“Are you going to stop dressing like a gas station attendant now?” This wasn’t the first time my mother had asked me that. We’d been fighting about my appearance since the seventies, a decade that still employed gas station attendants.”
Ty Bo Yule, Chemically Enhanced Butch
Happy Pride Queers! I know it was yesterday. That means today, I get to promote the book I wrote. It’s called Chemically Enhanced Butch. It’s a queer memoir, but funny. It’s the coming of age tale of the old school butch you’ve been waiting for. Look at that carabiner on my belt loop. You have to earn that many keys. I opened the last dyke bar in the upper Midwest to get those keys.
The bar didn’t last, because the best things in life never do, though I did accidentally nail some guy in the junk with that hammer. I eventually made the decision to grow my own sideburns instead of pasting hair clippings to my face, so I don’t know if I still get to call myself a butch, but I do, and we can talk about it.
“For the space of a song, I achieved the Rainbow Connection that Kermit the Frog had once promised me as a child.”
Ty Bo Yule, Chemically Enhanced Butch
I’m of an age (fifty) when I can still remember Ronald Reagan and Tammy Faye (before she became a drag queen) and mullets unironically. I got to spend my twenties in San Francisco. That was the 90s y’all, RIP. So many girlfriends, so many drugs. I had a motorcycle and a mohawk. I really miss being that attractive, but I don’t miss being that dumb.
“But if I had to pick a moment in my life, like if a genie was forcing me, to go back and whisper some hard-won insight to a younger me, I would go back to early 1991, when I drove over that hill by Candlestick Park and saw the San Francisco skyline for the first time. I would tell that twenty- one-year-old dummy, “Pay attention. This is special. You’ll never see anything like this again.”
Ty Bo Yule, Chemically Enhanced Butch
I didn’t take testosterone until I was 41, during my second semester at Harvard Divinity School. That’s another good story. Spoiler alert – it involves another doomed encounter with a pretty straight girl. Could my character be any more inevitable?
“She couldn’t have anticipated the out-of-control rock-’n’-roll semi, overloaded with grief and tornadoes, she was encountering when she made her first clever jest to me. She was just hoping for an escort into the forbidden roadside queer juke joint she hadn’t yet had the occasion to see.”
Ty Bo Yule, Chemically Enhanced Butch
Butches are hot and insecure, heroic and unsympathetic, well-meaning and woefully overwhelmed. We wrangle an unfathomable amount of complexity into that Dickie’s short-sleeve button up. Often we spend a decent majority of our energy trying to showcase our magic to our parents and normative society, in general. Alas, the only way their untrained eyes would ever be able to discern it, however, would be if we managed to change the world. That is why we spend the rest of our time pretending we are secret Hobbit superhero, unless we are busy getting a new cute girl an almond milk, half-caff, chai latte.
After decades of depression and terrible decisions, sifting through cliches and archetypes, some of us find a place in our bodies to negotiate a truce with our demons. I’ll take this happily ever after. That is an act of resilience and transgression that does actually change the world.
Come read my story. Be a pirate with me. Be weird with me. Have difficult conversations with me. If you’re a misfit, you’re not alone.
Links to buy the ebook on my homepage. Paperbacks coming in July.
“Then one day while I was still in college, I was taking the train from Minneapolis to Winona, and I had with me a copy of Burr, Gore Vidal’s 1973 novel about the Founding Fathers…America’s legendary Founding Fathers, according to Vidal, were all seriously flawed…The book horrified me. What it says isn’t true, I told myself, and I put it down…I realized a snide dismissiveness toward American history and American institutions had become the essence and thinking of the chattering-class gatekeepers of the culture.” – Michele Bachmann describing the exact moment she became a Republican as a young woman in her autobiography, Core of Conviction: My Story.
Remember how much fun we used to have mocking Michele Bachmann? We called her crazy. We dismissed her intellect. We obsessively fact-checked her like we thought the truth could possibly deflect the punishing fury of her mouth capoeira.
Well, look at us now. A bunch of Hermiones surrounded by platoons of Dolores Umbridges. How do we all like our facts now? Was Michele Bachmann an oracle? Did she foresee the counter-factual apocalypse now omnipresent in the global media as well as the White House? She did tell you she put that book down.
The scene Bachman crafts in her memoir is illuminating and deceptively clever. She juxtaposes the passing iconographic Midwestern American scenery from her fucking train window against her conscious rejection of a challenge to the sanctioned mythology surrounding America’s Founding Fathers made by a “chattering-class” gay man. She told herself it wasn’t true. She put the book down and chose an alternative set of facts. And she never looked back.
Look at her smiling at the camera while Trump gives her the thumbs-up with that dumb cartoon smug face. Look how happy she looks. She’s thinking to herself, I helped do this. I’m still the fucking Butter Queen at the Minnesota State Fair and there is nothing uncomfortable about the reality I have chosen. Suck it history losers.
What have we got to say to her that might dissuade her choices in reality? Never mind history’s most boring dinner party that is the Democratic primary contest right now. (I love you, Liz. Please save us.) I’m talking about scientists, historians, reporters, activists, decent humans – all liars, losers, and nerds now. An impenetrable force field has descended around the Children of the Creamed Corn and all the facts, logic, and empathy in the world has not been able to dent it. How did it get there? Trump didn’t conjure it. His hair does not power it. I think he might be the thermal exhaust port that leaves the Death Star ultimately vulnerable, but where the fuck is Luke?
Have you ever noticed how consistently physically repulsive conservative Republican men are? When you Google “most handsome Republican men,” you get Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney. Admittedly, Romney got a whole lot hotter when he hinted he might support impeachment, but he’s still an asshole. Kind of like, is it really okay to hang out with George Bush at a football game now that he’s no longer starting unwinnable wars using made-up intel just so his buddies can make money? I’m sure his accent is very charming. But, would you really want to hang out with any current conservative male legislators, leaders, or Fox News pundits? Are they at all intriguing? Could you make it through dinner with Mitch McConnell without vomiting because of the pouch? Could you have beers with Don Jr. without punching him in his greasy lipless face? How about a wine and cheese plate with Giuliani, trapped between a ficus and his verbal seizure, your sweater bedazzled with denture-spewed Triscuit flecks?
I think this current shit jacuzzi fraternity of beta barf boys should line up to kiss Michele Bachmann’s bleached asshole. In fact, there are a number of terrifying and freakishly charismatic women without whom I do not believe our present nightmare would have been possible. They are the dark Jedi masters of alternative realities. They do not fumble and sniff their words. Their presence in this Hellscape lends some kind of sinister, matriarchal legitimacy to idiots like Tucker Carlson and Trump. They are an elite cabal of malevolent mind-benders and I admit I’ve dreamt of sitting quietly under my invisibility cloak at their dark arts slumber parties with their ostrich feather slides, automated cabana boys, and bottomless Bellini bar.
Nine Women I secretly want to get drunk with only to find out if they actually believe the words coming out of their mouth:
#1 Michele Bachman
Seen here prophesying crushing Mitch McConnell’s tiny nerd balls.
Sun sign: Aries
Favorite cocktail: Boxed Pinot Grigio.
Three things she’s said: “He (Trump) is highly biblical and I would say to your listeners [that] we will, in all likelihood, never see a more godly, biblical president again in our lifetime.”
“I will tell you that I had a mother last night come up to me here in Tampa, Florida, after the debate. She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter.”
“Carbon dioxide is portrayed as harmful. But there isn’t even one study that can be produced that shows that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas.”
Michele is largely politically irrelevant these days, but I have to honor her place in evil empire history. She started as a tax lawyer. Mother of five, foster mom to twenty-three more, she and her husband ran a Christian therapy center that offered gay conversion therapy. She was Minnesota’s first Republican woman elected to Congress and she started the Tea Party Caucus in the House, you know, those guys that stormed closed-door impeachment depositions to have a pizza party. She fought to keep the Tea Party in the GOP instead of starting a third party. It looks like her wisdom paid off.
She was an early pioneer of the con with conviction. I think she was ahead of her time. I envision being stranded in an airport Applebee’s with her, sipping mango hurricanes, laughing about how historically accurate the Flintstones really was.
#2 Ann Coulter
Sun sign: Sagittarius
Seen here throwing up gang signs for her home planet while sermonizing about the size of her dick.
