Photo Bomb

There’s something that’s been on my mind since it happened to me on Saturday:

I was at my hometown bar when someone I know but don’t really know started telling me about her cousin ( a girl) and her girlfriend. I didn’t ask, by the way, but I sat and listened as she shouted over the music that they live in another state and the girlfriend is a real bitch and do I want to see a picture of her cousin? I don’t care, so I say, “uhhh.” But, it’s too late. She’s scrolled to a picture of this girl. She awaits my response. So, I say, “okay.”

Maybe thirty minutes later I’m dancing with Cyrus and I see my mom trying to take a picture. I can see that it’s not her phone, but I don’t think a lot about it. Of course, I just flip her off because I am me.

Not too long after, I’m talking with my aunt, and I turn to say something to Cyrus. I see this massive phone right in my face, held by the person I know but don’t know. I say, “what the fuck are you doing?” She says, “I’m taking your picture.” Rudely, I ask, “why!?” And she says, “Don’t be hateful. I just want a picture of you.” Again I ask why. This time, she instructs me to stand up, smile, and she takes a selfie.

Queer people: You KNOW what this was about and why it bothers me.

NOT queer people: You can sit with this one and think on it until you find the answer.

Just a few weeks ago, I had to explain to someone I’ve known for many years what a micro-aggression is after this person revealed that they aren’t really an ally and can’t decide if they want to be. No. I didn’t have to explain. I chose to. I chose, once again in my fucking life, to educate someone.

I have been an out queer now for 24 years. The first year, I was out in Callaway County, Missouri. I think (correct me if I’m wrong) I was the first queer person to come out in my high school. You’ve all read or heard about that year by now, so I won’t repeat it. It was bad.

But, at the time, I had a very special thing going for me: Youth. I was excited to discover gayness and learn all the terms and wear rainbows and pink triangles. I was happy to have found that I wasn’t alone. I had the time to explain to you that, no, no one is “the man” in the relationship. I was so hopeful, friends, that because I was so blessed to be from such a small community, everyone would realize I was still just the same person they loved previously. That wasn’t the case.

It’s still not the case.

After 24 years of explaining to you and you and you that I am just a human person like everyone else, I am exhausted. I can no longer expend this energy to help you understand. It’s not really my job in the first place.

This photo incident got me really worked up. The thing is, I’ve been me for so long, I no longer think about how I look or how others look at me. I have short hair, I don’t wear dresses, and now I don’t have any boobs. I’m androgynous as fuck. And I look good. And I forget that people out there might be somehow upset or excited by this….this non-gendered expression. Some people, with large phones, might even see me as a spectacle…one they can just secretly photograph.

As I’ve been relaying this Photo Incident story to friends, one queer friend asked, “are there really people out there who’ve never considered their gender and sexuality?” And, I bet some of you reading this haven’t. You haven’t needed to in order to justify your own existence. You’ve never had to convince people that your relationship is just as valid as theirs. That your intimate relationships are not their business just like theirs aren’t yours. What a privilege to never have anyone ask you intrusive questions about your sex life, to assume things about how you feel toward your partners, and for someone to feel totally comfortable asking you about what parts you do and do not have.

There are an infinite number of genders and sexualities and ways to have intimate relationships with other age-appropriate human beings.

I once posted a meme that said, “to choose to be visually queer is to choose your happiness over your safety.”

Today I said to two “straight passing” queer friends, “my androgyny is a burden on me.” People see me and make a lot of assumptions about who I am. And they base their interactions on those assumptions. If I wanted to, I could grow my hair, swish my hips, and learn to contour my make-up. Boom. I’m not queer-looking. And maybe people would treat me differently.

-Of course, when I write about these things, I’m never just talking about the LGBTQIA+ community, I’m talking about other minorities, too. Those who face different prejudices and have been forced to educate others since the day they were born.-

I come out to someone, somehow, every single day of my life. I live in a world built for cisgender straight people for cisgender straight people, which means I’m bombarded by micro-aggressions every single day. Sometimes, a Jeep full of frat boys call me a fag as they speed by me. Sometimes, people refer to my very serious partner of many, many years as my “friend.”

And sometimes, well, they just want me to shut-up and hold still so they can take my picture.

You Can Never Go Home Again: Part II

This whole story isn’t really about being queer. My life isn’t supposed to be about being queer the same way yours isn’t meant to be about your romantic and sexual relationships. That’s not who you are in your core. You don’t “identify” as straight. You don’t describe yourself that way. I don’t want to describe myself by my relationships, either. But I have to. Time and again. Why? Because it matters to cis-gender straight people for some strange reason.

I moved to Houston sometime in late summer of 1998 after I graduated high school. Why Houston? Because my girlfriend, an educated, polite, and successful Texan happened to be from there. (The story of how we met is detailed in the coming out anthology if you want to read it some time. It’s romantic as hell and even includes writing letters and making mixtapes featuring The Cure, Depeche Mode, and George Strait.) I had plans of softball scholarships and Mizzou, but I secretly applied to the University of Houston and made my escape.

