Archive for June, 2013|Monthly archive page

What “Butch” Means To Me

I ended my last post with the statement “I am butch and that’s enough.” Building on the theme, I thought I’d share a conversation I had with a friend a few months ago. At the time of this discussion, my friend was helping me to explore my inner assumptions about myself. Working on reining in the whinging insecurities. She asked me this question, I think, as a challenge to my assumptions about my outward appearance. It’s a good question. My unedited (except for spelling), top-of-mind answer is below.

Keep in mind that this is my understanding of me, thus my understanding of “butch”. This will be utterly unrecognizable as “butch” to someone else. That’s ok. I try never to speak for anyone else. This is my definition of the me I am today, and the me I hope to make better as time goes by.

———-

“What does being butch mean to you?”

“Several things: demeanor, appearance, attitude and outlook.

Most important to me is being who I must be, expectations be damned. I work very hard at carrying myself with dignity, without falling into arrogance. Paying attention to those I’m with, letting them know by the care I take of them when we’re together that I value them. These combine, in my mind, to form an outward demeanor of competence, reliability, and self reliance.

Appearance is a by-product of that demeanor, my natural inclinations, size and chance. I promised myself long ago that I would never again suffer the indignity of being dressed as a fraud. I choose clothes and mannerisms that rest easily on my skin. I care very little if social convention approves or not.

That attitude carries through my personality. Although I care deeply, worry much, obsess too much, it’s mostly about how I make other people feel by my words & actions, not by my identity or appearance. If I am comfortable in my identity, others’ fear of it doesn’t matter. (Except those closest to me always matter more.) I can handle rejection, but feeling like a fake inside myself is unacceptable.

And, as whinging as I’ve been this week, you won’t believe this, but I’m mostly an optimist. I strive daily to look for the best, see good first, celebrate what makes each of us unique. I smile & laugh easily and like it. I don’t want others to feel badly, so I try to exude an optimism about life, even when I’m at my most vulnerable.”

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Enough Is A Myth

Please excuse the rant. Sometimes I have to vent, even at situations I help to create or perpetuate. This post is a lesson I’m trying to internalize. I hope it is helpful to you, too.

———-

Not good enough
Not smart enough
Not thin enough
Not pretty enough

Seems like all women get these messages fired at their heads constantly, beginning nearly from infancy. They come from both without and within. Culture, peer groups, authority figures, and just about every form of media (books, movies, music, magazines, even the news) all seem to deliver and reinforce the idea that there is a perfect woman, an ideal standard that, unless you live up to that standard, you are less than, not good enough.

I’m no less susceptible to this thinking than anyone else. Only on top of all those external sources of pressure and criticism, I have become skilled at the art of self-sabotage, adding to the list above: Not butch enough

Even among our own community, it seems, the concept of an ideal standard persists. But just who sets the standard and what it’s parameters are, elude even those who seek to compare others to it. And, really, in something so personal as gender identity and expression, who truly believes that there can be only one model of perfection?

The perfect butch, the ideal dyke, the ultimate lesbian is a unicorn. And “enough” as a qualification in relation to that supposed ideal is as much a myth as the unicorn itself.

Of course, everyone desires to be better, improve themselves in some aspect or another of their personal make-up. That drive to do more, be better, refine and build on our skills and attributes, is a primal instinct and a component of innate competitiveness. It’s natural and understandable, even desirable in healthy expression and moderation.

But to impose an artificial standard of excellence on any fundamental aspect that forms a person’s identity does violence to that person’s freedom of self-direction. The most basic measure of sentience (intelligence), in my view, is the ability to identify and define ones self. And the most fundamental freedom a human can have is to exercise that ability as often and in as great variety and with as much creativity as that person chooses to apply.

By imposing artificial limits or requirements on a person’s expression of identity, you restrict that person’s fundamental freedom. That’s discrimination as brutal and arbitrary as any perpetrated by government action, modern or historical.

Imagine a government deciding that [insert minority group here] are not eligible to receive [insert right/benefit here], merely on the basis of that minority status, even though such rights or benefits are derived from tax payer dollars. To wit:

Blacks aren’t free men/women
Women aren’t eligible to vote
Gays aren’t eligible to marry

Sound familiar? We all are outraged by such arbitrary and capricious exercise of power and privilege to deprive others of basic freedoms. Why then are we complicit in that same discrimination on the basis of gender identity and it’s expression?

