Tuesday, December 31, 2013

                HAPPY NEW YEAR  ~  BUON CAPODANNO  2014!
                                                             May your dreams come true.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Jake Pie Please

What's your name?
Oh, Jane.
No, Jake.
J-a-k-e, Jake...like cake, only not as sweet.
Oh. (smile) Uh...that isn't what your mother named you though, is it (smile)?

I'm sure it comes as no surprise to anyone that this was an actual exchange that I had when I was buying a soy chai latte at a Starbucks in a town just outside Portland, the barista poised to write my name on my cup. I have had this same conversation countless times. For some people, no matter how slow I speak or how loud I speak, just can't hear my name or can't take in the fact that I am saying, "I'm Jake." On the other hand, I am always pleasantly surprised when I'm asked my name by a cashier or waitress, and they casually recite back, Jake, as they write my name down, without a blink of an eye. Is this just PC BS? Or is there an actual positive non gender conforming consciousness out there in the world these days? Being consistently questioned about something as basic as your name is quite a strange experience. I would really be perturbed, I imagine, if I was transgender and not genderqueer, and someone were to still question the gender association of my name because I didn't appear Jake enough.

It seems if I were to do an unofficial sociology study (studying people with problems with gender non-conforming people like myself) on people's reactions to my saying, "Hi, I'm Jake", they would fall into several categories. It does appear that most heterosexual people (just my assumption), approximately over the age of 60, both male and female can never hear my name as, Jake. With this population I usually get the, "what, did you say Jane?"  People of various ages, that appear to be what I identify as "hipster straight folk" or LGBT (again just my stereotype bias based on type of dress style: large earrings on men, full sleeved tattooed women with strong arms, etc.) they have no problem at all hearing my name, or understanding that I clearly must be trans or genderqueer or maybe just an old butch dyke with the name of Jake. The young twenty something, heterosexual, conservative Republican set, male and female, seem to be deaf altogether. Again, I have no idea as to how these young conservatives identify regarding sexual orientation or gender identity, and I don't usually ask the folks at Starbuck's if they are queer or non gender conforming before I ask for my soy chai latte, but I guess I could start asking. I have an 83 year old, heterosexual, female friend named...Billie. I wonder if she was ever questioned about her name at a Starbucks when ordering a pumpkin spice latte?

Genderqueer Pie Please came into existence at the encouragement of Maggie, the new woman in my life. Please pull up a chair at our table and let us enjoy a slice of your genderqueer pie story.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Portlandia Torta

When you 'take a ride on the Reading Railroad' then you know you are on a track. It might not be the track you thought you would be on, but a track none the less, and there is always the potential for passing go and collecting two hundred dollars. My sister's husband passed go without collecting $200, and went straight to jail. I headed to the North West. There are always those people that have a certain direct trajectory. They know exactly where they are going, or so they think. Others of us aren't so dead sure. There just isn't a way to know for sure where you want to be unless you hear something inside that says...this is it, jump, get on that train! Then there are the people who just go with the first possibility, they don't wait, think, assess, ponder this or that, they just go with the first opening, and see where it takes them. Me, well, I have done both. I have gone with the first choice or request, or glance from an interested party and then wham...it is 10 years later. My rough edges have been smoothed out, maybe I am sporting a somewhat better clothing style, or sometimes my edges or what makes me, me, my fire, passion, red, and yellow beautiful strong flames have been smothered out with little oxygen to breath, and then I have to save my own life.

In the present moment I find myself in a strange place. I'm not sure which seat I am sitting in. I have done a lot of sitting in my life, especially now, and yet, I am not clear on where I am sitting. I'm not even sure where I am, and I do actually mean this quite literally. I moved from the east coast to the north west coast about 5 months ago now, and maybe it is the New Yorker in me, but...where the hell am I? There are some landmarks that give me some sense of direction or placement within the broader context, but if you look up close at the details, or nuances of any given Portlander you see something quite different from what you have known. Here there is a slower, kinder way. People listen to you. They actually listen to what you have to say. In New York the majority of people don't really listen, or if they do it is for about 10 to 15 seconds before they are off hurrying down the street. People in New York seem to always be in a hurry. They may not have anywhere to go, but they do it in a hurry. It is almost impossible to not get swept up into the mentality or habit of hurrying. You have to understand I am a New Yorker saying this, so you know I carry some real authority on the matter. I have lived in the boroughs of New York since 1980, that's about 32 years, since I was about 20 years old.  I can remember as a young 20 year old sitting on the subway in 1980 and being so puzzled by the complete stoic neutrality of the people on the subways despite all of the loud music from various boom boxes, and the often strange characters dressed in wild garb and acting just as oddly or provocatively as they wanted. No one, unless they were an out of towner payed any attention to the chaos in the subway. I quickly learned that being neutral, no matter how bizarre someone appeared or acted, and walking fast, often away from such people, was the way to survive in New York.

