Archive for June, 2013|Monthly archive page

What Writing is For

In Uncategorized on June 30, 2013 at 12:56 pm

[written as blogspot post fall of 2011]

“Remember that what you are told is really three-fold: shaped by the teller, reshaped by the listener, concealed from both by the dead man in the tale.” –The Real Life of Sebastian Knight by Vladimir Nabokov

“I cannot assume you will understand me. It is just as likely that as I invent what I want to say, you will invent what you want to hear. Some story we must have. Stray words on crumpled paper. A weak signal into the outer space of each other. The probability of seperate worlds meeting is very small. The lure is immense. We send starships. We fall in love.”
Gut Symmetries by Jeanette Winterson

{ let me first get off my chest that these two authors are my most intimate literary lovers. they do things to my thoughts and emotions that i have never experienced with any other author. (except maybe keith miller in the book of flying) i have long had a habit of reading so fast that i forget to take a breath (literally, but also figuratively in the way of looking up from the page) but these two authors consistently compel me to gasp and set their book down for a moment, allowing to blossom the conceptual and stylistic fireworks i experience while submerged in their worlds of words. living in their books is an exercise in constant ecstasy. that said, i will start in on the meditation that the former quotation brought to light during a breather in the middle of devouring it’s source. }

I come to it often, the idea of the inability of human beings to express ‘the truth’ to one another, the subjectivity of everything that passes between us, the impossibility of transmitting anything in a complete and unchanged form from one of us to the other.

What is it about writers that we are obsessed with that problem? Is solving it the purpose of our craft? The secret longing of each of us that makes us attempt the fool’s errand in the first place? We all know it’s impossible. Or is it from that impossibility that the story, and therefore the writer, is born? Because there can never be the story, one truth, pure understanding. Only because there is this gap between the teller and the hearer, can we exist. And it is within that gap that we find employment.

And it is as an architect looks at a river and starts to imagine bridges that we each attempt the jump in our own particular way, trying again and again to get closer to an expression of our own truth that will be more and more closely understood by the reader. Maybe this is why authors love to read, as if comparing blueprints, to see how their fellows tackled the problem of crossing the chasm, overarching the abyss. Of constructing a form of connection with their reader.

For what is more worthwhile in the whole history of human society and culture than the creation of connections between our separate solitudes? I wonder if it’s because writing is such a solitary art that it creates such a strong imperative in its practitioners to achieve this connection with another, however fleeting and far-off. Because when it is made, and the imaginative sparks fly, there is nothing more rewarding for either party.

[and really, what is hotter than the idea that your favorite authors are working their hardest to have intellectual sex with you?]



Today, It’s my Shirt

In Uncategorized on June 29, 2013 at 6:30 pm

[this was written as a monologue for a benefit show for my dear friend ethan’s top surgery in 2010. there were tons of queer and trans people in the audience, so i was preaching to the choir, and getting a room full of people to laugh and sigh with me was really amazing. ]

I met an artist at pride in san francisco who wanted to take my picture and ask me the question, ‘what makes you a man?’

my answer was : ‘today, its my shirt.’

there are two important points this answer makes: one, that manhood is something I deal with daily, and two, that its something that can be put on and taken off, like a costume. This statement implies that tomorrow, depending on what im wearing, I might not be a man. How exactly does that work, you ask?

Well, the thing is, I could have easily answered: ‘what makes me a man is the fact that you think I am one.’

these responses sound like pretty tenuous ties to an identity, provisional and only partly under my control. Which is mostly true, cuz I gotta tell you, my identity is only partly what i perceive of myself. Its also partly what others perceive me to be. The challenge for those along the transgender spectrum is the disparity between those two perceptions.

Now, I like a challenge, and traveling around all the time, I bump up against all different manifestations of this challenge in cities all around the country.

And some days its gratifying, like last week in san jose, when I got a craigslist ride from a woman who referred to me as ‘he’ to the other female passengers. when they all started talking about how I should attach an iphone to the stereo, the word ‘he’ was used 12 times in a minute. I actually got a little dizzy. By the time we got to LA I was still ‘he’ to my driving friend. And of all the things we talked about in the 8 hour trip, gender wasnt one of them.

