Once More and Then

A month later and here I am again, finally on my way back to Appleton from Ashland after being out there much longer than intended – my 8/24 flight was canceled and then it was hard to choose a new date and then it was Labor Day weekend and then we slept through our alarms and overslept yesterday’s flight. Groundhog Day or a Twilight Zone but as it was as if all that was left was this surreal world of theatre in Ashland, as if all the rest of the world beyond the ring of mountains might have disappeared entirely.

It hasn’t. Maybe contrary to my own wishes: there it is below us, the foothills of the Rockies near Denver and before that the barren beautiful land around Salt Lake. Soon the tidy farmed rectangles of Nebraska. There is an awful lot of the US – so much room, so much land, so much beauty. We are such greedy morons.

This enclave of actors and theatre magic felt good for a month; it’s been a long while since I have been in and around actors and stage techs and directors. I like them. First, they are almost always talking about the work. There is something about how communal an art it is, I think, but I can’t name another kind of artist who, as a whole, talks out all the details. Certainly not my kind. We’re pretty much useless on that front. We’re the well steeped and already cold on the counter kind of tea. It’s weird and lonely to think and sit and talk to yourself – which is what writing often is, at least while you’re doing it. So actors are good company for an awkward, earnest type like myself. Words give them their jobs, of course, and give me mine too.

Acting, as an art, strikes me as both illusion and truth – the acting part is obviously pretending, intentionally false, fiction. Yet in the words are the soul an actor speaks and expresses; there is a depth there, a truth that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

This production of Henry V was so, so good. Spare and perfectly cast: there is no better thing than a cast that can deliver Shakespeare as if it’s modern English, who can get the meaning across even when you get lost in the verbiage. What a joy. I wish I could write about every single actor’s performance because they all that moment on stage that burned bright and as a whole, there were no cracks. Every aspect was consistent with the whole vision of the thing and the talent was all in service to that whole.

Which is to say that’s what this Henry V struck me as, most notably in Daniel José Molina’s Henry. I saw the play 3x from 3 different vantages and as I got used to it again – as with a familiar stretch of road – tennis balls, traitors, the breach, siege, fatigue – here is a funnier moment – but still this play is never actually funny, just uncomfortable. And all of the talking Henry does – only fewer lines than Hamlet, IIRC – there is this irresistible movement toward the inevitable, with Henry alternately dragged by or dragging the cart. In this production, during the speech in Act II when Henry walked like a kind of slow motion silent film, or a sepia print of WWI come to life – picking up the weight of those he carried; oh the weight of a king, as it’s often played. But this Henry – there’s so much young brash man to this portrayal, shaved head and all, that you are never either amazed by this Henry and you never feel sorry for him either. He is, like the peasant he describes in that ceremony speech, just working his day and his fate as does everyone else but with less sleep and almost no friends.

And this is where I’m not sure where my experience of the thing was more than the thing than was there, but my god, the ceremony speech. It’s not the most famous speech of the play but it is the best: when a king doesn’t envy his own place but doesn’t exactly value it either. It just is what it is; I am/have become this person who carries others, the kingdom, myself, and yet he’s really only ever carrying his own gloves, less often the crown, while all the soldiers around him grunt with actual heavy lifting.

This scene was the whole play for me maybe because the actor plays Henry as a less austere young man – informal, nearly, easy to smile and fucks right back but better than anyone who fucks with him. He’s a punk, amused by others’ stupidity and his own. This is the character who wakes up one day and realizes all of his friends are assholes – the people who used to be fun, who he found a home with. The punk rock king has to grow up, but still, fuck the system. Ceremony. Smoke and mirrors that will mess you up, confuse and disorient. You don’t get to be a person when you’re a king; you are no longer symbol but only signifier.

No doubt this is all obvious to those who love this play but it hit me sideways because I carry plenty myself and the moments when I wonder how I wound up here on the eve of a battle when I can’t even have too long to think because it’s too important to everyone else that I show my face so that they, in turn, can find the moment to show up too. It struck me that there is no shrugging (fuck off Ayn Rand you shitty melodramatic hack) for a king, or for me, or for any of us. We carry what we carry and that is all.

