ode to fedex

More of a limerick than a poem, written with frozen hands and just for fun.

Hanging out the window,
In the middle of winter,
Waiting again for FedEx,

My coffee grows cold,
Though only 10 minutes old,
Because I need to sign at the X,

I’ve requested they call,
Every month now since fall,
But they’d rather just leave a slip,

So on the cold sill,
I lean out here still,
A lookout for the ship.

Veteran’s Day

In honor of Veterans Day I hung the Coast Guard flag from my last ship out the window of my apartment. Many others truly sacrificed or were sacrificed during their time in the service. My greatest sacrifice was serving in silence under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue. That last part seems to be forgotten most of the time, but it impacted my perception of a great many things including camaraderie and authority.

I wasn’t out in any sense when I signed up. I joined the Coast Guard because it is the only branch of the military that has a peace time mission. We would fight and give support in time of war, but spent peacetime performing a variety of missions like search and rescue, environmental protection, law enforcement, and aids to navigation. I was a Quartermaster and proudly navigated ships across the Atlantic and the Pacific. I am still extremely proud to have been part of a branch that not only serves the American people but has also had remarkable people serve in it. From Alex Haley, the author of Roots, to Douglas Munro, Medal of Honor Recipient who died at Guadalcanal, to the many people I served under and with. But not all of them.

In boot camp, one of the cadences we marched to was ‘got your back shipmate’ and I thought we all meant it. It didn’t matter if you got along on ship, you stick up for your shipmates and you don’t throw them under the bus. How wrong I was. This is not my coming out story. That wouldn’t happen for a few months after the lesbian purge on my first ship. A purge that taught me to play my newfound acceptance as close to the vest as possible.

I believed in the Coast Guard. I believed in shipmates. Most painfully, I believed in authority. That even if I didn’t agree with those that had it, their intentions were sincere and honorable. In 1996, I was jarringly divested of two out of three of those beliefs.

It happened so quickly. We had been down in San Diego for a few days. The last night in port, I had duty and stayed on ship. Several shipmates had gone to Tijuana and drank. A lot. One of them was my friend. They all got back drunk but unharmed and we pulled out for Alaska in the morning. Within the next few days, people were being pulled in before the captain. Apparently two of the women were seen kissing on the train back up to SD by a “shipmate” who was himself very drunk but also apparently disgusted and reported them. It went very quickly from there. By the time we reached Alaska, three women were being put on a plane back to CA to begin discharge proceedings. I was one of the people interviewed but was dating a male Coastie on another ship. The questions asked were extremely personal and direct. Yes, I was asked if I was gay. The woman who was my friend was not only asked but told if she lied, she would be in violation of the UCMJ (military code of laws). So she told the truth.

The thing that most affected me, after the loss of my friend, was that the captain broke the rules. The beauty of the military was the structure and the rules. The same rules applied whether you were a boot (fresh out of training) or an Admiral. This wasn’t the civilian world of money and influence. I admit this may sound naive, it was. But it was also something I accepted as truth. I did what I was told without question because that’s how the structure works. I didn’t have the option of not following the rules but that was ok because no one did. It assaulted my idea of fairness. Not just the ban, but the behavior of the command. The captain not only “asked” but he “pursued” fervently. Last I heard they were given Dishonorable Discharges. Which means, among many other things, they cannot enjoy the veteran’s benifits that I, and that “shipmate” and captain do.

How I viewed the world and my place in it changed the day they were put off the ship as much as it did when I came out myself shortly after. The latter broke something free, the former just broke something.

I am happy DADT and the ban have been lifted. But that battle had it’s casualties and they deserve to be remembered too.

Why These Stories

The idea for many of these musings came from watching Skins, Buffy, The L Word and a whole host of newer programs. Coincidentally, this new world of lesbian visibility is tracked by AfterEllen.com. It’s a coincidence for me because I came out to myself and those closest to me a few months before Ellen came out publicly. My public declarations would have to wait though until I was allowed ‘to tell’, but my private ones were a collection of awkward, funny, terrifying, and completely anticlimactic. I had an odd sort of support system of friends and crushes and had no real struggle once I just said it out loud. I was 20. Part of me has to wonder if I had been physically born in 1996 instead of just mentally and emotionally reborn, if I would have come out sooner. What would it have been like to read Fingersmith at 15 instead of 30? Or have had access to the many wonderful coming out stories that are now available?

Over the years, I have flipped through my memories, always hoping that I will one day understand the significance of some of the odder pieces in my collection. Those snapshots of the past that are brief yet vivid; that still make my stomach or my chest clench. These moments, in spite of their visceral effect, are not forthcoming in their significance. They seem almost mundane and self-indulgent on their faces, never the less, I always knew they held cryptic truths. It turns out that the truth, even when desired through a safe distance, shifts as the lens does. Fortunately, I have no need of objective truth when it comes to understanding my own mind. To see the significance of a lost event, means that there must still be a connection to my present self.