Favorite cocktail: Pappy Van Winkle, neat, double.
Three things she’s said: “I’m a Christian first, and a mean-spirited, bigoted conservative second, and don’t you ever forget it. You know who else was kind of “divisive” in terms of challenging the status quo and the powers-that-be of his day? Jesus Christ.”
“Long before there was discrimination against blacks, there was discrimination against white southerners. When large numbers of these country people moved north during World War II, they were aggressively excluded from neighborhoods, jobs, and homes – not because of their skin color, but their accents.”
“I want the Dreamers [deported] first. Keep the felons, get rid of the Dreamers. Because they’re arrogant about it.”
Oh Ann, tell me how Christian you are again, it tickles. Coulter is also a lawyer. She has written thirteen best-selling books and publishes a syndicated newspaper column. Ann manages to do that whole radical Nazi gay man thing while presenting as a cis-gendered straight woman. She’s never had children because, eww, and she’s never been married because none of the men she’s dated enjoy pegging that much.
She’s recently been blackballed from Fox and other conservative media outlets because she picked a fight with Trump over his lackluster xenophobia. She’s become the yappy, telegenic face for the segment of Trump’s base disappointed by his lack of progress in building the wall. She has been relentlessly unsatisfied with his tiny-handed capitulations. He’s responded by calling her crazy and cataloguing his many, unprecedented cruelties toward immigrants for her on Twitter.
She has yet to be moved. She is six feet tall and her unique superpower is forcing grown conservative men to defend the size of their wieners childishly in public. No matter how many times she claims to be antifeminist because of how Christian she is, she feeds solely on the terror of under endowed male egos. She is a classic and effective phallofascist. Republican men are actually afraid of her.
Remember when Wolverine killed Jean Gray? I think because I’m masculine but don’t have a penis, I could get close enough to Ann at her local leatherboy bar without my skin disintegrating. We would bro down over Fireball shots before she slurred her daddy issues into a urinal while I held her hair.
#3 Kellyanne Conway
Sun sign: Aquarius
Favorite cocktail: Hpnotiq spritzer.
Seen here exactly as racist and dismissive as you think she is.
Three things she’s said: “You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving — Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that.”
“I’m not in the job of having evidence.”
“I never threatened anyone. Don’t use those words … No, no, no … If I threaten somebody, you’ll know it. If I threaten someone, you’ll know it.”
Kellyanne might be the queen. She’s the one barefoot in the Oval Office.
She was the Blueberry Princess, cheerleader, leading scorer on her field hockey team, and salutatorian in her high school. Her estranged grandfather was a South Jersey mobster. Abandoned by her father at three, she was raised by her mother, grandmother, and two unmarried aunts. She got her law degree with honors from George Washington University then founded her own polling company, WomenTrend, which consulted with companies and politicians on consumer trends, usually focused on women. She was the first woman to run a successful presidential campaign and it looks like she’ll outlast them all in the Trump White House, despite her husband’s well-publicized Twitter ridicule of her boss.
Kellyanne’s superpower is her tenacity. She also commands a subtlety that often escapes her sensationalist sisters. The hardest part about finding crazy shit Bachmann and Coulter said was narrowing the choices. With Kellyanne, her warped oral bravado usually requires context. Taken independently, her words almost seem innocuous, kind of like, “you have a nice pizza joint here, be a shame if something happened to it.” She is a willing favorite of mainstream news shows precisely because they know she will calmly and enthusiastically dismiss all visual, written, or oral evidence that contradicts her pronouncements of reality. Many liberal-leaning journalists make at least a portion of their living having self-righteous fits in her presence. It only makes her stronger, like sweet, sweet fetal tissue injections.
The only way I see having cocktails with Kellyanne is if she has me kidnapped and brought to her blueberry lair under the abandoned Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. There, she plies with me Long Island slushies (I use a long crazy straw because I’m tied to Elizabeth Warren’s golden retriever,) while she shares her list of the seventy-four people who will survive the approaching “asteroid,” right before she feeds me to all the unpaid contractors kept in old tiger cages.
#4 Laura Ingraham
Sun Sign: Gemini
Favorite cocktail: Bombay Sapphire (because colonialism) and steak with extra straws.
Who let the poor person in?
Three things she’s said : “‘White privilege’ — how about the privilege of being a protected member of a class that you can never criticize, lest you be called racist? That’s privilege. I think Victor Davis Hanson called it ‘minority privilege’…, that the people who are the most protected are the people who are the first to say ‘white privilege,’ because then, you can’t ever criticize them again.
“But the thing that’s really sad about it, guys, is that innocent Brits and people traveling to London and all over the western Europe, now the price they have to pay for multiculturalism is the risk that you’re walking on the sidewalk and a man will — or a woman — will purposefully mow you down. And then while you’re maybe finishing your cappuccino in a cafe, or having a drink, someone will put a knife to your throat and slit it with the attempt, perhaps, to behead you. That’s what we all have to live with for the free and open society that [London Mayor] Sadiq Khan and all these other multiculturalists want Britain to become.”
“Oh we have a new transgender update for you as well. Oh no, new transgender news for all of you who are bathroom-goers and public — you use public restrooms? I think a lot of people are going to be walking around with just Depends on from now on. They’re just not going to use the bathroom. Adult diapers, diapers for everybody. No one’s going to be going to the bathroom. You have little kids, there’s going to be no bathrooms. We’re just going to all wear Depends. Everyone will just be happy. Then you’ll be in your own bathroom. Everyone’s bathroom is just their own clothes, OK? So this is what we’re going to go to.”
So Laura has a gay brother who publicly criticizes her and she’s never been married. Her adopted daughter is from Guatemala and her two adopted sons are from Russia. Her brother has confirmed that their father was emotionally abusive and a Nazi enthusiast. My gut tells me that Laura is a closeted lesbian. She wrote numerous opinion pieces for her college newspaper against the gays in that ‘I hate myself so much’ way and she just looks like a volleyball dyke.
To overcompensate, as we all do, she also became a lawyer. She clerked for Clarence Thomas before writing six best-selling books, syndicating her own radio show, and landing her own Fox News segment. On Fox, she is especially fond of the “white replacement” narrative and the “libs won’t let us have any fun anymore” whine. She famously lost substantial corporate sponsorship after berating a teenage Stoneman Douglas shooting survivor as a whiner. She most recently experienced backlash when she accused impeachment witness, Lt. Col. Vindman of espionage, despite being a decorated veteran.
I think Laura is the third wheel that Anne and Kellyanne invite out for cocktails when they want feel superior. The three have dated many of the same men. I haven’t tracked the dating timelines, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Laura was the comfortably unavailable third option for men after being scarred by the other Heathers.
I feel like Laura probably has her own top-secret power closet lesbian underground social scene in DC. They all have adopted children and probably dogs. What if I was their transman dog-walker that they’re obligated to label a public restroom rapist, but Laura secretly valued my perspective. We stealth meet at Olive Garden over Chianti and breadsticks, Laura sobbing over Kellyanne’s lack of attention, while simultaneously berating me over what I can bench.
#5 Sarah Huckabee-Sanders
Sun sign: Leo
Favorite cocktail: Skinny Marg
You shut your filthy pie hole, Acosta.
Three things she’s said:
“I volunteered to join Mr. Trump’s campaign because he is a champion of working families, not Washington-Wall Street elites.”
“Just because reporters say something over and over and over again doesn’t start to make it true.”
“It is very biblical to enforce the law”.
Those eyebrows though. The husky Southern drawl. The pearls and the waggy finger. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has never lost control of a Sunday school class. She wasn’t a mean girl in high school. She was the plainer girl that got to be around the mean girls because of her loyalty and hard work. She didn’t get her law degree or write a best-seller. She started working on her father’s political campaign when she was eight. If you see pictures of her older brothers, it’s easy to imagine Sarah being daddy’s favorite. She’s always been a team player.
Sarah is the soccer mom among she-sharks. What she lacks in intrinsic sadism, she’s made up for with consistency, diligence, and longevity. The Mueller Report revealed that Sarah actually admitted to lying to the public when investigators pressed her for details regarding the firing of James Comey and Jeff Sessions. That fact, coupled with the fact that mean girls and Republicans will always betray the pudgy girl in the end, makes Sarah Huckabee Sanders my one candidate for future redemption.
