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.

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.

 

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.

 

Video of the Cornell Event

My hair is awesomely blue and this is all new work I’m reading. I start about 17 minutes in but you really should watch Ryka Aoki. After me is Ely Shipley and they are both wonderful poets and people.

(CW: I tell a terrible story about the death of a kitten, so if you don’t want to hear that, it’s at about 20:00, or just skip 1:15 & go to my next piece.)

Interview

I promised my Patreon readers that I’d make a video or two if I met my patronage goals. This short video was made during a meeting of my Working Artists Collective of Appleton, a small group I put together to accomplish my goals – or admit to others that I hadn’t. A few of us are using it to replace deadlines and to otherwise motivate ourselves.

This short interview was filmed by friend Lynne, with minor editing by my wife. The person interviewing me is Vered, Appleton City Council member and the first out trans official elected in the state of WI.

Enjoy.

Here’s my friend Jon Hakes’ page, and here’s Julia Serano’s.

Poly Workshop at Wisconsin LGBTQ Conference

Hello all! I’ll be talking about polyamory and non monogamy at this year’s Wisconsin LGBTQ Summit. I haven’t done one of these before but it seems like a good time.

It’s not up on the website yet, but here’s the description:

Poly 101

Polyamorous or consensual non-monogamous relationships have never been uncommon in queer community, but they are starting to be more widely understood and practiced. Come learn some of the basics of what it means to be poly, hear answers to some of the most pressing questions about jealousy, commitment, and making love less like pie.

Monogamous, single, ace, queer, trans, poly, NM… everybody is welcome.

February 24th in Milwaukee.

Here’s a good article if you want to educate yourself a little before then.

2nd Patreon Goal Met

So what’s exciting about this whole Patreon thing is that I feel like people are signing up to read me as a writer and not just me as trans advocate. And that feels good.

I hit my 2nd goal of 25 patrons which means I have to make a video. Come join and you’ll get to see it.

Another thing: this site is having some kind of Malware issue, but my webmistress, my wife, is in the middle of dealing with both (1) having totaled our car last week – she’s fine, and (2) moving to Ashland to start her hear with Oregon Shakespeare Festival — without said car, obviously. She’ll check into it as soon as she can, but in the meantime, you may need to bypass the blog and use direct links to my various things.

Sorry about that. Repairs on the way.

Me on Patreon

It’s high time, and in the light of the loss of Ursula Le Guin, I decided to take this little leap off a cliff by starting an account on Patreon. I can’t let my wife have all the fun, can I?

I haven’t set up goals or rewards yet as I’m curious to hear what all of you would want from me. I *do* plan on doing a video and maybe some audio recordings – cause y’all like my voice – but mostly this will be new and different kinds of writing that I don’t do as much of because my blog is so on the trans/gender tip.

Expect pieces more like this and this and this, and maybe some fiction, maybe excerpts from the two novels I have written but never quite finished, and maybe some of a fairy tale I keep kicking around, and maybe anything I’m writing that doesn’t as easily cleave to the HB brand.

Thank you in advance. It means everything to me to have people in my life who want to read what I write and who want to support me while I do.

Blog Troubles & Redesign

… there have been issues with my blog recently so as you’ll notice, right now it’s in the most stripped down, plain version. My lovely tech goddess, otherwise known as my wife, is working on it.

If there’s anything in particular that I should definitely keep, feel free to let me know in the comments.