A few years ago I lived in Rome, Italy for two years. It took about six months for me to slow down, and actually be right where my shoes were. When I returned to live in Manhattan, I actually flew in the night Obama was declared president, I felt overwhelmed by the speed at which the whole city moved. I had actually forgotten that constant state of hurriedness. Everyone was in a hurry. Now, here, in the Pacific North West there is a similar way of being that I experienced in Rome. Portland certainly isn't Rome, although they do pride themselves on their coffee almost as much as the Italians do. Portlanders also don't have that slow as molasses like movement of the Italians when walking down the street, but there is a slowness here that you just don't find in New York. I have read that some of the differences of east coast transplants and Portlanders are that when at a party the New Yorker asks people, "What do you do for a living?" and the Portlander will ask, "Are you a blogger, or are you in a band?" Italians also rarely ask people what they do for a living, probably because their work climate is so dysfunctional and depressing to most Italians that they just avoid talking about it. An interesting similarity though is that Italians like Portlanders are not obsessed with making money like New Yorkers. You can't really blame New Yorkers, it does cost an arm and a leg to live in Manhattan these days, or as they say in Italy, "costa un occhio della testa" (translation: it costs an eye of the head). I can remember one time in Palermo seeing the quick comical gesturing of a Sicilian woman tilting her head as she held out her hand as if to catch her eye from falling out of her head to indicate to a friend she was shopping with how expensive a piece of jewelry was in the shop. It certainly does 'cost an eye out of your head' to live in New York which is why so many people there are rushing off to work or rushing home to try to use the few hours they have to relax before they have to get up and rush off to do it all over again. This is also why it is so hard to connect with people in New York. Trying to schedule a time to go for coffee or dinner can be very stressful. People have little time to see each other because they are hurriedly trying to make enough money to live, or rather survive, in the city that never sleeps. Portlanders, on the other hand, don't seem to care about how you make money or how much money you make, but this may not really be the case since I am still new to these parts I can't yet read very well between the lines.

Genderqueer Pie Please came into existence at the encouragement of Maggie, the new woman in my life. Please pull up a chair at our table and let us enjoy a slice of your genderqueer pie story.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Limbo Pie

Sitting here in limbo, la, la, la, 

up comes that familiar uneasiness about the possibility of transitionings reality, 

                                  like a man without his body, 
sitting here in limbo, 

but I know it won't be long, 

sitting here in limbo. 

Well, I'm putting up resistance, but I know my faith will lead me on,

sitting here in limbo, 

I've got some time to search my soul. 

Pull up a chair at the table, and share a piece of your genderqueerpie story.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Breast Pie

"You have the body of a woman", my partner tells me over Skype. "It might be better to accept that fact, accepting what is, rather than suffering over what isn't. Not that you can't change it if you wanted to, but it may be better to try to accept what is." There is an awkward silence on my side of the digital connection as she senses my uneasiness. The reality of my having breasts is an uncomfortable fact that I have worked hard to accept. Her face seems to reach out to me as she says "I love you, I love them, you know that and I think I wish you did too".

A backlog of thoughts packed into my brain are all pushing for release in response to her attempts at helping me find peace with this angst that I sit with. I don't know how to unravel my thoughts or where to begin in order to respond, the past or the present. Here we are talking about the pain of acceptance, or more accurately, the pain of my avoidance over the years to my change body due to the fear of being seriously stigmatized. Everything in the culture at that time told me that changing my body or even acknowledging that I wanted to change my body, would indicate that I was really "crazy". Let's remember that the late-1970's are light years away from this era of transgender consciousness and activism that we are living in now.

How can my genderqueer feelings, the feeling of inner maleness, while having a female body and choosing not to change that body, be understood by a woman that is completely at home in her female body? A lesbian, a woman who loves women, who is invested in my having breasts, for her to love. Her expressions of jealousy at the beauty of my breasts, the breasts I have wished were not mine, wished would not grow as a young child, feels uncomfortable. Like the jealousy of someone wishing they had the wife you have, yet they don't know that you secretly wish you were divorced because that wife is the symbol of what you loath in yourself: your dependency, inability to be alone, fear of the emptiness of being single. I should note that I have grown through those fears and enjoyed being single these past few years in a way I could not have previously imagined. The fear of the emptiness I was so sure I would find was actually the opposite. I felt very full within the space of my alone time. A space where I could breath and just be with the self I have grown to love. I no longer use people to fill myself up, in an attempt to avoid myself, to avoid what I feel and I have grown to accept my body too. At 52 years old this body has finally become a good companion. The dissonance of my female body has lessened as I have grown to accept the body I was born into and yet, it is not a physical representation of who I know myself to be. A bold statement, sounds like my continued dissonance, gender dysphoria or transsexual feelings that I never truly worked through. The writer, Pat Califia, spoke about her process with gender dissonance in her book, 'Sex Changes, The Politics of Transgenderism' (1997). Pat spoke about of her inability to separate her personal ambivalence about being female from the misogyny and homophobia in the culture, and so had decided not to pursue changing her body (at that time). It sounded like a conscious decision to try to embrace her body, maleness and femaleness. In 1999, at 45, s/he decided to transition from female to male. Now he goes by Patrick. (Wikipedia)