I predict that after her kids are out of the house and she’s heard just one too many narcissistic temper-tantrums, she will pull a full Tammy Faye. I’ll encounter her plucked arches thirty years from now, as the Grand Marshall of some small-town Pride parade, and she’ll let me ride on her rainbow-mirrored podium float. We will drink Cosmos from a flask while she rambles in non-sequiturs like “Melania was a Russian sleeper agent” or “that Ingraham sure was a bulldyke” or “ya know I saw his balls once.”
#6 Stephanie Grisham
Sun sign: Leo
Favorite Cocktail: Corpse Reviver #2
I will absorb your soul.
Three things she’s said: “I worked with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great President.”
“As you know, Donald Trump has traveled the country and world talking to children about Lebron James well-being, healthy living, and the importance of responsible online behavior with Donald Trump Be Best initiative.”
“We’re really focused on quality of the experience over quantity of attendees.”
Where did this crazy-eyed death eater come from? She honestly scares me on a personal level, mostly because she’s always making some version of this puppet-master face and she seems to have been elevated to her current role in a more unusual way than the rest of her cohort, meaning of course that she was likely hatched by Satan or inserted by a hostile dictator. Her only credentials seem to be two failed marriages, losing two jobs over embezzlement then plagiarism, and two DUIs where she ignored all court orders for fines and treatment before being recruited from Trump’s local campaign office in Arizona to play local press liaison for his national campaign stops in 2016. She then became Melania’s press secretary before replacing Sarah Huckabee as the White House’s press secretary. She once physically shoved North Korean soldiers out of the way so that American journalists could access a meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un. I highly recommend the video. Her only taste of the notoriety she has always known was her destiny has come from her rabid devotion to Trump’s defense narrative. I’m fairly certain she crushed Jeffrey Epstein’s larynx with her mind and the video evidence was erased by the dark matter in her soul.
Whereas the other women on my list seem to have crafted lives prior to their role in Donald Trump’s political career, Stephanie has hitched her entire opportunistic soul to Trump’s cult of personality. She will not break character until that moment when the GOP begins its inevitable cannibalistic orgy buffet. The coming apocalypse will begin with Stephanie and Melania toasting each other with chilled Russian vodka over the bloated, orange, Louboutin stiletto-pocked body of the Republican Party, while I move into the shipping container buried in my back yard.
#7 Paula White
Sun sign: Taurus
Favorite cocktail: Kessler’s and Hawaiian Punch
Trump’s spiritual advisor.
Three things she’s said: “I think so many people have taken biblical scriptures out of context on this, to say stuff like, ‘Well, Jesus was a refugee… Yes, [Jesus] did live in Egypt for three-and-a-half years. But it was not illegal. If He had broken the law then He would have been sinful and He would not have been our Messiah.”
“Now we lift up our president. You declared in Jeremiah Chapter 1:5 that before he was ever formed in his mother’s womb, that you had set him apart and you had ordained him,”
“Each January, I put God first and honor him with the first of our substance by sowing a first fruits offering of one month’s pay… When you sow a First Fruits Offering of $75 or more, I will rush to you the book, the devotional and also a Paula White 2018 wall calendar! Track throughout the entire year prioritizing God with me!”
Paula White is everything you think a televangelist should be. Netflix docuseries White is the New Orange out in 2022. Paula heard the call at age eighteen. She set up her first tent revival ministry with her second husband at age twenty-four and by her early thirties, she replaced her husband as the leader of the seventh largest church in America. Her syndicated sermons aired on nine networks and she was the hottest preacher on BET. Of course her church was investigated by the Senate, and despite the fact she raked in over $150 million in 2004-2006, she let her ex-husband take the fall for that church’s bankruptcy while starting a new ministry all her own.
Trump supposedly called her in 2001, wanting to be her friend. She bought a condo in Trump Tower in 2003. She was the first woman to deliver the invocation at Trump’s inauguration in 2016 and she now holds an official position in the White House as a special adviser to the Faith and Opportunity Initiative. It’s easy to see why Trump likes her. Except for the fact that she came from poverty in Mississippi and she was the victim of sexual abuse instead of the perpetrator, she and Trump are largely the same creature. They are both their own brand. They are genuine unapologetic frauds, utterly American, like oversized anthropomorphic fast-food mascots who feed you shit sandwiches and laugh because you pay to eat them.
Paula and I dated briefly in the nineties so I’ve already seen her drunk. She kept cocaine in my dildo and spoke in tongues when I went down on her. Goddamn I miss the nineties.
#8 Ivanka Trump
Sun sign: Scorpio
Favorite Cocktail: Vanilla Stoli and Coke Zero.
Totally not creepy.
Three things she’s said: “Everything about mediocrity kills me.”
“You can be born into privilege, or you can not be born into privilege. You can be born into the opposite extreme and into poverty. I think from there on, though, you really do have to make your luck.”
“All women benefit immeasurably by architecting their lives”
Self-made daddy’s girl. I almost didn’t include Ivanka in this list. She doesn’t fit the personality profile. She didn’t need ambition and sociopathy to weave gossamer fictions into a designer shroud for kleptocratic fascism. Her oral ipecac comes in the form of relentless vapidity and earnest oblivion. She’s the Marie Antionette we deserve. She would never advise us to eat gluten, but suggests self-care and resilience as key ingredients to our collective success parfait. She once played herself on Gossip Girl because that’s exactly who she is. Her mother was thirsty so she never had to be. She is her daddy’s flagship brand extension. No matter how uncomfortable or nauseous that makes the rest of us, she continues to use her exclusive, intimate access to her father’s and America’s coercive bravado to completely shit on the ethical considerations for conflict of interest we at least used to pretend we had. At some point, she started sitting on his lap on purpose and that’s just profoundly disturbing.
She never really had a chance to become interesting. I might sacrifice a Wednesday afternoon to meet her for Happy Hour at a bowling alley, but only to watch her put on rental shoes.
#9 Betsy DeVos
Sun sign: Capricorn (I’m ashamed to admit)
Favorite cocktail: Immigrant tears and Everclear
Jesus was special, he won the Special Olympics.
Three things she’s said: “My family is the biggest contributor of soft money to the Republican National Committee. I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment.”
“Social justice and economics are both issues to me.”
“I think probably there, I would imagine that there’s probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.”
Betsy is the queen of the Lizard People. She is a conspiracy theory wrapped in a pussy bow. It’s rare to see a Priestess of Xenu bring such public scrutiny to her evil order. It can only mean that we mortals cannot fathom the true depth of the Hell her cabinet appointment portends.
Betsy comes from a billionaire and married into the Amway billions. Her brother founded Blackwater. He wants to privatize national security, for all the nations. She has a major financial stake in a massive national chain of daycare facilities which might illuminate her resistance to universal early childhood education. She has investments in a national chain of elder care facilities under investigation for abuse and widespread Medicare fraud. She not only owns shares of a for-profit private prison contractor who houses child immigrants and benefitted bigly from Trump’s family separation policy, but her foundation is the major funder for a Christian foster care facility that has petitioned for and received permission to house those same immigrant children, only to later put them up for adoption without trying to reconcile them with their parents. Government funded child trafficking. Her special interest is education, obviously. She has been fighting to privatize public education for thirty years. She of course owns stakes in private for-profit colleges, but has even larger investments in debt collection firms that specialize in aggressive collections on student loan debt. She has recently been found in contempt of court for collecting on debts accrued by students defrauded by a discredited for-profit university. She also tried to defund the Special Olympics and made it much harder for students with disabilities to bring suits to gain equal access to services – ditto for LGBT students. The “School Voucher Programs” that have long been her passion are also a dog-whistle to white supremacists longing to re-segregate schools.
That paragraph was too big and there weren’t any jokes. Her family’s fortune is the 88th largest in America. Do not take for granted this tiny glimpse of rich, evil people plans. Betsy is also one of those rich Rapture ding-dongs who devoted millions to moving the US embassy to Jerusalem to bring about the apocalypse. This is very important to rich Republicans and none of us snowflakes really know why. What is the end game of conservative politics for the very wealthy?
