13 November 2010

Write here, write now.

To writers (& all artists): don't ever wait to begin. There is no time, ever, that you will be so prepared and inspired as to immediately birth the perfect, complete piece. I just allowed myself to write five incoherent pages and realized that, while I already had the support of my advisor to insert my own narrative into my thesis, to write truthfully about drag, I must totally radicalize the form of scholarly writing. In this moment of artistic & scholastic liberty, I realized that I am writing both a thesis and a one-(wo/hu)man performance piece.  

Drag in the post modern age is about transcending barriers; I cannot tell a new truth inside an old structure. Liberate yourself.  Be spherical instead of linear.  Hold contradictions in your mind and wait for the truth of the paradox to reveal itself.  Be brave.  Be brave with me.  Help me be brave, when I doubt my own voice and think this was all a grandiose, terrible, very bad, very scary idea.  

It probably helps to endlessly re-read the Tao Te Ching.

My friend Mel and I, with props provided by Kings n' Things from Austin, TX, posing in their hotel room at the twelfth annual International Drag King Extravaganza.  After an amazing series of interviews for my thesis (and the upcoming documentary being produced which gave rise to my own studies) they wanted to dress us up and have a photo shoot.  Clearly, we happily obliged.

09 November 2010

The Thrill of Queer Scholarship

There is something extremely thrilling about the research I am currently undertaking on drag kings for my thesis, which is the capstone experience of my baccalaureate education in gender studies.  Since returning to school to complete my B.A., all of my research has been relatively trying, primarily because I have consistently chosen to examine the largely unexamined, ie, LGBTQ, non-white, and/or anti-capitalist individuals and communities.

Angela Davis' autobiography is out of print; I had to buy it.  The library didn't have a copy of The Transgender Studies Reader; I borrowed it from a friend.  One of the best queer scholarly journals is British; I've begged access from professors who are also gracious friends and who have access to better resourced libraries than I do.  In other words, my research on queer subjects has necessarily reflected attributes of many queer communities: communal pooling of resources, resilience in the face of frustration, crafting a voice for myself and my communities from a little of this and a dash of that and heaping scoops of moxy, audacity, and pride.

Somehow, this research on drag kings has been easier.  In fact, it's ben so much easier that it's harder:  I have a bumper crop of scholarly articles and theoretical frameworks, so much so that I have to be extremely specific in my focus in order to keep to twenty five to thirty pages.  This is before I have begun logging and transcribing the footage that I captured, with the tireless efforts of my wonderful friend Mel, at the twelfth annual International Drag King Extravaganza.  I have yet to set foot in an archive to unearth historical artifacts; time constraints will not allow me to do so.

In addition, the relatively small of queer communities puts lots of people within my reach whose straight counterparts I would be unlikely to have access to.  What do I mean by unusual access?  I mean that my phone buzzes at a half past midnight and one of the theorists upon whom my work is based has texted me to say we should make a date to discuss my work.  Similarly, the relative youth of a (vaguely) cohesive set of LGBT cultures in America, essentially post-Stonewall, means that many of the founders are still alive or, at least on film and very much remembered by the adults and elders of my communities.

There is another dimension of joy in my scholarship, and that is style in which I am finding some of the articles written.  There is an infusion of personal narrative directly into scholarly examination.  Indeed, it was a suggestion in the feminist research book that accompanied the course that it can be a feminist project to assert new feminist epistemologies and methodologies, including the location of the scholar in the scholarship, rather than posing as an objective observer as in modern scientific experimentation.  I had jokingly asked my Twitter followers whether I could refer to a theorist by first name in my thesis since I knew her personally; the answer was a clear "no."  I further challenged that this was a thesis on drag, that irreverence should reflect in the style of the writing as well as the subject, and that I could turn the paper in with glitter in the cover to make this clear.  Indeed, I believe that a queering of the academic style could be valuable to its overall purpose, which is to amplify the voices of those who are often culturally, and especially legally, voiceless in society.

One final joy: reading about people that I have seen perform as formative in drag communities and culture.  I can take or leave Hollywood stars; boutique celebrities who perform on small stages and are written up in scholarly journals make me swoon.

My photo taken at IDKE XII: Gender Justice by Puppet L'Artist.

05 November 2010

In which Judith Butler's semantic brilliance leads to a mantra for uppity activists

"To make trouble was, within the reigning discourse of my childhood, something one should never do precisely because that would get one in trouble.  The rebellion and its reprimand seemed to be caught up in the same terms, a phenomenon that gave rise to my first critical insight into the subtle ruse of power: the prevailing law threatened one with trouble, even put one in trouble, all to keep one out of trouble.  Hence, I concluded that trouble is inevitable and the task, how best to make it, what best way to be in it." Judith Butler, preface to the 1st edition of Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity

Well there you go.  We're all in trouble anyway, we might as well make trouble for all of the right reasons.  This is a call for subversion, and for civil disobedience.  

Civil disobedience is stating, through actions, that laws do not define what is just, and certainly not what is real.  Civil disobedience says, "this law that denies me my full humanity is not real.  I am real.  I am only an outlaw as defined against your oppressive system.  It is oppression, and not me, that needs doing away with."  Laws are merely a reflection of the current state of progress, or lack thereof, in a culture's social contract and the resultant legal code and associated judiciary and penal systems. 

Another way I often think about the unnecessary deference we pay to the law is when people, upon discovering that I go by a chosen name and not my legal/father-given name, often ask, "oh, well what's your real name then."  My real name is whatever I tell you it is.  My legal name is James Paul Flesher.  It's on a birth certificate and a driver's license and a passport as well.  All of them were issued by agencies of a government that has deemed me a second class citizen.  I am real.  It is not.  My name is Rudy.  I am an outlaw, not because I live outside of what is just, but because I refuse to let an arbitrarily oppressive system define my reality.

Let's cause some trouble.  Clearly we're in for it anyway.  Let's caucus on how best to make it and what best way to be in it.

26 October 2010

Lauren, Katherine, Lana too: On Channeling Glamour

I met Sarah Green, of the band Dangerous Ponies, a while back when we both performed at QueerChannel to benefit The Attic Youth Center here in Philadelphia.  I performed as a drag king that night, complete with flannel and a false mustache, but was headed out to the Bar AIDS fundraiser afterwards in full fabulosity - AKA a twenty four inch lime waist cincher with rhinestones and paillettes.  Sarah complimented my cincher, I was drawn to her zebra jumpsuit, and magic happened.

As it turned out, Sarah was producing her second annual genderqueer calendar and looking for models.  I was familiar with the calendar from the previous year and was excited to work with her.  We met at my favorite local coffee shop, One Shot in Northern Liberties, and talked art, careers, Dangerous Ponies' touring schedule and amazing two-tune purple tour van, and my inspirations for our upcoming photo shoot together.  My goal was to evoke and create a post-modern, genderqueer homage to Bettie Page.  One of the most iconic things about Bettie was her luxurious black hair and.  However, in my drag and genderfuck performance I do not wear wigs and do not perform "realness," as it's referred to in drag circles.  My goal is not to pass convincingly as female bodied, but rather to disrupt and deconstruct the gender binary by a conscious mixing of gender signals and signifiers.

This meant that to capture Bettie's spirit I was going to have to nail the poses and the energy.  All of our initial shots were on a sofa, posed after a few iconic pictures of her, including some with a riding crop, as Bettie created some of the earliest and best known images of bondage and BDSM.  Interestingly, I haven't seen any of these photos yet since the Ponies are touring and Sarah's editing time is slim.  After we did some of the classic poses, we got me up off the sofa and channeling my inner glamourous femme queen.  This is what we've come up with so far:

The first two pictures that went up on Sarah's blog were ones where she had played with some color filters.

  In the first I think I look very send-up of a 50's house wife who has just burnt the toast and is trying to look innocent and a little dumb.  Also, though I love the color on this, the filter (or perhaps just the lighting) did substantially change the color of the lipstick away from the very classic red that I choose. Moot, though, because this wasn't a classic Bettie pose anyway.

The color from the second is very 70's Playboy, which I love in terms of the look, and is interesting in terms of further muddling signifiers, because the pose and the outfit are not at all of that era.

