Christmas Day seems as good a time as any to share my religious heritage with you. I was baptized in the Catholic church against my parent’s wishes. I went to temple with my grandma about once a month for Shabbat. When I was seven, my parents asked, “Would you like to go to Hebrew School?” Being an ethical seven year old, I said, “I don’t really believe in God, so I think it would be intellectually dishonest to go.” I have a very Anglo-Saxon look and a very German last name, and in elementary school, kids would ask me if I was a Nazi. My mom (who was bat mitzvahed and went to Hebrew School, and actually looks Jewish), told me to slug them and inform them that I had family on her side killed in the Holocaust – as far as I can tell, a claim with only the evidence of statistical probability on its side – and grandparents on all sides who fought the Nazis. When my grandma died, I stopped going to any kind of services. One of my girlfriends was Jewish and, at the time, I identified as Jewish as well. She was ecstatic about it and took me to temple on Yom Kippur, despite my insistence that I wasn’t “that kind” of Jew. That was when I learned that I have a strong emotional reaction to religious services. Actually, it’s more like a panic attack. I’ve been an atheist for most of my life. And recently, I’ve even strayed away from that title because I feel that atheists are just as dogmatic and insistent on their beliefs as everyone else is. I want more freedom than that.
Nobody in my family is Christian, and not everybody is Jewish. My mom and I have the strongest connections to that faith, and each of us lost that connection when my grandma died. Christmas is a day that my family has traditions built around – we swim a lap in an unheated pool, we play poker, we give each other gifts, we eat tamales (Explanations abound for each of these things). Mostly it is about knowing we’ll be with each other. That’s it. No church, no Jesus, no God. Just us and song and food.
My relationship with spirituality is so private. I don’t talk about it with anybody. Not even myself, really. I rarely even think about (a) (G|g)(-|o)d(s|dess(es)). Sometimes I feel something bigger than me, or that the world is beautiful, or that I have purpose. That magic/love/spirit/joy exists. I don’t attribute it to anything, I just know that it is.
At the holiday office party, I was being introduced to a colleague who works in an office in Texas, and my friend Z said, “Oh, he’s really cool.” – of me. It didn’t seem out of place to me at all, and each of us didn’t really glance at the other, even though this was the first time in my life that anyone who had gotten a good chance to look at my face used male pronouns. About ten minutes later, she found me and said, “I’ve never told you, but I use male pronouns for you outside of work. It just seems like that’s what you want.”
For posterity’s sake, my preference on pronouns is that you use what slips out of your mouth. I’ve heard transpeople say that before as they begin to come out, and I’ve laughed a little bit, because I think what they hope is that people will use the pronouns of the gender that they really feel they are. In queer communities, we can switch it up, but outside of our subculture, pronouns must be insisted upon. It’s unfortunate but also true.
For me, however, I really don’t insist on my pronouns, because I really don’t care. It might be the genderqueer part of me (genderqueer being an identity I feel more and more at ease with), but I don’t. When I speak of myself as Harrison, using this pseudonym, I usually use male pronouns. It just slips out because it matches the name. But using my real name, I always hear and use female pronouns. I think gender-neutral pronouns are awesome (in particular, I like ze, zim, and zan), but those rarely “slip out”, due to the fact that there are so few people in my life who use them. When I say “Please use whatever pronouns come naturally to you” to people, I know that 90% of the time they will use female pronouns. Masculine pronouns delight me, but I almost like the idea of keeping them a surprise!
Check out Butch Lab, Sinclair Sexsmith’s new project. It deserves a shoutout, all on its own. I promise not to miss the next Symposium. School is haaaard. And dudes, I am sorry but I just like having sex with my girlfriend more than I like writing blog posts. Surprising but true.
I attended a workshop hosted by Sinclair during my senior year of school, just before I accepted a job offer at the company I am currently working for. The workshop catalyzed what eventually became this blog; it gave me permission, and the idea, to explore my gender through language.
I fucking love all the eye candy. Woof.
I know. You were hoping for a sex post. But I’m taking a final tomorrow and I’m so stressed out under the pressure of my work that I don’t have time to write something that takes even the slightest bit of emotional wringing.
In the meantime: Have you seen this article? It’s from the New York Times about LGB teenagers and punishment. This isn’t my experience. I proudly escaped high school sans detention. I only started misbehaving in college, in the best, most exploratory way possible. My parents punished me for a bad report card – grounded me for TWO MONTHS in my senior year of high school. But – ugh, it was probably the right thing to do. Those jerks. I hate that they were right.
But skimming through the comments, I see at least 3 separate mentions of butchness. And I know that “toughness” is conflated with criminality. I’m surprised by the last comment about being pulled over and searched for drugs. Maybe I shouldn’t be. And I’m skeptical of this article for making no mention of race.
I’m curious: what’s your experience?
Gratitude is something in which I have always been awash. For whatever reason – I like to think I have wonderful parents who raised me to appreciate life – I have always been more than aware of how lucky I am to have access to the many things in my life. And by things, I don’t mean Things, like my laptop or my nice apartment (though I am happy to have them). Here’s an incomplete gratitude list, of things that I appreciate, not just today, but also every day.
- For my incredible family, and the joy in which they take being allies. I never take that for granted. My girlfriend is spending the holidays with us, and it’s easy and simple, and our relationship is visible. My mom might start volunteering at an organization that works with LGBT youth.
- My wonderful, amazing girlfriend. We went on a mountain bike ride with my parents today, and as I watched her navigate some technically challenging single track paths, I was amazed at her tenacity and willingness to tackle a challenge. Just one example of the many reasons I love her.
- I am grateful for my job, which keeps me busy and challenged. I am grateful that my colleagues know about my relationship, that I’m gay, and that this has never been an issue in my workplace. I am happy I have freedom to explore myself through dress and that my changing presentation over the past year has never been a problem at the workplace.