The evidence points to not only an accelerating and ongoing extraction of all wealth and resources from almost everyone else, but also an erosion of expectations and hope. Generation Z seems to understand that they cannot reasonably expect affordable housing, healthcare, education, safety in public, or even a planet to age upon in their lifetime.
I began studying the origins of Christianity in the late eighties. I wanted to argue intelligently with conservative Christians because they were terrible people then, too. I was a big butch dyke and they really did not like me. They said a bunch of stuff that seemed very unChristian. I thought that if I learned the truth, I could helpfully point out how they were mistaken. Then they could stop being so mean.
After thirty years, I’ve realized what a poor career choice that was. The conservative movement in this country is a lot like Scientology. Only those with enough means to achieve Thetan Level 8 might eventually benefit from the religion’s secret mission. Everybody else is just in a cult. Except for Betsy, the women on my list are just mid-level enforcers. These are the ones who define and administer the purity tests. Don’t be swayed by some mealy-mouthed centrist in a NYT op-ed trying to remind us how we used to engage in civil conversation. There aren’t two sides to this. There’s facts and humanity and then there’s a fascist cult.
That’s what I have to remember every time I think I want to get drunk with Michele Bachman. Just because I have a John Waters fascination with the characters these women play and their varying levels of authenticity, doesn’t make them interesting. They should all be locked in a house with RuPaul and cameras in every room. I want a Survivor type format but Drag Queens versus famous Republican women. RuPaul’s the only one tall enough to defeat Ann. Weekly shade battles. Behind the scenes confessionals. Let’s face it, Maddow and Cooper aren’t the gays we need right now. Somebody call that Bezos creep. If he won’t pay taxes, he could at least give us this.
I’ve heard conflicting reports. It’s so hard to get to the real story. But, I think in the last week, it’s become official. Hollywood has announced GLB and T are getting a divorce. Actually, I’m not sure of B’s stance. There’s a reason that visibility has always been their main agenda item. And honestly, I think that for the past decade, G&L have believed the rest of the acronym to stand for perhaps, Boston Terrier.
But, apparently, after 45 years of an arduous, fragile marriage, where T has basically been the homely, resented wife who worked three jobs in the beginning just to support G&L for the promise of their mutual benefit and has always been responsible for the family’s dirty laundry, G&L is simply moving on. They’ve been cheating on T for some time with some younger, hotter arm-candy called Respectability.
However, this shocking announcement was not the result of a chair fight on Jerry Springer, because dreams don’t always come true. Nor did it come out in a press conference held by the HRC, announcing its own irrelevancy and bankruptcy in light of the recent legalization of same-sex marriage, though I’m sure that is forthcoming. No, the imminent dissolution was revealed in the form of public awkwardness on a daytime talk-show, the harbinger of all cultural upheavals.
Ellen Degeneres, for the premier of her thirteenth season, invited Caitlyn Jenner on her show for a chat. I’m sure this seemed like a brilliant and generous idea to Ellen. The long-reigning darling of Likable Lesbians Institutionalizing Cultural Knowledge (LLICK), would magnanimously arrange a popularly-viewed summit of sorts with the newly-crowned Most Recognizable Representation of the previously invisible world of TRANS for mainstream America. Caitlyn edged out Laverne Cox for the title, sadly, because of the whole Wheaties Box/ESPY thing…basically because straight white dudes know who she is.
So, despite the fact that representatives from only two of the four letters of the acronym were present, the L and the T, and they are both also wealthy, famous, and white, (exemplifying basically no one) the drama was sufficient to expose our irreconcilable differences to the audience of popular culture. As a bonus for the G&L’s, emotional damages and righteous sympathy were clearly awarded to Degeneres. I’m sure this will factor significantly in the upcoming custody disputes over freedom rings and other heirlooms, and perhaps even the beloved family pet, Pride.
Dear Judge Judy, pretty please do this for me.
Personally, I will admit that I would have remained completely ignorant of this paradigm-shattering announcement had I not been directed by Facebook to the profuse and lively chatter surrounding the incident. Thank the Goddess for Facebook. How embarrassing would that have been, as someone who is perceived as trans, to show up, unprepared, at a lesbian wedding, say, to which I was invited before the Ellen incident, only to learn that everybody now assumed me to be an unsupportive dick and a real downer because of the divorce and everything?
Before even watching the actual Ellen footage, I casually clicked on a related link bringing me to an article entitled, “Why it’s time to take the T out of LGBT”. It was published in an English Ezine called the Independent and written by a transwoman so it must be authoritative. The link had been shared by several of my friends with brief solicitations for opinion on the subject. “What say you?” Are we voting?
The article begins with, “Why do so many people believe that if you’re transgender, then you must be gay?” I don’t know. Why do so many people believe that if you’re English, then you must be smart? Are you saying that transpeople should have a separate movement so nobody thinks we are gay? She quickly transitions into what I believe was her intended critique of the recent Ellen interview of Caitlyn. Her argument becomes more about ‘Why do gay people assume transpeople are automatically supportive of gay issues?’ Although this question could introduce a productive discourse on the historical power imbalance within the LGBT movement in general, or even why this coalition intuitively seemed beneficial in the first place, the article moves into some weird, uncomfortable queer family reunion picnic territory, where everybody brought hummus and no one brought quinoa salad. The last line of the article should be read in a thick, Minnesota-nice, Michele Bachman accent, “But reactions like Ellen’s tell us everything we need to know: LGB’s and T’s are getting a little too close for comfort.”
While I could gleefully go on picking apart this specific article, it strikes me that uncritical queer narratives, moored to reactionary identity politics, are simply the situation we find ourselves in now. From the sinister whitewashing of queer history (please watch trailer for the upcoming movie, “Stonewall”) to the mere fact that Ellen’s smug entitlement reacting to Caitlyn’s smug entitlement could possibly herald a new frontier of queer political stratification. What is clear is that we have become a Lifetime Channel Meredith Baxter-Birney version of ourselves. This means that important and complex social and personal realities are being distilled and consolidated into consumable generalizations and then redramatized for sensational effect to startle a mainstream audience under the guise of liberal moral education.
To illustrate, let me offer a short critique of the actual interview.
So, what had happened was…Caitlyn sat across from Ellen. Everybody cheered, cuz they’re supposed to and then Ellen told Caitlyn she looked “fantastic” while supportively grasping Caitlyn’s hand and making sincere eye contact. This is an obligatory greeting for a talk-show host when interviewing: famous women over the age of fifty (previously forty), famous women wearing a dress size over eight, and now famous transwomen. The thrust of this gesture is to convey the host’s, and by extension her show’s position that despite strict conventional, regulatory beauty norms, the guest has been awarded an honorary place somewhere on the sanctioned beauty continuum. ‘You look almost life-like’ is what I always hear. This is also Ellen cueing the audience to cheer in agreement. Ellen knows what she’s doing. She is in the business of cultivating her vision of liberal social empathy.
Ellen is the Sesame Street for homonormativity. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy both shows, but I don’t watch them for my personal edification. My grasp of the number 8 has been pretty solid for only slightly longer than my awareness of the importance of the vest in lesbian fashion. Neither show is readily equipped for complexity or confrontation. Ellen was offering Caitlyn a spot on her happy gay muppet float. Everything was working just fine in her diversity skit, until Ellen asked Caitlyn about her “former” Republicanism. (Maybe Ellen was recruited by the lesbian mafia to precipitate this public split.) Caitlyn answered that she was still a Republican. The audience reacted as if there was an inexplicable pile of shit in their Wheaties, so Caitlyn quickly went on the defensive, maintaining that being a Republican isn’t a bad thing. In this uncharacteristically edgy moment, Ellen tried to reason with Caitlyn explaining that now that Caitlyn had transitioned into a T and had officially obtained her membership into a marginalized acronym, that it would be a conflict of interest to maintain her conservative social values. And then Ellen asked about same-sex marriage, which Caitlyn quickly renamed gay marriage, then tried and failed to assuage the escalating atmosphere of lesbian judgement by stating that, indeed, her views had softened recently. That while still a “traditionalist” and as someone who is older and doesn’t fully understand gay marriage, it was not her place to stand in the way of anybody’s happiness. That obviously did not cut it, Caitlyn.