It is true that reasonable debate can be had about almost any topic the human mind can invent. But reason so seldom comes into this. I see on the Internet (blogs, comments, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) commentary seeking to define precisely what is butch/not butch, femme/not femme and everything in between. You’d be shocked at how much of it is NOT intended to be a joke, too. Add to these each person’s own internal critic bashing their own identity/expression against the imaginary ideal, and it’s a wonder our whole society isn’t perpetually garbed in sackcloth and ashes.

I posit that this proclivity to judgement on such a personalized issue is due in part to the myth that gender identity is pure choice and therefore capable of standardization. (Gender is proposed as choice, versus homosexuality, which is innate.) That leads folks to compare each other to the supposed standard and the advent of “enough” as the measure of success or failure (along with “really” and “true” and other terms of gradation; i. e. that look is really butch, she’s a true femme, soft versus hard butch, etc.).

Believe me, though I’ve encountered more of this from my own internal dialogue than outside criticism, the school of thought definitely exists.

But I’ve had enough (excuse the pun).

I’ve concluded for myself, for my life, that ‘enough’ is a myth. Instead, I choose a strict binary (oh, irony!), yes or no ruling when it comes to my exercise of the freedom of self-direction. Either it [insert identity attribute here] is or is not a part of my identity and it’s expression. And since mine is the only opinion on my identity that matters, there is no such thing as whether I’m ‘me’ enough.

I am butch and that’s enough.

Suspense

I’ve discovered, during this journey of self discovery, that there are a lot of in-between places in my life. Dwelling there can be enlightening, frightening, and wearying all at once.

But the suspense of moving through those interstitial spaces is proving to be a reward in itself. The in-between foreshadows the next phase of becoming (whether on a big or small scale).

That suspended feeling, anticipation of what’s next, can feel really good, restful, exciting. And, now that I have a very special someone in my life, there are even more in-betweens that all signal passage into a phase of personal experience that is full to overflowing with blessings. In fact, it’s experiencing some of those new & wonderful in-betweens that inspired this post and this bit of verse.

I hope you enjoy…

———-

Suspense

In that limbo space
Between connections
I live in suspense
Awaiting the relief of your voice

In that twilight time
Between awakening and living
My heart is in suspense
Longing for the comfort of your kiss

In the gloaming stillness
Before true darkness falls
Joy is in suspense
Patiently awaiting your return

In the alley-ways of slumber
Between soaring delight of dreams
Peace is suspended
In abeyance until you arrive

In the silence of anticipation
Between each beat of my heart
Each breath, a moment of suspense
Until you, my life, my love, rest in my arms

Moments of Shame and Triumph

When I’m stressed, lonely, sad, my inner saboteur throws a wild party, dancing around in circles inside my reasoning mind. While my defenses are down, doubt creeps in. My head gets stuck playing back, distorted, dark and unhealthily twisted, the moments in my life that made me feel the smallest. These are the most shame-filled moments I’ve known and the reliving tears at my peace of mind.

But then my reason and intelligence return. I get a grip on myself and start thinking it through. It doesn’t do me or anyone any favors to simply dismiss these thoughts, feelings, memories without examining why they’re still there, or at least acknowledging that I still feel them and need to deal with them.

So here’s an exercise I’ve learned to do as these insecurities threaten to choke my happiness: acknowledge the dark thought and balance it with light.

Believe me, I’m still a work in progress. But actively answering back to my demons helps me overcome them when I’m at my lowest. I hope you find some value in this, as well.

———-

Moments of -Shame and >Triumph

-Be a good girl: Stop rocking the boat

>You are good and kind and sweet; Your questioning is healthy.

-Stand in my shadow; Listen, don’t speak

>Let your light shine! Speak your mind, your opinion has value.

-Keep trying, do it over again; You still don’t know enough

>Practice, refine, but keep on going. You know what you know and are a life-long learner. Enough is a myth.

-Be smart, since you’ll never be pretty

>You are smart. That’s not a consolation prize.

-Work hard, since you’ll never be brilliant

>Hard work and intelligence aren’t mutually exclusive.

-Get help from someone better, since you’ll never be enough

>Smart people ask for help, especially from experts; that doesn’t equate to failure.

-Keep small, don’t stand out: You’re big and loud and far too much

>It’s ok to be yourself, even if that means you’re different and stand out from the crowd.

-Fade into the crowd; Your individuality isn’t wanted

>You are a unique individual and have value in your own right.

-Bad, wrong, ugly, fat; You’ll never fit their mold

>No matter your scars or shortcomings, you are good and more than the sum of your mistakes.

