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Hulking

In Uncategorized on December 12, 2013 at 11:51 am

so i was asked to give a short speech, a meditation if you will, to start out the evening at the Hulk 101 event that the wonderful homeroom put on last night at the hungry brain in chicago. the entire evening was fantastic and deeply interesting, a dialogue about gender that i enjoyed immensely. 

this is what i said:

Remember the Hulk TV show with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno in the 70s and 80s? Maybe I’m dating myself to say this, but that’s the version I grew up with.

Image

Remember Dr Banner’s origin story in that one? His wife died in a car crash because he was unable to lift the flipped vehicle off the ground enough to free her from the flaming wreck. He was haunted by his weakness and started studying ways of enhancing human strength, especially in those high stress moments when your adrenaline spikes and gives you that extra push.

That’s where the gamma rays came in. He thought they could alter the mechanism for finding that superhuman strength that sometimes comes to a person when most needed, so he blasted himself with a ton of radiation in search of that hidden power. Guess what he found? Yep. Getting angry caused him to turn into a hulking green rage machine that smashed everything in view.

He was a menace – that big green guy – there was no good way to control or stop him. He was Dr. Banner’s anger made manifest, and it both frightened and shamed him. The hulk was a curse, but one he’d brought on himself. And finding a cure became his purpose in life.

This is the story I fell in love with.

Because as a tomboy who was fiercely adamant about being as good as, if not better than, all the boys on my block, I can’t tell you how many times I wept with rage at my weakness. Even my little brother, younger than me by almost two years, was stronger than I was. It hurt. And when I felt hurt, I got angry. I was a little white-hot rage machine of my own, especially when you tried to put me in a dress.

I know I have a hot temper and it’s something I still work on, but honestly that’s how boys are taught to function in our culture. They aren’t taught how to feel, they are taught how to rage. Hurt? Get angry. Annoyed? Get angry. Sad? Get angry. The Hulk seems to be society’s teacher of what a man is. Some folks chalk this problem up to the patriarchy, others to Testosterone—that gamma ray of puberty that can often be used to excuse the unleashing of the id.

But I am equally reluctant to deal with either one of these answers, or at least, not in large amounts.

Yes, I’m transmasculine, but I’m also genderqueer. I’m not trying to go from one end of the gender spectrum to the other as I only really feel comfortable in the middle. And because of this I have come to realise that ‘transition’ for me isn’t something you go through once and you’re done. For me, it’s a constant process. My concept of myself, as well as the way I am viewed by others, is always in flux. The former is my own doing, the latter, I have no control over. (starting to sound familiar?) Is it any wonder, given my problems with anger, why I’m reluctant to shoot myself full of the transman’s gamma ray every week?

I love the Hulk, I always have. And yet I love him, not in a I-want-to-be-you-when-I-grow-up sort of way, like many superheroes, but in a dying-inside-at-how-painfully-familiar-this-feels-to-me sort of way. And I think I knew that when I was six years old and watching the slight, mild-mannered Dr. Banner lose his temper and then lose his mind in the monstrously large body of the he-man-like hulk. I won’t say that I saw myself navigating the gender split back then, nor was I seeing the hulk as a cautionary tale, I can’t pretend to have been that savvy. But I can tell you that aside from the loss of control of his body and the shame that came with it, (which was a huge thing, don’t get me wrong) the other thing that struck me was how over and over again the raging Hulk was calmed by a woman. Any woman, really. Whatever damsel in distress he’d found that week. When the men were chasing after him with guns, calling him a monster, it was the woman who saw his humanity and brought him back to himself. We cannot live, we that call ourselves men, without some access to the feminine self. Even the Hulk knew that. We would do well to remember it.

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My Dream Boy

In Uncategorized on July 3, 2013 at 9:10 am

[written in early 2012]

One day the most perfect boy I’ve ever seen showed up right out of nowhere, and then just started being ‘around’ all the time. It took me a little while to realize it, but it was always the same boy, always just on the periphery. Once I noticed him, however, I couldn’t stop seeing him everywhere I looked, as if he suddenly liked all the same people and places and things I did. And it was disconcerting how utterly beautiful I found him. I mean, it’s a little unnerving when you are just minding your own business, going about your day, and then, bam! your exact ideal of what a boy should be is just standing there, looking gorgeous, being cool, smiling faintly—-not necessarily at you, just generally—-and you have to figure out how to catch your breath and remain calm. Act like nothing extraordinary is happening to you. It was hard to get used to.