On the other hand, the picture that Sarah most recently posted in an album previewing the entire calendar put me very much in mind of Marilyn Monroe as photographed my Richard Avedon. It's not exact (since I wasn't going for that look) but the way it came out is stunning, and I give all of the credit to Sarah for being such a great director from behind the camera.   All I can say is that it's absolutely stunning, and I could not be more in love.

17 August 2010

Buy it - buy it in every color!

My mother used to tell me I only ran at two speeds - slow and reverse. That's no longer true, but one thing that remains is I tend towards extremes. Extremes, for example, like going from running sporadically to training for a half marathon in about three weeks. (It went surprisingly well). Another example would be my twenty two inch corset, three layers thick with steel coil boning. Yes, that's eight inches smaller than my natural waist. Yes, most people only take in four to six inches when corseting. Yes, I had to have it custom made in order to go that far without cracking a rib. As I said, I'm into extremes.

I tend the same way with shopping - buy nothing for the longest time and then say, to hell with it, I need a new wardrobe. I had amassed quite a shoe collection a while back, and hadn't bought a pair in about five years, until the two I bought for the Liberty Cities Kings show that I MCed this past Sunday. In fact, those shoes develop a blog of their own. Later.

Today I stopped in at Delicious Boutique & Corseterie where I had gotten my first (and up until today only) corset because 1) my friend had never been, and needed to see their amazing items and 2) they were having a sale. My theory is that if something is on sale, it fits, and it looks good then you buy it. You buy it in every color! I walked out of the store three corsets and three hundred dollars later which, considering that they had an original combined retail value of $1285, was an incredible deal. Meanwhile, I now have three new fabulous costume changes for the next LiCK show!

Life's a Drag - and I *LOVE* it!

This past Sunday, I was the MC for the 2011 calendar release party for The Liberty City Kings, aka LiCK. They are Philadelphia's only drag king and burlesque queen troupe, and I was extremely excited to be invited by their fabulous leader and co-founder, Heather Coutts, to be the MC for this event. I met Heather two years ago at QFest, and worked with her immediately thereafter on my first ever film set. She is one of my favorite Philadelphians and when she invited me to her favorite playground - gender - I wasn't about to turn her down.

I take my lessons in gender identity and drag from the great post modern theorists and New York performance artists: Kate Bornstein, Justin Bond, http://taylormac.net/TaylorMac.net/Home.html. Each in her/his/hir own way helped explode the binary gender system for me. Each is like an angel or a prophet from a future where sissies are as celebrated as the captain of the football team, a butch diesel dyke is the President of the United States, and nobody has to be anything but what makes them feel safe, loved and happy. They are so beautiful that they're sometimes almost too much to take in.

In truly post modern fashion, it doesn't exactly interest me to be a "man" in "women's" clothing. I think there's still huge value (and just plain fun) in drag queens and drag kings. For many audience members, it's still subversive. For those performing it, it's still a thrill to act in roles that aren't readily available in daily life. However, as Stephen Heath once wisely observed, "the difference inverted is the difference maintained."

Don't take that to mean that I think that drag artists are reinforcing the patriarchy, far from it. But at a certain point it is the destiny for some of us gender warriors to move beyond the binary entirely. Sometimes this looks like painting from both palettes at once; some go so far beyond anything recognizable in culture and fashion as to like more an alien species than another sex. This is what I yearn for in my performances. I'm not interested in being a drag queen exactly; I intend to ascend my throne as genderfuck royalty.

The really magical part, for me at least, is to realize that not every member of the audience lives in the gender fluid world that I do. For some, it is their first drag show. Probably, for many, they have seen many a drag queen belt out (or lip sync) a hundred and ten Liza Minelli songs, but never seen a drag king sing Buddy Holly. Many of our audience members may be gay and lesbian, but may have never considered living too far outside their gender norms. Whether it's the endless gay porn sites fetishizing "real straight men fucking" or another singles ad from a "discrete masc dude" who wants "no fats or fems," so many lesbian, gay, and bisexual people have been so busy telling straight people (and themselves, including a younger version of myself) that our sexuality doesn't make us any different, that we've jumped through gender normative hoops to prove it. In the process we've wounded ourselves and our own, and drag isn't just fun; it's healing.

As binary gender disintegrated practically before my eyes with every chapter of Gender Outlaw and every gender transcended performance I saw in New York, I found new things to love about myself and others. As it turns out, glitter accentuates chest hair, as opposed to somehow tarnishing it with "femininity." Never mind the point that we all come from mothers and are taught to hate femininity expressed pretty much everywhere but straight porn and Swiffer commercials. And let's face it, six inch heels are the only shot I've ever got to be taller than my Dad. (In fact, they make me the tallest man in the whole family! Well, whatever a man is anyway, and assuming, for the moment that I am one.) So there you go. If one more person leaves a show that I've performed in finding new and more beauty in the world, then I've succeeded not just as a performance artist, sassy queen, and hot leather boy, but also as a human being.

14 June 2010

In Which Twitter Debates Whether I am Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

OK, actually they were debating whether I was Guy Pearce in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, but that makes for a less fabulous blog title.  Read from the bottom up for the conversation chronologically; I was too lazy to screen shot each individual tweet and put them in the right order.  Besides, then they wouldn't have come out the same exact size and I would be shedding sad, perfectionist, Virgo tears ;D

I really, really love my friends. And will be re-watching Priscilla as soon as midterms are through.

11 June 2010

Back from Jupiter

Where do you go when you meditate?  Today I might as well have been on another planet.  I did my psoas release work as I have been every day and did some energy work at the same time.  Then I moved into yoga.  I decided before going right into savasna, I would release my hips in supta baddha konasana.  That is is reclining pose with your hips open and the soles of your feet touching.  From there I went to savasna and I find that doing it every day, I am falling more and more quickly into a trance.  More than that, I am feeling more and more grounded immediately.

Starting from my head and moving all the way to my feet, I visualized each part of my body falling into the ground.  When I got to my feet, which in a fully expressed savasna pose I think would end up fully turned out, I not only felt a very significant release, but I literally felt hands wrap around them and gently pull them down, like a gentle body worker might do in a reflexology session.  That was comforting and yet feeling so connected to the earth was actually disarming and I felt a substantial amount of anxiety.  I snapped out of it, but immediately went back to grounding myself with the intention that I would ride through the fear and release it.  I grounded myself again, felt myself once again pulled very close down on to the ground and my whole body relax deeply, and for the first moment things were so intense that I stopped breathing and my palms curled up.

A very good practice that a friend has taught me is simply noticing and sitting with a sensation before reacting to it.  I waited for breath to come rather than forcing it.  I immediately thought of the energetic significance of one's palms - they contain the minor chakras (incoming on the left, outgoing on the right) that receive and give unconditional love and healing, and are connected to the heart chakra.  I imagined unconditional love coming into my left palm, and moving back out of the right to whomever needed it.  My whole body relaxed and gave over to the grounding, my palms flattened to the ground and remained upward and open, and I deepened even further into the trance.  I was surprised to find my flatmate napping in my bed as a came to, although I had vaugely heard her enter early in the meditation.  I then did what i know only as triangle pose, or ankle on knee pose - I don't know the Sankskrit and I do know that it is a hip opening pose for those of us who cannot (yet) achieve pigeon pose.  Perhaps it's because I've done this pose a lot lately, or perhaps it was the earlier supta baddha konasana, but my knees, rather than hovering their usual four or five inches above my ankles, were only a half inch above or so and release very quickly.  It is exciting to see such remarkable progress after only a few days, especially when it seems that several years of yoga didn't do as much.  Perhaps it's because I've been doing the psoas release along with it, perhaps it's the holy basil tea, or the geranium oil, or the meditation.  Whatever it is, it works and I'm thrilled.

Now, I've done my yoga for the day, so that must mean I'm off to write next.

10 June 2010

21.5.800 Day 2

A lot is different now, as opposed to last semester, which ran from January to May.  I'm still in class, and an intensive one at that.  And yep, I'm already behind in the reading, though I'm catching up.  Plus, being as it's a gendered history of food class, I really like the material and it's not hard to get through.  All of this makes me feel like I can breathe and actually take the time to do yoga, go to the gym, and write.  I guess the key here is to learn how to make those things doable priorities all of the time.