Before my wife gets too jealous of the lead – a lead she also once played, in a disastrous production that pretty much ended her acting career and maybe her life as a man – let me say that she does Pistol in a way that makes him – yes, I said him – exactly that. An anachronistic play on words, because Pistol is a punk, the older brother/role model sort, the kind that’s full of swagger and danger and is not, for a moment, a clown. He’s that guy you used to think was cool until you find out he’s actually a prick, all swagger and no actual core. Rachel’s Pistol is bitter, angry, opportunistic; his affection turns on a dime of the ‘are you with me or against me?’ variety, with loyalty to his own small cadre his only virtue, everyone else be damned. He doesn’t believe in a damn thing.

By the time Fluellen is teaching him some manners you really do want to see Pistol get his ass kicked. Even though you know he has lost every single one of his friends. Even though his love is dead. Even if. It’s the only way Pistol makes any sense, a kind of older shitty cousin to Henry, knights on a chess board. The Dauphin, the French king – these aren’t Henry’s enemies; Henry’s own past, Pistol and his old gang, are, and the victory is more in how he carries his own self forward, having pulled himself out of the petty, bragging, dishonest version of the person he might have been. Pistol is Henry’s ‘but for the grace of God’ who, we know, Henry gives all the credit to. Perhaps this is part of why Henry knows he’s got luck or divine grace just in not having become who he might have been.

Pistol, mind you, was cross gender cast in this production. Rachel could very well have played Pistol as a woman and there isn’t anything to say she isn’t. But after finding herself on as an understudy and then taking on the role permanently, she had to decide: use a decade + of acting skill developed while playing men on stage and in real life or not? Why waste all of that, all the time she lived as not her own self? She put that shit to good use; it was acting that helped her survive being trans and so it follows being trans might return the favor. Why ignore the tools in a toolbox you’ve had to carry all these years anyway? May as well use them.

While I know there will be plenty of people who have a problem of some kind with my wife playing a man onstage – because they think they get an opinion when they do not – I found it disturbing and nostalgic. I watched her play man after man after man onstage after all, cycling through them as if she might find one worth being. She never did, and it was only after playing Henry in repertory with Wilde’s Algernon that she finally collapsed and couldn’t go on. Henry and Algernon are, after all, the pillar and post of English masculinity, no? Faced with that combination, coming home every night to the work I was doing on crossdressing, she finally found a way to stop, her exhausted ‘no’ more an expression of fatigue than of knowledge. We didn’t know she’d transition then. She retired on a Sunday night in January, and the next day I found out my proposal for My Husband Betty had been accepted for publication – I hadn’t actually written it yet – and our lives took an entirely different turn. She got to rest, and think, and fade a little, while I did interviews and research and spent my days and night putting together a book that would eventually turn us into Helen and Rachel.

Rachel took over the part of Pistol 15 years to the month that My Husband Betty was published and a few months after she ended her career playing Henry. This is what 15 years is to a trans couple; this is what 15 years have been for us: we landed back at where we started before we took the turn to work out her gender, our careers, and our marriage, and somehow one of the most beautiful English plays about masculinity bookended those years.

Once more into the breach indeed.

Not 1 in 6 (Excerpt)

I’ve got a piece up on Patreon that I wrote last week in response to the Kavanaugh interview, by which I’m thoroughly disgusted.

When will we get to the point where we believe women?

They say “1 in 6,” but I don’t believe them. The numbers are much, much higher.

I believe that because almost no woman I know who has been raped has pressed charges. Maybe they went to therapy. Maybe they wrote about it. But none of them – zero – reported it or pressed charges.

When or if they talk about it one or two things is true: (1) they didn’t know it was rape at the time – and maybe even don’t while they’re talking about it, and (2) it had been years since it happened.

That’s why we believe her.

Because women all know the women who were groomed, the girls raped as children, the so-called slut in high school who was raped (which was, of course, what made her a slut, because that’s how this shit works), the woman who went to an interview before or after regular business hours, the woman who went to a male friend after being raped by a boyfriend, who was then also raped by the friend (or vice versa), the woman who told her dad and who was punished for it, the woman who.

Later in the piece, I talk about what it’s like to be a woman who has not been raped.

So let me make it clear to the doubters, for the men who don’t believe, for the men who think all rape is caused by boys who are “too drunk” to hear the word “no,” who think most men are good men who don’t communicate well, and that men want to protect their mothers and daughters and wives, and for the women who think it’s something other women are bringing on themselves: Not so fast. Rape is such a common experience of women that I have spent most of my life feeling categorically different from other women because I never was.

Let me repeat that: Not having been raped makes me feel like I’m not the same as other women. The only other thing that makes me feel categorically different from other women is the desire to have children (whether or not they have) because I never wanted my own.

Please call your senators and tell them to vote against this rapist.