For me there has always been a grief process involved in the process of embracing a female body, the grief of limitations, real or imagined or culturally imprinted into my psyche from the misogynistic era that I grew up in having a female body and not a male one. I am not male and would not be "male" even if I were to have sex reassignment or gender reassignment (hormones only). I want to reiterate that these are my personal feelings about transitioning and not a comment on anyone else's experience or what is true for them. What gives me most peace is the understanding that I am two spirits in one body, living with an energy other than a female energy, some call it "male", some call it "butch" and some call it being "genderqueer". My experience of being genderqueer is living with a blend of energies, a sense of self or identity that isn't based on the physical body, but on the energy within that physical body. It can be very confusing to not want to change the body to fit the culture's binary concepts of maleness and femaleness that we still live in. If you are not this, then you must be that. Thankfully today there is also a growing consciousness that you can be more than just this, or that. Long live consciousness!

Genderqueer Pie Please came into existence at the encouragement of Maggie, the new woman in my life. Please pull up a chair at our table and let us enjoy a slice of your genderqueer pie story.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Girl Crazy Pie

I think it is important to give a perspective on why I began this blog. I wanted to a give a voice or my slice of the pie, one voice among the many voices of my tribe: people who are 50+. Most of the blogs that I have seen are by and for young people. There are many blogs out here and they seem to be sprouting up quickly, which I love, but all of the imagery, and content seem to be mainly about younger folks.  It's so important that we all have a voice, young and older or let me say those of us that have been on the earth longer, and have a different perspective to share.

I realized as I was surfing the GQ sites that there is a real perspective shift related to age and era. Let me try to unravel what I am trying to say. Tagging onto my first blog entry, the gender shift of consciousness began for me in several stages, beginning when I was about five years old which was in 1965. Yep, quite a long while ago. In elementary school I was clearly, to the outside world, "a tomboy" (the photo is me at 12 years old, 1972) or mistaken for a boy and on into high school in the 1970's I was seen as "androgynous" or called in a derogatory way "a butch dyke".  

In the 1970's one of my high school female friends was lovers with a person we might now identify as a transman. Her lover would bind her/his chest and being older than my school friend, he worked in the next town over and passed as a man at his job. Around that time I also had my first short-term relationship with a woman. My lover was not comfortable with her gender and would bind her chest too, and spoke of wanting to have an operation to change her gender, something she certainly couldn't afford. We would joke that we were actually two male homosexuals because we both had issues with our gender.

It was about 1978 and being a teenager I was just trying to figure out what it all meant to me. Was I trans, like my first girlfriend, because I loved women or was that just "internalized homophobia" from a "homophobic" culture (a concept that wasn't yet used in the 1970's) and should I have just embraced my attraction for women as an indication of a lesbian identity? All the while I was also still trying to suppress and understand my uncomfortableness with my own maturing female body. I had many unanswered questions about my gender, like: was my uncomfortableness with this female body a result of the misogynistic and homophobic culture that I had grown up in? Did it have to do with the fact that the Lebanese side of my family, being somewhat misogynistic, like my "sittu" (grandmother) who would poke me in the ribs to stop talking at the dinner table whenever a male relative would begin to speak? If nothing else, that experience taught me a painful lesson that a male voice was much more valuable than my young female voice. All I knew as a teenager was that I was definitely girl crazy, and whether I was comfortable with my body or not, I just had to get a girlfriend.

Pull up a chair at the table and share a piece of your genderqueerpie story.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Slice of the Pie

Genderqueer isn't a new movement, it isn't even a movement, or new, it's been around a long, long time, as long as I can remember. Ways of being "out", seen, heard, and conceptualized are continuously being created through our use of language, and not just by the so called sexual minority, but by everyone. Genderqueer is one of those fairly recent creative wordage attempts at redefining a lived experience of gender that is a reality for a portion of the population.