The shock of going from a quiet town along a river to a huge, stinky city near the gulf was immense. I could read a map, but I’d never driven anywhere larger than Columbia. I didn’t really know how to cook or wash my clothes. I didn’t know what raves were. Until I did. I hated cilantro and avocado and I’d never had Indian food. I went to class and came home to the house we shared with my girlfriend’s best friend. I was a terrible roommate. I don’t think I cleaned once. I’m sorry to both of you. After a few months I felt myself slip away; I realized I’d never been where no one knew me. Around my part of the world it was always, “Aren’t you that Holzhauser girl?” The anonymity of the city helped teach me I wasn’t as special as my parents had led me to believe. It was a tough lesson to learn, but it was also a huge relief. I had to remind myself constantly that was a big reason I had to leave.

Being queer isn’t a lifestyle. It’s not like subsistence fishing. It’s not deciding to live in a van and travel the U.S. like Steinbeck. I did a lot of queer things in Houston, though. I had a friend who sneaked me into “the gay bar.” (It was called “Chances” or “The Barn”) There were plenty of gay bars, but only one I ever really went to. It was divided into three areas: The front was a classic American diner where the trans ladies and drag queens hung out. The middle was what we called, “prom.” That was the area for dancing to Madonna or whatever was new. Then, in the back, that was where you could two-step. I went other places, too. Rich’s was a men’s bar that looked like something from all of those films I watched about cities. There were almost-naked men everywhere. Some wore make-up. Some wore mesh shirts. Some danced in cages. All of them smiled at me in a way that told me I could belong and not belong at the same time.

No one tells you how uncomfortable it is to watch so many same sex couples and other queers dance and kiss like straight people. When you’ve never seen it, even if you’re one of them, it’s disorienting. And I’m not talking about gross stuff. I’m just talking about people acting like people do when they’re out on a Saturday. I was embarrassed that I had to get used to it. In my world, there were no queer people in movies or in tv shows. I wasn’t used to seeing myself anywhere other than my own mirror.

I was taken to a pride parade without understanding the concept. I mean, when you’re queer, no one teaches you history or anything, they just expect you to know or figure it out. So, there I was, walking down the sidewalk taking in the parade, when some dudes are walking backwards, holding signs and chanting, “God hates fags!” They accidentally bump into me. One dude turns around, you know, instinctively, and apologizes sincerely. I look at him for a moment as he looks at me in a white tank top, baggy men’s jeans, and Birkenstocks, my chain wallet glistening in the sunlight. I say nothing as I wait for him to see the irony of what’s just transpired.

I shaved my head and dressed more masculine. Then, I grew out my hair and tried out leather pants and no bra. I learned to drink Shiner Bock and Lonestar while I danced with older women who’d bought them for me. I learned to play rugby, what an arthouse theatre was, where to go around the city, how to drive anywhere, how to shut up with my former judgmental shit and learn about new people. I learned how to live in a city. I got so good that no one who met me would guess where I came from. By looking at me, you’d think I was some sort of rave kid or alternative street kid.

I lived in the queer part of town. Westheimer. People were very weird there, so I was nothing. I didn’t stick out. No one gave me the looks. I blended in and found my people at the job I worked which was an outdoor/camping supply store in the area. This is where I unlearned all of the prejudices I’d amassed growing up and where I became cultured. I was schooled in music: Tito Puente, Bob Marley, and Shakira. I learned what vegans and vegetarians were. Oh, the food I learned and learned to eat! I learned that abortion isn’t the murdering of babies. That not all brown people are from Mexico. That not everyone grows up eating squirrel. And, I was shocked to find out that not everyone was Christian. I learned that people can be bad. That people can be very, very wonderful and accepting. I learned there that I was not alone. That we are all different and the same. I grew and grew into myself.

More and more frequently I found myself in spaces where my whiteness was the minority, and sometimes unwelcome. Some huge and very bright light bulbs started flashing above my head.

In that growth and that swarming mass of beautiful and strange people, I started to see my hometown as an awful, backward place. Only white Christians lived there. Only straight people lived there. I had to consider all of the racist shit I’d heard growing up. Did I remember correctly that my relatives said these things? There was a whirlpool of bigotry that my younger self felt but couldn’t name. Most people there had never really left. Had they tried to? Were they stuck there? I felt like I was the only one who knew I had the choice to leave.

Not many people from my family reached out to me the four years I lived in Houston. I mean, of course my parents did, and I even made trips home for holiday gatherings. At the time, my relationship with my parents was still very strained, but they were getting better. The distance helped, of course. Only one aunt sent me a letter. I can’t remember what it said, exactly, but it was something along the lines of “I don’t understand your lifestyle, but I still love you.” As a 19 year old, it pissed me off. Now I see it was an attempt at reaching out, maybe apologizing. I still carry the guilt of not responding to that letter.

At that time, I was ashamed of where I’d grown up. I was embarrassed to be so ignorant. I felt deprived of a life I could’ve had if only I’d been raised in an urban place.

The first panic attack I ever had was at an Indian restaurant after I bit into a samosa. The flavor was too much, too unfamiliar. There were so many people in the restaurant and so many cars whizzing by. And my new girlfriend who couldn’t figure out why I’d freak out over such a delicious place to eat. I had to leave. I wanted to be by myself. But in a city that large, it was impossible. I tried to think of a place to go. I pictured parks with trees-full of people. Museums-full of people. There was no where. So, I sat and cried in my basement efficiency apartment.

Each night when I tried to sleep, with all of the sirens blaring, and cars with their vibrating trunks and Tejano music, the occasional screams, the upstairs neighbors stomping about, I put a pillow over my head and tried to think of home. I just needed one night of peace, of an open window and cool breeze. Of frogs and cicadas. Just one day in the woods alone to quiet my thoughts.