Not allowing the beloved sanctity of same-sex marriage to lie besmirched upon the coffee table, Ellen tried a different angle. She asked Caitlyn who she thought she was going to date now, even going so far as pointing out Caitlyn’s lifelong track record of loving women. I must say, it shows perverse dedication to the official gay agenda to be the only person in the world who would quiz Caitlyn Jenner about her sex life solely in hopes to label her as a lesbian and thusly, logically bound to support same-sex marriage, rather than to ask Caitlyn Jenner who she’s going to fuck because everybody is fetishistically fascinated by her possible genitals and how they might imagine them interacting with other possible genitals. Well played, Ellen. You get the toaster.
As an important, yet largely overlooked addendum to this interaction, Ellen appears on Howard Stern, like the next day. I used to listen to Howard Stern in the nineties, so I don’t know what he’s like now, but I would have previously considered this an unlikely booking for both parties. That’s what happened though. Ellen, looking like Grover got scolded by Maria, obviously still befuddled, confided in Howard Stern about her feelings over her conversation with Caitlyn. To my surprise, instead of calling her a carpet-muncher and asking to see her boobs, Howard, unprompted, echoed Ellen’s exact logic, positioning himself as Ellen’s sympathetic wingman in solidarity with her emotional distress. Ellen then submits the final piece of evidence to the court in the divorce proceedings. She tells Howard that she doesn’t really understand Caitlyn or the whole thing (the whole trans thing), but she doesn’t want to stand in the way of anybody’s happiness.
you mad, Maria?
So see what happened there? She said exactly the same thing about being trans as Caitlyn did about gay marriage. And she did it on Howard Stern, which adds a whole other layer of irony that I haven’t even finished processing yet.
So what does that mean? That we just don’t understand each other anymore and we should break up? That we are growing in separate directions and we should break up? Did we ever love each other?
In the real world, the Ellen interview of Caitlyn Jenner has absolutely no relevance in answering these largely irrelavant questions. To be fair, Caitlyn herself in the interview acknowledged that her experience has been completely unlike those of others “in the community”. I think she was astutely referencing her own privilege which completely demystifies her continued conservatism. There are G&L Republicans, too.
There have been stirrings for years in the trans community about launching a separate movement. After all, trans people started the first one. It is entirely too common for gays and lesbians to “not understand” the whole trans thing. The last three times I have been harassed about my gender presentation has been by gay men. I have also noticed what I perceive to be an increasing reliance by the trans community on a political narrative that makes a clear and binding distinction between gender presentation and sexual orientation. I’m not sure what the efficacy is of this distinction other than to clarify political identities and to engage in really specific identity politics.
Sentimentally, I guess I understand the impulse to sever one’s journey of gender realization from one’s seemingly supplemental sexual orientation, as it may be perceived by the individual to have caused the larger part of one’s suffering. However, from a theoretical psychological perspective, it makes no sense, whatsoever. You’re gender is completely tangled up in who you have sex with or don’t have sex with and it’s messy. Different partners actually make us feel differently about our bodies and our perception of who we are in the moment. The problem with strict identities is that they’re no fun and they allow no flexibility for the lived complexity of being human.
I was born female and the majority of my first sexual encounters were with men and they weren’t all terrible and I derived a sense of power from the desirability of my female body. However, I was butch from a young age and was really exited about having sex with girls and feeling like a guy. I didn’t start testosterone until I was forty and I did it because I wanted a sex drive, muscles, and some facial hair. I don’t really think of myself as a man and I still have attachments to my butch identity. Also, after a few months on T, I started having fairly strong urges to touch penises for the first time in a very, very long time and it makes me feel kinda gay. But I’m married to the sexiest woman in the world and I like to have sex with her more. So, I have been waiting for some time for the identity authorities out there to give me a label and send me a t-shirt. Thanks.
I know that emotionally satisfying identities have had the potential to be powerful political tools and they can be empowering on an individual level. The problem is that it just becomes increasingly difficult to accurately define or build solidarity around the proliferation of individual identities, precisely because of their specificity. People end up with a daunting list of multiple identities, and because of the restrictive nature of any label, may suppress or hide desires that seem incongruous the socio-cultural niche that they have crafted. It sometimes feels to me as if we have stepped back into the closet to accommodate all of our visibility.
In addition, there are glaring social complexities. The experience that I have had as a white, masculine dyke who transitioned into passing as a white, straight man with the adversity and privilege that has brought is a much different experience than that of a black transwoman who perhaps does not pass. We have much different issues to face, even as we may share a history of individual sadness.
If the big queer divorce is actually being imagined as a realistic public debate, the Ellen interview of Caitlyn must not be its catalyst. If you are at all queer, and have found yourself, in the last couple of weeks, actually engaging in any un-ironic side-taking with regards to this interview, don’t tell me because I will make you do push-ups. Instead, ask yourselves if transpeople, as an encompassing political identity, could actually build a brand new movement that steadfastly incorporates intersecting oppressions involving racism, classism, sexism, as well as transphobia? Not centering these issues has been sabotaging the GLBT movement since its inception. I don’t think Caitlyn will be an appropriate spokesmodel for this vision.
I think, once upon a time, there was a fleeting vision that all of the non-normative experiences contained within the GLBT coalition had something in common. Intuitively, it made sense, even though we’ve never really gotten along. Sissy gay boys and butch dykes are just as familiar with aggression toward their gender expressions as any transperson. Initially, the intended concept was that we were all fighting for freedom of expression and we took a certain Pride in all being different from the norm.
What has happened is that the dominant normative cultural paradigm in America has expanded just enough to allow a certain segment of the gay and lesbian population to assimilate into a certain marginal visibility in the outer reaches of its scope. Homonormative couples are still secretly considered, by even the most liberal example of the dominant culture, to be charming facsimiles of heteronormative couples in this model. The success of this recent mobility has been largely dependent on clear political identities that are not dangerous to the overall structure. I think that there is a bit of an identity crisis going on now that some respectability has been achieved.
There are still plenty of queers out there wishing they could figure out how to be a threat again, to the whole establishment, that honestly, at best, makes everybody feel like shit about themselves. Same-sex marriage was never everybody’s agenda, and the campaign to make it a litmus test for GLBT inclusion has been an integral part of the mainstream organizing efforts the whole time.
I feel like this kind of divisiveness has been trending since the nineties. I’ve been trying to discern the origin of it for quite some time. But, social justice movements in general, historically just have life spans. People don’t feel personally validated by a larger political alliance and retract into a self-preservation individuality or much smaller, more intimate subcultures. This is incidentally also why we can’t have dyke bars anymore.
I wish marginalized and oppressed people all just turned into muppets. The remaining humans would be the only easily identifiable representatives of the dominant culture in this metaphor. There are all kinds and varieties of muppets whose only commonality is that a human’s hand is shoved up their ass or pulling their strings. Then there would be a world-wide muppet revolution and after the take-over, if any muppets strayed outside of the “Rainbow Connection” paradigm, they would just turn human and have to undergo Big Bird’s Empathy Achieved through Sexual Submission Training (BBEASST)…again.
Moving forward, if we are to allow any celebrity to represent our collective suffering and hope, please let it be Kermit the Frog.
“Nay, even in the life of the same individual there is succession and not absolute unity: a man is called the same, and yet in the short interval between youth and age, and in which every animal is said to have life and identity, he is undergoing a perpetual process of loss and reparation.” Plato, Symposium (207d-208d)
The self is always coming into being. That is the actual verb. (Yes, I did study ancient Greek.) In this quote, Plato (in the voice of Socrates) points out our common perception that identity and sense of self is commonly considered consistent or that there is some abiding authenticity that is as real as our physical being, that we are the same living being throughout our life. (The translation of “identity” is literally “to be oneself”). He is also identifying a “perpetual process of loss and reparation” – that it is the nature of our mortal existence that we experience continual damage that we (by our own physical and psychic abilities) resist in our inclination to repair and survive. Thusly, we are always in a process of coming into being, including our own identity as self-perception and an actor in the world. It seems illogical at times, how fiercely we struggle for consistency of identity considering the social disadvantage that occasionally that defiance can produce. Self-destructive impulses, fetishes, obsessions, and secret dark personalities co-exist and co-manage with our highest aspirations, heartfelt intimacies, and loves to consolidate and approximate a person. We begin to depend upon who we think we are at a very early age. A lifetime of submission or resistance to our experience constantly recreates our dependent attachment to our identity which gives the effect of a consistent identity while actually always changing.