I have also been cleaning a lot lately.  In my experience, clutter means anxiety and depression while tidiness and cleanliness mean more energy and a better attitude.  I think it's a little bit like smiling - mostly we smile because we're happy, but smiling can improve mood.  Likewise, I think generally when we're well balanced we tend to keep things orderly and thus our energy and emotions orderly, but disorganization can cause anxiety and cleaning can improve mood and energy.  I've been organizing, scrubbing, and regularly burning sage.

I don't know how many cultures burn sage as a space clearing practice, but it definitely works for me.  For whatever reason, saging beforehand, sometimes as much as by a day or two, seems to make all of the cleaning easier and more manageable.  It also seems to draw my attention to things that I didn't even notice needed tending to, and as soon as they are put at rights, I feel much better.  I've also been trying to keep myself particularly healthy and clean, drinking dandelion tea and using a variety of essential oils, but especially geranium.

Apparently at least one of the chemical constituents of geranium oil actually reduces stress at a genetic level, by inhibiting the transcription of genes that are activated in stressful situations.  Prior to learning this, my experience of geranium was first that it helped remove old depression from this body (as opposed to helping with a current depressive episode) and then as I felt to use it in significant quantities after training for and running my first half marathon, usually directly on my thighs, I experienced much quicker healing time and less pain after long runs.  I'm now fascinated by the mind/body/spirit interplay going on.  Learning as I am about the psoas muscle and the way that we literally hold stress and fear in our muscles, I am interested in the way that geranium seems to work on multiple levels to reduce inflammation processes and, in turn, also have an emotional effect.

I'm exploring the connections of an unbelievable tightness in my mid back (behind my heart chakra, as understood in that system of organizing the body's energy), my slight scoliosis, and the tightness in my hamstrings.  There are certain stretches that simultaneously release my back and hamstrings and this is often accelerated by meditating on releasing old emotions; additionally, if I apply geranium oil to my hamstrings immediately before doing my morning pages, which are often free writing, I tend to get a torrent of memories from my childhood, often very distant memories.  They aren't necessarily all good or bad, or even seemingly significant, although they are often things that I haven't thought of in years or even decades.  I wonder why it is that releasing tension in these particular muscles, which started at a very young age, seems to release even mundane memories.  Then again,  feel very emotionally cut off from my childhood, so perhaps just remembering is significant in and of itself.

Regardless, I am extremely please to have the 21.5.800 project as a framework for continuing all of these explorations.

(FYI - Posted without proof reading.  I've got notes to take for a midterm coming up!) :)

08 June 2010

21.5.800 - Corpes and journals and stretching - oh my!

I don't know exactly when or how these things became so appealing, but it seems every time you turn around there is another opportunity to write or go to the gym or complete items on your bucket list over some fixed period of time.  I tried my hand with National Novel Writing Month (fifty thousand words over thirty days) last year and it didn't quite take.  My first week of November was hellish with meetings and work and by the second week I had lost my job.  You would think that unemployment would be the perfect opportunity to catch up with that first week and bang out the required 50,000 words for a month, but between getting unemployment compensation settled, interviewing for an internship and unwinding from a three-plus year stint an a job that I grew to detest, it didn't happen.  However, the writing bug has been biting me hard lately and I've returned to that project, albeit without a time frame.

This morning my friend Nina, fab food blogger over at Cooktivism, sent me info about doing savasna pose every day for twenty to forty minutes.  Also known to practitioners of yoga as "corpse pose"it is basically just lying down on your back, palms turned upward, and allowing mind and body to be restored.  Typically, every yoga class ends with this pose.  After an intense practice, it is not uncommon for me to sort of "trance out" and experience extraordinary mental and spiritual restoration and rejuvenation in a relatively short period of time.  Curiously, this was being touted as part of something called 21.5.800 so of course I had to find out more.

Basically, it is twenty one days of writing eight hundred words per day, and doing yoga five days per week.  the twenty to forty minutes of savasna was suggested as one way to achieve this if it isn't possible to do five yoga classes per week.  With a summer intensive college course three days per week, rehearsal several days per week, plus my own research for the show, five yoga classes per week, while I would adore such a schedule, are simply not doable.  However, I have recently returned to the practice from The Artist's Way of writing three "morning pages" every day, and I have just started working on releasing the psoas muscle based on Liz Koch's The Psoas Book.  Interestingly, the basic maneuver is very similar to savasna and doing it yesterday at the gym I coincidentally did one after the other, plus some hip release work afterwards.

To me, this is just perfect.  I have already committed myself to working my morning pages and psoas release and yoga into my day.  Now I have just a little extra motivation, plus perhaps I will be inspired to blog or write just a little bit more when I can squeeze it in.  It doesn't feel like an extra burden to take on; more like an affirmation that I'm already doing exactly what I need to with the added bonus that others will be doing it along with me.

06 June 2010

Sunday Reading & Interconnectivity

An amazing experience to me is one in which, before we are old or educated or wise or experienced enough to put words to something, we have an unbelievably strong, pre-linguistic reaction.  (To clarify, I'm 25 and very nearly a (late) college grad and there are plenty of things that I lack wisdom or experience  or education to express adequately; I'd consider this a phenomena largely, but not entirely, of the chronologically young.)  One such moment was serving as an acolyte in church at the 8 AM service which, because it catered to an old(er) (OK, ancient, dusty, one foot in the grave) crowd, used prayers originated in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church, as opposed to the 9:30 family-oriented service with the super up to date seventies era prayers.  Anyway, one of these prayers was basically a bunch of groveling horse shit about how we were nothing but dust before God.  Although only a young teen, I was deeply offended by this.  Nothing in my spirituality, then or since, regardless of whether or not it has invoked or regarded a creator or deity, has ever indicated to me that we need to shuffle and scrape.  We're all just doing our level best and if someone stronger than us created us weaker, then apologizing for said weakness or imperfection seemed (and seems) nonsensical.

Another visceral reaction, probably not much later in life, came in my tenth grade honors English class, reading Thoreau and Emerson and William Cullen Bryant and generally learning about transcendentalism.  There was a certain beauty to that interconnectivity and inspiration from nature that speaks to me still today.  There were writings of such beauty and power that I, ever the loquacious master of my mother tongue and eager student of other languages and modes of expression, was speechless.  Beyond being moved, I was faced with a beauty and unity so much bigger than myself that I could not fully conceive of it in any single moment, but simply face it with a bright and wondrous awestruck look in my eyes and on my face for as long as I could hold the idea and the feeling in my consciousness.

Transcendence is something I still pursue.  I don't perceive Taoism, acting, or particle physics to be distinct fields of study.  To me, Taoism and art are ways of coming to stillness and allowing ourselves to be the vessels through which manifest beauty is expressed.  Physics, chemistry, and biology are just the operating rules for the construct in which these actions are playing out.  To me, the great joy is when I see a poetic principle by another name in science, or when a spiritual principal may be fully understood as something that facilitates my acting.

That brings me to today's reading.  "The Psoas Book," by Liz Koch.  "The Essential Reiki Teaching Manual" by Diane Stein.  "We are What We Eat" by Donna Gabaccia.  The final book is one I am reading for my first summer class, "A Gendered History of Food."  I am excited to be taking this class for so may reasons.  The professor, Ann Marie Nicolosi, Ph.D., is one of the best I've ever had the privilege of being taught by, and her African American Women's History course last semester was transformative.  Additionally, this course brings me back full circle to where I was about five years ago, as I made the journey from omnivore to pesciatarian to vegan.  In the semesters following this dietary transformation, fueled first by health concerns and a newfound level of self care and bodily self respect, but then by a concern for animals, the environment, and worker's rights, I found feminist critical analysis as a unifying set of political and theoretical beliefs for activism an life.  I see this course as a way to renew and refocus these interests and find new insights in the interconnectivity of the way we eat with every other aspect of our lives, and to make eating decisions based on these connections.

The reiki book and The Psoas Book are both for the purposes of self healing and self care and, based on my love of sharing information that I find beneficial and interesting, ostensibly for healing others as well.  I will admit that my life path is intimidating to me some days.  I simply remind myself that, with creative joy and abundant support, I will find the way to wear the many hats of healer, teacher, artist, actor, writer, educator, father, and husband (eventually) with grace and aplomb.  That concern aside, I am again drawn to the interconnections of multiple systems of understanding life and experience.  Liz Koch is clearly open to holistic healing and energy work, and yet her book also communicates beautifully with detailed explanations of anatomy and physiology.  

