than just a sexual orientation and is, in fact, in many respects a way of life? What are ways that I resist heteronormativity in my queerness, other than just by “happening” to be partnered with a woman?
I’ve also been thinking about: femininity, specifically my femininity. (Are you surprised?) What I claim as feminine, what its history is, what it’s a resistance to. How so often the presumption is that femininity is something imposed on women, by men, as if men were actually creative enough to invent femininity from scratch, as if femininity weren’t something that many folks feel inside, and figure out ourselves or as community how to express.
In relation to femininity, I’ve also been thinking about ways that women are constructed consumers in our society, and how there are many ways in which femininities in the US are compulsorily consumerized. How that’s a class issue, because it renders working class/poor women who can’t afford all of femininity’s trappings less feminine, or even un-feminine. I’ve been thinking about the ways in which I participate in this (make-up, shoes, grooming, home-prettifying stuff, kitchen gadgets…) and about how I can be in resistance to this without relinquishing femininity itself, without even necessarily relinquishing make-up, shoes, grooming, etc.
I’ve been thinking about how much “visible” queerness is marked by class, whiteness, gender non-conformity, age, location. And how privileging visible queerness as the only way to be truly “radically” queer renders marginalizes so many folks who live queerness in many multi-faceted ways.
I’ve been thinking about how it’s necessary for transmasculine/masculine-of-center/butch/genderqueer folks and transmen to be allies to ally against misogyny, against the massive trivialization, sexualization, objectification, and derision of femininity. But how it’s also so, so important for cisgendered feminine women to be allies to our gender-”transgressive” partners-in-crime.
I’ve also been thinking about fun stuff: about sex, and ML’s and my forays into Master/sub-type dynamics, which I still really want to write about. About Thanksgiving, and how ML and I are, like last year, going up north a few hours to celebrate together and also to celebrate 2 YEARS together, this time to a little cabin in the woods with a hot tub (what else could we possibly need?). I’m counting down the days… I’m thinking about making pumpkin bread and mulled cider this weekend and having classmates come over for “study group.” I’m thinking about making butternut squash soup tonight for dinner… mmmmm…
So, you see? There’s quite a lot going on in my mind. I’ll be back in short order to turn some of it into something of substance. <3
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...]
So, grad school has started. I’d really wanted to do a post about my day trip into the central valley to see my grandpa’s pistachio orchards, but I can’t figure out how to get the pictures off my blackberry and onto my computer. Sadface. As soon as I can figure that out, I’ll post about that, because it was pretty amazing.
So, yeah, grad school. In the span of a week and a half, my life has changed pretty dramatically. Time is such an odd thing; when you’re in a particular timescape, you feel like this is it, this is what life means, it’s all led up to this, for better or for worse. And then something changes, and things shift, and that particular timescape feels so distant and you wonder how that ever felt real. My drop into grad school has been a waBAM kind of shift, and I look back on the summer (and, for that matter, the intervening years since I finished undergrad) and it feels like this weird island-in-the-sky, this floating interlude between something real and something else real. But what does “real” even mean? I guess for me, “real” means that I feel connected to myself — to my interiority as well as my exteriority — in a way I haven’t felt in quite a while.
It’s exciting. And it’s scary.
For the past two years, my relationship with ML has been the single thing outside of my own self that has motivated me the most. I have interests, sure. I love to cook (as y’all know quite well by now). I love writing here. I care deeply about the anti-sexual violence work I’ve been doing. I’ve enjoyed setting up my home with ML and expanding my sense of community in San Francisco. Many things. And yet on a day-to-day basis the thing that’s most occupied me has been my relationship. I love thinking about it, being in it, challenging myself to communicate in more effective ways (or not communicate when it’s really just time to shut up). I like positioning myself in the context of my relationship and in the context of a greater Queer Community, however fictive such a thing might be. I’ve really found resilience in my femininity and femme-ininity, and ML has been an instrumental part of that for me.
And now, in the past week and a half, my mental landscape has re-oriented. This was bound to happen no matter what program I entered, of course. But I think this particular program has hit a nerve in me in a way that undergrad never did (and that’s saying a lot, because I loved my undergraduate experience). I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but already the reading for my classes and my fellow students and the professors have all pushed my thinking to a level I haven’t been at in a while. I can already feel my mind expanding, opening windows, sweeping out old stuff and letting the cross-breeze carry in fresh air. I fucking love this feeling. It’s the feeling of being held accountable for my thinking. And the stuff we’re learning gets to me. Social justice always does. I’m gobbling it up.
What’s scary, though, is that it’s something outside of my relationship that’s driving me in a very real way. I was trying to articulate last night to ML what it was that was making me feel a bit jumpy and anxious lately and that’s really what it is. It’s this fear that being forced/encouraged to grow and expand is going to somehow make me grow and expand away from her. I know that’s probably unfounded, and that part of the beauty of relationships is pursuing our own things but being there to support each other in them. I mean, she does music, and I go to all her shows and listen to all her recordings and offer feedback and clap and cheer (and love her music, natch). I’m a part of her musical growth to the extent that I’m there by her side. Until now, there hasn’t really been that thing that I’ve needed her support in. I think grad school is going to be it. I’m going to need her to bounce ideas off of and to support me when I have a lot of homework to do and to read my papers and be interested in what I’m thinking about. So it’s going to be a probably subtle (and definitely positive) shift in our relationship once that dynamic blossoms. And I’m really excited for that.
