Archive for February, 2009

26
Feb
09

Palimpsest!

All right, I have now officially responded to all of your comments. I’m even mostly caught up on my personal emails, so if I owe you one of those, feel free to poke me.

Tonight I went to the book release party for Catherynne M. Valente’s Palimpsest. I was kind of super excited about it. Firstly because I loved the two books of Valente’s that I’ve read (In The Night Garden and In the Cities of Coin and Spice, which collectively make up The Orphan’s Tales). I’ve been meaning to read them aloud to Girlfriend, Esq. (reading aloud is one of the nauseatingly cute ways we spend time together while not being in the same city). They’re made up of gorgeously nested stories, the writing is lush and beautiful, and I just found reading them to be a terribly pleasurable experience. The other reason I was excited is because the universe seemed to want me to be there; I’ve got two degrees of separation going on several different ways. I’m friendly acquaintances with two people who performed. Another performer and vendor was my first girlfriend five years ago (we had dinner last night after a year and a half of emailing; it was the first time we’ve seen each other since we broke up. It went really, really well, and I’m delighted to have her friendship in my life again and to have seen her again tonight). Girlfriend, Esq.’s wife emailed me last night to tell me that she’s LJ friends with Valente’s partner, and they have real-life friends in common from when they all lived in the same city. It is a small, small world, and an exciting amount of it came together tonight. And a good friend invited me to go before I even knew any of that. Also the show itself was all kinds of fun and exciting, with music based on the book (and people who have recommended SJ Tucker to me were so totally right), bellydance and burlesque (I know I’ve seen too much NYC burlesque when a woman in a Godzilla costume walks onstage and I say to myself “I know those boobs…that has to be Jo Boobs”), a rope suspension performance, readings from the book itself, and more. It was book release carnival! And there were pretty things for sale and lots of good people to catch up with. I enjoyed myself right up until the moment I realized that if I didn”t leave I was going to run into nasty post-midnight construction on the train.

I don’t actually have anything to say about bisexuality in Valente’s writing, mostly because I read The Orphan’s Tales before I became quite such a bisexual superhero and started looking at most things through this lense, and because I haven’t yet read Palimpsest. But I think very highly of the way she writes about a variety of imaginary cultures and makes them compelling and believable and something other than vaguely exoticized white people. I bought Palimpsest tonight, and once I’ve read it and reread the others I’m sure I’ll have something good to say. I kinda trust her to get it right.

So I’ll be honest and admit that I’m pimping the book here because it enters me in a contest to win a Palimpsest Immigration Package (with all kinds of goodies, including a signed copy of the book, and chocolates and other lovelies inspired by the book). But that just gave me the idea to post about it. I’m doing it because I believe in what Valente has to say about internet marketing, and I want to support books like this one so that people continue to publish them, and it sounds like how this book does in particular will have a lot to do with whether Valente can continue to support herself with her writing. And because so many cool people I know are involved in promoting the book. And because this is my platform and I can use it way I darn well please, of course.

So go buy Palimpsest, hm? Then send Valente your receipt to be entered to win the other Immigration Package (or send her a link to your own blog/LJ/whatever post pimping it, and get entered to win the same one I’m going for. Jerks. No, seriously, do it anyway, no hard feelings.) Also check out where else she’ll be promoting the book; there’s a lot of stuff going on, all over both coasts. And with this sort of multimedia, carnival approach, it’s sure to be fun.

20
Feb
09

More in common than we thought?

I am so woefully behind since last weekend’s conference. Especially since Girlfriend, Esq. got into town last night, so I spent the three days since I got home getting ready for her visit. If I owe you a personal email or haven’t responded to your comment yet (thanks for all the birthday wishes!), I swear I haven’t forgotten you and it is on my list of things to do. If you could give me until Monday before you give up on me, I’d be eternally grateful.

I’m still catching up on Google Alerts and Bilerico emails, too. In one of them I came across a link to this reaction to Rea Carey’s speech at Creating Change, from Americans for Truth About Homosexuality. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that it’s a vile piece. They play up the Leather Leadership Award as evidence that the Task Force isn’t qualified to speak on right and morality, and clearly only have to say the words “transsexuality,” “prostitution,” “polyamory/nonmonogamy,” and “sexual freedom” to get their readers all grossed out and riled up. I also giggled at “If you are reading this website, you are seriously concerned about the homosexual activist agenda.” Yeah, actually, I am. Mostly I’m concerned with advancing it.

What I find fascinating about the article, though, is how similarly it reads to many things I see from the queer-positive radical left. The way they set the Left up as a monolithic, powerful Goliath against their poor, disorganized, minority David is awfully familiar. Check this out: Continue reading ‘More in common than we thought?’

18
Feb
09

Happy birthday to me! (Just sayin’.)

I went to a class on Friday on diplomacy and tact in relationships, as part of a conference I was attending. And then, of course, I was too busy being at a conference to post about it (and too busy last night sleeping 14 hours and recovering). But I noticed something really odd.