While I am still left to make some connections for myself between, say, her explanation of muscular rigidity and a voluntary control of autonomic physiological responses to fear and the unbelievable knot in the muscles behind my heart (or heart chakra), she does offer a certain amount of direct explanations of physical, spiritual, and emotional interconnectivity.  I must also add that it gives me great that this is a multi directional system; that a massage can benefit me spiritually is very joyful because it involves no effort on my part other than showing up and sometimes it's just so nice for things to be easy.  And this is coming from a masochistic Virgo, to give some perspective to the personal significane to that statement.

Today, I am enjoying the breeze and my dog lying in bed with me while I blog, my books, and the beautiful ways that all of these separate texts communicate on the same idea, which is to be still and take care of myself and others.  May your Sunday be so beautiful.

xoxo Pistol

06 May 2010

In which I cut the last line for the academic version...

Below is a paragraph excerpted from the final paper I am currently writing for my Women, Culture and Society class.  I chose to analyze the trans denying/hating/phobic arguments of radical feminists vs post-modern gender theorists who are trans-positive.  See as I tear Janice G. Raymond (of "The Transsexual Empire: The Making of a She-Male" fame) a new one.  As the title suggests, I pulled the last line for the version I'm handing in.  Feminist theory is, as one friend put it, a blood sport when done well and I left some language in like this when the poor arguments truly warranted; this one, I admit, was purely emotional and had to go.  Except on this here internet thingy, where I let the rage fly.  And it sounds a little like:  DON'T FUCK WITH MY FAMILY, YOU INSENSITIVE TWATWAFFLE.  Enjoy:

Raymond also makes the attempt to bolster her argument for a binary history by invoking discussing individuals born biologically intersexed.  Because, she states, they are typically “altered” after birth to fit into a binary sex category and then raised as that gender “have the history of being practically born as male or female and those who are altered later in life have their body surgically conformed to their history.  When and if they do undergo surgical change, they do not become the opposite sex after a long history of functioning and being treated differently,” (Ryamonds, pp. 114-115).  This argument would logically mean that not only is gender socialized, but so is sex.  It is once again a display of astonishing arrogance and blind dedication to social constructionism to state that a person may not authentically determine for themselves that surgical procedure performed on them without their consent produced an unfavorable result, purely due to their history of being socialized in a different sex and gender role.  In this line of thinking, perhaps Ms. Raymond would also suggest that wrongly accused criminals should not, even when exonerated, be released from prison, because their history as a prisoner, regardless of that role being wrongly foisted upon them, cannot ever have a history that didn’t include socialization as a criminal.  This would certainly fit both her inflexibility and her utter lack of compassion for the lived experiences of human beings with a history that varies from her own.

05 May 2010

Wearing Nanny's Charms - Feeling the Love from my Ancestors

I'm wearing Nanny's charms right now. I wear them a lot when I need support, like finals week. I think it's funny that Poppy died before I was even born, and I've felt him close by since even before my first memory (as my parents have told me) and yet Nanny always felt so far away after she died. I remember being given her cross at the luncheon after her funeral and even sort of understanding why it went to me, out of everybody, but I can't remember why I got the charm with her anniversary date or her carousel charm, nor what her other charms were, or who has them. I thought there was one for every grandkid, though if there was one representing me, I don't have.

I say, the anniversary charm is to remind me of the love and enduring partnership I will have, and the carousel is a blessing to only do a job that I love. So maybe she doesn't feel so far after all...

Who have you lost?  Do you still talk to them?  Do they still come to you in dreams?  I feel like everyone I've ever loved who has died still continues to shape who I am and who I become.  Their wisdom and love endures.

The Cultural Incongruence of Queer Men Playing Contact Sports

Today I had a callback for a print ad I'd initially auditioned for on Saturday. The spot is an LGBT focused ad for AMTRAK and they are casting LGBT models. Since they already had four pictures of me and a resume, I figured this was the point at which I was going to have to be handsome and charming and win over casting directors on the spot, and I was right.

The instructions were something like “OK, come right here and stand on this mark. State your name....OK Rudy, and why don't you tell us one interesting fact about yourself.” There was a momentary beat, probably imperceptible to them, when I had no idea what I could say to put my best foot forward and engage them. Then, without any input from my conscious mind, my mouth was off and running.

“Well, I played rugby in college. Nobody that knew me before or after could ever really believe it. Here it is, one of the most violent contact sports in the world, and I'm a keep the peace kind of guy.” I'm not sure how much I said before they started asking questions, or how many questions were asked, but I talked about being bigger than, about the stress relief, about how Wednesday hitting practices left you even more exhausted and blissful than the games themselves.

Everybody seemed quite pleased and every word flowed intuitively and I barely remember what I said. This is the same as any good stiff arm did on the pitch, or any performance does now when I act – when it's good I'm only half aware of what's going on, half observer to my own actions and just running on autopilot. That's great, and my feeling that they'd find the idea of me as a rugger both humorous and charming was dead on. This was immediately after I confirmed I was auditioning for one of the gay roles. So what is it about queer men in contact sports that seems incongruous with what these athletes should be like?

This is a thought that has been on my mind a lot lately. I have recently re-enrolled at TCNJ, the school where I began my undergraduate degree and played rugby for four years, serving as the team treasurer for three. Running late to class one day, I was texting my friend Inessa, who also played rugby and is currently finishing graduate school there. She sent two of the girls from the current team to pick me up from the train station so I could get to class on time. Both were gay and one I knew from an Alumni Day game a few years back. They were describing how the women's team, mostly straight by the time I graduated, was once again a hotbed of lesbian curiosity and coming-outs. How about the guys team, I asked? To the best of our combined knowledge, there has never been an out queer men's rugby player before or after me.

This fall, it will have been eight years since I started my degree at TCNJ. The team was around at least two years before I got there, maybe even three or four. How is it that a rugby team, which has often been able to address full A and B sides with subs, so that'd be at least forty four men on the roster at any given time – how have I been the only one in a decade or more?

I wasn't out from the start of my freshman year; I wouldn't have even described my sexuality then as I do now, per se, though I was certainly under no illusions of being straight. It simply never occurred to me that it would be a problem that I wasn't. There were things that kept me quiet about my sexuality though. The largest was that, right out of high school I was socially awkward and a good sixty pounds heavier than I am now. For whatever reason my eyes didn't cooperate with contacts at the time, so I played blind. I wanted to wait and get better, lest I prove that stereotype about queer men being effeminate and unathletic.

Sadly, by the time I got in great shape, I also got mono right before school started and was benched for the competitive season of my senior year. Incidentally, we had, since we were a club sport and not NCAA regulated, won the D II champions the year before (having moved into D II either before or right around the time I started; TCNJ is a D III school), moved into D I that fall and were playing schools like U Del and Princeton. There has never, to this day, been a greater disappointment in my life than being benched that season.

The team was not entirely without homophobia, but by the time I was a junior I was putting the kibosh on homophobic language on the pitch (what little there was) and as a team leader, I was mostly respected. Additionally, other players whom I respected deeply began policing rookies for homophobic remarks and were extremely supportive of me, both when I was obviously queer but not talking about it (and I never dated so I never had anything to either talk about or hide, really) and then when it was official, in the form of being on my Facebook page.

This brings me to a number of questions. How to we get all teams to be as cool as mine? Certainly being a liberal education school in New Jersey helped. Once the token queer player graduates, how do you maintain that lack of homophobia, so new players will find a queer positive space? I remember tabling for rugby and trying to get anybody who gave us more than a cursory glance to at least come out to a practice. We told them about the body diversity on the team and the diversity of different sports that ruggers had played in high school, and those, like me, who were simply couch potatoes. There was one kid who read as very effeminate and gay and a team mate joined me in encouraging him to come out to a practice.

Would this have happened without me? Does this happen now? It cracked everybody up that I, the somewhat moderately butch but just as often joyfully feminine man could play rugby, but I didn't hit any less hard or take any less pride in my war wounds than anybody else. Why do we see people as static, or believe that masculinity in every moment is needed to perform feats of physical strength and brutality for eighty minutes on a Saturday?

And the big question is, today, now, this moment, as an athlete and an activist – what can I do to help make college athletics, especially contact sports like rugby that put a premium on masculinity, be inviting spaces for queer participants? Not every queer would-be rugger is as lucky as I.

