Category: navel gazing
CAN MONITORING DECLINING SPECIES BE DEPRESSING?
Yes and no. I am fascinated by life, but I don’t enjoy seeing so much just slipping away. Every generation thinks that now is normal. It isn’t. But I’m glad I am the age I am. I have seen things no one will see again and I have loved doing it. But I see things happening now on the planet that will not end well.
WHY DO YOU SAY YOU’RE GLAD?
Because I won’t be around.
- from an interview with Darrel Frost, the chief herpetology curator for the American Museum of Natural History
I was just having this conversation with a friend – that this is one of a million reasons I chose not to have children. I will feel lucky not to be around for the disappearance of the elephants, myself.
I write memoir. Sometimes people ask me why I would publish such deeply personal things, and I never know how to answer that question. Because I can? Because I think shame is the single most limiting factor of our lives? Because I want people to know the same sense of relief I have many, many times – that relief when you read something, or see something, and you think, “maybe I’m not horrible.” But often it’s because writing about something is a way of taking control of it. Owning your own story is empowering. Having someone else tell it to shame you is not.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot today because I’ve been watching two good friends have their lives dragged through social media in horrible ways.
And I think about all of these news stories – politicians’ dick pics, barebacking requests, grindr photos – all of these things, the real world of desire and shame and love and risk and identity – and we all make jokes about them, judge them, maybe sometimes feel sorry for the parties involved.
But really, we should all ignore them. We should ignore them on the proposition that these things could happen to any one of us.
Anyway, don’t believe everything you read on the Internet, first of all. Second of all, read with compassion whenever and however you can. This current story is tragic and personal and painful, and this is all I will ever say about it.
Back off, hyenas. Even you may need to rely on the common decency of other people someday.
Interesting piece in the NYT by a porn star about the disctinction between public and private. She says some interesting things that reflect my own experience having a pen name very, very well.
Maybe it would be easier to navigate the dissolving boundaries between public and private spaces if we all had a variety of names with which to signal the aspects of ourselves currently on display.
The strangers who call me Jessica at publicity appearances lean in far too close. They hiss it as if they have top-secret information. All they’re doing is letting me know that they had 30 seconds to spend on Google and no sense of propriety — which may sound funny coming from a woman who flagrantly disregards it herself.
My stage name is less about withholding parts of myself or maintaining privacy than it is a symbol of the idea that I am more than just my job or any other isolated slice of my identity.
The whole kerfuffle doesn’t need to be as dramatic as people seem to think. For me, choosing a stage name felt less like concealing my identity (especially since I’d just turned over my Social Security number to strangers) and more like deciding on a user name for any Internet service or website.
In my case having a pen name which is not the same as my legal name has done one additional thing: gives me something in common with the community I work for. I am regularly asked (1) what my “real name” is – it’s the one I just told you when I introduced myself, thanks, or I would have said something else – which trans people get all the time and which is rude no matter who is asking, or why. Similarly, I hear (2) “were you embarrassed that everyone knows so much about you?” – um, yeah, no, but like every other human being, I do prefer talking about myself over having other people talk about me in negative, gossipy ways, which is part of the huge reason trans people don’t tell you their former name, because they don’t want you going off and gossiping about it to someone else, or worse yet, using it like they’re “in” and then, finally, (3) “does anyone still call you G?” and yes, some do, but until or unless I ask you to, please call me the name I introduced myself to you with, or, See #1.
Helen’s my real name. It happens to be my legal middle name. I am not “hiding” anything but instead trying to have a tiny bit of personal life and am not, always, The Helen Boyd Show. I’m sure both me and Stoya occasionally like to be at home, eating a can of soup, wondering when we’re going to get around to doing our taxes.
So today’s my mom’s 84th birthday. I’m so happy she is still with us because there have been some real health concerns the past few years, moreso since my dad died.
& I’ve decided, because she has often reminded me that I have always had great taste in friends, that I want to start a new tradition: to thank the people who have really been amazingly good to me, or for me, in the year past.
See the thing is I really had a spell there where I realized having good friends is not something I could take for granted. That is, my good taste, or my great luck, in choosing good friends took a wild vacation and left me in the lurch. I got hurt badly, and that has been such a rare occurrence in my life that on top of being hurtful it was disorienting and disquieting in a way I’m only now coming back from.