What are the possibilities and restrictions on who we can be? How is it that we can look back to our earliest remembered experiences and see ourselves, already working with a set of skills, perceptions, and behaviors that we still utilize in adulthood when so much of our plot has yet to unfold? It is logical, if we are products of adaptive evolution, that we as individuals are creatures of an adaptive nature. It’s what we do. It also seems reasonable that the process of evolution has equipped us, at birth, with certain mental and physical capacities that allow our own unique interaction with our own singular environment. How much of our “identity” as an individual is cultivated as we adapt, even as infants and how much is who we were meant to be or born to be? Babies, while they are learning their language of origin are also learning the social and cultural relationships of power and gender that are simply another aspect of social communication. They become fluent in both by an early age. Have you ever experienced a two-year old lying? No one teaches a child how to lie, which makes this spontaneous competence in the manipulation of language and power seem a little eerie even if they’re not good at it. I think the potential for success as a human organism must have a biological component that we all come with. Little kids do all kinds of things that no one teaches them. We have the ability to create utilizing the rules we’ve been given. We have all inherited an evolutionarily engineered, bio-neurological glob of ability to ascertain and utilize an astonishingly complex matrix of flexible and restrictive rules of language and human relationships that are completely unique to one’s environment of infancy and early childhood. There are rules of gender just like grammar that we must master if we are to be a participant in our world. Our infant genitals determine our starting point on the local game board, but we all pick up on the rules for the other players, too. If the genitals are so important to the game, how does anyone get it wrong? The only difference, I think, between a little human, born with a penis who acts like a boy by the time he’s five and a little human, born with a vagina who acts like a boy by the time she’s five is that the latter has advanced mutant, unicorn genes that allow her more interpretive creativity. They both have learned correctly how a little boy is supposed to act.
I was a pretty big kid. I was 9 pounds at birth. By the time I was 2, I was 45 pounds. I entered kindergarten at 75 and was at least a foot taller than any of my classmates. I have theories about my size, mostly having to do with my body actually physically responding to an inner adaptive urgency to expedite self-sufficiency. Regardless of the cause, my size was part of my inner narrative by the time I got to school. I felt both alien and special, self-conscious and powerful. I knew I was different and that I was certainly not like other little girls, nor was I invited to play in the reindeer games of boys (unless my size and strength was required to vanquish an enemy). I was Ferdinand the Bull instead of a bully, but had a sense of responsibility associated with my superior strength and intellect. Little kids would come to me for protection. In this way, my size augmented my unusual gender expression. If I was invited to a slumber party with girls, I was the one who slept by the door to protect the rest of the girls. The boys, at recess, actually invented a unique game which was basically to see how many boys it would take to tackle me. My physicality made me masculine and it had its own genre of positive feedback in the form of a specialized outsider power in my social group. I think I was an alpha before I was a boy. But, power and masculinity are associated at an early stage in development. Kids know your gender and relative social position better than you do usually, especially apart from the gaze of grown-ups, who have an additional set of expectations. Children understand the language of gender and power long before they learn irregular semantic structure and socially established contradictions in values of gender and power.
In first grade, it was my turn for ‘show and tell’ which was terrifying for me. I had gone to some carnival with my parents and won a doll, I think for throwing a ball at something. I was more proud about winning than of the doll, but my mother suggested that I take the doll for show and tell. She also put me in a dress with ribbons in my hair. I remember being apprehensive, but even at that age, one has an understanding that it should be alright to have and display gender appropriate clothes and possessions, even though it is uncomfortable and you don’t know why. And of course, there’s mom’s face while she is trying to make her big scary unicorn into a pretty girl. She thinks I’m pretty, but I could see her discomfort at wondering why it feels peculiar to dress me this way. But we proceed through the apprehension, which evolves into our interminable collaborative routine of awkwardness and conflict, and I go to school. The teacher calls me up with my doll. She looks nervous, too. Even before I get out my story about how I knocked down the thing with the thing, all of the boys are shitting themselves laughing at me. The girls are giggling, too, but with a look of “oooh, I thought we were clear about you not doing things that we do.” Of course I run out of the room crying. I remember a sadness that was like mourning a loss associated with not being able to be like other girls. Even though I really never tried, it was an expectation that I could not meet and there was nothing more debilitating to me than disappointing my parents. There was definitely a felt deficiency related to the possibility of being like other girls that was also externally enforced. I don’t like being bad at things, even things I don’t want to do. I also remember a deep and clear anger after my first profound experience of public emasculation. I would never get to be a boy either. I was big and strong and good at sports. Other kids looked to me for protection and I was always among the first to be chosen for teams in P.E. That was my source of control and power in my social environment and even though it could be isolating, it enabled a sense of status in its eccentricity. It also made me good at being a boy. All at once, I knew others would always have inexplicable expectations on my masculinity, but I would never enjoy any of the entitlements of maleness. So mad, so, so mad.
How does this happen? How does a person, born with a vagina excel at acting like a boy by the time they even encounter an institutionalized peer group like day care or kindergarten? Why does a little gender queer continue to refine their non-normative gender expression even after they figure out that it pisses everyone off and it’s not going to help you get laid anytime soon? Some say we are born this way. There seems to be a common belief that one’s soul is gendered and one may be born into the wrong body. What this belief does is attempt to shift agency and thereby, a judgement of culpability away from the individual, allowing a possibility for social empathy and access to mental health care. If an individual’s gender expression is somehow innate, commonly contrasted with behavioral, it is somehow more understandable and forgivable, for the individual as well as everyone else. But, do we really want to make the argument that naturalized gender exists? Do we really want to go back in time and tell Simone de Beauvoir that yes, actually one is born a woman. Within the discourses of resistance to hegemonic social paradigms, the assertion that gender roles are socially constructed, is effective precisely because dominant heteronormative gender roles are fucked up, but seem timeless and pre-ordained. To proclaim them artificially made and imposed is to disempower them and reveal their artifice. This opens the possibility of social change in the relative power relationship and acceptable characteristics associated with prescribed gender roles. Though this only really happens at a glacial pace, it is an important rhetorical weapon for ongoing feminist deconstruction. However, for the gender defiant, like this transman, the idea that gender is merely a mutable social construct is initially unsettling on a personal level and leaves the transgender community politically vulnerable to a host of philosophical attacks on our authenticity – from liberal gays to conservative straights. Are we ridiculous children playing dress-up? Can we be “rehabilitated”? Are transmen assimilating an oppressive norm that harms the rest of the queer community? Gender is such a dangerous thing to fuck with because it is so foundational to all of our identities. There must be a way to reconcile these two divergent, yet philosophically important assertions. Gender is constructed, yet it is somehow real and important. It is essential to the way we move, and feel, and fuck, and love…but we shouldn’t take it so seriously.
Judith Butler is a classic rock star in this effort.
“Bound to seek recognition of its own existence in categories, terms, and names that are not of its own making, the subject seeks the sign of its own existence outside itself, in a discourse that is at once dominant and indifferent. Social categories signify subordination and existence at once. In other words, within subjection the price of existence is subordination.” ― Judith Butler, The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection
Judy is so smart. Damn, I really wish I could sound that smart. An individual is “bound”, meaning obligated, to look for itself in the relational structures and language it has learned. These structures are “dominant” and “indifferent”. They were here before you and they’ll be here after you. Our identity is relational. We are social animals. Our identity, our “existence”, is continually reaffirmed or denied by our social environment. Our subordination is inescapable. We “seek” recognition as a boy or a girl, which is just a category, but our existence hinges on one or the other. Genderqueer is of course a category, but essentially an unintelligible category in most cultural paradigms. This is why I’ve spent most of my life in tiny, insular urban queer communities. We don’t like to think of ourselves as subordinate. We like to think we are originals, but we are merely a unique amalgam of pre-established social categories. Even our eccentricity is dependent on norms for its charm to be possible. It is important to realize also that this “subordination”, though inflammatory as a word choice, suggests the obligatory nature of gender that we commonly appeal to in the “born this way” argument.