07 April 2010

Feminist Slam Poet Boys, My Heart is WON

Another day, another poetry slam video for you.  This is from three young gentleman in Chico, CA, with a poetry group called "Chico Speaks Out."  Their anger, sensitivity and art stuns and inspires.  Enjoy.

06 April 2010

National Poetry Month

In case you haven't been aware for the last five days, today is the sixth day of national poetry month.  I have to say, I like a fair amount of poetry and I hate it when people claim to dislike it categorically .  To me, that's like saying you hate all vegetables when you've only ever had peas and carrots.  There is Swiss chard, broccoli and many a variety of pepper, ya know?  There are ee cummings, Ben Lerner, and Matthea Harvey (in case you hated Shelley, Chaucer, and Shakespeare in high school.)  I like poetry because of, well, the poetic license.  You don't have to describe something like you would for a detective's report or a scientists observation.  A good metaphor is a beautiful lie or even an ugly one that tells more Truth than the truth, and I like that.  I'm blunt and I'm a Virgo, but that doesn't mean I'm always such a literal motherfella every moment of the day.  Poetry is unshackled and unshackling. 

Some of my favorite kind  poetry has rhythm and often assonance but not rhyme, which is pretty common in slam poetry, so for today I'm posting one of my all time favorite slams, performed by two women speaking as the internal and outward voices of a trans man, often in perfect unison.  Incidentally, if you've ever tried to perfect a vocalization like that, you can appreciate the unbelievable amount of work that went into this perforance, to say nothing of the unbelievable emotional rawness of it. 

I used to get great praise from teachers for my poetry; now I'm out of the habit and I feel like I'm writing complete shit.  But, I am writing again, precisely because it's National Poetry Month, which lots of Twitterers have turned into national poetry *writing* month.  I'm a lot more prepared to commit to a poem a day than I was to commit to writing a 50,000 word novel in November for National Novel Writing Month and I think the practice of writing whether I feel "inspired" or not is an excellent one.  Creativity is a discipline which requires regular practice like anything else and I don't really care that I'm writing shit.  It feels like turning water on in a summer home; it comes out it nasty rusty spurts until it gets flowing again.  There's no other way to get it flowing than to just do it.  Perhaps some of you will participate, or interact with others on Twitter tracking their month with the #NaPoWriMo hashtag.

Cheers, and happy reading, writing and watching

28 March 2010

Judith Butler gave me gender euphoria & all I got was this lousy blog post.

I just had one of those "Eureka!" moments when something you've been mulling over for years shifts in a big way.  It's like the first time I understood the double slit experiment in particle physics.  It was so simple and yet so difficult, like a yoga pose that you can't seem to muscle in to.  There's all this work that you have to do - it's action, it's yang energy, it's whatever you want to call it - but what's important to not lose sight of is that all of that outward force is just to make you strong and flexible enough to achieve the pose by submission.  Suddenly you fall into it rather than shove into it.

I'm in the process of the most intensive research and thesis writing of my life. I'm exploring femininst theories of transsexual women's experiences and the way that these theories are reflected in medicine, psychology, and society, as well as trans women's theorization and explanation of their own experiences.   I was skimming a scholarly article and came across a quote from Judith Butler, whose work I intend to analyze, but which I have not yet read or frankly even accessed from the library.  The quote, from her 1990 book "Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity," argues that gender overwrites sex and is as follows (as quoted by Schrock, Reid, & Boyd in Gender and Society, Vol 19, No 3):  "perhaps is was always already gender, with the consequence that the distinction between sex and gender turns out to be no distinction at all'."  Now this is only a fragment, and it's presented in a paragraph that looks at a number of Butler's ideas and presents partial quotations.  Therefore, I should point out that my response isn't so much to the article or to Butler's idea which seems a bit out of context, though I can't be sure without the original text.  The point is more about what this triggered for me.

I was momentarily, for less time than it takes a thought to fully form, apoplectic.  First of all, the sex/gender difference has taken years to establish and articulate from Harry Benjamin, M.D. using them interchangably in his landmark "The Transsexual Phenomenon," to post modern sex/gender/sexuality and/or feminist theorists differenting between the two.  Basically, that sex is body and that gender is socialized performance of behaviors attributed two which of the two versions of socially accepted bodies we live in.  The idea that a post-modern feminist would come and say that there's not only no difference but that it's all about gender would seem to invalidate transsesxual experience because one can choose to embody different gendered behaviors without transitioning one's physical sex.  However, I 1) don't think that's what she meant and 2) at least for the moment don't care because that's when it hit me:

THERE IS NO GENDER.  Not in any concrete, measurable way.  There are behaviors we've arbitrarily classified as masculine and feminine and then arbitrarily attached to male and female bodies, respectively.  Sure, gender is still a useful term because it describes a set of behaviors that have significance in our culture.  But this doesn't happen in other instances.  For example, there is no linguistic way to describe the set of expected behaviors attached to race, yet these clearly exist (basically as racism and racist stereotypes).  I've had articulate African American friends with advanced degrees told to stop "acting white."  If their peers were telling how to act based on their biological sex, we'd refer to those behaviors as gender, but here it's based on race and called....nothing.  (Clearly it's also fucked up.  The idea that there's a way to act white, or male...back to the apoplectic place I go.)  There is no word, which is odd because essential differences in mental and physical capacities based on race were in play  and shaping the law up until my parent's generation (and sadly linger in lots of places today).  Still, there is no way to describe the set of behaviors expected from a group based on a born trait of race, while we describe the gendered behaviors of a born sex.

This would have flown right past me years back when my understanding of sex and transsexuality was rooted in a patriarchally enforced binary sex system where it was natural for girls to be feminine and boys to be masculine.  My first encounters with gender non-conformist transsexual people was substantially more confusing than gender non-conformist people who maintained their birth sex.  Something along the lines of "why become a woman if you want to be a butch woman?  Why not be a man?"  I learned to unravel sex and gender, and even view both as continuims or dimmer switches rather than a binary variable.  But tonight, I moved from "We're born with a physical and a mental sex which may or may not align, as well as a gender which is seperate" to "we're born with a physical and mental sex that may or may not align, and then we behave."   The idea that gender is socially created and performed is one I've believed all along, but I couldn't see the forest through the trees.  I thought we had a *real gender* somewhere deep inside and had to learn to express it.  I think there's just a real *person* that we have to learn to express, and may struggle to do so when it flies in the face of convention, and that goes far, far beyond gender.

Still, as long as we're in a world where we're expected to choose I'll fall in line.  As I said earlier this week, *my* gender....is glamour.  ;D

your hairy, Virgo, masculine-bodied, gender-transcended Transit Faerie,

26 February 2010

Sucking Cock is Gay; Rhinestones are Fabulous (Yes Blanche, There's a Difference)

Earlier this week, David Badash over at The New Civil Rights Movement responded to Chelsea Handler's tweet "You say 'Ice Dancing,' I say 'Gay.'"  Initially I found the comment mildly amusing, if bland and a bit been-there-done-that.  On the other, I think David makes a very valid point that it reinforces a stereotype.  Personally, I love a politically incorrect comedian.   George Carlin is a god in my book, and I have paid good money to have Lisa Lamponelli personally address me as a "cheap Jew bastard cunt faggot.  God Bless!"  I thought it was hilarious and, in the context of meeting her, getting her autograph and seeing her show, one can see that she goes after every possible sexuality, gender, race, ethnicity and religion that commonly experiences discrimination and makes a joke out of it.  That kind of humor isn't for everybody, but I think it's valuable because it's easiest to break down difficult stereotypes laughing at how ridiculous they are.  So there we have our first balancing act to consider: in repeating a stereotype, does the comedian do so in a context and to an audience that allows us to laugh it away, or is it being reinforced?  I think Ms. Handler's comment falls into the latter category.

When I look at what's being reinforced, my concern is not primarily that this is casting all gay men as effeminate. Rather, I'm concerned that we are continually reinforcing the notion that there is en essential gay quality; I am equally concerned when there is an essentialist view of any sex, gender, sexuality, race, etc.  Because these are largely identities we are born and socialized into, people begin to believe that being born gay means you burst through the womb in high heels doing a baton routine and belting out Judy Garland tunes or that being born a woman or a lesbian or a black lesbian or anything else makes a statement that our actions are inherent to our identity, and every other person of that identity.  Any essentialist view of identity is troubling on multiple levels.  On the macro level, it turns any group into a monolithic one, with identical or near identical experiences.  This is simply not true.