But then I started expecting to see him. And over time I took note of the little things about him that his perfectness had all but blinded me to at the outset. Simple little things that you can observe from afar, like his stellar wardrobe and how well he wore it, the always pleasing variations in how his hair looked day to day, messy or done. How he held himself with such poise-—sitting, standing, at rest, in motion-—I took special note of his gait and ever after could recognize him coming from a mile away.

We circled round each other for a time, never getting close enough to meet exactly, but taking the measure of each other, assessing the possibility of…something. Or at least I was, of course I didn’t know what he thought, if anything. Also, this was all new to me, acknowledging this type of attraction, this inability to look away, this desire for a guy like this. I mean, he was exactly my type–to a T–but I wasn’t quite ready to deal with the consequences of what that meant. Because I hadn’t yet come to terms with the fact that I had a type–at least in this sense–until he showed up. But he was just magnificent. And it did things to me to witness this magnificence and not be able to come close to it somehow.

It was tantalizing, seeing him around almost every day, watching him stand, coat collar up, smoking a cigarette outside, noticing the way he ran his fingers through this hair, witnessing a half-smile break slowly over his face, imagining what it would be like to look in his eyes, to know what his handshake felt like. It bordered on unbearable at times to not know him, inside and out.

I finally gave up any pretense of indifference, which I had been feigning for some time, and decided to make his acquaintance. But I didn’t know how to do so. I agonized over it for a long time, trying to figure out the best way to go about it. How do you approach your ideal boy and introduce yourself? Saying something to the effect of, “I’ve been staring at you from across crowded rooms for what feels like my whole life, and I can’t stand being that far away from you anymore” would probably not do, even if it was the truth. (and yes, I was that far into this infatuation, fascination, obsession…whatever you call it, I was in deep.) I was hooked. Addicted might be too strong a word, but only just.

Because then he got a hold of my dreams. And he wouldn’t let go. Whether I remembered the dreams or not, every morning I’d wake up with his image behind my eyelids, as consistent as the sleep crud in the corners, as if I’d been staring at him all night and his figure had burned itself onto my retinas like a flashbulb. A lot of them I did remember, tho. Dreams of walking through houses or subways or dormitories or museums together, dreams of picnics and playgrounds and dance parties, of couches and cars and cabins in the woods, of food and drinks in restaurants and bars and kitchens and bedrooms. But always with him. Or it always ended up as him. Sometimes the person I was with would start as a friend or an old lover, but at some point it always morphed into him. I’d look away for a second and my ex-girlfriend, or my old roommate or my co-worker/crush would vanish and in their place would be him: my dream boy. I started calling him that in my head—-my ‘dream boy’—-once it became literally true. But then I feared I’d never be able to hold his gaze in waking life. How awkward my crush had become. (I will call it a crush, even if that feels inaccurate to some, because otherwise the word ‘worship’ would be considered)

I had almost resigned myself to worshiping him (there was nothing left) from afar forever, when one day I turned around and there we was, right behind me. He’d sneaked up and come close to me of his own accord. I was shocked and delighted, but understandably scared. We shyly introduced ourselves and began getting to know each other close up. And, wonder of wonders, he seemed normal and happy and perfectly fine with spending time with me. I was in heaven. Still somewhat nervous, of course, not really knowing what I could do with him, or what exactly I wanted with him, (I’d never really done this before) but enjoying his company to the utmost.