For Aurora

Aurora, the cat we found at sex camp many years ago – 2006, I think – died this past December. In my arms. We still don’t know exactly how old she was but she had to be at least 14.

I wrote this piece about her – about getting used to things – that was published in a tiny literary journal in maybe 2008, and I only read it out loud once or twice, so I thought I’d share it so more people could read it.

The full piece is on Patreon, but here’s the excerpt:

Once we left the room to do our workshop on gender roles and sexuality, it was hard not to look around, and the minute you look around wide-eyed in a place like that is the minute you know you can’t close your eyes for a second. We tried not to stare. Masochists and sadists, daddies and mistresses, swingers, pagans, nudists, and queers all gathered at dusk to eat smores around a bonfire. One submissive admitted to me shyly that he needed to learn how to make a smore because his mistress wanted one, and I had to admit I didn’t know how to either. Camping – at least the kind that involves trees and lakes and dirt – has never been my thing. If camping was good enough, we wouldn’t have invented houses. What I didn’t admit to him was that I’d never met a mistress before, and I had no idea if only he was supposed to call her Mistress So & So or if everyone did and I should too. I saw her later eating the tidy smore he’d made her by the fire. She was naked but for a rubber corset. It was a kind of unexpected partial nakedness; usually people are topless, not bottomless, and I wondered why you’d wear a rubber corset if you were only going to wear one thing, and then realized for some people the reason was probably obvious.

When we finally got to our vet, she told us the cat was probably very old and that we’d probably serve her best by putting her down. She had stopped eating or drinking. We took her home and got water into her by pumping it into her mouth with a syringe. Then we’d squeeze high calorie food into her mouth right from the tube. She would gargle her complaints, glugging meows of objection. It was pathetic, but it was hard not to laugh, too. She was not having it, and fought us all the way. But she was a tiny four-pound cat who should have been closer to seven pounds, so she didn’t have that much fight in her, either. We won.

On Passports

A note from the woman who has been hassled about her passport has a few things to say:

I want to clarify some things for people. Please share this post to trans groups.

One: What’s happening with my passport is unique to the facts in my case (adoption as a minor and being trans) and I have been crystal clear about that. As a trans person with a relatively high profile I do have lingering questions about the extent of hoops I am being asked to jump through as well as the cruel indifference with which the current policy is being applied in my case.

Two: journalist who are personal friends publishing whole hog “friends only” Facebook posts without waiting to get permission, quotes, or contexts is not only unethical journalism, but could place a source (me) in danger. It violates journalistic ethics and standards. I could be deported from Sweden as I am here on a tourist visa and saying otherwise can cause me to loose status here. I could also possibly be arrested upon reentry as I am currently unable to prove citizenship to the satisfaction of State Dept. I’m really angry at Sarah Toce from LGBTQ Nation / Seattle Lesbian for publishing an update intended for a limited audience of friends and family that has been following an ongoing story and are concerned about me.

It has been unnecessarily alarming the community by not placing it in the context of my individual case facts while also placing me in jeopardy by antagonizing a very delicate situation. Backing the Trump administration into a corner is never a good idea, they could easily choose to make an example of me. I asked Sarah to retract the story, she didn’t, instead she deleted my request. People should apply pressure to get the story taken down.

NCTE has issued a great statement that the policy has not changed at the State Department with clear instructions on how to get a passport. They are absolutely in the best possible position to know! People should continue to be able to get their passports.

The facts in my case (sealed court records as a minor) make producing certain documents they are demanding extremely difficult without traveling to Maine to appear in court.

That combined with a rigid and cruelly indifferent application of the current policy, a few pissed off and rude bureaucrats who have made threats – is what has produced a shit show around both my legal status, my fear of possibly being accused of fraud, and questions on the validity of my temporary passport.

We should continue to monitor if people are unable to get passports or encounter problems – as some other cases have now started popping up.

BUT people should not draw conclusions from simply a small sample size of 2 that the sky is falling. I am playing it safe. I am in Sweden for safety reasons and will return when I feel that doing so is safe. That is my #1 priority.

Lots of people are working hard on my case from allied organizations, lawyers, Congress people, attorney general’s, UN Human Right Council, etc. I am sharing my process because it is isolating and terrifying in the current context of our government.

I have faith that it will eventually get to some resolution, until then it is complex problem with a unique set of facts and other people should not fear their own ability to get a passport. So go get your passport.

Johansson Says No (& Sorry)

Scarlett Johansson apologized and turned down the role.