My only options for an existence seemed to be to stay in the city that was wonderfully ambivalent toward me but was constantly noisy and busy, or go home to the peace of my river where people stared through me and talked about me behind my back. Back to the country where people had opinions about groups of people they’d never even met. Back to a place that no one could seem to leave.

Portland, my hometown, was suffocating though I could get lost in the woods. Houston taught me how to feel alone without ever letting me be alone.

I was 22 when I felt like I knew too much and not enough. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere.

For the first time in my life, I felt like an orphan.

Age 21. Somewhere in Texas Hill Country.

You Can Never Go Home Again: Part I

When I came out at the age of 17, I knew my family would never look at me the same again. From the beginning, I was called pretty and beautiful. My mom kept my hair very, very long, and it was given a lot of attention and praise. I was enrolled in kid beauty pageants and put into dance classes. I was made to wear sun dresses and Easter dresses and I had those damn lace collared socks. I hated all of it. Well, I didn’t mind the tap and gymnastics portions of dance class. I knew then, when I was 5, that I was different from the people around me. Most of those feelings I dismissed because I was adopted. I figured, you know, adopted kids just feel a little out of place no matter how much their family loves them.

There were times when I wondered if I was supposed to be a boy. There were times when I wished I could be. There were times I cried about all of those feelings in that tiny overhang of bluff by the river. Of course, this was in the ’80s. In my part of the world, there was no such thing as gay people. And there was definitely no such thing as trans people, or any alternative gender. In case you’re getting excited about my own gender reveal, calm down. I’m not saying anything, really. I’m a girl. Probably. I guess. I just don’t care. I am just me. But more than enough people have called me sir. Or stared me down in a bathroom. Or looked at me with that look you’ve never known unless you’re gender-bending in some way.

Anyway, you know that coming out in Callaway County was hard. I don’t want to sound tough about it anymore; it was traumatizing. Someone keyed “dyke” into my gym locker. I told some teachers, but guess what, nothing happened. There were rumors that I was kissing random people at the softball field. There were people who straight-up told me that their parents wouldn’t let them hang out with me anymore. That I was going to hell.

When I went to basketball camp, only one person would be my roommate. She endured some teasing and a lot of questions from the others wondering how she could possibly be comfortable sleeping in the same room with me.

My basketball coach was so rude to me the first few days of practice, I quit. The previous year, I was MVP and won Best Female Athlete. When I handed him my uniform, all he said was, “okay.” Yes, you know him. And yes, you know his wife was also my fifth grade teacher and is currently a MO state senator. And yes, when my ex-wife was pregnant and I introduced her, she literally looked past us and said nothing.

My parents sent me to therapy. Not to help me in the sense we might think about it now, but to help me get back to being straight.

I saw someone in a gas station a few years after I graduated and he was like, “heyyyyy, how are you?” In that kind of voice that says something was really wrong with me. I asked, “what do you mean?” He said, “You know, all of that stuff you went through in high school?” I said, “you mean coming out?” And he was like, “no, all the drugs and stuff?” I was like, what the fuck are you even talking about? I was a total narc in high school. I hated drugs. I hated alcohol. I judged anyone who used them. I went to two parties; at one, I had three sips of Boone’s Farm and drove my friend home. I felt guilty about that for years. Maybe you’re wondering about the other party? My friend got high and drunk and started puking. Luckily, she came with someone else, so I wasn’t responsible for her. But there was so much hetero making out, I had to leave. I arrived sober and left even more sober. Anyway, I yelled at that guy in gas station, “I’m just fucking gay!” and left.

And then there was the sexual harassment, luckily all verbal, interspersed with lewd sexual questions and suggestions. There were threats of corrective rape.

So, being 17 and gay in a tiny ass, rural, southern town in 1997 wasn’t just hard; it was hardening.

Those obvious abuses were awful and plentiful. The worst things, though, were the looks and the utter silence. This came from the principal, who scowled at me any time I walked by. This came from most of the teachers and students. Most importantly, it came from my family.

That was surprising and the most damaging. I was doted on since I was little and even up until the point I was outted. I was the smart, pretty athlete they were all so proud of. Then suddenly, I was no longer beautiful; I was a wretched disgusting creature unworthy of words. No one really spoke to me. About anything. When they did, they didn’t meet my eyes. I had hoped that my family’s love for me would help them understand that gay people are just people. I believed that if they really knew a gay person, they’d learn that it wasn’t sinful or bad or whatever they thought. At the time, I wanted them to ask questions because I had the strength to teach them. There were no allies to do the emotional lifting for me. I was ready. But. It was just a year of silence. And those looks. How does one describe them to someone who has lived such a life as not to experience them?

Well, it is the face of someone right before they vomit. It is pale and disoriented. It is the face of someone seeing a mugshot of a pedophile on the news- that sick sonuvabitch. It is the face of someone as they draw up their nose at the first hint of skunk. It is the face of someone who has been betrayed.

It is the face of your parents and cousins and aunts and uncles. It is one of those dreams when you realize you’ve gone somewhere naked.

Yes, that’s it. You’re naked. But you can never wake up.

I was out just a few months when this was taken. Yes. It’s my senior picture.

Your Racist Relatives

Dear White People,

I’ve written to you many times about what it means to grow up in a racist, rural, southern area. I’ve outed my cousin for saying racist shit at Thanksgiving and another one at the Mokane Fair. I’ve written twice about why I don’t stand for the national anthem, I’ve shared my thoughts on what it means to be raising a white man, and I wrote about the unrest at Mizzou in 2015, since I worked there at the time.