And some days its disappointing, like when I see a cute guy behind the ice cream counter in LA and want to flirt with him, get him to smile at me with those pretty eyes, but when he looks my way, he addresses me with the disinterested efficiency of one man at the service of another in a totally hetero, single entendre sort of way. And I play along, cuz Im flattered at being given the opportunity for this kind of interaction. But missing out on that smile makes it not quite worth it.

And some days its disconcerting, like when I was sitting in the observation car of a train headed thru utah and the men sitting near me made some comments about a woman walking by. It wasnt as much what they said, it was how they said it, and with a wink to me, like I was in on the joke. It was my first time really seeing what men are like when no women are around. It made me feel a weird mixture of flattered, intrigued, and a bit sick.

and some days its ridiculous, like when im drinking beers at a white sox game with two of my guy friends from high school, both of whom i hooked up with years ago, and I say, ‘hey, guys, I appreciate you being cool about the pronoun thing.’ and greg says, ‘oh, yeah, we were talking about you yesterday, and andy says to me, ‘so, since youve made out with him, does that make you, like, 1/8th gay?” and I say, ‘ 1/8th gay? Really, guys? Come on. How does that even work? And anyway, the same goes for you, andrew.’ and he says, ‘look, my sisters a lesbian, dont go making me out to be homophobic.’ and greg says, ‘actually man, id say this makes you a bit homophilic.’

And some days its disheartening, like when I was at the grocery store with my mom on the outskirts of chicago and a man in the checkout line behind us openly stared at me the entire time I was loading our food into bags. Like, with his eyes bugging out and his mouth hanging open. He looked ridiculous, I looked like a person helping their retired mother shop for a family dinner. My mom looked mortified. That one was rough.

but all of these days add up to a life of generally wanting to be seen as more masculine than feminine, which is the way I feel most comfortable living. The problem is, its not that any one person is seeing me that way, but that of all the people who flip the gender coin for me in a day, there are more that see me as a man than that see me as a woman. And tho none of them are totally wrong, I really wish more people had a spectrum in their pocket instead of a coin.

I gotta admit tho, right now, what I want most in my daily interactions is to have that unconscious privilege of manhood bestowed upon me. I know that sounds shitty, and when I think about all the implications of it, the patriarchy, sexism, oppression and the like, I want no part of it. but then someone says ‘sir’ and i thrill at the novelty of it and strive to hold on to that bit of manliness for as long as they will let me. Im not trying to deceive anyone, or take advantage of being given said privilege, im just trying to tally up more heads than tails to start tipping the scales towards the identity in me that has been unseen by others for most of my life. And maybe that desire will wear off when it feels more even, and maybe in the future it wont be so difficult to present as a betwixt and between in middle america. But right now it feels really hard to maintain a genderqueer identity when most people I interact with can’t fathom its existence. But again, if my identity is half my presentation and half others interpretation, then all I can do is wear the shirt that fits today and hope you can see how it does.

Peter Panek

In Uncategorized on June 29, 2013 at 4:30 pm

[written as a monologue for a solo performance piece in 2007]

Have you read Rilke’s letters yet? Do it soon. He understands why this growing up thing is so hard. Here, listen.

“Sex is difficult; yes. But they are difficult things with which we have been charged; almost everything serious is difficult, and everything is serious. If you only recognize this and manage, out of yourself, out of your own nature and ways, out of your own experience and childhood and strength to achieve a relation to sex wholly your own (not influenced by convention and custom), then you need no longer be afraid of losing yourself and becoming unworthy of your best possession.”

For me, it’s all about the boy. The boy haunts me. Maybe he haunts everyone, I dunno. He’s the one who doesn’t grow up. He’s my favorite. He is Timmy, he is Peter Pan, he is whatever boy I’m all about, He is me when I’m feeling most myself and then he is completely the other. God, He is flight. He is freedom and spontaneity and escape and possibility and success and height. To Get High. Literally. He is a drug, he is a lover, he’s a shadow, he is an ideal, he is a fucking fury. He is everything to me and yet he is nothing. He’s who I want to see in the mirror, and then he’s you half the time.

