Tag Archives: acceptance

To the Woman Who Taught Me of Compromise and Courage

8 May

Happy Mother’s Day to the woman who decided that being there to wake me up and make me breakfast and pick me up from school and take me to extra math lessons and tuck me in at night were more important than maintaining an untarnished sanity. I knew about the yelling at night, but I didn’t understand the compromises until later.

Happy Mother’s Day to the woman who taught me how eyes speak and the turn of a head threatens and the grasp of a man’s hand about his silverware tells you the degree of appeasement you will be serving that night for dinner. Happy Mother’s Day to the woman whose sharp and endless questions fueled by the anxiety to just keep me safe taught me to be prepared, to think ahead, to see not just the road before me but the seven hundred ways it could be different. I may have inherited the endless chatter and vice-grip-on-the-heart of your invisible traveling companions, but at least I know how to answer their whispers.

Happy Mother’s Day to the woman who’s shown me that heroes do not always come with laurels. They are found instead in years of loaded dishwashers; bags under the eyes and wrinkles frowning about the mouth from a tongue kept too long; the silent ferocity of a mind that knows better but is trapped behind a white picket fence of housewife civility; a backstory unknown till long after one’s own has been collected. I got a clean page; still, I mourn your palimpsest.

Happy Mother’s Day to the woman ineffably practical who saw my books with titles with words like “wizards” and feared my proclivity for the fantastic and the magical, till you insisted one day on reading “this Harry Potter” and after hitting the last page asked if perhaps you could borrow the next one, after it came out, and I’d finished reading it. Just so long as I didn’t tell you any spoilers before.

Happy Mother’s Day to the woman who raised me in care and caution but has not begrudged me my edges and little bits of reckless. Happy Mother’s Day to the woman who laid in my skin the practice of being hidden and invisible and yet blesses the ways I have chosen to make that skin stand out. Happy Mother’s Day to the woman who for all her practice in dustbowl acceptability didn’t even bat an eye when I told her I like girls as well as guys, and who answered with confused silence when I asked if she’d have been so supportive if I’d told her back when I was young, because she did not understand how, loving me for me, there could have been any other option.

Happy Mother’s Day to the woman whose jawline I’ve started to see when I glance in the mirror, especially back when I’d cut my hair short, and stripped it blond. I am not yet accustomed to the idea of looking anything like you, but I will not begrudge my face its ancestry. The jawline is strong, and a graceful one, even if we do sometimes clench it too hard.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

Advertisements

Sláinte

23 May
So I hear your country kinda looks like this again.

So I hear your country kinda looks like this again.

Roughly two months ago, I was in a gay bar in Dublin. Oh, the foreshadowing.

It was St. Patrick’s Day. Two of my hostel mates and I had met a local named Jonathan after we scaled a building to get a better view of the parade. “I come every year,” he said. “When my parents stopped taking me, I just started taking myself.”

In our post-parade quest for water [me], a bathroom [me], and Guinness [everyone else], we eventually wound up at what I’m going to call “one and a half gay bars.” The first one was not so much officially so, but happened to be around the corner from the pink lamp-lit, two-dance-floored, loud-and-proud gorgeously-bar tendered watering hole that made no pretense about its primary clientele.

But back to that first bar. It’s the one I’m more interested in, right now. Because it wasn’t explicitly a gay bar. But it also wasn’t explicitly not. The patrons we were milling about with wore suits, jeans and t-shirts, tight crop tops and skinny jeans (yes, both sported by all genders), green tutus and crinkly ribbon wigs and even a St. Patrick costume. The bar was your typical mahogany-bedecked, low-light mellow-ambiance run-of-the-mill “stop in for a pint” kind of place. It had your most stereotypical, straight-laced sallow-faced business men drowning their work day worries and your most stereotypical, flamboyant queers spilling a bit of whatever-that-pink-liquid-is all over your shoes as they sacheted past. And they had everyone who fit in between.