On the individual level, an essentialist view of sex, gender and sexuality has very negative repercussions.  Take for example the notion that there is some essential and inviolable characteristic that makes one a woman.  Any chromosomal or biological identity fails this test.  There are women born with only one X chromosome, and women born XY where the SRY masculinization gene on the Y chromosome is missing or inactive.  Not all women menstruate or give birth.  Sexual identity doesn't make a women either; not all women have sex with men.  Traditional femininity doesn't make a woman as women exist all over the spectrum of femininity and masculinity and some transcend the spectrum entirely; they make it three dimensional, spherical, polymorphous and continually evolving.  Even an essentialist view that, if nothing else, all women are born with a vagina is invalidated by transsexual women who are not, in fact, born with a biological female sex.  Feminists with an essentialist view of female/woman identity are one more voice against trans women, denying them safe spaces, access to healthcare, and flat out robbing them of their humanity and making it OK for them, and especially trans women of color, to be proportionally the most attacked and killed in hate crimes of any group in America.  In other words, dismantling essentialist identity, whether you use such fancy phrases or not, is not just an Ivory Tower exercise for the privileged attendees of liberal arts universities.  It can literally be a matter of life and death.

So then, do we really believe that there is an essential experience of being a gay man?  It is undoubtedly true that when you compare gay men to straight men that more of us like show tunes or get excited about Johnny Weir's performance to Lady Gaga's Poker Face.  Even my friends and I are in the habit of, after a conversation about such things adding the addendum "wow, I'm extra gay today," or perhaps adding the hashtag #bigolmo to a tweet.  Yet here I am arguing that there is no essential femininity or other attribute that sets us apart from straight men.

So to clarify, as the title says: I'm gay cause I'll suck a dick like it's the last lollipop smuggled into fat camp.  I'm queer because I'm weird and politically radical and I'm not a six on the Kinsey scale - there are so many hot queers out there and I hardly think that I'd be disinclined to sleep with them just because of their genitalia, or the fact that their genitals have been reshaped by hormones or surgery, or because they don't fit some sexual or gender binary which, hello, is totally made the hell up!  And finally, I'm fabulous because, well, I mean, have you seen me in a corset?  Or a leather jockstrap?  Or just jeans and a t-shirt.  Have you seen me discuss feminist theories as a way of understanding racial discrimination or did you know that I've set my broken nose with a spoon and duct tape?  Yeah, I'm MacGyver like that.  And I'm fucking fabulous day in and day out, and when I'm not feeling fabulous I do pushups or go for a bike ride or give my self a spa day until I'm bringing my A-game in fabulosity again.

Is this because I'm queer?  Partly, largely, but it's not an essential part of me.  It is my reaction to being a big old queen who was scared of boys growing up.  I don't know which came first for sure, but I think that even that was a reaction to a negative experience and not something I was born feeling.  It was an inequality between the sexes that pissed me off from the start, and it was one day in first or second grade that, as usual, the boys were off terrorizing the girls during recess and I was running with the girls, making sure nobody bothered my best friend Meghan.  At some point I had that National Geographic African steppe documentary experience of being prey separated from the herd.  I was the gazelle and he was the hyena, pinning me down, calling me a faggot, telling me I had to take the boy's side and that he was going to punch me if I didn't.  Channeling some dignified resistors of tyranny from the collective unconscious, I straight up brought my Ghandi/King/hunger striking suffragette energy and just lay there silent, refusing to acknowledge or bow to his threats.  My non-violent, silent protest worked and I wasn't bothered again.

So what's the theory?  The theory is that we are not essentially, any of us, queer or not, masculine or feminine or football players or chorus members.  We are born with a personality, and our identity and our actions are shaped by how the world treats us.  I know from the age of four that I was different even though I couldn't verbalize how, and so I was sometimes abused.  Largely I was not; I still had white male privilege and spent most of my formative years in a liberal New Jersey town; that coupled with my personal tendency towards diffusing tension and being extraordinarily trustworthy and non-threatening spared me from the abuse that many other queer boys experience.  Still, being weird and different gave me the liberty to try on more identities outside of what men are supposed to be.  I learned, over many years, that there was no incongruence in baking, playing rugby, sleeping with men, listening to AC/DC and Madonna on the same playlist and wearing heels if I damn well felt like it.  My response to being a queer man in a queer-unfriendly and queer-terrorizing world, like many but not all, was to explore all of the ways I could be a human and sometimes those behaviors stray far into the zone of stereotype.  When I do so, I'm not "acting gay," I'm just being me in a way that makes sense in the world I live in.

One more thought before I leave you lovelies to digest that bit of queer theory and get your Friday night outfits picked out:  It is essential that we take down such stereotypical statements at their root, as we have done here.  Calling out stereotypes without calling out their roots is treating the symptom without addressing the disease; it's removing a tumor without doing the biopsy to see if the disease has become systemic and what it is affecting most deeply.  Often times when we take down a gay stereotype we end up reinforcing homophobia and patriarchy.  (An aside: I don't feel that David's blog did this at all, but many do.)  Instead of addressing the troublesome concept of an essentialist view of queer sexuality, we often see queer men of a more masculine variety, whether than gender presentation is sincere or an attempt to mollify the homophobic, but more specifically effeminate/queen/"stereotypical"/patriarchy-challenging homophobic masses, distance themselves as far from the stereotype as possible.  Instead of affirming that this is one of many valid queer identities, they become apologists to the straight world for such men behaving the way they do or even existing.

I know this is true because once upon a (seriously deluded) time I thought I could be a bad, butch rugby player, the non-stereotypical gay man who sneaked in the back door of patriarchy (no anal sex pun intended, I swear, you guys) and demonstrated that no, we're not all "like that," we're just the same as you, so it's about time we got our freaking equal rights.  The reality is not all gay or straight or black or Jewish or whatever men are all like anything.  We're people, not 32 flavors at Baskin Robins that all stay in separate tubs. When we tackle stereotypes it's important that we honor all of the members of our community, and not just the ones that are the scrubbed and  polished version of what we perceive a queer man or woman to be, ready to be the non-threatening, status quo-maintaining and wholly  ineffective next face of the queer community.  Furthermore, by dismantling the idea that there is an essential gay behavior or set of likes and dislike, we honor the straight men unfairly affected by homophobia, straight men who drop out of dance classes and glee club because those things are not honored by society as being legitimate straight male identities.  Remember, homophobia and it's evil progenitor patriarchy hurt us all.

23 February 2010

An open letter to college students, and students of life.

I once saw John Leguizamo speak and he said something that I really liked, which, at this remote later date I will paraphrase to "I'm not here to be a shining example.  I'm here to be a screaming warning."  I think this may have been related to his story of passing on "Philadelphia" to make "Super Mario Brothers: The Movie" because he thought he was too good looking to play Tom Hanks' lover.  I have had my own similar wacky paths through life and questionable decisions - for example, I saw him at TCNJ early in my career there, maybe 2003.  Now it's 2010 and I'm back to finish a degree that I abandoned four years ago.

I do not regret one minute between now and then.  Sure, knowing what I know now I would make different decisions, but I wouldn't know now what I do without doing what I did so....you see my point.  Now that I'm back, I've got some thoughts.  They apply most directly to college students, perhaps the 19 year olds that can avoid my mistakes by my insight, perhaps the 49 year olds going back after decades - and a minute I'll open this up to everyone, not just matriculated students.

Did you know that for many people, but most definitely for people privileged enough to be enrolled in institutions of higher learning, there is an entire network of people that are dedicated to not only your academic success in the sense of achieving excellent marks, but, if you really care and keep an open mind, are guides for an emotional, intellectual and perhaps even spiritual journey that will forever change and uplift you?  It's true.  I just noticed for the first time this semester that every single one of my teachers will accept papers early to give feedback.  Sometimes if you stay after class to ask a question they will direct you to resources.  One gave us the names of the research librarians that specialize in history and gender studies, respectively. Mind you, I developed a love of research librarians on my first go round as a student and knew they had master's degrees in library science; I did not know that they published scholarly articles and had specialized areas of expertise.  I knew I could ask questions when I stopped by the reference desk; I didn't know I could schedule a one-on-one appointment with a librarian who specialized in my field of research.  Nobody ever told me but, more importantly, I never asked.

