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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pride and Prejudice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of sex.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is why inclusion and diversity are so important.

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

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

flag

 

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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