I’d like to tell you that when I wrote about my cousin and his racist joke, I was sent a message from his mom which was intended to put me in my place. It essentially said: We’ve tolerated your gayness, so you must tolerate his racism.

I will not. I have not. And we have not spoken since then.

And that’s OKAY.

I know a lot of you white folks out there are struggling right now. You are fighting the good fight, but most of your family is posting shit about All Lives Matter, how rioting never solved anything, how if “they” would just protest peacefully, everything would be fine.

You know it’s bullshit. You know that when your uncle says, “I’m not racist, but…”

You. Fucking. Know.

You know because you’ve always known. Your whole upbringing was awash in racist shit. It’s seeped into every part of you, even though, at a young age, you knew it wasn’t right. You knew it didn’t make any sense that people would say those things or even feel that way when you had literally never seen anyone who didn’t look like you. How could people form opinions of others they’d never even met?

But listen. You’re not 9 years old anymore. Now if someone at the picnic says, “You can come sit over here with us white folk” you can ACTUALLY FUCKING SAY SOMETHING. Because now you have words and context to tell that family member to fuck off. Loudly. So everyone can hear.

It’s okay to call a racist a racist. Even if they’re your aunt, your cousin, your parent. Even if they protest that they aren’t. Even if they get mad.

Even if they never speak to you again.

And I know that’s what makes you hesitate. Because you know once you start doing it, fuck, you’re gonna lose a lot of your family.

But do you really want to hang around people who feel like that?

Again, I know it’s hard. Just a few weeks before my grandma died she was telling me a story about how my aunt really liked this black man but couldn’t date him because, you know, he’s black. All I said was, “Why?” And she said, “I guess you’re right. It doesn’t even matter.”

What would’ve happened if I said nothing? If I just let it slide?

1. She would’ve thought I agreed

2. She would’ve thought that’s the way things are.

Guess what? It’s okay to delete your racist relatives from social media. It’s okay to call them out. In fact, it’s your job as an ally, as a human being on this planet, as a responsible citizen of the United States of America, to do so.

Maybe you’re afraid of the repercussions. Sure. Maybe you’ll get in a huge fight. Maybe they’ll never speak to you again. But. Also. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll think long and hard about their actions. Maybe they’ll ask questions. Maybe, like you and I have had to do, they’ll admit all they’ve been taught and then work to change themselves.

And dig this: maybe there are a few more people in your family who think like you. Maybe they, too, are chickenshit to say anything for fear of losing a family member or having a hard conversation. Maybe a majority of your family feels just like you but no one says anything because of the strong personality of you know who. WHAT IF YOU ALL JUST FUCKING SAID SOMETHING INSTEAD OF JUST SITTING THERE ‘POLITELY’ ?

Fuck politeness.

Fuck racists.

It is your job to educate yourself about the deep, deep roots of racism in America. It is your job to educate and argue with those family members. Yes, it’s tiring work, but you know what else?

Our black friends, neighbors, teammates, co-workers, relatives, and loved ones are fucking exhausted from doing all the hard work.

Are you tired of explaining to your mom’s best friend on facebook what white privilege means? Too fucking bad. Keep going.

Are you sick of your well-intentioned neighbor saying, “I don’t see color?” Too fucking bad. Keep going.

Do you swear to god your head’s going to explode if you one more person say “aLl lIvES MAtteR”. No one cares. Too fucking bad. Keep going.

And finally, if you’re reading this and you’re feeling even a little bit mad at anything I’ve said, ask yourself this:

  1. Have I said all lives matter in response to black lives matter? (If yes, you were definitely taught to be a racist, but with some reading and listening to people of color, you can learn and be helpful)
  2. Have I ever said, “I’m not racist but….” (If yes, you were definitely taught to be a racist, but with some reading and listening to people of color, you can learn and be helpful)
  3. Was I raised in a small, southern, rural town? (If yes, you were definitely taught to be a racist, but with some reading and listening to people of color, you can learn and be helpful)
  4. Was I born and raised in the good ‘ol USofA? (If yes, you were definitely taught to be a racist, but with some reading and listening to people of color, you can learn and be helpful)

We ALL have a lot of work to do.

Here are some resources to get us started:

NAACP – http://detroitnaacp.org
Detroit Urban League – https://www.deturbanleague.org
Black Lives Matter Detroit – https://www.alliedmedia.org/blm-detroit
The Detroit Justice Center – https://www.detroitjustice.org
Focus Hope – https://www.focushope.edu
People’s Action Detroit – https://www.thepeoplesaction.com

Stream some movies:

“When They See Us” Netflix
“Mudbound” Netflix
“Becoming” Netflix
“Teach Us All” Netflix
“Just Mercy” Amazon Prime
“I Am Not Your Negro” Amazon Prime
“The Hate You Give” Amazon Prime
“Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise” Amazon Prime
“Whose Streets” Hulu
“Black Stories Presents: Your Attention Please” Hulu
“If Beale Street Could Talk” Hulu
“Sorry to Bother You” Hulu

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (There is a movie based on this book)
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do by Jennifer L. Eberhardt
Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America by Jennifer Harvey
Racism Without Racists by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, edited by Jesmyn Ward
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa

(this list courtesy of NAACP Detroit)