These brief musings I am postings are the result of mental time travel, of going back to those moments repeatedly as both an observer and as the emotional child that I was. What I found has been as emotionally rewarding as the search was taxing. What I found, and what I remember are as true to me as the keys beneath my fingers as I type this. I very well be misreading or misinterpreting the actions or feelings of those around me, and if I am then I hope I am still fair. But to be honest, I don’t care if I get everyone else wrong. The significance of these moments were never spoken aloud, nor even dealt with properly in my head. Rather, they were tucked away because I couldn’t deal with their significance. These people from my past, whom most were wonderful girls and women, helped make me who I am. It is that small piece of them that lingers over twenty years later.

Anger and Skepticism

I don’t know how to be angry.  That seems such a ridiculous thing to say out loud and even more absurd to see typed because I feel angry a good deal of the time.  As anyone other than my mom or my partner will attest, I am nice Nic.  I have always been nice, polite, and non-violent: outwardly.  I learned when I was 12 that anger was unacceptable  so I turned all my rage inwards.  I wasn’t aiming for myself originally, just tucking it away from prying eyes.  But somewhere I lost track of it all and found comfort in self-destruction.    Soon, I tucked all my own emotions away relying on my reason and intelligence to steer me through.  But I am an emotional animal as much as I am a rational being and had to find an outlet besides self-loathing  for the abundance of emotions I was experiencing.  So I developed the one quality the church and my parents would approve of, empathy.  So much so that there were times in my life where I could clearly understand and commiserate with the pain of others, even those that hurt me, while not even being able to name what I was feeling myself.  Frustration.  It was the only thing other than happiness I was able to clearly register.  To this day I’m not sure that it is even an emotion or a state of being.  Impotence would probably be a better word.

I constructed myself out of religious dogma and codes of conduct but was villainized for paying too close attention.  Mixed signals, earnest and innocent questions into my faith were met with anger and recriminations.  I had accepted young that I would never have the approval of my peers, sans my all too brief times at camp, but this was meant to be offset by the approval of adults.  When that was denied I felt like I was drifting.  In many ways I twisted myself into knots for if not approval but the acceptance of those in authority.   Yet, their word was never enough to quench my skepticism, only my behavior.  For all my insecurities and need for acceptance, I somehow had confidence in my own understandings and in my own differences as valid.

I went to St. Anselm grade school.  The irony and prophetic nature of this would be lost on me for decades.  The irony being that for a school whose namesake was a well known philosopher and theologian bristled at the idea that a student could question what they were meant to simply digest and regurgitate.  This, more than anything led to the dismantling of the church in my mind and began a journey of philosophical skepticism that has both threatened to tear me apart at times and yet as allowed to see clearly enough to keep me sane.

Visibility

I have felt sadness, nostalgia, elation, and validation since I read of the death of Sally Ride and then her posthumous outing.  The official NASA photo that stared at me over the death notice was the same one that looked at me from my childhood bedroom wall for at least four years.  The years I saved to go to Space Camp, the hours spent assembling models of shuttles, rockets, and planes, and the seemingly lifetime of self-imposed isolation I experienced all took place in my one-man space station, my room.  Under the gaze of my hero.   And this is where the anger hits. 

A good chunk of my isolation was from knowing I was different, knowing I didn’t see or want the same things as I was told I ought to.  What everyone else wanted.  I let myself feel like I was ‘less than’ everyone else.  The very fact that I wasn’t ‘girly’, nor did I want to be, drew condemnation and concern. Gay wasn’t an option.  Not because it was wrong or disgusting, part of me never accepted those arguments, but because I didn’t really know what gay or lesbian was.  I know that sounds ridiculous or naive, but I lived in Catholic bubble before the internet.  The priests and the bullies were obsessed with gay men, and lesbians were either damaged man-haters or transitory.

Am I still naive to think that if she had publicly come out when she and her partner got together, which was the same time I taped her picture to my wall, that I might have felt better about myself?  Not so alone?  Not that I would have all of a sudden come out at ten or twelve, well maybe, but rather ‘this is what a real lesbian is’.  Whatever insight I may have gained from her outing herself would have been fleeting. It would have drawn hatred and scorn from my mother and put me in a place to defend something I didn’t understand. Not to mention put an historical astronaut in jeopardy of loosing her job.

That was the late 80’s. A far cry visibility and rights wise from where we are today when the CEO of Apple is able to proclaim himself a proud gay man, and though I can still be fired in my home state for being gay I can now marry the woman I love. I’m not angry that Sally Ride stayed in the closet, I think I am just sad for the kid who stayed in their room.

Stud

When I was 14 and away at a youth congress for Camp Fire I met a girl who actually saw me more clearly than anyone had before. I was away from my parents so I could dress as I liked. I still had a page boy hair cut (I had been forbidden to go any shorter) and my sports bra (as if I would wear the regular ones mom made me pack) didn’t conceal my chest as much as I would like. But this girl still saw me. She said she loved my style and nicknamed me stud. She had no interest in meeting my friends, she had her own, she just wanted to hang out with me on our own. I liked it so much it terrified me and after I went home, I never wrote to her as I had promised. I should have clung to her like a life raft in the choppy sea of gender shaming and forced femininity where I tread daily, barely keeping my head above water. But I didn’t.