That's probably the most important thing I have learned in the last few weeks.  These resources have always been open to me, yet I never asked.  I didn't have the wisdom, maturity, inclination or focus four to eight years ago.  Now I do.  College students everywhere should be asking for help and resources, even if they might not need it, just so they know what support & safety nets are there in case they do.  Employees should be calling HR to make sure they know about all of the benefits available to them.  We should all be talking to people about what they know and are passionate about, because we never know who is ready, willing and able to take us on the next leg of our journey.

(Photo credit: by Marc Meola,  TCNJ librarian from his Flickr)

22 February 2010

This Week in Fabulosity - Mean Little Deaf Queer (& Other Assorted Faggotry)

I was very joyful to get out of the house this weekend.  I was nearing a total meltdown with school, and frankly that didn't fully resolve until late last night when I cleared a thesis with a professor, realized I had plenty of time to write it, and calmed my raggedy over-achieving Virgo ass down.  But I digress.  This Saturday, my fabulous sex blogger flatmate Sarcastabitch reminded me that Giovanni's Room has having both an author reading and Holler, their (relatively) new open-mic night which I have attended previously.   Side note: Sarcastabitch is so intensely, delightfully, snarkily and brilliantly fabulous that she'll also be guest blogging for The Evil Slut Clique because her wit and swish cannot be contained to just one blog.

The evening started with Terry Galloway dramatically reading from her memoir "Mean Little Deaf Queer."  (Follow the link to buy the hardback from Giovanni's Room, or here to get it in paperback edition when that comes out shortly.)  She was pehomenal and an off-the-wall wonder.  She read/performed three excerpts.  The first was about meanness as a way of coping with deafness in her youth, and the second two about passing.  One was passing as less disabled to order to feel less an outsider, and the other about passing as more disabled than she really was in order to make sure she qualified for public assistance in getting new hearing aids. 

It was the latter that I found the most interesting of all, though both about passing made me think about behaviors in which we, whether queer, disabled, ethnic or racial minorities, etc., may take on a very affected behavior outside of us in order to demonstrate ourselves to be either "enough" or "not too much" of whatever it is we think we have to be for the audience we're currently performing for.  Performing different versions of ourselves and others is something that most or all of us do in adolescence or in college or other times in our life that are formative of our emotions and identities.  To see someone not only recall this in their own life but to recreate the performance for us was captivating and it begs the questions: "How does she perceive both her own disability, and that in the context of her larger identity?  How does she perceive her disability compared to others' disabilities?  What does this performance of disability tell us about her perceptions, and do they seem accurate either to us or to her in retrospect?"

Overall, Terry's reading and answering questions for the audience afterward was unwaveringly energetic and captivating; in addition it was, at turns, laugh-out-loud hilarious, cringe-worthy, sympathetic, tugging at our heart strings, and, in moments, cruel.  The title of the book, after all, is "Mean Little Deaf Queer."  In little more than an hour she took us on a real journey that certainly left me wanting more, and so I joyfully purchased the book and had it signed, and am glad to report that Beacon is already looking for Terry to write a sequel.  In this endeavor she has all of my best wishes, and I cannot wait to finish the first, and read the second when it comes out.

I've had so many things to say about Terry's fabulosity that I'll sum up the rest of the evening in a quick stream of consciousness: most  read from anthologies, I from GENDERqUEER, though one young man performed a monologue on performing queerness (performing identity = evening's theme) with great hilairty.  "I am a Christian Woman!" he exclaimed.  Delicious audience member with beautiful braided hair.  Delicious hummus afterward with some queer gals and one "butch tranny fag."  Baklava and coming out stories.  His fascinated: first as a dyke, then as a trans man who has a wifey, is queeer, is "down for the tranny cock" (as in, other trans men like himself), does not love cis-men's penises.  My cock barely bristled; not everybody can love it.  More than enough do and that's fine.  Strawberry-vanilla hookah and homemade baklavah.  Deliciousness abound.


28 January 2010

I want to wear the pants in the family. And the stilettos.

While wandering my apartment trying to get into a rather dry history book outlining women in Asia in just a few hundred pages (for the world's largest continent with incredibly diverse languages, cultures, religions and so on mind you) I tended to get, well distracted.  I need to go in depth, to analyze or synthesize theory based on primary and secondary sources, to see the art.  A very factual primer is not useful to me, although when I finally hit on some topics I was a little more familiar with, as well as interested in (in this case various myths about women, including the story of Sita from the Ramayana) my synapses started firing.

This is difficult.  For me, intellectual excitement is somewhat akin to firing a shotgun.  It's an enormous explosion of force that tends to move outward rapidly and in a number of different directions simultaneously.  I was wondering if I could connect a recent, animated film retelling of the Ramayana, the fabulous and incomparable "Sita Sings the Blues," to various ancient iterations of the story.  I was wondering how I could expand or contract my thesis, depending on the amount of primary sources and scholarly research available, to compare the telling and retelling religious and/or secular stories with women as central characters and how they changed over time both with and against society's shifting interpretation of women's roles; additionally it might be possible parallel this with the worship of various incarnations of Maha Davi (the feminine Divine) in Hindu culture.  I suppose comparative analysis across other religions on the Indian subcontinent could be done, although frankly Buddhism, Islam and Jainism neither speak to me or interest me in quiet the same way as Hindu (with the exception of art and architecture in the Islam Mogul dynasty) and I only have 10-12 pages, not a damn book, so I should keep this narrow and deep rather than broad and cursory.

Anyway, it was around the time that I was walking in circles, reading further in my text and reading it with an East Tennessee accent, by the way, to continually hone that for my acting class, that I came up with another idea (hence the shotgun theory of my neural pathways).  Just to paint the picture, I'd just finished a litre of black tea (hellloooooo over caffeinated), was boiling water for another litre of green, was wearing my rugby jersey, track pants and some secondhand high heel shoes from Philly AIDS Thrift and eating a banana.  Then it came in a flash: between Tony award winning shows and time I spent with my family, I'd be writing an analysis on queering family in the 21st century.  It will be entitled "I want to wear the pants in this family.  And the stilettos.  Queering community, child rearing and gender roles in an non-traditionally constructed modern family."

Tah-dah, that's my brain on caffeine.  That's a peek into my thesis for this semester, and if you have resources, by all means, please direct me to them.  And that's a peek at my life, I think/hope, in 2025.

Love ya, mean it!
xoxo Pistol

25 January 2010

Where I Am

This is my life right now: as most of you I was (joyfully) fired from my job at the University of Pennsylvania Health System in November.  I had applied to return to The College of New Jersey, which I had originally attended from 2002-2006 without attaining a degree, less than a week before I was fired.  There is something to be said about a responsive Universe that meets us where we are when we act with intention because within a matter of weeks I had the best of all possible scenarios - I had been readmitted to TCNJ and have been able to collect unemployment so, at least thus far, my only loans have been for class and not for living expenses.

Maybe because I loved the gender studies classes I took there more than almost any other, maybe because it's a degree that I can complete in two semesters, and maybe because I'm just trying to induce my parents to transient ischemic attacks, I am a women's and gender studies major.  Compound that with the rest of my activities right now - a third course in Meisner Technique for acting and a two-day-a-week internship at First Person Arts, a non-profit arts organization dedicated to memoir and documentary, and they don't see me doing anything that is potentially fiscally sound.  Mind you, they just cosigned my college loan application, but this is a conversation we've been having for far longer than that (and won't be addressed here at this time).

Without considering any additional reading I'll have to do for multiple research papers, my semester started with the purchase of 19 books and the download of over 50 additional resources, mostly scholarly articles.  I have been reading at nights, on Thursdays before class (my only week day off of other activities before 5 PM), after class (and soon to be rehearsal as well) on Saturdays, and all day Sundays.  I read walking the threeish miles from the train station to campus, because I take peak hour trains and can't bring my bike.  In fact, I read out loud in an East Tennessee accent becuase that it one of the things I'm currently working on in my Meisner training.

