A Note to My Second Cousin: Fuck Your Microaggressions at the Potluck

Dear Second Cousin,

If you remember correctly, just this Saturday evening we were hanging out in Portland, celebrating all the 70th birthdays that just happened in our extended family. You and I hadn’t seen each other in quite a while, and because you’re, like, 7 years older than me, we were never super close growing up. Anyway, I made a joke about being from Portland because you’d told me your daughter was dating her second cousin and you laughed at her. And I was relating to you the time my dad told me I was related to my boyfriend. I joked, you know, good thing I’m gay, anyway. And you said, “Yeah, we all know” And the other cousins standing in the circle, sweating and drinking their Busch lights as the lightning bugs started to flash all laughed. But you. You had to say, you had to mansplain, “Well, I think women are lesbians because a man has done them wrong.” And I, ever so much more like my sweet, non-confrontational mother, just said, “Oh, my God. Shut the fuck up.” I looked at the surrounding cousins to help me, but nothing came except swigs of  light beer and the shifting of bodies and slapping of bugs.

What I meant to say was this:

  1. How dare you, or any man think that a woman’s default setting is men. That’s fucking ridiculous. I hate how men think they have ALL OF THE POWER to keep a woman straight or turn her gay. Fuck you. Fuck every guy who thinks they have that kind of influence.
  2. If every woman who’d ever been treated badly by a man became a lesbian, EVERY FUCKING WOMAN WOULD BE A LESBIAN, you sweating, cut off shirt wearing ogre. Look at you, all uncomfortable in those Wal-Mart brand, saggy ass jean shorts. You think women are into all that mess? Please.
  3. Are gay men gay because a woman has done them wrong?
  4. Lesbians are not man haters. But you, and men like you, are doing a super duper job of turning us (and straight women) that way.
  5. Also, your comment about your daughter being a lazy barrel racer. Fuck you. And fuck your sexism.
  6. I want to say your comment didn’t wake me up all night with thoughts of what I should’ve said. With me telling myself how terrible I was in that situation with no comeback. I totally stayed perfectly asleep not thinking about how I’ve been out for so long and still, you, a family member, had to say some stupid shit. Some stupid shit in front of others who didn’t notice the indiscretion or also didn’t know what to say. Some stupid shit that I, queen of witty comebacks, didn’t have a comeback to.
  7. Fuck you. And fuck the deer sausage you brought.
  8. And to the relative who asked where my “Friend” was (meaning Gaby, my partner of yearly 5 years) Fuck you, too.

 

download

 

Pride and Prejudice

It’s pride month. So, let me remind you that I’m a homosexual. I’ve been aware of myself and out for 21 years. In that time, society has changed drastically, but not enough.

Maybe it’s because of my age or the people I hang out with, but it’s very rare that someone asks me “when did you know you were gay?” or “who’s the man?”  It’s such a relief.

This is the time I dreamed of when I was 17 and sitting in that therapist’s office and he was trying to tell me that being gay was going to be so hard and weird and maybe I should reconsider. As he would go on about all of the challenges of being gay, I would try to imagine the day when I just lived without anyone caring if I was. Today is that day.

I’m so grateful to feel so much safer than I did 21 years ago.

That doesn’t mean that everyone is safe, though, or that things are just fine.

My fitbit app updated the other day to include “female health.” It’s a nifty period/ovulation tracker. I pushed the button to allow it to ask me a series of questions. They included what type of birth control I use. I clicked none. And felt judged. Now that that portion of the app is set up, I can go in and track things in my life like: sex, unprotected sex, and the morning after pill. Obviously, these things don’t apply to me.

And I really hate that my fitbit thinks I have sex with men. My fitbit has made an assumption about me based on the fact that I clicked “female” at some point in time. At least I’m a cisgender female. Think of those others who have clicked the same and then been faced with a menstruation app that doesn’t apply to them. I’m sure all of this seems like the stuff that makes your conservative uncle want to say something like, “all of these gotdamn people wanting everything to be sooooo POLITICALLY CORRECT.” But, if the people making the fitbit app update were a little more diverse, I bet this wouldn’t happen. Someone in that room would’ve said, like, wait not all women have sex with men or have a period. And they would’ve designed a separate button that says, like, “click here if you have sex with women.” I would’ve felt so included. I would’ve happily clicked the shit out of that button. I wouldn’t known that someone out there was looking out for me. Instead, I feel a little sad. Instead, I have to stare at those options of clicking protected or unprotected sex.