No boobs ≠ boy: 15 hours

I’ve never really cared about my boobs. There are very few occasions I remember trying to shown them off, and I’ve never tried to hide them. They aren’t big enough to cause problems like back pain or the dreaded male gaze. They aren’t small enough for anyone to have commented on their smallness. Usually one sports bra is enough for rugby, and regular bras off the rack seem to fit just fine. I’ve never yearned for more or less of them. I’ve been pleased with them this whole time and never really knew. Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone…

As a cis-woman who’s only slept with other cis-women, my adult life has been full of breasts of all shapes and sizes. It would be incorrect to say that I don’t sexualize them, because, you know, I’m queer, but I’ve never stared at them on strangers or cared about their size or shape on my partners. I’ve always joked that boobs are just fine, but I have some, too, so they aren’t as exciting. In comparison to the way cis-men seem to lose their minds over them, I am not like that at all. They are demystified when they also belong to you. And when you’ve worked in a histology lab where your job is to throw out the cut-off breasts (and other samples) every week.

During my consultation with the surgeon, I asked if she could save my nipples and maybe give me a male chest. She said that she knows a great plastic surgeon who’s done FTM (female to male) transitions. But that would take some time and I’d have to talk to that surgeon first to see if I was a good candidate and all that. Then, my brain was like…Stop. I tried to imagine taking off my shirt to see a male chest in my mirror on my body. And it seemed, really, really wrong. I halted that conversation with the surgeon and was like, no, not really, sorry. Just cut them off and leave the scars.

Then a million things came to me at once (or, at least, what felt like a million things):

I am totally a woman.

Trans men might feel some sort of relief if they were in my situation.

Trans women might be pissed that I’m so apathetic about my breasts.

When I look at my new chest without breasts, will I then, maybe, in the tiniest amount, feel what trans people have felt their whole lives? Like my body doesn’t match my brain. Or, like, something is missing.

Of course, boobs do not a woman make. Really, I have no idea what it means to be a man or a woman or non-binary. I mean, I know a million genders exist, but I have no way of classifying them. I do know I’m a girl. Again, I don’t really know what that means.

As the sporty little kid who played with all the boys, there were times when I was little where I wondered if I was supposed to be a boy. Like, maybe the all powerful creator, or whatever, messed up just a little bit. I loved “boy” things, but I was told that was wrong. I asked for GI Joe’s one year for Christmas and got a cabbage patch doll. I was bombarded with Barbies any time there was an occasion to give me a gift. In fact, I had this massive, hand made Barbie house. When other girls would come over to play, they’d lose their minds at this thing and all the accessories: corvette, bubble bath, horse, hair twister, make-up barbie, two kens! My mom wouldn’t let me cut my hair, instead it grew down to my ass. I just wanted short hair and a 49ers jersey, pants, and helmet. It didn’t seem too much to ask.

As I grew, I realized none of that made me a boy; it made me a kick-ass girl. So, I played sports as hard as I could. I was told I could throw a ball like a boy (that’s a lie; my form was better than most boys’) And I loved it. But the one sport I wanted to play, football, was always out of reach. It “wasn’t for girls,” and there wasn’t even a team close to where I grew up.

Then I came out. And you’ve probably heard most of these before, in other writings and rantings, but here’s a summary:

-So, you want to be a man?

-So, you’re/who’s the man in the relationship?

-Who’s on top?

-Okay, but why can’t you dress like a girl?

-Why are you trying to look like a man?

-Why would you date a woman who looks like man?

-And, of course, very obscene comments/questions/threats about my sex life

Alas, after all of that, I am still not a man. I don’t want to be a man.

Here I am. A cis-woman in love with another cis-woman. Which, honestly, I’m tired of writing about and reminding you of. But this is really relevant right now because, you see, Gaby’s partner is loosing her breasts. Gaby is going to have to watch me go through this. Gaby will have to run the house for three weeks while I cry and complain and try to move around too much.

And all of you have cheered me on these last few weeks, but you’ve all forgotten the silent victim of this cancer; it’s Gaby.

I don’t know what it’s like to watch my partner lose her breasts. I won’t know the sadness of seeing her take of her shirt and find nothing there but angry, smirking scars where something beautiful once was. I don’t know the pain of having to put on a smile when people say, “this is great because you caught it early!” Or, “thank God she’ll survive.”

Yes, I will be alive. But perhaps a part of me dies, if just for a little while.

* * *

In all the papers I’ve been reading about lesbian vs. straight women choosing bilateral mastectomy, lesbian women deal much better. Why? They have a more supportive partner. Their sex life does not suffer, but straight girls have problems. Lesbians care less about the stigma of having no breasts because they’ve fucking dealt with society’s bullshit their entire lives. But, and this is the part I love, they find no benefit in having cancer and going through the experience. Straight girls do. Why? Because they’ve never had to examine their lives so much before.

I’m thankful to be a queer woman. I’m thankful this cancer is as tiny and stupid as it is. I’m very thankful to have Gaby as my partner.

Tomorrow is the big day. See you on the other side.

 

 

 

And now, the final stop on their farewell tour: rugby practice.

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Fuck football. Rugby has fewer pads and more tackling. And the coolest fucking people I’ve ever met. (also, 35 degrees and wet)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Supper: 5 days until

When I first moved to Columbia in 2002, the Mizzou Rugby team drank at McNally’s. We were there at least 2 nights a week and usually more. No matter what the plan was for the night, we’d start there and then make bad decisions later.