I made a habit of studying him. All the little details one can collect as being the personal traits of someone—-mannerisms, the ways of being that each being possesses that are unique unto her- or himself—-how each of his facial expressions was formed and what they indicated, the way he chewed his food or held his lips when putting on lip balm, how he checked his pockets for his keys/wallet/phone, the tone and timbre of his voice (he had an exquisite voice), the way he leaned on things-—walls, railings, streetlamps, door frames-—yes, i admired the way he leaned. how his hands moved when he lit a cigarette; how he used his hands generally. They were expressive but not fidgety, square but not thick, long but not spindly, and he used them to the utmost effect, bringing attention to their grace and surety without ostentation. I admit was a little bit in love with his hands.
I became a connoisseur of my dream boy, committing to memory every angle of his face, every line that he cut in his well-fitting clothes, every movement and attitude of his body. it was everything I could do to keep myself from resorting to the adult version of teenage fandom—-like tacking pictures of him all over my bedroom walls-—whatever that would be.
And slowly, surely, we got closer and closer. We spent time together everyday-—we were fast becoming inseparable. We spent hours at at time hanging out together, sharing everything with each other. I never got tired of his company, in fact, I increasingly required it as much as possible. He, bless him, was happy to comply. It was remarkably easy to be together because we were actually (surprisingly, to me) very similar. Soon, I thought I knew him well enough that I could look at the world through his eyes. I had been able to get inside his head—-had been allowed entrance—-and I felt comfortable there. It was a novel but not altogether foreign viewpoint. It felt really good to see him this way, to take on his frame of mind, it was intimate and safe, somehow. And I was welcome. I started to spend more and more time inside his head, getting a feel for it, coming to rely on his viewpoint to inform mine. And I was grateful for it.
One would think that knowing him so well might mean a falling off of my worshipful stance, but not in his case. The more I knew about him, the more highly I regarded him. Yes, it’s possible that this was a dangerous predicament to have put myself in, but I had not a thought for myself, for the safety of my being, I had abandoned all thought of going back at this point. There was nothing for it but to continue on. Toward what, I was still unsure.
I had by that time become closer to him than to any other person in my life, and still I wanted to know him better. It was ‘As if increase of appetite had grown /By what it fed on’. I wanted more than anything to get at, not the trappings of his being, but the thing itself. I had an insatiable desire to ‘pluck out the heart of [his] mystery’, to discover the pure essence of this perfect boy. This ideal specimen of the masculine gender. This meant I had gotten to an emotional place I had not expected to be: in the throes of the desire to plumb the depths of his heart, to penetrate into his inner core, to mine every inch of him, and make it fully known to me. The natural progression of this thing I can only call a relationship, was to bring him home with me. Since he had shared my head every night for months it seemed only fair to invite him to share my bed.
And then the real exploration, and epiphanies, began. It was appalling how turned on I could get by looking at his body, my gaze a caress he welcomed with apparent relish. Touching him was a whole other level of pleasure, and we took our time with each and every sensation. The first time I felt his body on mine, my head exploded—-ecstasy of the highest order yet. His hands on me sent a thrill through every nerve, his chest on mine made me want to weep, his hips, his ass, when they met my own, begot a joy unspeakable, a need unmanageable, a drive unstoppable. I’d thought I enjoyed being inside his mind, but the first time I was inside his body, desire bit into me so hard it hurt, and I almost couldn’t bring myself to come out again. How had I not known that this was what I had been needing? Everything made sense for the first time. I felt whole. Replete. Content. And, dare I say it, at home. I had lost myself completely in him.
At that moment I knew, finally and without a doubt, that I had to let go of my fears and love myself enough to take the final plunge. To let go of who I thought I was and embrace the new possibility this perfect boy had engendered.
And so I became committed to grappling joyfully with the image of my dream boy, striving with my whole self to learn how to be inside of him. I’m learning that he is a good fit, and he comes easily to me. There is just one last thing left to do.
I need to tell you. To make you understand. To ask you to not come looking for me as the girl you knew, because she is gone. All that’s left is this boy, the one whom I’ve brought from fantasy into the flesh. My flesh. The boy I’ve dreamed of being.

Mirror Me

In Uncategorized on July 2, 2013 at 4:39 pm

[what follows is a complete fabrication, from any way you look at it. but it was fun to write from both sides. written at the end of 2011.]

I was sitting in my favorite spot at the coffee shop, (you know, the one, right near my house) which is the seat at the table right in the window, which is perfect for people watching. You can watch everyone who comes in, you’ve got a good view of the kids behind the counter, and you can even peek out the window at the bus stop right in front. Anyway, I was sitting there, drinking coffee and reading a book—or more accurately, staring out into the rain with a book on the table in front of me—when I noticed this kid walk up to the bus stop. Well, not a child, a young adult. A cute boy, in fact, which is what made me notice him. He had on grey tennis shoes, blue jeans, a black shirt under a grey hoodie under a blue jacket, and a black messenger bag all of which seemed to be getting pretty well soaked. The hood was up but his dark bangs were still wet enough to drip onto his pale cheekbone. His hands were deep in his jacket pockets and, shoulders hunched, he looked pretty miserable out there in the wet day.

