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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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.

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Pants Envy

Tonight I took Cyrus to get fitted for a suit; he’s the ring bearer in my cousin’s wedding in a few months. There were so many cool vests and shoes. Two tables of a rainbow assortment of ties. The man who helped us had on a bow tie and shoes I wanted on my own feet. We also happened to have the same haircut. Was I attracted to him or did I just want to dress like him? I struggle with this sometimes.

I’ve always felt comfortable and uncomfortable in the men’s section of stores. If you know me, you’ve noticed I tend to wear men’s shorts, sometimes jeans. Women’s shorts are always way too short or full of weird ass-pocket designs. Except when I had blue hair and combat boots, I’ve dressed functionally. I wear band t-shirts most of the time, though I’ve purchased a few women’s sweaters and t’s in recent years. Women’s shirts seem too thin or cleavagey. I sometimes have trouble fitting my broad shoulders, too. But there’s something unsettling about shopping in the boy section when you’re a queer woman like myself; I become incredibly self-conscious. I feel like everyone is looking at me and judging. Like everyone is making assumptions about who I am, what I like, how I have sex. This is one of the big reasons I hate shopping. I do most online. If someone from across the country is judging me as she packs my box of clothes, fine, at least she’s not eyeballing me over a rack of  men’s sweaters.

Wearing men’s pants doesn’t mean I’m a man or that I want to be one. Who I am and what body I was born into are both fine with me. This also doesn’t mean that all lesbians dress the same, either. Please do not start assuming those things. It also doesn’t mean that I think every woman should dress like me. Sexuality and my gender are two separate things. There are straight women out there who also don’t feel comfortable in dresses. Wear what makes you feel like yourself. That is all we can do.

 

When I was in Kindergarten, Mom put me in sun dresses for school. Since it was 1985, those dresses came with yellow, flowery, ruffly bloomers. Sometime during the day I’d go to the bathroom and tuck my dress into my bloomers, you know, because they were more like shorts. I’d get off the bus and Mom would be waiting for me with some look of horror and amusement. I didn’t care. I felt so much better.

Of course, as I grew and was forced to dress up for events, I started wearing pants whenever I could, fighting with Mom about when it was okay and when it wasn’t. Proms were an awful time, too, trying to figure out what kind of dress was okay and cool for me to wear. I was never excited about picking out a prom dress.  For high school graduation, I was told girls had to wear dresses and guys could wear pants. Total bullshit, obviously, so I just put on some boxers and a tank top under my gown and threw on some heels (to be discussed later). It was my final fuck you to the principal who glared at me any time we met in the halls.

When I teach, I sometimes wear ties or bow-ties. But always pants and a button-down shirt. That’s how I dress up.

But really, I honestly always try to picture myself in survival situations. If suddenly the zombie apocalypse happened and I was stuck in a fucking dress and heels, how could I possibly survive? If a tornado ripped through and I had to dig for my loved ones among the wreckage, what use would I be if I weren’t wearing pants? If I were on a plane in a skirt, and it crashed, what hope would I have of making it more than a week in that climate?

There have been time when I’ve felt sexy in a dress, though. For a friend’s wedding, I had to buy a black dress. I complained, but I enjoyed it. I felt good in it because I got to choose it. I even grew my hair because I wanted to. It’s fun to play with gender sometimes, isn’t it?

But usually I don’t like dresses. It’s more than that, though. It’s the way I feel when I’m in one. I feel like I’m in drag, mostly because of the attitude people have when they see me in one. People laugh. Or they feel just fine commenting on my body. It’s the same, but less, during the few times a year when I decide to wear make-up. “OHMYGOD are you wearing mascara!? Ooooh.”  These reactions, I’ll have you know, mean I’ll wear it less and less. Because. In middle school my friends thought it was fun and funny to dress me up. Haha. Christina’s in a dress. She looks hilarious.

You might as well put a costume on your cat.