When I moved back in 2007, this still held true. And when we formed the Black Sheep Rugby team in 2009, we drank there. And even though there were a few years when I didn’t go so much because of Cyrus and other life events, I still considered it my bar. It is always the place I choose to meet people or go eat some badgood food. Of course, wiseguys is one of the best pizzas in town, too.

And when I started my current job in 2016, I was delighted to learn that the graduate students of the department went there for happy hour.

Besides rugby and working out, McNally’s is what I do for self-care. The drinks are strong, the food is bad for me, and I’ve given them most of my disposable income for upwards of 15 years. I am incredibly loyal to my bar. McNally’s helped me through my 20s and 30s.

Last night, the girls had their last happy hour. I wasn’t sure how to capture a photo in a public space on a Friday night, but, with the help of many friends, we did it.

It went like this: one very tall and broad friend held up a black blanket to block the view of the large table behind us. Two friends warned the nearby tables of what was about to happen. It wasn’t revealed to me if they were invited to look or instructed to avert their gaze. Two friends stood by the door to stop any patrons from entering and getting an eye-full. Two friends joined me in this perfect photo.

 

last supper

Gentle readers, I’ve seen so many of you out and about complimenting me on the farewell tour I’m giving to my breasts. Here’s a little secret; it’s not really for them. It’s for me. And maybe a little bit for you. I don’t want to be sad. I don’t want to say the word CANCER. I don’t want you to be sad, either. Or for you to treat me any differently.

The thing is, I’m not sick or anything. I saw my aunt the other day and she said, “you look good,” which told me she might’ve expected me to look bad. I don’t look like someone with cancer, do I? But what does that even mean? I think when we think of cancer, we think of chemotherapy and someone who’s lost their hair, someone whose body is battling so much badness inside them. I am throwing away my breasts because one has cancer and the other one will probably develop it. I am getting rid of them so I don’t have to go through all of that. My recovery will take some time, but I will be okay. That’s the happy part of all of this.

If you’ve been offended by my naked pictures, well, whatever. It’s been hard for me to expose myself so much. Approximately zero men had seen my breasts until last week. Now, most of my male friends have. It’s been liberating to treat them like hunks of stupid cancer meat instead of some sexualized part that I’m supposed to hide or show-off for the purposes of turning on others.

Honestly, I don’t know how to mourn the loss of such a useless yet universally treasured part of my body except to go out and celebrate them.

No. What I really mean is to celebrate myself.

I celebrate myself and sing myself.

 

The Last Workout: 9 days

It was only 7 days ago that I met with my surgeon and decided the fate of my breasts. My surgeon is a woman, which makes me feel infinitely better about all of this. When they called with my diagnosis, I knew exactly what I was going to do. You see, when I met my biological mom 20 years ago and she told me what happened to her, I set my mind to survival. In an awful, and very real sense, I’ve been preparing since then. I was worried that a man doctor might try to convince me to save them.

You see, I’ve been reading real, actual science papers about this process. There are several papers with men as the lead author saying things like, “The number of women choosing a double mastectomy has increased by 400% since the early 80s.” I don’t remember exactly the numbers, but it’s a lot. And, do you know what was more upsetting to that lead, male author? That women, even when they knew they could get reconstruction immediately, were choosing not to. He was concerned, “maybe women don’t know they can have boobs again, right now!” WHY DON’T THEY WANT BOOBS!?!?! He vowed to make sure women were more educated about reconstruction options.

So. Again, I figured a woman would respect my choices more, not question me or try to persuade me.

Strangely enough, my doctor is also someone who goes to my gym. When she walked into the exam room, she was like, “you look familiar. do you work out?” All of this was comforting.

Did I mention what the girls did for the last time today? They went to the gym. They worked out in the same room as the woman who will cut them off in 9 days.

Though I normally don’t look into the mirrors when lifting weights, I did today. I stared at my cleavage (what little there is) and saw how awkwardly my sports bra was fitting. Another thing I was very aware of was how I had to tug at the shoulder straps after lifting, you know, to hoist them back up. There were times I did this with a laugh and other times with tears in my eyes. I won’t rave about Orange Theory, but I do enjoy it. What I hate is the stupid band I have to wear around my sternum. Of course, I could buy one that goes on my arm, but they’re 100 dollars. Fuck that. So, I bought the chest strap at a discount. Only once has it popped off from exertion. I usually tuck it under the band of bra so it feels more secure.

I wonder: what will this strap look like on my chest when it’s the only thing there? And another question: how long will it be before I feel comfortable not wearing a bra? I mean, I just cannot imagine a time when I have nothing between me and the world except a thin t-shirt. But, like, half of the population walks around like that all of the time. On one hand, it sounds very liberating. On the other, is there anything better than coming home and taking off your bra?

 

otf

It’s hard for me to comprehend what my body will feel like without them. It’s my understanding that in their place I will have a numb or tingly patch of scarred skin. There is a reconstruction called a DIEP flap which basically gives you a tummy tuck and adds boobs. Overall, it seems like a pretty good deal. But then, you have two areas of skin without feeling and a huge scar that crosses your stomach. I considered this for a hot minute, but, what’s the point of having boobs that feel nothing and an area of stomach that feels nothing?