And, to paraphrase Jonathan, the bar honestly didn’t give a shit.

While it would have been anathema to show up in even just that only-mildly-sacrilegious St. Patrick’s costume as little as a year or two ago, Jonathan told us, now, it was just accepted for what it was – just like the clientele. People had just sort of got over themselves about it all. Gay, straight, a long-dead saint resurrected for the sake of some Guinness, it was all just taken as normal now. Because the bar and the people in it had looked around, nodded, and all just sort of collectively decided that yes, this, this was Ireland. Or at least Dublin. Even on days when the city wasn’t erupting in a parade of pride over itself.

Which is what appears to be happening right now. As it should. As it better. Yes.

Sláinte, Ireland.

p.s. Northern Ireland – you’re pretty much surrounded by rainbows. Hurry the fuck up.

Joy

20 Apr

I hear that it’s a holiday – a holy day – today. I hear it’s called Easter.

I don’t know what that word conjures up for you, when you hear it. A Midwestern-bred Catholic who decided to expand to the larger term of “Christian” in her early college years and now claims no grand ability to judge the Ultimate Truths of the universe, calling herself no one dogmatic label but saying she is open to learning, to questioning, to experiencing, and to revising ideas – the word “Easter” conjures up a lot of rather disparate images for me.

Countless Easter baskets, each of them packed with neon green and pink and purple plastic shavings, filled to the brim with garishly designed chocolate-encasing wrappers, maybe even some of those 25 cent plastic Easter eggs you can buy at every discount and drug store right around this time of year. Probably some horrid but oh-so-delicious chocolate mockery of a rabbit. (Seriously, why do those things even exist? “Here, kiddo, today’s all about celebrating new life, NOW RIP ITS HEAD OFF WITH YOUR SALIVA-DRIPPING TEETH AND FEAST UPON ITS CORPSE WHILE ITS MELTING BODY SMEARS ALL OVER YOUR FACE!”)

Uh, yeah. Easter baskets.

There are images of family parties that pop up, too. Somebody – usually my grandmother, I think – probably made a ham. Not that I’d be eating it, thank you very much. There would be some Easter egg hunt, little plastic capsules filled with quarters and dimes and HOLY FUCK THIS ONE HAS FIVE DOLLARS strewn around the front yard or the backyard or the living room, if the weather were too wet or the adults got too lazy. I’d participate for maybe ten years or so, then help moderate for the littler ones as I got older. (“Hey, three-year-old cousin, stick with me and you’ll be good to go. I’ve got inside information.”)

For a long stretch of years, there are images of church. Me and my younger sister and my mother and every other female there decked out in our best dress, many of us probably having bought a new one just for the occasion. (Why are Easter dresses a thing? Why must small children be bedecked in white fluff and nonsense that they’re only going to complain makes them uncomfortable and probably get grass stains all over within five minutes? Why don’t we all just wear jeans? The day’s about freedom, yes?)

A lot of those years, the church-going was fairly mindless. You went to church on Easter because that’s just what people did. It was like stopping at red lights or eating soup with a spoon. That’s just the way things worked. You stood outside in the cold (because of course Missouri would decide to revert back to freezing temperatures instead of the spring it had been inching toward – I mean, wouldn’t want to overheat the occasion or anything by venturing above 60 degrees Fahrenheit…) and waited for a really long time and got really bored and then you went inside and the adults around you mumbled some stuff and belted some songs and went through this routine of sitting and standing and kneeling and sitting and kneeling and standing and burning weird-smelling stuff and generally doing lots more waiting and being bored…

And then in my first two or so years of college, there was nobody around to tell me I had to go to Easter mass. Or even what Easter mass to go to. I went because at that time, I wanted to. I went because the Catholic and then broader Christian faith held meaning for me. Helped me get through the fucking large amount of hurting I was going through at the time. A day where I could go to the Pentecostal church the next suburb over and throw my hands in the air and sing as loudly as I could in a room full of people clapping their hands and waving their bodies and smiling at me, at each other, at the ceiling past where they imagined their God to be, where we could make noise and stomp our feet and feel things because that’s just what we wanted to do, just how we wanted to show our belief and our thanks, and whatever we brought to the table, our God would find that acceptable? Would find it good?