Gender is “a stylized repetition of acts . . . which are internally discontinuous . . .[so that] the appearance of substance is precisely that, a constructed identity, a performative accomplishment which the mundane social audience, including the actors themselves, come to believe and to perform in the mode of belief” – Judith Butler, Gender Trouble
Judy makes so much sense she makes me nervous. I think she intentionally uses language that belittles and mocks human experience. As she should, humans are ridiculous. The ones with the most power are often additionally assholes. She is making the point that not only is gender a social construction, but we are all also brainwashed to believe in it. That’s a great point. That’s an extremely uncomfortable point. Is she adding enough subconscious obligation to one’s gender role for a transman to feel like he’s not just playing house? Is she allowing enough agency for social transgression? I think Judith Butler is certainly smart enough to understand her project. I have often thought, though, as an academic, that she may be a little inexperienced when it comes to the weirdos. What does Judith Butler know about punk rock? This is what I want to know.
Noam Chomsky is a linguist, among other things. I once took a beginning linguistics class. They discussed his theory of deep structure or deep grammar. It is about a child’s acquisition of language. He theorized that a child is born with a hard-wired language template in place that merely plugs in the idiosyncratic features of the particular language they are exposed to. Evidence for this comes from children making mistakes like “I swimmed yesterday” instead of “I swam yesterday.” They understand the grammar rule that tells them to put an “-ed” on the end of a verb to indicate past-tense, but they have not mastered the irregular verb forms yet. When I heard this theory for the first time, it was a moment of epiphany for me concerning gender, even though nobody else seems to share my enthusiasm. Language acquisition cannot be detached from the rest of the communication skills we acquire. Social power dynamics and gender relationships must be included in total cultural proficiency. I am not the first to point this out. Judith Butler draws on linguistics, and indeed, Noam Chomsky’s language acquisition theory sounds eerily like Butler’s performativity thirty years earlier…at least in my head. Though Chomsky seems to have a sense of delight and wonder at human possibility, where I think Butler seems deeply disappointed in the human condition.
“Language is a process of free creation; its laws and principles are fixed, but the manner in which the principles of generation are used is free and infinitely varied…We thus make a fundamental distinction between the competence (the speaker-hearer’s knowledge of his language) and performance (the actual use of language in concrete situations)…The most striking aspect of linguistic competence is what we may call the ‘creativity of language,’ that is, the speaker’s abilityto produce new sentences, sentences that are immediately understood by other speakers although they bear no physical resemblance to sentences which are ‘familiar.'” -Noam Chomsky
So language, like normative gender roles, have rules which are fixed when we learn them. He makes a distinction between competence and performance. I think we more consciously choose our words than go to the closet and choose our gender, but trying to come up with an entirely original gender would be like me trying to spontaneously speak Martian. Once you are past puberty, it’s becomes increasingly difficult for a human to learn a new language. Actually, it starts becoming incrementally harder past the age of around four. So, my only reason for bringing this up is to say that maybe we don’t start out as a particular gender, just like we don’t speak a particular language when we’re born. We learn the rules of our native language and social dynamics and we don’t learn them wrong. In our mind, we correctly place ourselves within the matrix of social power and by the time we get to kindergarten, it’s too late to change it even after we figured out that everybody else thinks we’re wrong, or when we “produce new sentences…that are immediately understood…although they bear no physical resemblance to sentences which are familiar.” We are constrained to our own native grammatical laws and the gender dynamics we were taught, but our process of “free creation” can lead to unique performances, like poetry, especially as we further our mastery of the rules.
Often, the whole transgender discourse revolves around a very strict, non-feminist gender binary. The rigid pronoun insistence is exactly in opposition to the feminist effort to make pronouns inclusive or neutral thirty years ago. There is an actual experience as transgender that seems richer than the experience of cispeople. It is a gift of dysphoria. This word is also Greek. It means difficult to bear. It is often commonly used to indicate profound confusion or hallucination, but it is deep adversity. It has a passive sense which is to be born (carried) violently as if by a storm. Those are powered gendered norms that we are subordinate to which toss us about and are painful to bear. But, I am grateful to have been in the storm.
I occasionally experience a little melancholy or longing nostalgia when I think about my transition. I look like a man. For forty years of my life, I looked like a freak. That was my performance. Being a dude is less exhausting, but less fabulous in a way. It’s nuances like this that I don’t think academics understand fully. They only know about the non-normative narratives they’ve read about and happened ten years ago. They don’t know what it feels like to be a gangster. (Damn, it feels good, btw.) Academia is a locus of dominant power arbitration. There are many a treatise about what it means to write post-colonial theory in a squarely colonial institution. I don’t know if I can go back. Harvard almost killed me with its smiley-faced normativity. But now I’m a balding white dude, so I think gangster’s out too. I’m blogging.
By far, the most brilliant philosopher on the subject of the way I feel about gender is John Cameron Mitchell, who wrote the most amazing movie in the history of the universe, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. My first semester at Harvard, I watched Hedwig almost every single night. I had been ok being an unbalanced, cocky butch pirate around a bunch of queers in San Francisco and Minneapolis, but not even a childhood in the suburbs prepared me for that kind of elite, east coast, beautiful people, old money kind of soul-crushing polite exclusion. I don’t know what it was, but I completely unravelled. Hedwig was like going to an AA meeting. I was working the program and taking it one day at a time. Hedwig was my sponsor and my higher power. Every syllable of dialogue is brilliant and I’d like to share with you, ‘Wig in a Box’. In this one song, Mitchell conveys a complex theory of gender, including performativity, the feeling of being duped by social constructions of gender, envy and longing, the triumphal feeling of exquisite failure but doing gender better than any cis-counterparts, and of course the fact that no matter how much it sucks, unicorns have the wisdom and the shine.
When I was two years old, my favorite TV show was The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. It was 1972. Perhaps this is my first memory or perhaps my mother has told the story so many times that I think I can remember it. I believe I do remember watching one of the many times when Sonny and Cher used to close the show by bringing out Chastity for their final number. I would insert myself into the TV with them. I might have made my first petty comparisons between my cuteness and Chastity’s cuteness, preferring my own. Perhaps I might have thought that I would make a more suitable famous TV child. Apparently, I used to carry around a picture of Cher with me wherever I went. I also told my day-care providers that was, in fact, Sonny and Cher’s child and that I was just on loan to my parents. They must have told my folks, because my parents started calling me Tara Bono, which was eventually shortened to just Bo. This is the name my parents have called me my entire life. Fortunately, it has enduring gender neutrality.
Thus began the paranormal resemblance of my life to Chastity Bono’s. We are almost exactly the same age. We both came out as lesbians at around sixteen. We both transitioned later in life. I didn’t think about it much over the years. It was a cute story my mom liked to tell about my childhood. My mom. She is not like Cher in so many ways. Who is? But, she is pretty and thin. There is also something relatively uncommon about her femininity and presence that is quite Cherlike. My mother has a larger than normal life aura surrounding her, like Cher. Not in a theatrical sense (although she has that side), more associated with her superhuman competency. Think Annette Bening in American Beauty or Robin Wright in House of Cards. I just realized that Kevin Spacey is the husband in both of those shows – weird. She is super capable and really pretty and she is kind of a big deal in her own community. She also has a sense of entitlement that borders on the masculine. Many pretty women know that they can manipulate because of their beauty. Caroll and Cher seem to bend cumulative human folly to their will, using their beauty merely as a jedi mind trick that disguises their true alien forms. Their looks are not the most significant thing about either of them. They are significant people. As to their femininity, there is something additionally performative about it for both of them, almost as if it is not a naturally occurring gender role. There is a similarity to the way Cher wears a Bob Mackie spider web dress and the way my mother dons a St. John’s knit pant suit. They are intimidating, not titillating. I think what I am saying is that my mother and Cher actually are drag queens. What choice did Chaz and I have but to become men?
There is a huge difference between a drag queen and a masculine woman. One is entertaining and powerful. The awkwardness of the other is just uncomfortable for everyone.
Occasionally, we would do our best to make our mothers happy.
But the transitional lesbian mullets happened…
which is actually the fault of…
And this, of course, happened…
but then this…
Unlike my mother, Cher has another child, a son. I think his name is Who Gives a Shit. I believe Cher rolled her eyes upon hearing he was getting married. Cisboys with drug problems are boring. I think Chaz and I have mothers who actually ended up really liking us as people. And I’m pretty sure we are the only ones who understand our mothers.