Besides the sexual component of my breasts, which I’ll write about soon, there is one intimate detail I’ll tell you now. I love to sleep naked (though I haven’t in a long time with all the kids in the house). I love to sleep with a fan and the windows open. I love to feel the breeze on my skin when I’m warm in my bed. I don’t mean it in a sexy way. I know that’s a tiny, weird thing to think about, and it’s even weirder to share, but that’s the truth.

The next time I go to Orange Theory I’ll have no breasts, an awkward chest strap with nowhere to be tucked, and probably my surgeon on the treadmill next to me.

I wonder, though, this morning when we were running, rowing, and lifting, did she look across the room and feel sorry for me? Could she tell from knowing me only a few hours that I’m struggling? That, even though I know I’ve made the right choice, that I’m afraid of what happens when it’s all over?

That the uncertainty of how long it takes me to really heal is what scares me the most.

 

 

10 days left with the girls

It’s called Ductal Carcinoma In Situ. Some call it pre-cancer. It’s considered a Stage 0, like, the very, very beginning . In Situ means “in place.” (which I learned years ago while doing archaeology. If you find a cool artifact, you want it in situ so you can get the most information about it. Its integrity hasn’t been lost.) So, that means it hasn’t spread anywhere (most likely). That’s very good. It has a nuclear grade of 2 out of 3. That means it’s not the most aggressive, but it’s also not the least.  Treatment is a lumpectomy with radiation OR a mastectomy. Why am I choosing a mastectomy when I could keep my boob? Because radiation treatment is a daily thing for up to six weeks, it can shrink your breast, burn it, or, in very rare cases, go into your lungs, heart, or ribs. I’m not into all that mess. My cancer is only in one breast, so why get rid of both of them?  Because I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life, and at my age, and with my family history, my chances of getting cancer again, and even worse the next time is something like 40%.

I do have the option to reconstruct them, right now, but I don’t want to. The recovery is long and painful. And sometimes involves a lot more surgeries to make them look real and even and all of that.

I don’t have time for all that. I have rugby to play and a family to attend to. Also, graduate school.

I hope that answered most of your questions. Of course, there will be more detailed discussion of the choice to remove and not replace in the coming days and weeks.

Now, on to something more fun.

After a few days of feeling really sad for myself, I decided to try to make this fun, or at least, not awful. I’ve had to ask myself a lot of hard questions. One question that is the most difficult is this: What do you do with your breasts when you know they’ll be gone in 10 days?

So far I’ve:

  1. run up and down the steps without a bra and without holding them. Just to remember what that feels like.
  2. Stood naked in the mirror and touched them a lot. Maybe for the first time, admiring their beauty
  3. had to explore my own gender identity (but I’ll save that for another post)
  4. worn real bras and not just sports bras
  5. been much more aware of their presence. Like, I’m just really, really aware they exist.

Aside from all of the sad, selfish stuff I’m feeling about them, I promised them a farewell tour of some of their favorite things to do. I wanted to make their last days attached to my body fun for them, not all doom and gloom.

Yesterday they did this:

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They tried to take in a little sun, maybe for the first time. 

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They went on a nice hike with some friends

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They tried to make an imprint in the snow. 

Stay tuned for more adventures as the girls live out their last days on my chest.

So you’re going to die.

One of my favorite episodes of the Simpsons is from season 2. As a family, they go out to eat sushi. Homer, ever hungry, is picky at first, but ends up eating everything on the menu. He orders Fugu, which is pufferfish. The story is, if it’s cut incorrectly, it’s poisonous. Since the head chef in is having sex with Mrs. Crabapple out in her car, the young chef cuts the pufferfish, we fear, incorrectly. Homer learns of this and heads to Dr. Hibbert, where he is handed the most wonderful pamphlet:

so die

So you're going to die

He’s told he has 24 hours before his heart explodes, so he makes a bucket list and tries to accomplish everything in a day.

Good news: Homer doesn’t die. He does, however, fall asleep in his arm chair while listening to Larry King read the bible on tape. In the morning Marge finds him looking dead, but she touches the warm drool from his lips exclaiming, “you’re alive!”

I cry every time I watch that episode.

The past few weeks have been sort of that way for me. I mean, in the sense that I feel like I just went to the doctor and she handed me a pamphlet with the bad news. Three weeks ago I had a mammogram. Then I had another. Then a biopsy. Then they called to say I have cancer, but the best kind. Then, Tuesday, I spent three hours weighing my options. My biological mother had breast cancer when she was 32 and my biological grandma when she was 70. There didn’t seem to be much of a choice.

In two more weeks, I’ll no longer have breasts.

And as quickly as you’ve read all that, that’s as quickly as it’s come at me.

I’m not telling you for your sympathy, or for you to feel sorry for the kids or Gaby. I’m telling you because, as has been my way, I’ve written to you about real life things in order to share with you, you know, real life shit. Until Cyrus was born so early, I never knew so many women struggled with miscarriages and still born babies. Until I wrote about sexual harassment happening to me, I never realized how many women it affected. I write about being queer a lot, and most of you say you’ve learned something. So, here I am telling you that I’m only 40 and I have cancer, and in a very short time, I will have no breasts and huge scars across my chest. That’s a lot to process in such a short time.

So, gentle readers, that is my news. Again, I tell you because I’ve always seen it as my job to write to you about the shit that happens in our lives that we are afraid to talk about. I’m sure you’ve all struggled with something, too. Something, maybe, you didn’t know others struggled with. Or something you know others struggle with, but you’re afraid to ask or talk about it.