In short, I have never taken on this much at once in my entire life; nor have I ever had higher expectations of myself to accomplish all that I set out to do at the highest echelons of achievement.  For once, this isn't just a new kick like most people's New Year's resolutions that are unreasonable and are thus doomed to speedy failure.  Instead, as a result of over a year of intellectual, emotional, and spiritual preparation, sometimes slow and sometimes lurching forward in spurts, and always unbelievably supported by friends, my flatmate, my fellow actors & instructor, a - I dunno what to call him, let's say loyal companion - all of whom, often without knowing it, have been teaching me to be an emotionally mature and present adult who refuses to settle for less than what he is capable of achieving or receiving.

I've learned how to prioritize, breaking readings assigned over several weeks into reasonable chunks with deadlines.  I've learned how to let a man cook me a meal and then serve it to me, by candlelight, with flowers in the room, without thinking that it's corny or insincere.  I've learned how to listen, take things personally and respond truthfully - it might have been training for the stage and screen, but it's made an immeasurable difference in my life.

Have I mentioned that this is the longest in my adult life that I have been without a major depressive episode, or even a hint at moving in the direction of one?  I have never been so happy in my life, and still this is just the beginning.  This year will see opportunities to get my work published, act in as groundbreaking stage productions with actors and a director who I admire immensely, and obtain my college degree.  I should also mention that I've probably never been this stressed, and yet the unbelievably hectic schedule has forced me into such consideration for my time that I've never used it better or felt so productive.  It is the positive kind of stress that makes one stronger and more resilient.

11 January 2010

Cynthia Nixon on Gay Adoption

Here is Father Tony interviewing Cynthia Nixon at the ACLU's launch of a campaign to overturn the ban on adoption by same sex couples in Florida.   I find her very well spoken and I appreciate that she addresses  the heteronormativity that pervades our society and can make it difficult to talk about our queer families. 

On a personal and somewhat random note, I met Father Tony as an extra on the set of Bear City, an indie film that I worked on in August and that should be playing in film festivals this coming summer.  His life story - from gay priest in the Vatican to partnered blogger splitting his time between New York and Florida - was totally fascinating and it was a great pleasure to spend time with him, and to continue to follow his writing online.  Without futher ado, the interview:

09 January 2010

Inspiration via Koreanish

Alexander Chee is a novelist that I follow on Twitter, and who I recently got to meet when he was in Philly for  work.  When I made my Christmas wish list of books by queer authors for my Mom to buy me from Giovanni's Room, his debut novel Edinburgh was on the list, and is next on my "to read" list. (It was really exciting to support queer artists who I knew or that were recommended by PhinLi Bookings, who I love.)  I also follow Alex's blog Koreanish and really enjoyed  today's post.

What struck me was his discussion on the research that one must undertake to create authentic art, in his case a historical novel, a largely autobiographical novel, and a potential screen play.  Even the autobiographical novel required research because, as he writes, "You may think you know your home town, Annie Dillard used to say in class. But chances are you don’t. What is the main industry? When was it founded? The population? What are the plants, throughout the seasons? She was speaking of the importance of researching even memoir."  I felt like I was getting an artist to artist lesson here, and a reminder that our mentors need not be in the same room or even state as us, be speaking to us directly, or even know us.

This was particularly resonant with me because of the acting training which I just resumed with the start of a new class at the Ward Stduio.  The level of excellence and dedication expected of us is incomparable to anything I have experienced in life, and I am extremely grateful for it.  In our current class, Meisner Technique III, we are learning physical adjustments along with other text work.  These include everything from dialects, speech impediments and physical disability to realistically acting pain, drunkenness, or anything else that would require adjustment to our physicality in order to be truthfully expressed on film or on stage.  The expectation of our accent/dialect work is that we will unfailingly use primary source materials (or I'm sure immersion would be ideal if it were possible) in order to study and take on the accent, and that we will then use it 24/7 until we have mastered it.  At the bank, at work, talking to Grandmom on the phone, giving driving directions to strangers and while fucking.  All of the time. You do your research and you do your footwork and then (and only then) will you be the best artist you can be, writer, actor or otherwise.  I appreciate Alex's blog as one more reminder of the hard work constantly required to master one's craft.

08 January 2010

New Jersey's Failed Marriage Equality Vote

The first order of business, the posting of the yays, the nays, those abstaining and those absent. 

YES (14)

Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic) (609) 383-1388
Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex) (732) 752-0770
Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex) (732) 205-1372
Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak (D-Union), co-sponsor (908) 624-0880
Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex) (973) 731-6770
Sen. Teresa M. Ruiz (D-Essex) (973) 484-1000
Sen. Sandra B. Cunningham (D-Hudson) (201) 451-5100
Sen. Brian P. Stack (D-Hudson) (201) 861-5091 & (201) 558-7926
Sen. Nia H. Gill (D-Essex) (973) 509-0388
Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), co-sponsor (201) 928-0100
Sen. Robert M. Gordon (D-Bergen) (201) 703-9779
Sen. Nicholas P. Scutari (D-Union) (908) 587-0404
Sen. Joseph F.Vitale (D-Middlesex) (732) 855-7441
Sen. Bill Baroni (R-Mercer) (609) 631-9988
NO (20)
Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May) (609) 465-0700 & (856) 765-0891 & (856) 696-7109 &               (609) 926-3779
Sen. Ronald L. Rice (D- Essex)  (973) 371-5665
Sen. John A. Girgenti (D-Passaic (973) 427-1229
Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-Hudson) (201) 295-0200
Sen. Fred H. Madden (D-Gloucester) (856) 232-6700 & (856) 401-3073
Sen. Shirley K. Turner (D-Mercer)  (609) 530-3277
Sen. Robert W. Singer (R-Ocean) (732) 901-0702
Sen. Joseph Pennacchio (R-Morris) (973) 227-4012
Sen. Christopher Bateman, (R-Somerset) (908) 526-3600
Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (R -Union) (908) 232-3673 & (908) 918-0414 & (908) 232-2073
Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth ) (732) 933-1591
Sen. Joseph M. Kyrillos (R-Monmouth)  (732) 671-3206
Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen)  (201) 567-2324
Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Hunterdon) (908) 835-0552
Sen. Kevin J. O’Toole (R-Essex) (973) 237-1360
Sen. Philip E. Haines (R-Burlington)   (609) 654-1498
Sen. Christopher J. Connors (R-Ocean) (609) 693-6700
Sen. Anthony R. Bucco (R-Morris) (973) 627-9700                                                                            Sen. Steven V. Oroho (R-Sussex) (973) 300-0200 & (973) 584-4670
Sen. Sean T. Kean (R-Monmouth) (732) 974-0400
Sen. Paul A. Sarlo (D-Bergen) (201) 804-8118
Sen. Stephen M. Sweeney (D-Gloucester) (856) 251-9801 & (856) 455-1011 & (856) 339-0808
Sen. James Beach (D-Camden) (856) 489-3442
Sen. Diane B. Allen (R-Burlington) (609) 239-2800
Sen. Andrew Ciesla (R-Ocean) (732) 840-9028

First of all, I must thank David Badash for this list, posted at his blog The New Civil Rights Movement, to which I have added phone numbers.  David did a phenomenal job yesterday covering the marriage equality debate and has several posts up, including audio of individual Senators' speeches and excellent critiques of the.

Check out David's responses to Senator Kean, who represents the more LGBT citizens than any other Senator but voted no anyway, and Senator Cardinale who somehow argued against the bill from a procedural standpoint, stating that it "disenfranchised"NJ voters.  I'd suggest he look up disenfranchise.   He is an elected representative of his constituents and his vote on laws that affect them is in fact a direct extension of their vote.  But I digress.

Unlike New York, where every single Republican Senator voted against marriage equality, in New Jersey we can thank  Republican Senator Bill Baroni for his bravery in breaking the status quo of the GOP and delivering this excellent speech, asserting that “unequal treatment by government is always wrong.”

My parents are represented by Republican Senator Philip E. Haines of Burlington County, where I lived for a decade of my life.  Ironically, I have to call his office to ask for his assistance in understanding NJ health insurance law.  After that conversation, we'll be having one about marriage equality, and the fact that he will not get my parents' votes, nor the votes of anyone that I or my parents lobby. 

It's time, today, this very moment, to call NJ Senators who feel that we are not equal citizens and let them know it's time to get on the equality train, or be ready to clean out their offices.