While I was at grad school in Boston, about a year after I had started transitioning, my mother called one night. Her voice was a bit frantic. “I need you to send me a current picture of yourself. A good one. I can pay for you to have one taken if you don’t have one.” I say, “I think I have one, ma. What do you need it for?” She explained, “I got tickets to Dancing with the Stars…and it’s for the night that Cher is going to be there.”
Because my mother is magic, she just assumed that she was going to be able to meet Cher and tell her the whole story. She also told me I was more handsome and a better dancer than Chaz, but she is my mother. I sent her a picture I had actually taken for my girlfriend back in Minneapolis, so I was trying to look hot, which of course, my mom loved, because she’s just so happy that I’m good-looking now. “You always did suck at being a girl,” is what she said when I told her I was transitioning.
My mother took the picture with her to Dancing with the Stars, but she didn’t meet Cher. They stuck her way up on the third tier in the back. I’m sure Cher would have taken care of that shit had she known my mother was there. I’m not sure if Chaz and I are evidence for some obscure psychological template. This is what happens when magic drag queens raise butch dykes. I’m sure we are very different people, simultaneous hairdos aside. I wonder if Chaz dresses in drag every Halloween like I do. I bet I walk better in heels.
I’ll measure time I’ll measure height I’ll calculate My birthrite Good Lord I’m big I’m heading on Man-size Got my leather boots on – PJ Harvey, Man-size
Are wet dreams common? For whom? I haven’t heard much talk about them lately. I have had one. It visited me when I was around sixteen. It was a ‘point-of-view’ production. I was driving an old muscle car with black leather bucket seats and a long-handled gear shift. I was alone, driving fast. I especially remember the sky as a hi-def, David Lynch dream sequence kind of hot orange. There were mountains on both sides and I was approaching a narrow, flat bridge across an impossibly wide and deep gorge. I felt rising pleasure and excitement. I looked down and noticed my big, hard cock in my own left hand. The mountains receded from around me as I drove faster onto the bridge. I watched myself stroke myself faster as I drove faster, not looking up at the road. As I was about to cum, the car/I veered sharply to the left, quickly breaking through the low guard rail and into mid-air. I never saw the bottom and I didn’t fall for long. I woke up sweating and panting with throbbing clit.
I am not someone who remembers my dreams often, nor even many singular waking events in my life, but this was an omen with no intention of being forgotten. The uncanny physicality of the actual dream and of me and of the darkness of my bedroom continues to stick to me, though it’s been almost thirty years (or more, my age is the most arbitrary part of this narrative). I immediately thought I had just witnessed how I died in a past life. This is hilarious, if true, that there may be some part of my eternal soul that is so fascinated with my own penis and touching it and admiring it that it not only caused my death at least once, but that this self-destructive compulsion follows me into every incarnation. I am still a little cockcentric, though I do not possess one in this lifetime.
Occasionally, I pull out this wet dream to help me think critically about gender. I think it is a versatile metaphor for gender experience. Had I been born with a penis, I imagine that I would have been experienced this dream as fairly unremarkable. Having a penis and dreaming about touching it probably doesn’t stimulate much analysis of the link between masculinity and a cock in cis-men. I have had sex in other dreams with my own body, but never resulting in spontaneous orgasm. I don’t recall ever having another dream where I so viscerally embodied an alternate flesh. It felt real. This sensation of ‘realness’ and its fickle presence is a bit of what I believe gender performance desires. It was probably the most experiential moment of maleness in my life, but much of the time, I don’t even know if ‘male’ is what I have wanted to achieve.
This vivid dream, an altered state of consciousness is not completely unlike the daily involuntary masculinity I perform. My masculinity perpetually defies the fact of my body. When I am alone, I must touch my female genitals to masturbate, though I may be fantasizing about having an erect penis and putting it where I imagine it would feel good to my phantom limb. When I am not alone, my gender performance, to the extent that it is successful and fulfilling for myself and others, must necessarily be collaborative. When I put my silicon penis on and have sex with my girlfriend, we must both suspend disbelief to achieve the desired intimacy. It is infinitely hotter to tell someone to suck your cock, than to suck your strapon. I cannot feel my penis inside her, but the illusion helps me orgasm nonetheless. Practically speaking, it might seem more desirable to have her go down on the anatomy I do have, but the reaffirmation of my masculine identity is just as important, if not more, than an orgasm. This is why stone butches exist. At least they used to.
When surrounded by other urban queers, being a masculine woman is an intelligible identity, easily integrated into social discourse, verbal and non-verbal. When in normative surroundings, the dominant paradigm polices and excludes and mocks the masculine woman. Cis-gendered, heteronormative people sometimes don’t like to play dress up with you and your arduously crafted gender identity. Suddenly, the recollection that your masculinity is a dirty adolescent dream you once had hits you like shame pie in your girl face. In the life of a young butch, those moments of cognitive dissonance assemble to form a relentless clown parade of humiliation. Oh, young butches, I just want to send you all to Pippi Longstocking Island with horses, and femmes, and proud moms who never want you to wear a dress, and dads you can beat at basketball.
At forty-one, I made the decision to transition. Into what, is unclear to me, possibly because I am one of those people who uncritically link maleness with penises. But, I love taking testosterone. Adult puberty is so much more fun than menopause. One of the multitude of benefits that I perceive for my life is simply the public plausibility of my act. It is exhausting to be a constant subject of internal conflict for others.
Once I had a dream that I was a man. I came all over myself, then I died. The body that bares the life that I have had deserves the entitlements it has earned and the pleasures it can experience.
Silence my lady head Get girl out of my head Douse hair with gasoline Set it light and set it free, PJ Harvey, Man-size
Suspension of disbelief or willing suspension of disbelief is a term coined in 1817 by the poet and aesthetic philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who suggested that if a writer could infuse a “human interest and a semblance of truth” into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgment concerning the implausibility of the narrative.
I tell stories all the time. I think I am a good storyteller. I think I have good stories to tell. That is what I have instead of a fake job at Target Corporate that doesn’t even make sense. That’s me in the picture. I was taking that for my new girlfriend. I don’t remember if I sent that one to her or not. That’s my little apartment in Brookline, MA. I stayed there while I was getting my master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School. I went to Harvard because the dyke bar in Minneapolis that I opened, closed and I was emotionally broken and forty and I didn’t know what else to do. My new girlfriend stayed in Minneapolis. Long-distance relationships are horrible and I was crazy jealous and had just started taking testosterone. You can see the hint of a new goatee as well as a little cleavage under my creepy bathrobe, which I think is hot. I’ve been home for a couple years now, and things are great. I just have some stories to tell. I have more facial hair now, but I still have my tits. I wanted to call this blog ‘hairy tits’, but people keep cringing every time I say that. I do actually want people to cringe a little at this blog, though. I want commentary and resistance and conversation. I want to talk about sex and gender and body parts (silicon or flesh) in a more uncomfortable way. The blogs I’ve read about queers, transmen, and butches (and that’s not really that many) have been pretty tame and have narratives we have become comfortable with. They talk about bowties, and binding, and bathrooms, which are fun and fuzzy subjects that warm the queer cockles like a drag queen doing Whitney Houston, and these stories create community and are important. I think my transition is one of my least interesting stories, but it will be fun to read, nonetheless. I am a lazy, lazy transman, if you insist upon calling me that. I do like muscles and wanting to fuck all the time. I miss San Francisco in the 90’s. I miss punk rock. I miss sex-positive, bald, dyke whores… most of the time. I am also getting to old for that shit all the time. I do not miss being a baby butch disco queen in LA in the 80’s, but that happened. I really like being happy and well-rested. I have a lot of great stories though. I wanted to write a book, but Katrina told me that people blog now. After much initial resistance, I found the rambling serial format might actually work better. My best stories are about opening a dyke bar, but that requires background. I want to talk about sex and gender deeply. I want to know about your dark sides and tell you about mine, because I tend to think our common narratives, as valuable as they are to our community, are mostly incomplete, and largely horseshit. My dream would be a community of weirdo truth-tellers. Let’s fix modern psychology together and even teach Judith Butler a thing or two about gender. Mostly, I’m going to tell stories though, really good ones.