When I was five years old my best friend Tommy wanted me to join the boy's club set up in another boy's backyard. I remember standing next to my buddy as he asked the boys in the club house, "Hey, can she join our club too"? The two boys looked at us puzzled, as one of them said, "No, she's a girrrl"! Tommy looked surprised as he turned to look at me, and quickly turned back to them saying  indignantly, "No, she's not!" The boys looked at me again to confirm what Tommy had so passionately explained, that I wasn't "a girrrl". After all he knew me best, I was his best friend and army buddy. We would spend hours in the back lots out behind our homes as we crawled through the high grass and dirt so the enemy would not pick us off with their guns. Of course, we always saved each other from the "bad guys" until our mothers called us in for dinner.  Realizing their mistake, that they clearly weren't seeing me at all, they eagerly agreed to let me join. "Ok, sure", they said, with new found excitement to have a new kid join their secret club.

Gender is both biological, and a complex set of learned behaviors strongly reinforced by the culture that you live in. I lived in Rome, Italy for a few years, 2006-09, and discovered some interesting, and what seemed like contradicting ways of gender expression. On the one hand, Italy still has rigidly reinforced codes of gender behavior, in which one does not cross the line without a great deal of disapproval and perceived disrespect for the other's gender role. I recall being in a beautiful coastal town with mia ragazza (my girlfriend), and her father and his girlfriend. When we stopped to have some espresso, I paid for our drinks and as we left the coffee bar, I held the door open for my girlfriend's aging father. To my total surprise, my act of chivalry was more gender-bending than he could tolerate and after the women had walked through the door he shoved me through the door with great force and disapproval. My American "butch lesbica" (butch lesbian) gesture of chivalry was perceived as disrespectful to his Italiano machismo. I was clearly stepping on his gender role. Other aspects of Italian gender expression are the ways that men, and women are much freer in their expression of physical affection within their genders, certainly much freer than Americans, but they still can't cross over the gender line. It is common place to see young women holding hands, or walking down the street arm and arm, or to see young men embracing each other, not just momentarily but holding each other, arms stretched out over each others shoulders while out socially with their peers. I'll never forget the first time I saw two young men, as they raced by on a Vespa calling out to another male friend standing in front of a store, "ciao bello"! (hi, beautiful!). My mind raced to categorize this unfamiliar vision. Were they gay? Where they teasing their friend? No, they were simply calling out to a good friend with a common expression of affection within their culture. In Italy the beauty of the body, and the beauty of manhood or womanhood is always celebrated in a very proud, and social way.

Speaking with people curious about what a genderqueer identification actually means, has made me look at what it isn't. This always strikes me as an easy first attempt to explain what something is by looking at what it isn't first. When you are genderqueer, biological gender aside, you aren't male, and you aren't female, you are somewhere in between on the spectrum of gender expression, and/or gender identification.

In my twenties, when I was trying to figure out how to make a living, I worked for a time as an assistant teacher at a progressive school in New York's West Village. Since I am somewhere in between female and male, leaning closer to the male side of the spectrum, the children I worked with always assumed I was "a boy". "She's a boy silly, can't you see she has boy's hair", said Rebecca to a few of her classmates as they were pondering over the assistant teacher's gender. Rebecca was a four year old who would always run to sit on my lap at story book time and another example of a child's ability to see the truth in others. Working with children was the beginning of trusting my own unspoken truth, trusting what I felt, as children do instinctively. This was in stark contrast to what I had already internalized from society about my inherent badness as a sexual minority and certainly as someone who had crossed the gender barrier.

I had always known that I wanted to marry a woman like my mother and be just as handsome and creatively intelligent as my father. As far back as I can remember I "felt like a boy". There was no need for discussion, I knew who I was, I was a boy. The way everyone around me related to me also confirmed my inner sense of "maleness". My best friend Tommy had insisted that I join his boy's club, my girl friends were always wanting me to play the daddy or husband or boyfriend role with dolls and people in general were constantly mistaking me for a boy. This feeling of maleness was also validated by some adults in my life. When I was about five or six years old my British grandmother, who was a very progressive woman for that time, had come to our home for a visit with her friend George. They were both writers who lived in the West Village. I remember George as a very jovial man, with a big laugh, and big warm hands. I had expressed liking his shinny looking shark skin green tie, and before I knew it he had taken it off to give to me, and wanted to show me how to tie it. I remember standing in front of the mirror with him standing behind me showing me, step by step, how to tie the tie. I never forgot how to tie a tie or that moment of loving validation.

Is genderqueer a word that also encompasses the identification of butch lesbian? Is butch lesbian an old identification for being genderqueer? If not, what is the difference between them? And where is the line to be drawn between genderqueer and transgender and who draws the line? Does a line even need to be drawn? Clearly many folks feel that lines do indeed need to be drawn, even if those lines are moved back and forth in the sand as needed. There is a definite need to define the question: Who am I? 

Genderqueer Pie Please came into existence at the encouragement of Maggie, the new woman in my life. Please pull up a chair at our table and let us enjoy a slice of your genderqueer pie story.