- I am ecstatic to count among my community so many wonderful, intelligent, funny friends.
- I am happier than I can say to have this blog as a space to deconstruct, and sometimes reconstruct, my concept of self in relation to gender.
- More than I can say, I am grateful for the people who, over the past month, have sent me notes letting me know that they appreciate this blog as well. I’ve struggled less with my gender in the past few weeks than I ever have, which explains the lack of posting, in addition to the whole…full-time job, part-time school thing. Your notes reaffirm my decision not to close this space. Even if I can’t come to it as frequently as I would like, I always receive your notes with more than a little pride in butch community.
Not so long ago, I wrote a post describing how difficult the holidays could be for me. Mostly, I am happy that they are no longer quite so hard to get through. Thank you to all of you for being a little part of that transformation. I hope your Thanksgiving is also happy and joy-filled, but if it isn’t, I hope you can make use of this blog, either through the comments or just by reading it, to give you a little strength.
P.S. Yesterday was my birthday! I’m old.
To my brothers,
For too long now, I have decided not to smile at you, not to display my giddy excitement when I see you. My reasons for doing so are plenty.
I really dislike all of these reasons. So from now on, when I see you, I promise to smile at you. If you think I’m hitting on you…so what, I probably am. If I don’t come off as tough…so what, I am.
All my best,
Today is Spirit Day. I was taking Personal Time from this blog during the genesis of much of the discussion around this day, but I did want to comment on suicides as a result of harassment and bullying on perceived sexual orientation.
Over the course of my life, I have entered therapy a handful of times. I was tested for learning disorders by an educational psychologist. I went to therapy right after my grandfather died, and my therapist was one of the first people I ever came out to. Then I went to therapy three years ago because I was considering suicide.
It always seems silly to say it “out loud” like that, but that is the reason that I went. In general, I am a person who is unaffected by any mental illness. There is no history of it in my family. I have never exhibited any prolonged symptoms of depression or of disordered behavior. I’m not trying to brag. Rather I want to drive home the following point: Every time I entered therapy, I went because I could not reconcile a happy future for myself with my being gay. Almost every aspect of my life is benefited by some (occasionally absurd) amount of privilege. My life has never been hard. And yet, at times, I’ve seen no hope for myself. I can only begin to imagine what hopelessness those who have been through tougher times than me have felt.
Sometimes I find it hard to slip back into the despair that I felt then, and while that is a good thing, it can make it difficult for me to empathize with the me of 3 years ago. If I remember it correctly, what I saw for myself was a future filled with constant negotiation. I saw myself making a decision to come out to every single person I would ever meet, for the rest of my life. Do I try to date men because I feel a sexual attraction, even if I have no interest in a relationship with them? Just because I should? Just because if I have a chance to be in a heterosexual relationship, I should? Will I be thrust into the role of educator, simply because of an accident of birth? Sometimes it felt like I couldn’t even take a break with my friends. With my straight friends, I was constantly being singled out for being different. Every time I mentioned something gay, I felt like I was derailing their “normal” existence. And with my gay friends, I felt like I couldn’t admit the pain I was going through, because I’d developed into a sort of role model for younger gays – never compromise! Be who you are! But I felt that pain too. I’d go home and my cousin and sister would get teased for being boy-crazy. And no one ever asked if I was seeing anybody. I was invisible. It came from a place of kindness – “We don’t want to make you feel like you have to say that you’re gay in front of your great-aunt.” – but it just made me feel different and lonely and afraid of never sharing my future wife, my future family with my current family. That my family didn’t want to see my life.
Eventually I felt that no one wanted to see my life. Nobody wanted to hear my pain. And when I was coming out, those fears were even more paralyzing – because I hadn’t heard anybody say, ever, “You are gay, and that is integral to who you are, and thus, is integral to why I love you.”
If I had ever followed through with my desire to die, I would have missed a million things. But something I often think about it is that I would have missed the single most meaningful conversation of my life. I was on a family vacation. My younger siblings left my parents and me alone to eat lunch. Somehow, as we began talking, the topic of my grandmother came up. My grandma and I had a very close relationship. She was and remains a guiding force in my life. My parents confessed that, before I came out, they had asked her, “Do you think Harrison is gay?” And she had thought about it, and responded – my 89 year old grandma! – “You know…yes, I think she is.” And then all 3 of them talked about how worried they were, and how badly they wanted to minimize the pain I would feel throughout my life as a result of my being gay.
Just think. The three most influential adults in my life were sitting around, asking how they could help me, but let me grow on my own – before I’d even fully realized myself that I was a lesbian. After that conversation (which had happened entirely unknown to me), I visited my grandma and she brought up Matthew Shepard.
“Have you heard of Matthew Shepard?”
“I think what happened to him is one of the most terrible things I’ve ever heard.”
“…Me too, Grandma.”
For years, I was perplexed by this exchange. It seemed to come out of nowhere. But after my parents mentioned their conversation with her, I told them about it. And we all agreed that she had been trying to tell me: “What’s happening in your head…I still love you, even though you can’t voice what’s wrong yet.” How do you describe the moment when somebody reaches beyond the grave to pass on that much love to you? It was powerful. We all cried.
If I had died, I would have missed knowing the love that says, “I love you not in spite of who you are, but because of it.”
I don’t put resources on this blog because I try to keep it almost totally personal. There’s been talk of Hello Cruel World by Kate Bornstein, the It Gets Better project by Dan Savage, and the Trevor Project on the blogs I frequent. They’re all good places to go. If you need it, please find it. If I have one thing to say it’s “Stay alive. You will hear that you are loved, more times and ways than you can count.”