More gratitude is often a good answer to self pity, I’ve found, so let me say thank you to some people for being kind beyond measure, or sweet in some specific way, or who have just been rock solid in the last year or so and reminded me that faith in people may sometimes be misplaced but only in the specifics – not in principle.
All of my Sarahs, Celia, Jen, my sisters, my brother in law Ian, Mary, Erica, Darya, Lynne, Quince, Coby, Maurice, and Alex. My wife, of course, and my mom, with whom I’ve always had an amazing friendship, a particularly cool bond that only the youngest of a very large family gets, I think. I’m sure I forgot someone or many someones, and if I did, I’m sorry.
There’s this saying: let life bring me people I can help. Well, these are the people who got handed my mess of a self and who saw they could, and did.
I posted the news of the verdict on Facebook and wound up writing about it off & on all night. As I explained to a friend, sometimes a particular case just reminds you of how lamentable a loss of life can be, & this one is that, for me. His poor parents.
So despite the fact that the jury hung on the top charge not because anyone thought he was totally innocent but more because some wanted first degree and others, manslaughter, I still see a travesty here. This young man is dead because this guy thought shooting into a car full of teenagers was a legitimate response to someone’s music being too loud.
I just keep thinking that there should be some addition of guilt because this situation never had to happen at all. It’s different from winding up in a situation where you feel threatened. He could have just left them alone. Just so much fucking privilege on his part. I’m glad he’s doing time but it’s so, so sad that he wasn’t actually convicted of killing that man. It’s just such a painful reminder that young black men’s lives are always on the line. He was in a car listening to music with his friends, you know? & He died because someone else decided that was unacceptable. I understand there are always legal issues but you know, sometimes there just shouldn’t be, and absolute disregard for others’ right to LIVE should be accounted for. Just sad tonight that white people persist in seeing young brothers as scary. & that we live in a culture that validates that fear instead of insisting on an end to this racist bullshit.
I’m not blaming the jury. As white people we really have to start owning this shit. Quit grasping your bag tighter, and locking your car doors when you see a black person, and all of the rest of this crap that we do, all the time, because we don’t examine our privilege. And so racism persists, and an environment where young black men are always suspect, for no reason other than that we suspect them, all the time, no matter what they’re doing.
& It tires me in a bone-deep kind of way, of knowing I’m guilty of it as well as the next person. But we can’t keep pretending that this atmosphere isn’t rancid, that it criminalizes some people no matter what. I hate it, & just wanted to renew my commitment to not shutting the hell up about skin privilege and the way it creates an unjust environment. I can’t afford to think of myself as innocent because when I do, someone else becomes guilty for no fucking reason at all. We have to do more to stop the criminalization of young black men. Whatever we can, whenever we can.
Another note/update from the partner who was excluded from a women’s-only dance yesterday:
UPDATE: It’s been quite an emotional roller coaster. I want to make a clarification: This is a private group of women holding a fundraiser. It is NOT a PFLAG group. PFLAG, itself is trans-inclusive and trans-friendly. In addition, trans-women are welcomed at the dance. (Not sure about people who don’t identify as either binary but that’s a different issue.)
I was really trying to express how I felt as a partner who has lost this part of her community. It just hurts.
I understand that we no longer belong as a couple in a women’s-only space. In the meantime, if this helped spur a little more discussion, I’m glad.
I love my partner fiercely. He’s very brave and loving human being and I’m lucky to have him by my side.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
So this isn’t PFLAG’s problem, but it’s still our community’s problem, in my opinion. In reading over the comments – I know, I know, I’m not supposed to do that – over at AmericaBlog where John Aravosis wrote about it, the one thing I’m struck by is how quickly this became about the trans guy’s identity and why he would want to go to a women’s only dance.
And you know, that’s the whole problem, isn’t it? Why should someone’s transition negate the partner’s identity as a lesbian? The whole idea that they wouldn’t “look like” a lesbian couple is infuriating – the same argument was made against butch/femme couples back in the day.