I don’t expect you to tell me any intimate details of your lives. And, in a very real sense, this is none of your goddamn business. But I thought I’d share this fucked up journey because…why not? I’ve already told you almost everything else.

There will be a lot of thoughts coming on this topic including gory details and a VERY FUN farewell tour, but I don’t want to try to cram it all into one post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Writing’s on the Wall

I have been in many romantic and sexual relationships with women during my tenure on this planet, and that has afforded me a unique position that I think most men in romantic relationships with women might not get. Women talk to other women. They talk about sexual abuse and assault because women believe you, and ALL women have experienced some sort of sexual assault, whether they are willing to admit it or not. Whether they call it sexual assault or not. The issue is, most women don’t like to call what has happened to them assault because we are always comparing our trauma to someone else’s. It goes like this, “yeah, he coerced me into having sex and I asked him to stop, but I said yes, and it’s not like he hit me, so I guess it’s not like So-and-So’s experience, so it isn’t really rape/sexual assault.” And since so many women have that story, they just call it sex. When I say this has happened to many women, I really mean most. I mean, actually, everyone. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.

Here are some very upsetting numbers:

Nearly half of the women I’ve been with have been raped. And, no, not the “man jumping out from behind the bushes” kind of rape, but the “I know this guy” kind of rape. And it fucking happens all of the time, you guys. ALL. OF. THE. TIME.

In fact, I’ve never heard a story from a woman who has been sexually assaulted or abused by some guy she didn’t know. It’s always her “boyfriend” or her “friend,” or, you know, someone else’s friend at the party. Or the guy from class who’s just been trying to get her to go out with him. And these women I have loved blame themselves. Or they don’t use the “R” word for reasons I mentioned above. They don’t think their story is the worst, so they are ashamed to even say anything happened. They have been socialized to understand this is what it means to be a woman.

Growing up, I understood that a girl losing her virginity happened under this circumstance: the boy begs and begs and begs and begs until the girl finally says okay. The boy will hurt you. The boy will not understand that you are capable of feeling pleasure. If he does understand, he will not care. The boy will tell his friends. You will be called a slut. He will be called a hero. You are expected to do it again and again.

This is how it happened with most of my friends. This is the story I was told. This is the narrative I was expected to live, too. I was supposed to be okay with this, the way some of the women I’ve loved were supposed to be okay with this. And they were. They were so okay with this, that most don’t even tell this story any more. They are so used to how all of this happens, it doesn’t even seem like something worth mentioning. Because. It’s happened to all of us.

Endure this. This is what it means to be a woman.

This abuse is so embedded in our culture that unless I’ve been penetrated by a man, I’m not even considered a woman. Or, not a real woman. I’m something less, unless a man has touched me.  I know this because friends used to get confused about my virginity. “…but you’ve never had sex with a guy….”

Here’s another number:

1/4 of the women I’ve known and loved have had an abortion. The reasons are variable. One was 15 and it was her boyfriend. One was 17 and in a relationship with some fucking asshole. One was something around 20 and stuck in an abusive relationship. They all knew they were lesbians, but you know, lived in a world where they were forced to be with men. You can’t even know what that feels like. You can argue that they knew what they were doing, that they could’ve just not had sex. That they could’ve been more careful. They only knew that they were doing what they were told they should do by society. They were enduring womanhood. You can go ahead and blame the girl for a society that tells her that men’s sexuality is more important than women’s. That it is completely her fault that she begged and begged him not to. That she at least asked him to wear a condom. That he pulled it off without her knowing. That if she really loved him, she’d just do it.

1/4 of the women I’ve known and loved told me about their abortion. Which leads me to believe there are more. There are always more.

This also leads me to understand that more than 25% of women out there in the world have had one, too. My friends, if it is you, I’m proud of you for a making the choice that was best for you. No matter why you were pregnant in the first place.

Of course, not all abortions come from rape or abuse. Some come from failed birth control (which is blamed on the woman). Some come from a total lack of birth control (which is also only the woman’s fault). Some come from wanted and loved pregnancies that are not viable (the woman’s fault). Some come from life or death situations for the mother (the woman’s fault).

Most women don’t even know they’re pregnant at 8 weeks. That’s just one missed period. That’s also her fault.

After enduring womanhood and hearing countless stories from partners and friends, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to imagine most unwanted pregnancies come from a trauma associated with how the woman became pregnant. No person should be forced to carry the fetus of a rapist.

Consider this: trans men can also be pregnant. They can also be raped. And I apologize for not tackling this immense topic right now.

Consider this: I have been told by men what my body should and shouldn’t look like my whole life. I’ve been told by men how I’m supposed to have sex. I’ve been told by men that I am not officially a woman without having sex with them. I’ve been exploited by men who see my sexuality as an extension of their fantasies. Women are shamed into sex. They are shamed into complying. They are shamed into pregnancy. They are shamed for, finally, making a decision about their own bodies.

Everyone listen closely: you know someone who has been raped. You know someone who has had an abortion.

We need to start using the “r” word. We need to start talking about abortion, too. About real numbers. About how it’s saved more lives than it’s destroyed.

You need to understand that when a woman shares with you the intimate details of her body, she has thought long and hard about what she’s saying. She has broken through the social barrier we’ve put in place to keep her silent. She has weighed the consequences and decided that she’s willing to fight the onslaught of judgement about her “choices.”

You need to listen.

You need to listen and believe what has happened.

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