He joined the small group of people standing in different attitudes of waiting, looked with kind eyes and a tiny half-smile at the lady nearest him, then backed up when her man kinda got in his face, leaning in and putting his arm around her, not so much in a marking territory sort of way, but more as if protecting her from something distasteful. I found myself frowning at this treatment, now too invested in random strangers to go back to my book.

I watched him check his phone as if it were a pocket watch, wiping the raindrops from his eyebrows, his starry eyelashes shadowing the tops of his cheeks. I averted my eyes as he turned towards the door and came into the shop, presumably to keep dry and avail himself of the bus tracker display screen mounted on the wall above the coffee grinder (This bit of technological brilliance was something I was excited to use as the winter progressed). He stepped up to the counter about 15 feet away from me and ordered a coffee to go. His voice was a husky tenor though it sounded like he favored the low end of his range, maybe in order to seem older. He looked like a student, though was almost certainly of drinking age. Maybe a grad student. I wondered if he was a TA and had a hard time maintaining authority.

His features were fine (like a pen with a fine tip), not to the point of delicate, but bordering on pretty. He had a straggly mustache and a congregation of hairs on his chin that were not quite the beginnings of a beard, as young, not particularly hairy, men sometimes do. His face was devoid of baby fat, but still had that ‘fresh faced youth’ thing going for it. His hands were long but not broad, showing strength without muscle, and stayed active without appearing fidgety. When he pushed his hood back I was somewhat shocked to see his hair was already greying.

“what’s with the throwback jams? Every time I’m in here this week you are playing old-school stuff. Yesterday you played some Phish, today, it’s OK Computer. Reminds me of college…” he addressed the shrugging barista as he received his cup.

“you are so not that old!” It came out of my mouth before I had time to stop it shut.

He looked over at me, startled, with a broadening lopsided grin. “thirty-three last week.”

“shut the front door!” I probably looked as shocked as I felt cuz he chuckled as I shut my mouth. I opened it again to say, “I would have guessed about ten years younger.”

“yeah, standard. My theory is that will happen to me until I go truly grey, which will be in just a couple years. Then everyone will guess ten years older.” he shook his head in a resigned but amused way.

“but how do you do it?” I wondered aloud.

“do it? I don’t do anything. I just am. It’s what you see that does it.” while speaking that pretty boy’s entire face broke into the most radiant smile, white teeth showing, rosy cheek apples making crescent moons out of twinkling, laughing eyes. Her merriment was plainly beautiful and my flustered wonder was trumped by the contagiousness of it. I smiled back and laughed. Mostly at myself. We just looked at each other for a moment, then I received a subtle and, I must say, somewhat flirtatious wink as the damp hood was pulled back into place. And then a quick checking of the bus tracker one last time and a mumbled, “have a nice day” before the door opened to let out this random stranger and let in the cool damp outside air. As it hit my face I realized I was blushing.

Muscle Memory

In Uncategorized on July 1, 2013 at 1:10 pm

[this was written as a blogspot blog entry, fall of 2011]

things most people pay very little conscious attention to in a day:

the length of your fingernails.
how far apart your feet are when standing.
the way you put on lip balm.
how much you smile.
how long you hold eye contact.
the way you hold, light, and smoke a cigarette.
the way you ask for a light.
who you choose to sit next to on the train/bus.
how you take off a coat or sweater.
how you check your pockets.
where you keep your wallet.
the length of your stride.
how you rub your eyes or scratch your head.
how you jam out to music on your headphones.
how you hold and touch your phone.
where you keep your phone.
how you lick your lips.
how you touch your hair, neck, face, chest….
how you shake hands.
how you take a sip of a drink.
how you hitch up your pants.
how you hold your shoulders.
how you lean on something like a wall or a railing.