This is how you do it: listen, learn, change, apologize, affirm.

Wow, it is so rare I get to say that:

“In light of recent ethical questions raised surrounding my casting as Dante Tex Gill, I have decided to respectfully withdraw my participation in the project. Our cultural understanding of transgender people continues to advance, and I’ve learned a lot from the community since making my first statement about my casting and realize it was insensitive. I have great admiration and love for the trans community and am grateful that the conversation regarding inclusivity in Hollywood continues. According to GLAAD, LGBTQ+ characters dropped 40% in 2017 from the previous year, with no representation of trans characters in any major studio release. While I would have loved the opportunity to bring Dante’s story and transition to life, I understand why many feel he should be portrayed by a transgender person, and I am thankful that this casting debate, albeit controversial, has sparked a larger conversation about diversity and representation in film. I believe that all artists should be considered equally and fairly. My production company, These Pictures, actively pursues projects that both entertain and push boundaries. We look forward to working with every community to bring these most poignant and important stories to audiences worldwide.”

On July 4th: #resist

I’ve been attending a daily rally against immigrant family separation and to abolish ICE. it’s a small gesture, but useful, and we gather outside of a local politician’s office.

Today is the 14th day.

I know I couldn’t be the only one who needed something a little less blindly patriotic to do, and since the 2nd Civil War failed to happen, I thought I’d do some digging and found this NYT article about all the various revolts and days of resistance that have happened on July 4th. 

Abolitionists resisted repeatedly on July 4th:

The most famous abolitionist July 4 protest took place in 1854, when (William Lloyd) Garrison mounted a platform adorned with an upside-down, black-bordered American flag and burned a copy of the Constitution. From the same stage that day, Henry David Thoreau declared that the moral failure of the United States affected even his ability to enjoy the outdoors, noting that “the remembrance of my country spoils my walk.”

Gay people resisted on July 4th, 1986, in response to Bowers v Hardwick, which upheld the criminalization of same sex sex acts.

Black people resisted on July 4th: not just that amazing Frederick Douglass speech but in 1970 with a Black Declaration of Independence, which read in part:

For creating, through Racism and bigotry, an unrelenting Economic Depression in the Black Community which wreaks havoc upon our men and disheartens our youth.

For denying to most of us equal access to the better Housing and Education of the land.

For having desecrated and torn down our humblest dwelling places, under the Pretense of Urban Renewal, without replacing them at costs which we can afford.

It is incredible. Read the whole thing. 

So yeah, I feel like I’m in a long line of people – and amongst many others today – who are not feeling it. Instead, I propose Celebrate Immigrants Day, because this country wouldn’t be shit without them.

 

To Friends & Family Who Voted for This

(Please feel free to adapt this to your own needs. As much as the Dems and the left are debating tactics and keeping each other focused and resisting, I think it’s also important to let people who voted for this travesty to understand the results of their vote. If you do use it, just give me some credit and maybe join me on Patreon.)

6/29/18

To you, my family members who voted for Trump:

I know you don’t love him. I have to hope against hope that you don’t and that you haven’t supported anything he’s done or stood for since the election.

But I have something to explain: we’re scared out here. I’m worried I’m going to lose my right to be married to my wife. I’m worried that some of my students or their parents are going to be deported. I am worried that women’s rights to birth control and abortion are going to be taken away.

I am worried about those children at the border who may not even know who their parents are, much less see them again. I know you think their parents came here illegally. They didn’t. They came here for amnesty. BUT EVEN IF THEY DID, the brutality can’t be something you stand for. Everyone wants a safe border. But not at that expense.

You know it’s hard for me not to notice that all of you are straight and white and most of you are male. And I just want you to think about that for a second: that maybe what was an unpleasant choice for you, that you held your nose to vote for this blowhard, is terrifying for me. I used to have to carry a copy of our marriage certificate and my wife’s legal name change with me everywhere just in case I had to prove that I was her wife. That I had that shred of heterosexual privilege was something. But I don’t want that again. I don’t want my queer friends who don’t have that to be denied again.

The rates of violence against us are through the roof. You don’t know because you don’t know. Someone dropped a bomb on the porch of a trans house in Philly and you probably didn’t hear about that either.

So here’s what I have to ask you: is this level of hate something you condone, or do you not see the connection between what this president says and does and what his followers are doing all over this country? Do you think brown people deserve this, or queer people, or trans people? I actually want to know.