When I wear a dress, it’s not just funny Christina in a dress; it forces me to change who I am. I can’t sit like I usually do, with my legs spread. I have to walk differently, too,  in order not to look like a dude in a dress. I’m more aware of how and how much I move my body, like my arms, when I’m speaking. I can’t wrap my arms around the back of chairs and give sideways smiles. I have to sit straight with my legs crossed. I have no idea how to do this. And all of this change directly affects how I act. I become quiet and people ask if I’m okay because I’m not acting normal. Of course when you wear a dress, there’s going to be some shoe that’s too narrow and has a heel. Maybe it’s only 2 inches, but that’s two times more than I’m used to. I can’t walk in those shoes. I’m not trying to make you laugh when I say that. My body doesn’t have that skill.  In order to survive wearing all of this, I have to think of it as a cultural costume. Something my culture requires me to wear at certain times, like, weddings.

I guess it’s here that I mention I’m a bridesmaid in this wedding in a few months.

I’ve been a bridesmaid before. In three of my best friends’ weddings, most recently. I wore dresses for all of them. One wedding was even two women, one of which wore a pant suit. (For others, I’ve been asked to grow out my hair. Wear make-up. Not dye it some strange color.) I felt okay wearing the dresses when I did. Or. Like a polite southern girl, didn’t want to rock the boat by asking to wear something else. Maybe I didn’t want to be the lesbian wearing a suit at the wedding. I was already the awkward androgynous lesbian in a dress. I’ve been asked enough to “tone it down” for holidays. I’ve been given the side-eye for saying “lesbian” at family gatherings. Like we discussed at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival last weekend in New Orleans, some things are okay until you give them a name. And it’s impolite to bring up topics that make people uncomfortable. (Shame on me. I’ve been so quiet for years). I’ve been asked countless times if I’m “the man” in my relationship because my hair is shorter and my body language bigger.

And, for the record, telling me you can’t even tell I’m gay when I’m wearing a dress and make-up doesn’t make me feel better. At all.

I have a dress hanging in my closest for the wedding. I have shoes, too, that are nothing that I’d ever wear. The dress is cute, if you wear dresses, but after the wedding, it will remain in my closet in that plastic bag. After tonight, I really want to wear a suit. I’d feel like myself in a suit, or, some cute pants with suspenders. Possibly a vest.  I’d feel sexy in that. Instead, I’ll be the one with a mostly shaved head and an Elvis-eque slicked back do. I will take off the shoes as soon as I can because my feet and ankles will be sore. I will writhe and tug at the garment like Idgie Threadgoode and run to my tree house to throw all the damn things to the ground as soon as I can.

Guys, imagine you’ve been asked to wear a dress to a friend’s wedding. Ladies, imagine you’re going to wear a suit and tie.

I know some guys are out there like, “well, I feel awful wearing all that to a wedding, too.” Sure. It sucks to have to dress up if it’s not something you enjoy. But you’re not being asked to wear an article of clothing you’ve never put on in your life, or just a few times for giggles. It’s still just a pair of pants. Some women might be thinking, “well, I hate dresses, too, but it’s not a big deal.” If it changes your entire personality for the day, it most certainly is. It is if you feel like you’re wearing a clown costume and everyone is looking at you.

All of this is not to say anything mean about the wedding or my cousin, the bride. I hold myself accountable for not saying that I’m not comfortable in a dress. Maybe when she asked, I felt okay about it, or just didn’t think too far in the future. But please, everyone, know how hard that is for me to say because of all the implications and the derogatory words I’ve heard from family over the years. Know that there are so many others out there who are afraid to speak-up. Who love you and want to do what they’ve been told to do. I might have even said to you, “I don’t want to be the lesbian in the suit.” But what I meant was, “I want to rock that fucking suit. But I don’t want anyone here to talk about me, make assumptions, or judge me.”

Tonight as I watched Cyrus put on that tiny suit jacket and get himself measured, I wondered if there’d ever be a time when I’d have the balls to say to that cute guy in the bow-tie, the guy who looked suspiciously like me,  “I’d like to be fitted, too.”

 

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Homeward and Bound

I want you all to know that I just had an amazing weekend. I was in Decatur, GA for the Decatur Book Festival. I was there to sit on a panel about the new anthology I’m in: Crooked Letter I. During my stay, I met the most amazing people. Writers. And I was reminded who I am, who I want to be, who I’ve always been.