but the thing is, i actually do. at one time or another in the past month, i have consciously thought about and made choices about each one of these things. cuz whether you know it or not, each of these things contributes to how people assess your gender. i spend time wondering whether or not i do these things in a way that would be perceived as at all masculine. i think the reason i pay such close attention to actors is that i understand how they feel when they take on a role, trying to translate their ideas of how a character feels and thinks and functions into the ways in which they express themselves thru their bodies. cuz it’s not so much about saying the line right as it is about moving your hand, or tilting your head, or leaning in as you say it to get the desired affect. it’s body inflection. and we do it unconsciously, or semi-consciously all of the time. however for me, it’s not unconscious cuz i haven’t been inflecting the same way my whole life. and changing the perception of my gender isn’t just about wearing men’s clothes, growing facial hair and speaking in a lower register. it’s about how i ride the bus: do i let the woman get in line ahead of me? do i sit next to a dude instead of boxing in a young lady? do i stand up and give my seat to an older lady? do i keep my knee or shoulder from brushing against the guy next to me? do i say ‘excuse me’ instead of ‘sorry’ when i bump into someone while exiting? if yes, then i’m most likely seen as a young man by virtually everyone on said bus. and at this point, in this place (sorry, midwest, but you are more dichotomy-based than the coasts) that identification is preferable to double-takes and confused (possibly hostile) looks. i play a part to balance feeling most like myself and keeping my day hassle-free. cuz not being socialized as a boy/man, i’ve had to learn this role–like a second language. or, to not mix metaphors, like a period piece. i study the culture and customs of men in order to be true to my character.

hence why, when i see johnny depp with long hair, wearing a silk scarf and eyeliner, i study every other aspect of his being to figure out how he is seen as a hot man as opposed to a fucked up freak. cuz it’s all the other little things he does while wearing the eyeliner. the long practiced, and therefore automatic, ease of lighting a cigarette with a zippo. casually propping a hand on a bent knee. these things ‘read’ well. it plays.

but i am never sure this is actually true for me. that people don’t see me as a fucked up freak. so i pay attention to every little thing i do. not that i always change how i function to fit other people’s gender prejudices, but just to be conscious of these semi-conscious tells and decide if i feel comfortable with how i’m being perceived while doing them. which means that i live my life in public (and sometimes in private) as an actor working to embody a new role. to use a clearer image, this means that i feel always like a guitarist who has just learned a song and is playing it for an audience for the first time, still looking at the music and watching my fingers, instead of functioning like a traditionally socialized 32 year old. he would feel like a musician who is playing one of their old favorites for their listeners, with the lyrics memorized and their hands finding the chords on their own. my problem (if i want to call it a problem, maybe a conundrum, or simply a situation–just the place i am on this journey) is that i don’t have the muscle memory of being a man. this really shouldn’t be called a problem because i actually welcome the chance to practice my performance and improve upon it with more and more attention to detail. it’s a craft i enjoy perfecting, if only for the practice it gives me as an actor. (and to be clear, this role i ‘play’ feels much more comfortable than the one i practiced my whole young adult life, one which i also felt the need to study because it sure as hell didn’t come naturally.)and now, this weekend i will literally ‘take the stage’ (it’s really only a script reading) as a man for the first time. i guess i ‘read’ well enough at the bar this weekend for the folks to cast me as a young man in real life (i assume) which led them to cast me as a young man in their play. now we will see how it feels to not just perform this role on the street, but actually make the practice work in an artistically performative venue. i must tell you i’m totally intrigued to see if my performance can hold together on ‘stage’ for an hour and a half as well as it does on a bus for 15 minutes. wish me luck, i guess.

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.

What was the last book you loved?