I went to that kind of mass for a while.

And now, Easter, being a word associated with that set of religions that I’ve become not entirely sure about… it brings up flashbacks of scenes of doubt and anger – at the God I had been taught to believe in, at the men I had been told to believe. Discomfort and hesitation, because the book I was told to put so much stock in had some passages that seemed to not make sense, or to exclude people I knew were damn good people, better than a lot of the Christians I knew – more loving, more supportive, more accepting, better parents and spouses and partners and friends, sometimes even better believers – I was being told that I was supposed to “pray for their souls,” because they were sinning. Or something like that. There was a whole sector, multiples sectors of human life, human experience, that had so many rules and regulations, many of them seemingly arbitrary, that the joy there… just died.

I thought Easter was explicitly about the opposite of joy dying.

My journey of faith and un-faith and re-faith and not-quite-faith and whatever the hell the proper words for the dynamic spot of saying I don’t know all the answers and I’m just going to love and serve people and celebrate this earth and its inhabitants as best I can and hope that any deity out there will look on and understand my story, understand that I am doing the best I can in the place I am at – I don’t know exactly what to call that, but the story of getting there is long intricate and person and complicated, and that’s not exactly what I’m trying to talk about here.

What am I trying to talk about? Well, now that you’ve got an incredibly long backstory, what I’m trying to say is that I hear today is a day called Easter. A holy day. A day of celebrating that we humans, with our quirks and differences and imperfections and doubts and diversity, are free and loved. A day of celebrating the joy that can be in life.

So. Whoever you are, however you are, I wish you joy today. Joy in being completely you, without boundaries or prejudices. Joy in loving as fully as you can, without any disapproval from lookers-on. Joy in being who you are, how you know you were created. Male, female, transgender, gender queer, intersex, agender – whatever the word you understand for yourself. Straight, gay, lesbian, hetero or homo, pansexual or asexual, questioning or certain or experimenting or just trying to be okay – because I’m pretty sure that’s what we’re all doing, the entire human race, just trying to be okay – whatever your titles or creeds or other arbitrary delineations we draw between us who are all made of skin and bone and muscle, hearts and lungs and brains and hands: I wish you joy. In being you. In being free. In being loved.

No conditions. No reservations.

Only joy.

on the irrelevance to preference of gender binary

20 Mar

Look look look! Look at the cute animals!

bunny dog duckling fennec fox kitten otters

 

Aren’t they all super cute?! Don’t you want to hang out with them?! And play with them?! And cuddle with them?! And kiss them on their tiny little noses?! Don’t you like them?! You have to like them! Yes?! Yes, I thought the answer would be yes.

Now: Do you know what gender any of these animals are?

No?

Hunh. Neither did I. Guess gender didn’t really matter that much, did it?

Names, Not Labels

31 Jan

I love words. Obviously. I’m a writer. “Love words” is kiiiiind of in my job description. Words are lovely, useful, wondrous things with a great deal of power. And I understand that it’s important for people to have words, to have specific terms with meaning, they can use to describe themselves. To understand themselves.

But all the same, sometimes I wish we didn’t use some of the words the way we do. Because as important as naming terms are, there can be a lot more damage done when they get turned into labels. When a word is no longer purely an identification but a categorization. Identifications expand an existence. Categorizations shrink them.

I wish that certain words would describe but not delineate. Specify but not separate. Define but not divide.

Words like trans, male, gay, butch, woman, and straight. Words like disabled, elderly, mentally ill, druggie, cutter, and poser. Words foreigner, Democrat, GOP, Libertarian, celebrity, homeless.