Because the class was about communication within relationships, it made sense that nearly all of the people who asked questions or participated in discussion referenced a partner. But the way they did so really threw me. Everyone who spoke up talked about a partner of a different gender, which for me is always startling enough. And with one exception, all of them did so without naming their relationship. They just dove right in with the pronouns. So, for example, a woman would raise her hand and say “It really drives him nuts when he can tell from my body language that I’m exasperated but I won’t talk to him about it.” Without ever saying “my partner” or “my husband” or “my boyfriend.” It was jarring. It felt both heteronormative and like starting a conversation in the middle. And, as a friend pointed out, it positions monogamy as normative as well.

It’s possible I marked this because it’s unusual. In part, it just felt like bad writing. It’s all wrong to use a pronoun that doesn’t refer back to anything. The natural response to someone starting to speak with “She thinks…” is “she who?” Because we haven’t been told yet. So maybe this is not indicative of a larger trend, only that I was in a room full of crazy people who aren’t great with language.

But that’s part of what heteronormativity is about for me. Everyone in that room was assuming that all I needed to know was that they were talking about someone of another gender, and I’d know we were discussing their partner. (Don’t these people have different-gender friends? Is their partner the only man/woman they ever talk about?)  Whereas I would never speak of anyone I was seeing without mentioning who exactly it was. When I talk about Girlfriend, Esq. (which I do, um, way too much) I say “my girlfriend” before I start referring to her as “she.” With people who already know her or know of her I use her name, but I still let them know who I’m talking about rather than making them figure it out from context. And if I’m not talking about Girlfriend, Esq. I make it even more clear. Even if the descriptor is just “the guy I hooked up with this weekend,” I give one before moving on to the pronouns. Hell, with some people I never move on to pronouns.

A friend pointed out that it’s also a very monogamous way to speak. It assumes that there’s one serious relationship in people’s lives, and so all we need to know is that they’re talking about a partner. Then we’ll automatically know which partner and what place they hold in the speaker’s life. We won’t need to be told which partner, because people only have one, right? Which is extra weird, since even monogamous people could be in a new relationship, and established marriage, or anywhere in between. But no, apparently the gender of the person being talked about should be all I need in order to infer everything else I need to know. It should be the only context I require. I must have missed the memo on how to do that.

Come to think of it, because of where I was sitting I couldn’t always see the person who was speaking. So the “him” could have been paired with a nod of the head to the man next to the woman who was speaking, and no one else would have found the phrasing odd. But even that seems like it would come with a slight emphasis that I would have heard. I’m fairly good at picking up things like that in people’s voices. Instead I felt like everyone had started talking in the middle of their thought.

What do you think? Are these people weird? Am I crazy? Is this just the way people talk, and I’ve never noticed? Is it just the way straight people talk, and I’ve been surrounding myself with queers so long that I’ve forgotten? ‘Cause I found it really, really weird, and as far as I know I’m the only one who did.

10
Feb
09

Encounters (or: This is me ignoring Freedom to Marry Week)

Walking through the Union Square Greenmarket the other day, I paused to look at the price list for fresh dairy. I noticed that the guy leaning against the sign was watching me looking, but I’ve been meaning to buy milk at the Greenmarket for a while, and I haven’t had a chance to get there before they leave for the day. So of course, I stood there long enough that he decided to speak to me. The conversation went something like this:

Him: Excuse me, sweetie, can I ask you a question?
Me, in my are-you-really-talking-to-me-on-the-street? tone: Sure…
Him, gesturing at my rainbow shoelaces: That means gay, right? It means you’re a lesbian?
Me: Yeah… [And right after I posted about this, too! But the rules are all different when a strange man is trying to pick you up on the street. I say I’m married if they ask that, too.]
Him: Well, let me ask you…is there one like that that means bisexual?
Me, boggling: Yeah, there is. It’s pink, purple, and blue, but people don’t use it nearly as much.
Him: ‘Cause I don’t want to disrespect you by telling you you’re beautiful, ’cause you’re not into guys, right?
Me: Well, no, but I appreciate the compliment. [Oops, I encouraged! Bad female socialization! But I could see my escape at that point…]
Him: Well, you’re beautiful.
Me: Thank you. Have a lovely day!

Then I went and bought my carrots and sweet potatoes, and went to a friend’s place to make dinner (carrot salad and coconut and sweet potato soup…mmm). The funniest part is that a few minutes later I realized he was really cute. It’s so instinctive for me to brush people off when they approach me randomly that it didn’t cross my mind not to. I’m not losing any sleep over my lost opportunity, though. I don’t like most people enough to date them; guys who approach women randomly on the street don’t, statistically, have a good chance.

I was so tickled by him asking if there’s a way people advertise that they’re bisexual, though. It’s kinda charming and adorable that he wanted to know which girls who like girls it’s okay to hit on, and that he wanted to respect lesbians’ sexual orientation by not trying to flirt with them. Pretty enlightened. It only occurred to me later that I could have told him truthfully that the rainbow is not only used by gays and lesbians but also by bisexuals, trans folks, some intersexed people and asexuals, etc. But that would have betrayed the prime directive of not letting strange men think I’m available to them. As a woman living in New York City, I have to have priorities.