I wish I had a reason better than cowardice. She saw me and not only accepted me, but liked me for my butchness. Did I run because she made me think about my different-ness? Did I hide from her because I wasn’t ready to face the butterflies I got in my stomach when she told me she liked the way I looked? No one ever liked me like that and if they did, I never felt it or cared. I wish I had been braver. I wish I had written her. But more than anything I wish I could tell her I was sorry. She accepted me and I rejected her. That’s what I am ashamed of now.

Writing Again

I started writing again. Not this blog, because to be fair I never really started it but I have started my fiction again. I have been writing since I was young but as I got older found it harder to finish them. I have boxes of notes and abandoned projects that I just couldn’t seem to see through no matter how much time or energy I devoted to them. In part I was impeded by my bi-polar and anxiety that despite my flirtations with medications went untreated for years. Being diagnosed with narcolepsy finally also has helped bring things into focus. You would be amazed how much poor sleep and constant exhaustion can effect your concentration and motivation.

But there was something else. As a reader I tended to relate more to the male characters where in life I was treated and viewed as female. Even after I came out I never felt comfortable calling myself a lesbian because it draws attention to the feminine. I was perfectly comfortable being gay, a label I saw as gender neutral. I came out in the late 90’s and thought that gender identity and orientation were inexorably intertwined. In some ways this was a relief and an affirmation of who I was.

When I was younger I didn’t understand that I wasn’t a boy. I grew up in a sheltered, very Roman Catholic environment. I was humiliated wearing a jumper to Catholic school every day. One of many reminders I was a girl and restricted in activities and in life. The RC Church is built on and around gender roles with a definite message that to be male is better and more free. I was indulged as a tomboy and allowed to be a little rough and tumble though still told to be a lady. It all came crashing down on my shoulders when I hit puberty. I’ll spare you the details but will say it was very traumatic to have my body betray me. I no longer recognized myself and was easily spotted as a girl. I became more introverted and lost the ability to socialize with my peers.

My mother was happy my body changed. She hoped that my mind and mannerisms would follow but that would not be the case. She always tried to push me to be more feminine and was appalled and confused when I resisted. She was over the moon when I got my first period but just simply hit the roof when she found the ACE bandage peeking out of the bottom of my shirt. After catching me in this act of trying to bind my chest, she became more forceful in her attempts to femininize me.

Growing up I had no idea what a lesbian was. There were none on TV and if there were any in movies I wasn’t exposed to them. There was no internet to speak of and any books in the library on the subject were out of bounds. The first one I really knew of was Melissa Ethridge who came out publicly when I was in high school. Turns out that several of other heros of mine, most notably Sally Ride, were but even if I had known that, they were still feminine. Strong, intelligent, creative, and independent but still feminine. What I was told about lesbians, school yard wisdom and taunts, were that they wanted to be men, and had the same likes and attitudes of straight men. I didn’t like the pin-up girls of the time (not that I was attracted to the men) and I didn’t want to become anything- man or woman. I just wanted to be an adult and be able to be myself. I would have given anything to be rid of my tits though so I would look more in the mirror as in my head. They messed up the clothes I liked and seemed to me as a sign of weakness. I never knew transitioning was an option. Hell, it’s only recently I learned it was one.

When I came out, the biggest relief for me was that I could be myself. It was ok that I preferred mens clothing. It was ok that I wanted to be the one to buy flowers and open doors. In fact, those were now seen as attractive qualities. Though when I told my mom I was gay, the first thing she really said was “so does that me you can start dressing like a woman now?” I said no. I was still the tomboy I always was. The big difference was that nobody could make me feel bad about it anymore. I spent a lot of time with women older than myself- old school butches and experienced femmes who took me under their wings and validated my masculine of center self.

Times and attitudes change within and without the community. I am still not comfortable being female bodied but nor do I want to live as a man. I am in-between and loved by an amazing woman for it, not despite of it. Terms shift meaning depending on the context or experience of those hearing them. Because of this I never know what people hear when I identify myself. I am Butch. I am Gay. I am Genderqueer. I am Trans. I am Stone. Fuck it- I am ME.

What does all of this have to do with writing fiction you ask. Good question. The answer is simple. I am not my characters but they are part of me. How do I portray someone like me without pronouns constantly coloring their character? I used to write only male characters but it felt like a betrayal somehow, a deception. I tried to have female protagonists but that felt alien and contrived. The only exception was children. We naturally accept more gender fluidity from them. But the stories I want to tell are not those of children. So I decided to say fuck it and just write as authentically as I can with a masculine of center genderqueer main character. The story isn’t about gender or being gay. The people just are. I don’t know if anyone will want to read a Sci-Fi detective story with characters like that. But I would have. All those days spent in the library looking for myself in someone else’s imagination. I would have loved it.