Speaking of sex.

I’ve had this skin problem on my right hand for years. In the past, it went away and came back. I would have a few months with no outbreak. But now, it’s been here since October. It’s eczema, I think. These tiny bubbles form under my skin that leak fluid. My hand itches like a sonuvabich. More specifically, my thumb, middle, and pinky finger and no where else. It never goes away. Something as simple as water can make it flare up. It’s the fucking worst.

But here is what is worse than the worst: this is, essentially, my penis.

I’ve been to the dermatologist and allergist. I’ve had patches stuck to my back. I’ve been prescribed some insanely expensive steroid cream (which only makes my skin crack and bleed). I’m not telling you all of this for a diagnosis. I’m telling you this because, as I mentioned before, things are better for queers, but not the best.

I had to suck up my feelings and tell the dermatologist that my partner is a woman. That my right hand is vital to my sex life. She smiled, but didn’t seem to care.

The allergist, when I told her, at least showed sympathy and said, “oh, my, this must really be affecting your quality of life.” I said it was. And I felt heard. Or nearly understood.

But yet. Here I am, still suffering with this stuff. Now, before you all start messaging me with other ways to be sexually active without my right hand, believe me, I know them. I’ve been having sex with women for 20 years.

Consider this: maybe a male friend you know has confided in his doctor (and you) that his penis has tiny, itchy bubbles, that it is constantly burning and flaring, that the skin cracks and bleeds. Would you offer him other ways to have sex or would you want to help him find a solution? Don’t you think the doctor would do everything in their power to help this poor guy?

So, why am I sharing with you these intimate details of my life? Easy. I want you to know that homophobia, or even lack of awareness of homosexuals, affects my life in a lot of strange ways. Several times a week, maybe even every day, I’m reminded by others that I’m not the status quo, that I’m not still fully included. And I’m white and cisgender. Just imagine how trans people feel. How people of color feel. How immigrants feel. How differently-abled people feel. How someone who is all of those must feel.

This is why inclusion and diversity are so important.

Your conservative uncle might also get annoyed with all the pride talk this month and all the rainbow flags. He might ask, “who cares if they’re gay? Why do they have to run around waving flags?”

Because. Every other day of the year is straight, white man day. And though there is no specific flag for that (though some might argue stars and bars), I see it everywhere, all the time. And I’m reminded, even when I look at my phone or visit my doctor, that I am still an outsider.

flag

 

Girls on Film

When I was 17, I started working at Broadway Video in Fulton, Missouri. (“Thank you for calling Broadway Video where the hits are here, now, guaranteed, this is Christina, how may I help you?”)  I had to ask my parents first, since it was 30 miles from home and the closing time was around 11:00 p.m. It was 1996, so everything was still on VHS. I spent hours putting tapes into the rewinder and charging people a fee because they couldn’t do it their damn selves.  I worked with Kristin, one of my best friends, so we spent our time gossiping and choosing movies to put into the VCR when no one was in the store. She memorized the Men in Black dance and loved to do it when no one was around. When she wasn’t there, I challenged myself to close my eyes and picture where every single film belonged. Sometimes I’d just spin move my head back and forth, try to orient myself, and open my eyes to see if I knew exactly where I was looking. It was usually Lost Highway or Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. To the left of the check out counter were the new hits, mixed in with newer indie films. Of course, being from Portland, I had no idea what an indie film was, but Kenny, another guy who worked there was starting to show me.

One of the first ones on the shelf was All Over Me. I was allowed to check out movies for free, and really, the boss said, I could just take them and bring them back without putting them into the computer.

220px-AllOverMeIndieFilm

I chose this title one night, after a long day of rewinding because it looked like one of those indie films I’d heard about. I took it home and popped it into the VCR around midnight. I sat in the living room and watched as some girl with pink hair played guitar. And, at one point, she kissed another girl. In another mind blowing scene, I watched as one licked the other’s stomach. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I mean, I’d seen two girls kiss just a year before in this film:

download

And why do these two film covers look the same?