Later that night, though, I had another odd but charming encounter where I got to be much more complex. There were five or six totally adorable young black gay men being the life of the party on the train as I was going home. When the girls they were chatting with got off the train one of them turned to me. I don’t remember exactly what he asked me — this is why I should write conversations down as soon as I have them! — but I responded “Actually, I like my men queer.” He went off on a whole spiel about how I should be careful dating a gay man because the next thing I knew he’d be sneaking around wearing my panties. One of the others overheard and joined in, asking if I had said I like to date gay men. “I like queer girls, I like queer boys…I just like queers,” I answered. I think most of this got lost in the noise of the train, though, because they started asking me whether I just wasn’t attracted to masculine men, pointing out several guys on the train and asking “So, you’re not into a guy like that?” I refused to rate strangers — it’s rude, and besides, that way lies the trouble of letting strange men know you might be available to them — and instead said, “I’m just not that straight guys, I like my partners to be queer. I’m a dyke!” They loved that, and all of them had to high-five me — they, apparently, hadn’t spotted the rainbow laces. For my part, I was pleased to have had a chance to make my queerness that visible. I didn’t let myself be summarized as a fag hag, and I really enjoyed making a point of being attracted men as part of being queer. “Dyke” isn’t a word I normally identify with, possibly partially due to spending six months with someone who constantly told me I wasn’t one because I’m not a lesbian (thanks! What was I doing in that relationship again?), but in this context it felt like it combined with what I’d already said to convey the complexity it’s always so difficult to get across in a brief statement. And of course I enjoyed the queer solidarity, the way I instantly became one of the gang when they realized I’m not straight either.

All in all it was an interesting day. Sometimes I love New York.

08
Feb
09

Queer as an oppositional identity

I saw a great comment on a Bilerico post a day or two ago that really resonated with me.

I think this represents a fairly common and rather large misunderstanding of why a lot of (but not all) younger folks use words like queer ….  For me it’s not about neutralizing an offensive word, it’s about aligning myself with a radical political identity …. It’s really not young folks who are trying to change the  meaning of words — it’s participants in the assimilationist, mainstream gay rights movement who are fighting to transform the word gay into something indistinguishable from the word straight. That’s where the real language shift is occurring. But I want a word that won’t slide smoothly down anyone’s throat. Something that says, yes I am different for all of these glamorous and tragic reasons, and I don’t have, or want, any place in this violently racist, anti-womyn, queerphobic, culture we live in.

I love this, because it helped me see one of the reasons I’m drawn to “queer.” It’s true that I want to reclaim the word, in the sense that it’s quite a powerful word and I want its power to work for me rather than against me. I may even want to neutralize it, the part of it that people call on when they react to us with hate and violence, and make “queer” into a place of love and welcome and solidarity. But it’s a word with a lot of kick, and I’m not trying to neutralize that. I’m trying to make it my own.

And I love the idea that the real change in meaning is happening with “gay,” that it’s coming to mean “just as white and middle-class and conventional as any straight person, and ready to cast aside the less conventional and socially acceptable segments of my community to get there” when it, too, used to be a radical thing to claim, a political statement in and of itself. That’s what I want from “queer.” I don’t really want everyone to start using it. Broad and welcoming as it is, it means some very specific things to me. It means setting myself against what society expects of me as a soft-spoken white girl on her way from and most likely to the middle class. It means radical lefty politics, and standing against racism, sexism, class-based oppression, ableism, fatphobia, etc. as much as I can and ideally as much as I do against heterosexism, biphobia, etc. It means being drawn to queerness in others, and building a community of people who share those values and convictions with me. Placing myself in a history that has involved riots and marches and protests and angry people of all colors and genders who’ve had enough, not corporate-sponsored parades attended mostly by white people claiming to be inclusive. Fighting for immigration righs and universal health care and the right to decide who makes one’s medical decisions and inherits one’s property regardless of whether one is coupled, rather than a few more coupled people’s right to access those things through marriage. And it means all of that much more than it means being attracted to other girl-creatures, though that’s a part of it and part of how I got here. “Gay” used to mean some of those things, I think, but it doesn’t anymore. I’m glad we have a word that does.

05
Feb
09

Queering it up, dumbing it down

I’ve found myself, a few times in recent months, dumbing down my queerness so it will be visible at all. This mostly consists of allowing people to perceive me as a lesbian in situations where I know bisexual girls will be viewed as straight girls with a sexy, exotic add-on rather than as genuine queers. Even though  I am so much queerer than many lesbians. As an example, recently when a waiter mysteriously brought an extra order of sausage to our table at a friend’s birthday dinner and the classic straight girl next to me declared “Everybody always wants more sausage,” all I could think to do was tell her that I don’t. Even though, comparisons of body parts to sausages aside (ew! Wrong on so many levels I can’t even count them!), I’m a big fan of that particular body part. Store bought or factory-installed, on boys or girls, I could not be less grossed out by it. But here I was pretending to be, just to register on the queer-o-meter at all. And even then, at first she thought I was referring to being a vegetarian and just couldn’t take a joke.

Sitting around talking to a couple of coworkers a while ago, I was remembering just how alien my sexual views and practices are in Heteronormativeland. Continue reading ‘Queering it up, dumbing it down’