These words are not an evil unto themselves. But too often we – you and me, people – use them to draw a line between us, the “people,” and the others. By calling someone a label that we don’t share, we push them beyond the realm of the experience we have in being human. By carving humanity into little boxes of likeness, we lose sight of the fact that we are all, in the end, human.

And inevitably, some – even ourselves, even if unwittingly – are bound to assign a “naturalness” to one of the terms out of a group. “This is what’s normal, this is what the null hypothesis looks like, this is the ground state of humanity.” And the ones who don’t fall under that term become something strange. Something different from that which resides within us. We deny full legitimacy to those without our particular label and come to understand them only in terms of deviation.

Thanks to The Lazy Yogi for the image.

Thanks to The Lazy Yogi for the image.

But what if we didn’t look at all the ways humans can exist as deviations from ourselves? What if we recognized each as a fully true expression of all the possibilities of what humanity looks like? What if we viewed the human condition not as bound and filed in a dictionary but as interwoven with no particular hierarchy into a novel? What if we stopped categorizing all the words we might type out of those four keys in our DNA and started seeing how they all fit together to make a larger sense? What if we gave ourselves names, instead of mere lists?

I’d like it if human thinking as a whole could move beyond trying to force us all into our separate encyclopedia entries and started using all the words we’ve got around to describe, not prescribe, instead. I want an identity, not a categorization.

You can get more information out of a narrative, anyway. Encyclopedias and dictionaries have always been so limited in what they have to tell you.

It’s a big wide world out there.

9 Dec

 

Especially when it comes to sex.

multiple sexualities

Today, I came across this awesome comic and decided to read through, given that while sure, I had heard about and had a vague understanding of the sexual label it was talking about, I still wasn’t entirely clear about the details or what people who identify with that particular label experience culturally right now.

Over and over again, I’ve found that people tend to have a vaguely hazy idea at best of what certain terms about sexuality mean. And while in they end they are only labels and word usage can change and shift over time and cultures, it still is helpful to understand how others that are not you might think of themselves, in their own terms. It’s easier to accept and make connections between you and another person when you speak the same language. So, while some of you may be going “definitions, eeewwww” right now, I’ve decided to throw out a post defining some of the sexual orientation labels that are out there right now.

Now, before we start, let’s be clear about something. Sexual orientation refers to how a person experiences sexual urges. The categories associated with sexual orientation generally correlate with how a person finishes the sentence “I enjoy having/want to have sex with [blank].” While commonly lumped in with sexual orientation, something else called romantic orientation is technically different. Falling in love with someone is not the same as falling into sexual attraction with someone, though the two do often occur together. Along with sexual and romantic attraction, there’s also a third general type of attraction sometimes called filial attraction, which is basically the sort of liking that happens between friends.

One more thing to clear up before we get on to those definitions y’all are waiting for – sexual, romantic, and filial orientation/attraction are NOT the same thing as gender identity. Gender identity is how one thinks about one’s self in relation to general female/male/neutral-ness, to put it very briefly. What’s more, how a person may choose to display their physical assets may or may not be tied into their sexual and gender identity. “I like when I look this way” is a VERY different statement from “I want to have sex with [blank]” or “I feel inside that I am the gender [blank].”

Now, as for those definitions:

heterosexual – briefly, “sexual attraction to the other.”

Most commonly, this means attraction of a cisgendered person to the other cisgender binary. However, this can also include attraction of a cisgendered person to a transgendered person of the other gender binary.

So, some examples of heterosexual relationships would be those between:

– a cisgendered male and a cisgendered female

– a cisgendered male to a transgendered female

– a transgendered male to a cisgendered female

– a transgendered male to a transgendered female

 

homosexual – briefly, “sexual attraction to the same.”

Again, most commonly, this means attraction of a cisgendered person to the same cisgender binary, but can also be applied to attraction of a transgendered person to the same transgender binary.

So, some examples:

– a cisgendered female to a cisgendered female

– a cisgendered female to a transgendered female

– a transgendered male to a cisgendered male

 

pansexual – briefly, “sexual attraction to all.”