Which a friend had recorded from HBO and given to me to watch. I didn’t know why she did. But I came to understand as we aged. (If you’ve seen this film, you know there is some violent sex, rape, and very awful situations, but my focus remained on the girls kissing in the pool)

But this pink haired girl had me very confused. I stayed up all night, rewinding the kiss, the tongue to stomach action, worried that my parents would wake up and find me watching it. I didn’t quite know why it was wrong. I mean, there was no sex in the movie All Over Me, just some kissing and stomach licking. But it seemed dirty. Like I wasn’t supposed to see it. So I watched it in darkness that night and probably 20 more nights as I’d return the movie to the store and sneak it out again, sometimes in a different case.

Not long after that I met a girl. My world started spinning uncontrollably and, to make it worse and more confusing, this movie was on HBO that whole summer:

True_Adventures_of_2_girls_1995

I watched it, disgusted. Confused. In silence. I cried. I prayed. I wished I could be someone else. And you know what happened after that.

 

Tonight when I was with some of my rugby friends we started talking about lesbian films. There aren’t that many, so it’s common for lesbians of any age to know most of them. We were in mixed company, though. There were 4 girls who date boys and 3 girls who date girls sitting at the table. The girls who date boys had never heard of any of these films. Meanwhile, we laughed and joked about all that we’d seen. How it seems that any movie with a lesbian lead means she’ll a) kill someone b) kill herself c) turn straight at the end. It’s hard to find films about lesbians that have happy endings.

The straight girls wondered how they missed seeing all these films since the rest of us had seen them. But. I tried to explain, we had to seek them out. To find ourselves mirrored somehow in society. I remember discussing titles with my worldly co-workers in Houston, trying to memorize all that they’d said so I could find and watch all of them. I felt like I was in a secret club.

One of my teammates, who is at least 10 years younger than I, said she used YouTube to watch most of her movies, clip by clip.

I shared that I was lucky to be exposed to a video store and then moved to Houston, met liberal people, worked next to a video store, and had movies like

51jPNnIqJ1L._SY300_

come out in the art house theatres. So it was from there that I learned about

download (1)

Claire-of-the-Moon

and

download (2)

and I also saw

poster-12088

in the theatre.

I wanted to explain to my everyone at the table how  important it was for me to see myself on a television, to see two girls kiss in some larger narrative (instead of at the gay bar). In my day, there was barely an internet and Ellen was still newly gay. No one even talked about gay marriage. I know some of you must know how this feels– to want to see yourself on a screen. Ultimately, though, I think most people have never yearned for it because it was never missing from their lives. They see themselves in every movie, terrible sit-com, and perfume ad. Every single day.

I, however, see myself (or people meant to represent me) in very few films. One commercial with Abby Wambach. Ellen is on every day now. I still can’t believe how many straight women love her show.

I see misrepresentations of myself everywhere, though. I see people like me being denied marriage licenses, being denied cakes, jobs, and a pot to piss in. I am reminded daily by advertising and movie previews that I am not like everyone else. I have watched for half of my life as politicians and other people make decisions about what I can and cannot do.

And I’ve grown so used to it that I forget to talk about it with others who might feel the same way.

Tonight’s conversation felt so good.

At the end of the table were two teammates quietly mocking us, “So, when did you realize you were straight? Do you think your parents made you that way?” I don’t think they meant it in a mean way, but what I took away was this: they felt left out of the conversation.

That must feel awful.

 

 

My Gay Timeline Part II: 17 Years of Coming Out and Out and Out and Out and…

This weekend I was fortunate enough to be on a panel at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville. There were 5 of us there, writers of Crooked Letter I: Coming Out in the South, to talk about the book and our experiences.

If you haven’t read it, and I’m guessing you haven’t, it’s not hard to tell what the anthology is about: coming out. The more I say that phrase, the more tired I become.

An audience member asked a question that still has me thinking. Chu asked, “Isn’t coming out something that you have to do more than once? Like, any time you meet someone?”

The answer: YES. Every.Single.Day.

