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

Dear Second Cousin,

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

What I meant to say was this:

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

 

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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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Why I Sit, Part II.

The last time I sat while the national anthem played was at Erika’s volleyball game just a few weeks ago. I was the only one. Dad was behind me, back a few rows of those middle school gym bleachers. I could feel his eyes on me. He didn’t say anything when it was done.

Beside me was Gaby, my Venezuelan, now American citizen girlfriend. She always stands, she told me. I asked if she felt that she had to. Yes. Yes, of course she does. She has an accent, you see. I can’t even imagine what people might say to or about a woman with a Venezuelan accent not standing for the anthem.

I’m privileged; I’m white. I talk like you do. I can code switch, too, between city and country folk. So I am positive that, even though you might delete me from social media, hatefully share my writing, or make snide comments on my post, you won’t kill me for who I am.

But you will do your best to shame me.

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Last year on the Fourth of July, as Gaby and I sat in her yard on a blanket and watched the fireworks, I asked her if she knew the history of the Star Spangled Banner. I told her. How the fireworks represent the bombs exploding, the line about our flag still being there. I was touched and a little teary. Though I am not always proud of my country, I am still an American. I still find myself occasionally getting teary-eyed about the promises our constitution made, about the ideal of what our country is supposed to be. Land of the free. All that. Sometimes I actually buy into it. When I hear stories about refugees fleeing here and feeling so welcomed, so free to do as they please, I cry. How beautiful our country is. And for some people, we are still seen as a place of refuge, a wonderful land of opportunity. And this is what we claim for ourselves, but then, when people are actually in need, we talk about banning them based on a religion we find threatening because it is not a majority here. Which is totally the opposite of who we claim to be. When people who are brown risk their lives to cross deserts and rivers to reap the benefits (which we boast repeatedly) of this nation (whose arbitrary borders have crossed and recrossed theirs) we call them names and tell them to go back to where they came from.

Because a country is just that: a piece of land with a made-up border. Maps are constantly changing, you know. The lines may move, but the people remain.

 

I am told I should stand for the pledge of allegiance and place my hand over my heart. I am told to say, ” I pledge allegiance/to the flag/of the United States of America/and to the republic for which it stands/one nation/under God/with liberty and justice for all.

Amen.

Let’s break it down.

I was told, at the age of 6, to pledge allegiance to an object, but to not have any false idols before me. Do you know how many rules there are when it comes to a piece of cloth? Lots.

I am told, still, to pledge allegiance to “one nation, under God.” Being an atheist, this is silly. Being an American, I cringe because I was under the impression we have separation of church and state.

I am told that I must rise for the anthem and the flag to pay tribute to those who have fought for my right to choose to stand or sit down or sneeze. I am shamed into honoring those who have come before me. So, I should know where I come from, all the sacrifices that have gotten me to where I am today. Okay. I will respect and learn from this country’s history. I won’t forget all that have come before.

But my black brothers and sisters are told to forget all that has happened. The slaves were freed, get over it already. Jim Crow. Civil Rights. That’s all in the past. Let’s think about the future. Everyone is totally equal in this great country of ours; that’s what our white, male, Christian ancestors fought for. Equality.

I am a queer woman. I make 22% less, on average, than the white men in charge of this country. And it wasn’t until last year that I was granted the constitutional right to marry whomever I pleased. Can you imagine being told by your family and government that you were full of sin and didn’t deserve what others deserve, that you were disgusting, that your partner couldn’t have health insurance, that you are not the parent of your own child? What a shame that would be.

Black women earn 15% less than white women. So. That’s 63 cents on the dollar to a white man. Equality.

And black men, well, stay tuned, gentle reader.

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Girls on Film

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

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

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

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And why do these two film covers look the same?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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and

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and I also saw

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in the theatre.

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

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

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

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

Tonight’s conversation felt so good.

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

That must feel awful.

 

 

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

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

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

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

The answer: YES. Every.Single.Day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the silence of our loved ones is louder.

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