Because here’s the thing: you may not think so, and you may think that those of us who have done nothing wrong are safe. But we’re not. Bigots tend to be kind of stupid and they think anyone who speaks Spanish, anyone who is black, anyone who is queer, lives up to the worst stereotypes of what they think we are, of what they fear we are.

I wish I could give you all a snapshot of my FB feed: of the college professors who are here on work visas or green cards who are worried about being able to stay; of the accomplished, legally transitioned trans women and men who are worried or seeking out any possible European connections they have “in case it gets too bad”; of the gay men and women who are scared both of the violence and of the loss of rights and are subsequently issuing calls to the community to get their legal documents in place again; of my Jewish friends who are starting to turn assets into cash “just in case”; and the worried parents with differently abled children who are watching the whole school system privatize in ways that leaves their kids out. I wish I could tell all of them not to be scared, not to worry, that it’s not going to be that bad, but I can’t. Because I’m scared to.

And here’s the thing: I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying to fight. I have to. But if I have to send my trans wife out of the country because I’m worried about her, I will.

I’m not writing to you today to blame you. Most of you, to be honest, are in New York and you didn’t actually do this. But I do need you to do something: I NEED YOU TO STAND UP TO YOUR FUCKING PARTY. Either just stay home this election day or don’t vote for Republicans. & I’m asking you to do that just to curb the people out there who think that the policies and rulings and legislation being promoted by this president are an excuse to cause violence to the rest of us.

That’s all.

Please just remember that the next time you vote, someone you love may have everything in the world at risk while you risk nothing. Vote for my rights, and my safety, and my well being, and not for some ideological “choice” between the lesser of two evils.

You need to denounce the homophobia, the white supremacy, the transphobia, the fear and hatred of immigrants, OUT LOUD, ON SOCIAL MEDIA, AND TO YOUR FELLOW REPUBLICANS. I honestly believe you all are not part of this bullshit, but I don’t hear you saying it and the haters are out in force. We need you so much to help us live.

I don’t scare easy, and I’m scared. And I’m scared of the unchecked power of an evangelical Republican party who thinks America is only for people like you and not for people like me.

Love, Me.

Philly Trans House Bombing

So a man in Philadelphia casually tossed a bomb onto the porch of a house that was the home of 7 trans people.

The house and its tenants have been targeted before – with paintballs – which is why there is footage of this new attack.

If you are in the Philly area and recognize this person or the guy walking with him earlier in the video, please contact the police: 215-686-3183/3184.

(And no, I don’t believe in the police, but I also don’t think someone who is bombing a house full of trans people should be free  to try it again.)

Notes on Portrait of a Marriage

I just finished reading Portrait of a Marriage, about Vita Sackville West and her husband Harold Nicholson, who were poly before there was a word for it. She was something like bi and he was something like gay, but at a time when neither of those identities were recognized and where people had little choice but to marry. But theirs wasn’t a marriage of convenience per se; they loved each other deeply and took care of each other in emotional, intellectual, and domestic ways. Much like Leonard and Virginia Woolf, they had a marriage that was more than a marriage but also maybe less than one.

The whole piece is on Patreon, of course, about 2000 words, but here are a few more excerpts:

. . .

So when I read a book about a couple who were born in 1892 (Vita) and 1886 (Harold) and who spent nearly 50 years together, who lived through two world wars and had two children and numerous love affairs with others, and who managed to do all that during the first half of the last century, I wonder if what my wife and I have is just a regularly anomalous but recurring exception; that two people perhaps find in each other a great love for another person that does not fit the requirements of what people think marriage should be and so change it to suit them.

What I do know is that it makes me sad that others can’t understand it, or feel sorry for us, because when I look at other’s lives I feel the same way I do when I see people so restrictively gendered, and want to take the lens of their eye and shift it a little this way or that so they can see what they can’t see now. I am still sad to see that queer people have become more straight than the other way around because so many queer couples I know assume monogamish, at the very least, as a way of living, but with different sensitivities and restrictions: one couple needs to tell each other about every flirtation or romance or sweaty encounter, and others know that a business trip or some time alone means sometimes a soul finds lovely company and their person doesn’t need to know a thing except for that. I wish straight people were easier about this stuff and so the capacity to be sexual and to be attractive and to be vulnerable and intimate and loving and caring with more than one person an absolute bonus for a marriage instead of a threat.

What a world of love we could live in and instead we put such terrific limitations on someone we love the most in the world. I’m never going to get it, not anymore, not now that I understand what is possible.