And by “all,” pansexuality is still usually a term meaning sexual attraction to all within a given species. So, pansexual generally means that a given individual isn’t attracted to one particular set of gender/sexual identities, and any pairing could happen. Cisgendered to cisgendered, transgendered to transgendered, cis to trans and trans to cis, same gender binary to different gender binary, same gender binary to same gender binary – the individual finds themselves capable of being sexually attracted to pretty much any form of human expression. Often, those who identify as pansexual will describe their sexual attractions as depending on a certain person, not on a certain mold.

asexual – briefly, “sexual attraction to none.”

Yes, it is that simple, and that complex. Those who identify as asexual just generally don’t find the idea of their genitals mashing up against someone else’s genitals all that attractive. It doesn’t mean, however, that they don’t still like hugs, or that they can’t still fall in love, or that they don’t want friendships. It also doesn’t mean that they don’t occasionally have sex. Sometimes, for example, an individual who identifies as asexual will still have sex with a partner who doesn’t identify as asexual in order to gratify that partner sexually. Now, some of you may be going, “Well, if they can stand to have sex sometimes, are they really asexual?”

Yes. They are. Sexual orientation is a descriptor of what you’re sexually attracted to, not what you will do sexually over the entirety of your lifetime. And think about it. How many people have done the dishes or taken out the trash for their partner, or given their partner a foot rub, because they know the other partner would really appreciate it, even if the person themselves find it mortally boring to do the dishes, or intensely disgusting to take out the trash, or really gross to rub another person’s smelly toes? People venture outside of their comfort zones to show love and affection, no matter what sexual orientation they are. For a really good description of the asexual orientation and the discrimination they do unfortunately face in today’s culture, check out the comic I linked above.

Phew! That was long. Hopefully, some of you learned something. Or had some thoughts sparked. Or raised some questions in your brain that you want to go find out more about. And while I know that with every letter I type this is getting even longer and I’m keeping you all staring at even more of my rambling, I’ve got one more point I’d like to make.

Some of you, maybe, didn’t like this post. Not because it’s about sex, but because of what I’ve said about sex. Some of you may be objecting to the fact that I talk about types of sexual orientation falling outside the heterosexual paradigm and seem to be doing so as if they are all right and real and natural and valid.

Well, it’s because I think they are. I won’t go into the thought and deliberation and experiences that have brought me to that opinion, but it is my opinion nevertheless. You may have a different opinion. I am not going to tell you that you should not, that you should have my opinion instead. But I am going to tell you that however you think things should be, that has no bearing, in this moment, on how things are.

Whether you think sexual orientation should only occur under one paradigm or not, the reality is that there are people who experience sexual orientations of multiple types, and regardless of whatever religious or political laws are in place, are going to keep feeling their sexual urges and doing their sexual acts. And yelling at them or telling them that they are wrong is not going to make them or their urges or their acts go away. It is only going to make you feel uncomfortable and make them feel shitty.

We have to learn to deal with the world that we live in. Just because I think that hey, I live in Southern California, and it should not be anywhere near this cold is NOT going to change what temperature it is outside. And if I go outside in shorts and a t-shirt because I don’t want the world to be the way it is, it’s only going to result in  my being unhappy. The coldness isn’t going to go away one bit.

So, even if you disagree with the idea that there could be multiple sexual paradigms, the fact is, people are going to keep feeling and acting as if there are. The world will become a lot less frustrating if you learn about what this means and how you can be a reasonable person and deal with it. Go ahead, put on a coat. Yelling at the cold isn’t going to make it go away.

But learning to be okay with shaking its hand and treating it as just as much of a person as you are does have the potential to make this place a whole lot warmer.

——

Like this post? Whatever your sexual orientation and practices, comic artist Erica Moen over at Oh Joy Sex Toy has LOTS of information on how to make your sexual experience safer and more fun!