In Uncategorized on August 25, 2012 at 3:22 pm

 I admit it, I’m an enthusiastic person. I can’t help but function like a six year old when I get excited about something. You know, I jump up and down and wave my hands around and speak very loudly and animatedly about the thing of the moment–be it a book, a movie, a play, a character, an author, a story in my head, a celebrity, a friend, you name it–I can be the fanboy to end them all. Which means the last book I loved is always the last one I’ve read.
I have torrid literary love affairs all the time. I get so into something I see my entire existence through the lens of that world. I try on characters like suits of clothing and walk around in them for a time. I map my own life onto the journeys the characters take. I talk about what I’m going through in my life by employing the metaphors used on the page. I don’t just read books, I live them. Like an actor in a role. Except I take on the entire story, not just one character.
Most of the time, like an actor, when the story is over (or shortly thereafter) I will step outside of that world and go back to my everyday life. Aspects of a good book will stick with me like fog does as the sun comes out, lines of prose like wisps of smoke trailing behind, clinging to me, long after the rest has burned off. Pockets of inky text clinging to the low-lying areas–the shaded parts of my mind– where I can stumble across them at calm moments and remember that life I once lived.
But once in a while there is a book I fall *in love* with. Those are the ones that even halfway through it is abundantly clear that the world I’ve entered is not one I will be willing to discard–not even parts of it–that this story is one that I need to actively incorporate into my life and my being, allowing it to reside in my imagination in perpetuity. Sometimes it’s a character I need inside me to become the person I want to be, others it’s the way a world was created that I’ve needed to understand how life is to be lived. Sometimes it’s the story itself that I require to pattern some aspect of my own journey upon.
And rarely, it is more a function of how the story is being told and how that melds with the world of its telling that get me. One such as this will capture me and make me its creature–both the reader in me and the writer. It will burrow deep into my self–both selves, intertwined–and take root in my gut, incorporating my insides into its new growth, and blossoming into meaning and purpose and the drive to create. And if I’m lucky, later comes the fruit of a story of my own.
Such a one is The Book of Flying by Keith Miller. The story looks simple enough–a young poet/librarian falls for a winged girl who won’t have him because he can’t know what it’s like to fly. And so, he heads off on a quest to acquire his wings. The epic journey to the legendary city in the east where the Book of Flying awaits is a varied one, full of new people, places, and stories, new ways of seeing, being, writing, dying. In short, revelations abound. Pico is gorgeous–familiar and flawed and working to incorporate into himself and his poetry all that he experiences–his companions are bright and bold and well drawn, each of them very different from the last. You feel as though you have lived many lifetimes with him in the course of his journey. The language is poetic and appropriate to the telling of a tale such as this, whether you want to call it a fairy tale, a fable, or a fantasy. But it’s not simply the language of the story in this book, it’s the language aboutthe stories and books encountered within that hooks into me and makes a home.

Example:

I feel we’re all trying to find a story, like treasure buried beneath our city, and all the feeble stories we live are patterned after that pristine story whose shape we almost know. Sometimes just after I wake or before I make love I’ll think, This is the story, I’m living the story. But the world always rushes in with its clash and anguish.

Stories are important in Pico’s world. And in all of the worlds he encounters and the lives he lives on his way. He comes from a place where people don’t read but succeeds in collecting at least one story from each person he encounters. Many of them acknowledge that telling their story brings meaning to their life. The time he spends in a rainy city full of books and readers and writers and artists becomes a formative one where he learns to love both a woman who is a writer of worlds made of language, as well as himself as a wordsmith.
But let us not forget that our hero’s quest is to find a book. Not just any book. As it turns out, he finds The Book to end all books. Or, more accurately, The Book from which all books begin. Like in the quoted passage above, The Book is that pristine story. The one you have had glimpses of in every other book you’ve read. Those passages that transport you and then never leave–the fragments and glimpses of truth you carry with you through life–all of those gems are bits of The Book. It is a patchwork of all these bits and more, stitched together into a tale worth losing yourself in. A tale that transforms you as a chrysalis does a caterpillar, forever on a new level of being.
I was unaware of how hard I believed in the existence of said book until I read the scene where Pico opens it. That is when I knew this book in my hand, The Book of Flying, by a man who must have seen deep inside my self at all the wisps and whispers I’ve ever collected, was the one which had a larger portion of The Book (or at least the one that I’m questing for) than any other story I had yet encountered.
And yes, I’m prone to hyperbole. Yes, I use words like ‘best’ and ‘most’ and ‘perfect’ with abandon. In the heat of a good story I’ll say almost anything. (Flings are designed to be effusive.) However, it’s been more than a year now and I will tell you straight: I haven’t had this kind of experience–the one where words knife into the center of my being and take my breath away, leaving streaming eyes in their wake and my heart simultaneously full to overflowing and hollowed out with yearning–in a very long time. Not for myself as a reader–and writer, and lover of story–anyway. I’ve felt like that for a character, maybe, a narrator for sure. But to find myself coming across such truth about the word that began inside me, was reflecting my innermost writer-self onto the page, only to then shine back into my eyes as revelation? That was new. And I will be in love with this book until I die for the gift of that experience.