BUT, here’s the thing. At the moment, we are both absurdly busy. I have a weekend-long seminar this weekend, plus I’m performing in a burlesque show on Tuesday so I’m rehearsing a bunch before then. Next week, she’s taking an evening music seminar Monday and Wednesday, is rehearsing with her band Thursday, and then has a major show on Saturday. The one night neither one of us has something separate — Friday — is a mutual friend’s birthday. Then Sunday I have a new student potluck to attend in Oakland. And the following week she’s got the same seminar again, and then band rehearsal again, and then another gig that Friday. And I’m kind of freaking out. When are we going to see each other???? When will we get to actually talk about the stuff that my mind has been turning over since classes started last week? She was out of town all Labor Day weekend at a wedding on the east coast, and then she gets back and BOOM we’re both frantically running around with 8 million things to do and the only time during the day that we get to share is the half hour before bed. And usually, that involves sex. Which is, you know, important. Obviously. But … I need the rest of the stuff that goes along with being in a healthy, loving and mutually supportive relationship, too. Call me high-maintenance.
So, we were just e-mailing back and forth (she’s at work, I’m at home supposedly “reading for class” but I’ve stretched the definition of that a bit by writing here…) and decided that Sunday evening, after my seminar, we’ll have a Date. Go to a wine bar, watch an old movie on the floor with lots of pillows and blankets, and have sex that’s not just half-hour-before-bed sex. So, yay! Step in the right direction. Breathe in, breathe out, and everything’s going to be okay.
And now I’d better get back to my reading…
I got this question through formspring.me (see that little red box over on the right? if you put a question in there and submit it, I’ll answer it), and figured I’d publish it here as well. I imagine it’s a follow-up to my post a while back on being a femme in a relationship that’s not butch/femme. I don’t say anything hugely new and different here, but it’s certainly relevant to the blog.
Can you tell me more about being a femme sans butch? How does the lady feel about your femme identity? And how do you feel about her gender identity?
Gender identity stuff, I love it!
So, really, this is three separate questions. So I’ll start with the first one:
Can I say more about being a femme sans butch?
I guess the first thing I’ll say about it is that for the longest time, I hesitated to identify as femme because I’ve never had a relationship with a woman who identifies as butch (crushes, on the other hand? definitely). Intellectually, I know that to say that a femme can only be with a butch is like saying a woman can only be with a man. But it was sort of like trying to come out to myself all over again. When I started coming out to myself, I was just like “no way, this can’t be possible! I’m a girl! I’m s’posed to like boys! what is this craziness? I must be delusional!” It just didn’t seem possible to me that I was gay, and that gay was real. Coming out as femme was sort of similar, like “no way, I can’t be femme, femmes are supposed to be with butches! I can’t *really* be a femme!” But, for whatever reason, femme is just *right* for me, in the way that coming out as gay/queer in the first place just felt right. So, for whatever reason (biological? theological? coincidental?), I’m a femme and I don’t have a butch, and I don’t feel lacking in any regard. The identity itself is complete. I do think that femme and butch have a lot of traits that are very compatible with each other, and mi’lady has a lot of those traits anyway, plus a lot of other traits that I’m very much in love with ;)
How does she feel about my gender identity?
She’s totally supportive, and she tends to be attracted to femininity/femme-ininity herself anyway. I would even hazard a guess** and say that she’s found my blossoming into femme almost as exciting as I have — she certainly reaps many of the benefits (I’m stabler, more confident, sexier I think). She loves it when I wear heels, she has a deep appreciation for my domesticity (while making it always, always clear that she doesn’t expect anything of me in the way of cooking/cleaning/that sort of thing), she finds the girliness a turn-on. So she’s totally gung-ho about it.
And lastly, how do I feel about her gender identity?
I am totally and completely in love with it. We have talked a bit about what gender identity label she feels most comfortable with, and she keeps coming back to “dyke” as what works for her. And really, I can’t think of any better way to describe her. She’s kind of a rocker chick, with a definite masculine edge (so. hot. – the way she leans back in a chair, for example, legs apart, chest open and relaxed, shoulders back… swoon) but also with a feminine underside, if you will. She’s got shoulder-length angled side-parted dark hair (longer than mine) which frames her face so perfectly, and she has gorgeous eyes with long lashes. And, erm, she’s got a great rack, which she’s rightfully proud of as one of her great assets. She loves to be fucked. But she also loves to have the cock herself. So, she’s definitely queer, definitely a dyke, definitely NOT femme, I wouldn’t even really use the word feminine to describe her if pressed. Just, dyke. Think, I dunno, Tegan & Sara?
And she’s funny and boyish and she calls me “baby” and “sweetie” which makes me melt, she’s protective and gracious. She lets me do my puttering and my little grooming and she’s mystified by a lot of my feminine ways but she loves them, too. So, really, we’re perfectly matched :)
**After reading my answer, mi’lady said (in her own words) “your hazardous guess is correct!” :) :)