When I first realized I was gay (or different, in some way, from others), I wore all the rainbows I could find. I had necklaces and bracelets. Shirts, too. Some funny, some offensive. I made it my goal to make others see me. To see that there are people like me (whatever that meant or means now). I loved watching peoples’ faces as they saw my Lez/Pez shirt and would either smile or snort their disapproval. My other favorite shirt I can’t seem to find any iteration of on the internet; it was basically the women’s bathroom symbol with boobs. Two of those. 69-ing. It read “porn star.” And my first offensive shirt I made in high school. I tore the bottom off a white t-shirt, so it was a crop top and wrote on it, in sharpie, “FAG.”  Mom ended up throwing that one away soon after I wore it to a coffee shop in Jeff City. She denied every touching it.

But my point is, I used to do that. I used to love doing that. I needed to do that. I wanted to be seen. I wanted to make that statement. I’m gay. I exist in the same world as you. Deal with it. My clothes and bracelets did all my coming out for me, I guess.

But now. I don’t want to come out any more. If you’ve never experienced this, let me try to explain all the ways we have to come out.

In the classroom: “Professor Holzenfluken, do you have any kids?”  I have a son. “Are you married?”  No. “Does his dad live close?”

And here is where I have to chose to come out or not. If I leave out the pronoun and say, “Yes.” I’m lying. To myself. Denying Cyrus’ true family. Not doing my part as a gay person to make sure people know we’re everywhere (more on this later). So I make the choice to say, “he has another mom.”

Then the barrage of personal questions about how we made a baby. And you know, no one ever asks a straight couple how they have a baby. And here is where I feel that obligation to educate. I could say, “none of your business,” but if I do, then I’m a bitchy dyke or they don’t learn a damn thing. So I take the time to explain because I’m probably the first person they’ve met who’s had that experience. It’s exhausting.

At the doctor: “Okay, just put your feet in these stirrups and scoot your butt down…more…more…more…more. Okay. So, I see you’re not on birth control; what methods are you using for family planning.?”    Sigh. I have sex with women. I told you last time. Doesn’t anyone write that down?

At another doctor: “So, you’re cramping and feeling nauseous, huh? We’d better do a pregnancy test.”  I’ve never had sex with a man/I haven’t had sex with a man in 5 years. Beat“Well, better safe than sorry.”

At restaurants: “Separate checks, then?”  Sigh. Together, please.

Walking with a partner anywhere: Can we kiss here? What happens if we do? Maybe we can just hold hands? We probably shouldn’t. You know. Just in case. Hands touch momentarily. Loving look exchanged. Person walking by frowns. 

In your own home: Repair guy shows up. “I have to leave, but my…(wife? girlfriend? friend? roommate?) will be home in just a few minutes.” Raised eyebrow.

At the bank: We’d like to buy a house. “I see.” -Fumbles with papers-

Most of you might say, “Well, fuck them.” But you’ve never had to do this. Weekly.

At this age, my sexuality is the lowest on my list of my identity. I hope, too, that if you describe me to someone, you wouldn’t include this part of me in your description. Just like I wouldn’t say, “Jane Doe? Yeah, she has black hair, is tall, she fucks guys. Loves it.”

There was a moment this weekend, when I was speaking on the panel, when I said, “Everyone in this room has a different sexuality. We all like different things. But not all of you are asked to explain yourselves. And it’s really no one’s business”

My sexuality is not my lifestyle just like yours is not your lifestyle. It means nothing to me until I have to explain it or justify it.

It’s the same for you. How often do you sit around wondering about your intense love of being on top? Or being tied up? Or tying someone up? How often are you asked to reveal that part of yourself?

Another thing I was asked to think about this weekend is my job as a queer educator. Questions from the audience members were somewhat political, asking what was next for the LGBTQ movement. Did we think that things will get better soon? What advice do we have for parents and friends of those coming out?

Honestly, I have no idea. I write and teach English and dig holes in the ground. I’m not a spokesperson for The Gays. I’ve done my part; I did that for years. Now. I just want to relax and raise my son. I want peace and quiet. I want to watch Netflix and go to bed at 9:45.

I feel some shame in that. If I quit making people aware, who will? If I don’t force myself to hold my girlfriend’s hand in Callaway County, how will people become used to it? Because I’m still afraid to do that… in most counties. Because, despite my tough rugby persona, I don’t like to be looked at or snorted at or made fun of or called a dyke by a Jeep full of fratboys. Because words are still very powerful.

And the silence of our loved ones is louder.

35755