When I landed at the St. Louis airport today, Mom texted me to remind me that the Mokane World’s Fair was happening. If you’re not from around those parts, Mokane is a town of 247; it’s where I went to school. K-12. And this fair, of course, is small, but growing up, it was a big deal to go there and kiss my 8th grade boyfriend in the dark, beneath the ferris wheel lights while all the parents played bingo.

Today was the “Old Time Fiddler’s Contest.” It’s held every year, and people from around the state come to compete. There is a Junior division. That means kids of, like, 7 or 8 fiddle, too. I drove straight there from the airport because Cyrus loves music and fiddles, and Mindy was taking him to see them.

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“You ain’t nuttin’ til you eat mutton”

It was in the middle of this fiddling, in the 95 degree sweat rolling down the small of my back, that I became moved. In my head, I was writing a piece about white culture. You see, I told my girlfriend this weekend, who is Venezuelan-American, after having met so many talented women of color at the festival, that I wasn’t anything. That I was just white. And she said to me, “Your color is white and it is beautiful. You challenge the cultural conception.” It was a sweet thing to say. I love her. So I sat there watching this small child with a German last name play her fiddle while wearing a cowboy hat and Wranglers. I thought to myself as I looked around at all the older people enjoying the music, this is where I’m from-this is a culture worth something. I was composing an essay, finally, praising my upbringing. We are a people of German heritage and kindness and fiddles and biscuits and gravy. I come from a people who work hard, who don’t mind sitting out in the heat to listen to a child play “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain” at varying speeds. Old men in their bib-overalls and work boots. The women fanning themselves and smiling.

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Fiddlin contest

This, I thought, this is me. This is home. 

And then.

Cyrus became bored with the fiddles, as a five year old does. We walked out of the pavilion and sat with my dad and a distant cousin of mine. The cousin pulled out his phone, “Isn’t this girl your twin?” He said. The girl in the picture was white and had a lip piercing. She wore a backward baseball hat. “I look like her because we’re both lesbians, right?” He said something about how she was also attracted to him. My mind drifted. Then he started in on a story that I couldn’t quite follow…”then we were down on Broadway, you know, where all the niggers are…”

I write this word in its entirety because it is the way I hear it. Loud. Grating. Awful.

With this I said, “No. We’re done,” and walked off.

I circled the fiddle contest area, running my hands through my already greasy and sweaty hair. White privilege means a lot of things and this is one of them: this fucked up privilege–this assumption that, because I’m white and from a small town, this word is okay to say in front of me, that I feel the same way, or that this is just what we say.  I felt bad for walking away because my dad was stuck there, listening to the rest of the story or apologizing/explaining why I walked away mid sentence. But I couldn’t stay. I never can.

So I calmed down and went to get another Bud heavy.

I came back, only after I’d made sure he was gone, to stand with my parents and my aunt.

And then.

A woman walked up to us, apparently a friend or coworker of my mom and my aunt. They joked she looked so nice since she wasn’t soaked in sweat. Mom introduced her to me, “she worked out at the state hospital, too.” I said hi. The woman started in with, “well, I’m not sure how long I’m gonna work there; there’s a lotta stupid people out there now.”  I nodded my head and sipped my beer.

And then.

“All those damn foreigners can’t speak any gotdamn English…”

I said, rather loudly, “I have to leave now.”

I walked off, choking back tears. I heard my parents say good-bye, and I gave them a wave without turning around. All the warm feelings I had earlier, about the fiddles and old men in overalls, all those washed away. Or were sweated out. Or were soaked up by the sun. Something about heat.

That is where I come from, though it’s not where I fit. Like everyone, my whole life I’ve been searching. I’m adopted. I’m queer. I’m white. I’m a writer. I’m an athlete. I’m from the smallest town on the planet.

This weekend though, among the writers, I felt snugly in place. But the woman and modest mid-westerner and Southern way of putting myself last always creeps back. Among Jamaican-American, Palestinian-American, Japanese-American, African-American women, what could I possibly say that is different or worthy?

My name is Christina. I’m no different but different from you. I’m starting here.

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The drive home.