He started as a feeling about myself. As a kid I was an all out tomboy. Okay, so not much has changed, but still…even back then I had short hair. Boy short. I loved it cuz it helped me fit in. Cuz I was always one of the rough and tumbles, my gruff little husky voice mingling, my soccer playing on par, my tree climbing skills competing with the best of the boys on my block. And I only wore blue boy clothes, if I could help it. So the hair just completed the image. I can’t tell you how many times some kid would come up to me on the playground and say, “are you a boy or a girl?” and I would want to hit them or run away or sometimes I would feel like crying, but always I would say, “what do you think?” like they were so stupid that they had to ask. Cuz I was always so angry that they needed to know so bad. I always felt that it was the height of rudeness, not that they couldn’t tell, but that it mattered. That my private body parts were allowed to be part of blacktop conversation. I wanted to say “it’s none of your business” but that wouldn’t really make sense to a 7 year old. Not that it made sense to me at the time either, it’s just what I wanted to say. Sometimes I’d say, “why does it matter?” and they would look at me like I was an alien or something, which I wished I was so I didn’t have to feel like I was caught in between two polar opposites—I didn’t discover the gender spectrum till college—”cuz it DOES,” they would say. It does matter. People need to know what side of the coin you are on so they know how to treat you. Cuz all interaction is gendered. Nobody knows what to do with you if you don’t fit into either/or.

Then this feeling was given an image with Timmy. He was my favorite cousin. He was a mischievous little imp, a total instigator, but he also was the one who looked out for us younger kids. He was the golden child, always making everyone smile, becoming the favorite of our entire hot-blooded Italian clan. My adoration of Timmy bordered on worship. He knew it and was gentleman enough not to mention it or let it affect how we played together. God I remember his face– the barely contained laugh in his smirky smile–when he had thought of some great game to embark upon and he was about to let me in on the fun. His eyes would really shine like stars. (second to the right and straight on till morning) I followed him around like a puppy dog. Loyal to the end. Which came in the form of an inoperable brain tumor, causing a gut-dropping descent into death when he was nine years old. Nine years. He never got to live beyond that. He’d be almost 30 now. I can’t imagine him at that age. I don’t want to. He will always be a little boy. And I’m so jealous of that. Both the ‘always’ part and the ‘boy’ part. Cuz my way of grieving him has been to keep his image of eternal boyness very real inside of me—make it my ideal and my shadow. And still I catch myself believing I can keep alive that time when we were both young and invincible, by finding someone who fits his role, or by acting out his part myself. The boy who would not grow up.

And then this image became a reality with Peter Pan. When I was a senior in college, my dorm mates and I declared war on our friends who had an off-campus house named “Pirate House”. We pronounced ourselves the lost boys and had a crowing contest to see who would play Peter. I won. We each played a part and stole their jolly roger flag which started us pranking our way thru our last months in neverland before graduation. it was fun, but I realize now I wasn’t just playing. That year I was learning to navigate the world Peter Pan inhabits of being a ‘betwixt and between’ not a human boy, not a bird either, but an eternal youth who can fly—who is capable of anything. Cuz here’s the trick—this is why Peter Pan is such a fascinating dramatic character–cuz he is a young boy, but is traditionally played on stage by a grown woman. So there is this gender fuck going on where this actress, like her character, will never grow up to be a man only because she is not male and she will continue to look like a boy specifically because she chooses to not look like a girl. So you’re refusing to play by the rules of society not by refusing to physically grow up, but refusing to act out your gender role, which in a lot of minds is how you show that you are grown-up. Such a refusal puts you betwixt and between where anything is possible. And when I say you, I mean me, but I also mean you.

Cuz now there is this potential with you. What kind? I don’t know. Cuz if asked “are you a boy or a girl?” I would answer one way and you the other, yet in practice we go back and forth. And neither of us knows how to navigate between where you begin and where I end mostly because the shapes we have don’t keep still long enough to fit together—like Tink never standing still long enough for you to see her. But if I’m not playing woman and you aren’t playing man are we both playing boy? Is that okay? Are we playing for keeps? what roles aren’t possible at this point? Cuz there is a lot of ground to cover in the betwixt and between. And tho I have no idea where we might land, all I really know how to do is take your hand and try to fly.