Here’s the thing: as a community, could we maybe start to acknowledge that people transition, and that they have histories, and identities, and life experiences, all of which may not tidily map onto our models of “straight” and “gay”? Can we allow trans couples to decide how to negotiate their own identities as individuals and couples instead of everyone else telling us where we belong? Can a trans guy honor his own past and his relationship’s past without other trans men telling him he’s sold out his gender and trans people everywhere? Are lesbians really not used to guys transitioning yet?
A little compassion would be awesome from groups who are now and who have been, historically, excluded discreetly and explicitly, kindly and hatefully.
Trans partners are often a wrench in the homo/hetero works, but sometimes we get eaten by the gears.
I haven’t done one of these in forever and a day, but here’s a brief interview with me by a very lovely crossdresser named Vivienne who asked me a bunch of questions. I answered most of them.
Here are the questions I did answer:
It’s been several years since She’s Not the Man I Married was published. For those of us who don’t know the latest, could you give us a brief update on where things are with Betty’s transgender journey? … Does this mean hormones and surgery, or something short of that? Legal gender change?
I completely understand your desire to write My Husband Betty, but did you realise or suspect at the time the impact it would have on you? Did you foresee that it would become part of your identity, at least your public one? And is that OK?
What are your plans for your next book?
What else do you write about which isn’t to do with gender? From my point of view, you seem like someone with a point to make, and I suspect you would have made it in a different area if the cards had fallen a little differently. I just wonder what that area might have been.
I admit to feelings of envy when I read your books and realise how open you are to the idea of Betty’s transgender status. I suspect that a question you get asked frequently by crossdressers is: “How can I get my wife to be more like you?”
But my question to you is this: has your acceptance of Betty ever led to problems? Have you been the subject of hostility for your views? …Why do you consider yourself a pain in the ass?
What’s the most difficult thing for you about having a trans husband?
What’s the best thing for you about having a trans husband?
What advice would you give to a woman (perhaps a wife) whose partner has just told her about his crossdressing for the first time?
A theme of my blog has become my (qualified) acceptance of the Freund-Blanchard autogynephilia model. I wondered what your current view about this hypothesis is (you touch on it in My Husband Betty, but I wondered if your views have evolved). … Old men? You mean scientists? Or perhaps priests?
Most crossdressers insist they are straight men attracted to women. Yet some gay men crossdress. What’s your take on that?
What famous person would you most like to meet and why?
Do go read the whole thing. It’s a very smart blog.
I found this short reflection on the difference in experience for a family when first the mom/wife went through breast cancer, and later a daughter went through addiction treatment and recovery.
Because of course, addition is an illness, as are mental health issues. But we don’t treat it, or them, as if they were.
When the wife had cancer, people brought casseroles.
Maggie was disciplined by her college for breaking the drug and alcohol rules. She began an outpatient recovery program. She took a medical leave from school. She was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, diagnosed, released. She began years of counseling, recovery meetings, and intensive outpatient rehabilitation. She lived in a recovery house, relapsed, then spent seven weeks in a drug and alcohol addiction treatment center.
No soup, no homemade loaves of bread.
When the daughter was fighting addiction, people brought none.
I have often wondered how sane a world it would be to live in one where we helped people with an illness instead of criminalizing them. Nutty, I know. But we persist in thinking of addiction as a moral failure, a failure of discipline.
I just wanted to say: there is rarely anything that makes me as happy as hearing a thank you from a reader, especially a wife or partner, for my books. It’s entirely humbling, but it is the kind of thing that I look at when I’m worried about everything or down about everything and I can think: well someone’s day sucked a little less because of what I wrote and published.
And that is not even something I thought would happen and certainly never expected but am still regularly very, very proud of.
This is a pretty miraculous little article about relationships but moreso, about love, and about the limits of intimacy. It blew me away. She starts at a place that most people would consider pessimistic, but the older I get, and the more couples I have known, the more I feel that she is just stating the obvious.
So let’s take a hard look at why relationships never seem to pan out. I mean, really—have you ever seen a functional relationship? There are some that seem to be functional, or possibly even very good, but we never really get to know too much about them. Then later, we discover the seedy underbelly—often when the couple splits—and are disillusioned all over again.
This one had domestic violence in it. That one has been a sexless marriage for the past 10 years. This one had one partner lying and cheating on the other. That one was more of a business arrangement, waiting patiently until the kids were out of the house. The list goes on and on.
