Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fodder for thinking about lesbian gender

This list has got me thinking about butch a lot the past day or two, in a back-of-my-head way, and I want to see what happens if I bring it forward. I think it will be kind of rambly around here while I do, so forgive me. Please click through, so you can see what I'm talking about--the pictures are awesome, and it's a visual record I'm reacting to here.

I tend to think of myself as product of the crunchy/hippie lesbianism of the 80's--I hung out in dyke bars, but I came out in the peace movement, surrounded by activists and artists. The butch-femme tradition is something I tend to regard from a remove--I admire the guts and the sexual in-your-faceness of it, but I'm not really within it. Contrasts in masculine and feminine energy don't work for me that way.

My hair has been long for all but a few years in my middle twenties, when I cut it boy-short in an attempt to be read more easily as a lesbian. It did work: I got a lot less attention from men and I read more easily to other women, but there's identity as how you're read by others and identity as how you read yourself. My missing hair haunted my dreams for years until I grew it out, and I don't think it's a coincidence that I had to go through that experiment before I really figured out how to bring myself to a relationship.

But hair aside (and it was usually braided), I used to be a pretty straight-up flannel dyke: jeans, Birks or Docs, a baggy unisex t-shirt, an Aran sweater or a tartan shirt from Bean, and that was me dressed. And I still dress that way on winter days when I'm feeling the weather, or I want to feel armored and secure. The body-altering imperatives of femininity are a toxic mess and I have never wanted them anywhere near me, and the baggage that comes along with "pretty" often does my head in. But if I want to look good, I want to look beautiful rather than handsome. Wardrobe: I have shopped from the boy side of the store but not when I'm looking for something to make me feel sexy. It's never been the unisex tees but the femme outliers in my closet that I've reached for when I wanted to feel hot on a date or when I was heading out dancing. I feel as much in drag in a jacket and tie as in a dress: if I find the extremes of femininity asphyxiating, I find the extremes of masculinity alien rather than empowering. Butch clothing is protective, but it's dyke I'm aiming for rather than butch: a woman outside heterofeminine strictures, rather than a masculine woman.

In recent years as I've worked through some of my issues with moving through the world in my particular body, I've chosen my everyday clothes to acknowledge my curves instead of hide them, and I wear my hair loose much of the time. My sexuality and gender have a lot more to do with being a mother and a massage therapist than with playing with the erotics of the gender spectrum--and it's something that I love about women-only spaces, whether they are lesbian or not, that once men are out of the defining-yourself-against-them equation, the possibilities of female identity explode outside the two dimensions of a spectrum.

Scrolling through these pictures of butch women and transmen, I didn't feel like men were out of the equation in the way that makes gender interesting to me--it's not a women-only space, this list, and it shouldn't be when the story Sinclair Sexsmith is telling by compiling it is about a particularly blurry edge of the spectrum where "masculine woman" is not very far from "transitioning man," and that's a story that needs telling. It both isn't and is about me. What I wound up feeling about where I am is that any part of the spectrum is blurry, including my place near the middle. And even in a story about masculinity and female-born bodies, a hell of a lot of other--and to me, more compelling--axes of female identity are popping out of those pictures. I felt like these are my people, this is a tribe I belong to, and the self-portrait of Catherine Opie (#91) nursing her child gave me a shock of recognition. Motherhood is what crashed me hard into femininity, and I have found a power there I needed to own: it crashed me into femininity from a complicated place. How much more complicated for a butch woman or a transman?

ETA: Sexsmith has edited the list to remove transmen unless they give permission to be included--read her explanation for this change here.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Question for those who menstruate*

Can we talk PMS for a minute? Because over the course of my menstruating life, my cramps went from incapacitating in my teens and early twenties to just seriously painful in my later twenties and early thirties, and now that I'm in my later thirties, after a year or two of occasional post-childbirth weirdness, they seem to have resigned themselves to being a non-event, but (you know there's a but, right?) my emotional shifts used to be something that I took in stride. Used to be. Not so much anymore. As my cramps have become negligible, the days before my period have become this righteous emotional spotlight of a bullshit detector, zeroing in on anything that is off in my life. Post-childbirth, my periods have gotten shorter, too. I'm wondering if this is something other women in their thirties have experienced. Are my hormones going after different receptors in my body as I age? Is this perimenopause? And does it give other women towering superpowers of emotional truthtelling? Or is it just a way my own personal limbic system has developed to cope with my not uncomplicated emotional life?

(*Cismen and transwomen can weigh in, and of course if you're reading I'd like to hear your thoughts, but I also really do want to know whether this is a common experience or just the way my own biology has gone.)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Didactic moment

So A. and I have a lesbian-feminist tendency to interrogate the whole happily-ever-after-hetero thing when we read fairy tales to Z., because they are so poisonous. And I'm embarrassed to say it's become reflexive, but I got my comeuppance a few weeks ago. I keep meaning to blog it, so here goes. Remember, Z. is FOUR:

In the car, driving around Eakins Oval, the Beatles are on.

Mama: Z., do you think that's really true, that all you need is love?
Z.: No!
Mama: So what else do you think you need?
Z., hesitant: Vulnerability?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Picking serviceberries

Picking serviceberries

We haven't had enough sun for the berries to be as ripe as they ought to be this time of year.

Picking serviceberries

But I did get to pick them with the Queen of America, and that's something (her pirate crown is off in this picture, because it kept getting tangled in the branches). In the end, we scrapped our pie-baking idea and had ice cream sandwiches instead, which was a pretty fine outcome, really.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Share the road, but don't get yourself killed, 'kay?

It's Spring, it's a recession, the planet is slowly cooking to death: thus, more people are biking, at least in my neighborhood.

There is a subpopulation of bikers that is seriously irking me: women biking in skirts and not wearing helmets while doing so. There plenty of other bikers who aren't wearing helmets, but there are not a lot of bikers wearing skirts who are wearing helmets (in a Venn diagram the "skirt/no-helmet" bikers would be smaller and almost entirely within the larger circle of "any wardrobe choice/no-helmet" bikers). Do they head out the door, look at their helmets and think "oh, too bad I can't put that on, since I'm wearing a skirt today"?

Every time I pass one of these women I think about how not-cute traumatic brain injuries are.



About a block ahead, an oncoming car suddenly but safely swerves partly onto my side of the road. The marmalade cat the driver spared runs hastily back to the curb until the car passes, then sprints across the lanes, low and stretched out, scared. The car in front of me slows; the cat makes it. As I pass, the cat is crouched and staring, fascinated and poised to leap at her quarry: a flock of birds in a vacant lot.

The birds are safely surrounded by cyclone fencing.