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.

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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.