So, um, yeah. There’s that.
Then she talks more about the why, and here’s it’s not hard to tell I found this in a buddhist journal:
Relationships are based on the fallacy that I exist, you exist, and that my happiness, connection and fulfillment can be met by something from the outside—that there even is an outside.
That might sound esoteric, but stick with me.
When we look at our experience we can’t actually find a “person,” or even a “self.” In any experience we can find what we call color, the sound of a voice, the experience of a touch, etc. Without a belief in a self, other or time—which are all just thoughts and images in the mind and have no substance—all we have is this moment. More
We happen to be fostering three kittens at the moment, all of them goofy, clumsy little ninjas, hungry and recently weaned. One orange, one grey, one tortico. And they have been amusing the hell out of me, like kittens always do.
But today? They are running all over the place & so I’m reminded of that day 12 years ago when I looked down at our hardwood living room floor in Brooklyn and noticed that our kitty boys – who were then about a year & a half – had left footprints while they played.
& That was when we noticed the light coating of ash on the floor.
& Then it all comes back: the smell, god the smell. But the phone calls, & my family gathering on Long Island that following weekend, to look at our wedding photos – we’d just gotten married in July. Walking down the street in Park Slope & a woman stopping to take a call on her cellphone & watching her go ashen & cry & fall to her knees right there on the sidewalk. Finding a day a few months later to shop up on 7th Avenue and running into a funeral for a Rescue One firefighter.
It was a lot of that. It wasn’t a day.
It was months, now years, more than a decade, & yet the shock of it, and the sadness, never goes away.
So today, tears, and kittens who leave no footprints.
There are only a few US dates left, and I am pleased as punch I got to see him in Milwaukee. He still has so much stage charisma it’s ridiculous, and he’s doing a ton of the old punk songs – like “Zerox Machine”! – which makes antfans like me seriously happy.
If anyone out there wants to buy my round-trip airfare to the Pacific NW, I’d love to go see the Seattle & Portland shows which happen this upcoming weekend! Really. I’m not kidding. Even a little. I nearly drove to Minneapolis the day after the Milwaukee show to see him again.
Here he is doing a cool version of “Antmusic“, and for those of you who never saw him, this is the beauty that was Adam back in the day, doing “Physical (You’re So)” (which some of you may know from when NIN’s Trent Reznor covered it).
& The best part of this clip is all the aging punk rockers doing the “Prince Charming”.
I can’t even begin to explain how or why this man saved my life, but he did.
As per usual, a good post at Abagond about American whiteness: this article details the way ‘my people’ became white in America. I’m both Southern European (Italian) & Eastern European (Polish) and also German & a tiny, tiny little bit Irish (who weren’t white either when they first came to the US, of course). Here are some highlights, but do go read the whole thing.
The Third Enlargement of American Whiteness (1930-1980) was when the Jews, Italians and others from southern and eastern Europe became White Americans, when they melted into the melting pot.
. . .
Late 1800s: Crossing the Atlantic becomes cheap. Suddenly anyone can come to America: unlettered peasants from Italy, penniless Jews and others from southern and eastern Europe. They fill the slums of New York and elsewhere. The government fears they will be stuck there forever – a permanent underclass.
1910s: They are called “alien races” … they bring crime and poverty. They have too many children. They do not understand freedom and democracy, voting for corrupt political machines. Skull measurements (and later IQ tests) prove they lack intelligence.
. . . More
My patience for snark is really, really low these days, but I still found some of the gems in “8 Ways Not To Be An “Ally”: A Non-Comprehensive List” pretty useful.
But I’m still going to re-articulate them for those who don’t understand irony. I’ve put her comments in italics, and tried to articulate in my earnest, non-snarky way, why this list is so vital. I’ve also added one of my own.
1. Assume one act of solidarity makes you an ally forever means fighting oppression is an ongoing, day to day struggle that doesn’t come with much resolution if any. One day the world is not going to just be better. Which means that you, as an ally, need to keep doing whatever work you do to minimize racism, sexism, homphobia, etc.
2. Make everything about your feelings, or, it’s not about you. The best way to go about this is to shut up and listen. That’s all. Stop talking so much. Listen. Pretend you don’t have an opinion and that other people’s lived experiences are actually as valid as your own. It’s a nutty idea, I know, but it’s true. People who live with marginalization are often – shocker! – at least as smart as you, if not smarter.
3. Date ‘em all will not, in any way, make you an ally automatically. In fact, it could instead mean that you’re a fetishizing, exploitive, clueless jerk. (Trans admirers take special note here, please.)
4. Don’t see race/gender/disability/etc. is a good way of eliminating someone’s identity and specifically an identity which – because of the sexist, racist, transphobic, ablesist culture we live in, tends to essentialize a person due to that marginalization. Not seeing that aspect of them is belittling and really only lets you off the hook, free from your white liberal guilt. That is, it does nothing for people who are marginalized, but everything for people who aren’t.
5. Don’t try any harder, or, try until you succeed, not just until your white liberal guilt is assuaged. See above. More
I wanted to send my love out to all of you – which includes me – who don’t have a dad to celebrate this year.
Some days, Facebook just feels like a plague of shitty, happy people.
Still, I will spend mine on a bike, in the sun, & call my mother, as all those things would have made my dad happiest. (I will leave the eating of cured meats to my siblings.)
& Now I will get back to my marathon screenings of Mad Men. More on that another day.
Today would have been my dad’s 85th birthday. He used to joke, whenever someone complained about getting older, that the only other option was worse. He never really did complain about getting older himself and didn’t talk much about aches and pains. He was just kind of angry when he didn’t feel well, which is maybe an odd reaction, but it does bring some relief that he didn’t suffer for very long and didn’t have a long, drawn-out illness. He would have been pretty miserable with that kind of thing.
It would have been my parents’ 61th wedding anniversary today. And just in time, I discovered this word:
Ya’aburnee(Arabic): “You bury me.” It’s a declaration of one’s hope that they’ll die before another person, because of how difficult it would be to live without them.
(There are nine others that we don’t have in English, here. I’ll be blogging later just about the term saudade.)
My mother just told me that she regretted she never got to take care of my dad, that she never got to be of service to him once he was unable to take care of himself. & You know, folks, it just doesn’t get more heartbreaking than that. So despite my joy that she is still here, I feel a little guilty that she lives with a hole in her heart, without him.
She also said. “I had nearly 60 years with him, but I’m greedy, and wanted more than that.”
Happy anniversary, mom & dad. & Thanks for setting that bar high. Dad, we miss you more than you ever would have imagined.
I was pleased to get to speak to Senator Tammy Baldwin for a brief minute last night – in a gender-neutral bathroom, no less – who gave me a thumbs up when I mentioned that I taught gender studies. That was cool. She spoke while introducing historian Dick Wagner, who was receiving an award from Fair Wisconsin. She told the story of seeing Geraldine Ferraro accept the US VIP nomination in 1984, and it was pretty incredible. From what I hear, she has told that story before, but I had never heard it, and it brought me back to watching that myself – and the same feelings for me, at 15, thinking “anything is possible now.” It was a big, big, audible crack in the glass ceiling — as is Senator Baldwin’s current seat.
I also had a nice talk with Zach Wahls about the terms ally, queer, queerspawn, and the like. He is a pretty remarkable guy, and his talk was the right combination of serious, sad, frustrated, and full of love. We should be very, very glad to have him in these queer communities. And that he speaks on behalf of equality – not just marriage equality, mind you – as an Eagle Scout is pretty damned cool. Hopefully I will do an interview with him in the next couple of months.
Finally: I am not disappearing altogether from blogging. I am taking a huge break from FB, specifically, because I have too many ongoing misgivings with the site, for various reasons – and now seemed like the right time. In some ways, what I’m frustrated by is the odd merger of personal and professional life that FB encourages; here at my blog, it’s a little easier to stay at arm’s length, which is what I need right now. But there is nothing wrong, per se; I am not depressed or angry or hurt or anything like it. A little tired of the shallow ways of connecting that FB also encourages, perhaps, but that is all.
I am happy to have people send me a heads up about interesting things going on about gender or transness or all of the other stuff you know I’m interested in. Feel free to email me or leave a comment if you want to say hi.
A huge THANK YOU to those of you who have written expressing concern or good luck or just to say: you earned a break. It’s very, very much appreciated.