-Listen to me; You can’t trust yourself

>Listen to all input, evaluate it carefully, then make your own choice. You are your own woman.

-Do as I say or else you’ll fail

>Failure is possible, but if you make your own decisions, your failure is your own and not a gnawing doubt forever.

-You might as well quit; You cannot win

>I agree with Churchill: “Never, never, never give up.”
>You are many things, but a quitter isn’t one of them.

-Wrong color, wrong ethnic origins; You don’t belong

>Be proud of your heritage, but stand on your achievements; don’t measure your value solely by your ethnicity, genetics or the accomplishments of your ancestors.

-Go away, you aren’t wanted

>Be whole in yourself and you are never alone or unwanted.

-Here, I’ll do that instead; Your best is never good enough

>Don’t quit because someone is better at it than you are. Do the work to get better, then continue to excel.

-Hide your face, look away; Only the pretty deserve attention

>Your worth is not in your appearance.

-Why do you even try; Nothing you do will be enough

>Self-elimination out of fear of failure is itself the failure.

-Don’t look in the mirror; You are hideous

>There will always be someone better looking. Be the best person you can be and the beauty of your spirit will shine through, regardless of the outside wrapper.

-Straighten up and act right; You’re an embarrassment

>Behave as your personal integrity requires. Never compromise that, regardless of others’ discomfort.

-I’ll take what I want from you; You have no power to stop me

>You have the power of self-direction. You are not powerless, even if someone is stronger. A stone from a sling slew a giant with a sword. You can take your power back.

-You can’t do that; You’re just a girl

>You can! You are a powerful, intelligent woman with the ability to do anything you set your mind to do.

-You have no right to be happy; You haven’t earned it

>You have as much right as any other person to seek happiness. You don’t have to earn happiness–make it, seek it, find it in yourself and then share it with the ones you love.

Corrosion by Hate

This sad and true story really resonated with me and got me to thinking about my own experience with racism, and the effect broader bigotry has in my life.

—–

Recently a friend on Twitter posted a wrenching note about a friend who had been excommunicated from her birth family because of who she had married. They disowned her, not because she married another woman, but because her chosen spouse is a black woman. My suspicion is that if she had chosen a black man, the result would have been the same. The issue is racism, not simply inequality.

I am, sadly, familiar with racism and it’s insidious, corrosive effect on a person’s sense of self-worth. As the child of a white woman and a Hispanic man growing up in an insular Rocky Mountain town in Wyoming, my family dealt with a low-grade racism as the ‘token’ Hispanics in a white middle-class neighborhood. We were always being reminded and made aware in myriad ways that we were second, less-than, in the eyes of the majority population surrounding us.

We also experienced a few very frightening and violent instances of overt, hate-mongering racism. In fact, my family moved from the South to the relative safety of the West because of threats on my father’s life for his presumption, as a “damned spic”, at marrying a white girl. Having faced angry mobs and hate-fueled individuals alike on several occasions, my dark-skinned father and brothers were always watchful of their surroundings and taught me at an early age to do the same.

But through it all, the six of us had each other. Never once was I afraid that my family would splinter over race. When my very dark-skinned brother married a truly white-skinned, red-headed Irish girl and her parents disowned her for it, my family welcomed her as our own, never looking back and never questioning that she belonged among us despite her ethnicity.

That open-hearted acceptance in the midst of exclusionary culture is commendable. I’m proud that my family has proven that racism is not among our failings.

That safety, solidity, reliability of the forever-bond of family has formed the foundation of my world view since infancy. Losing it would crush me. Clearly that surety was shattered for my friend’s friend. What a gut-wrenching tragedy.

Again, I count my blessings daily that racism is not a feature in my family life. But what about bigotry? Is it possible to be bigoted and not racist? Absolutely.

Racism is a specific form of bigotry, focused on the belief in the superiority of one race over others. Whereas bigotry is a more general term covering the persistent, often irrational, belief in the superiority of one’s own opinions or values (regardless of topic) over another’s or even all others’. So all racists are bigots, but not all bigots are racist.

Racism, all types of bigotry really, is corrosive to self-worth and family cohesion and societal bonds. This hate (because that is what racism and bigotry are, at bottom) will slowly eat away at the fabric holding any family together–the bonds of love and respect each member has for her fellows.

I’m afraid of the corrosion of hate. Afraid of its affect on my family (both blood and chosen), as well as its affect on our culture (whether local, national or global).

Because hate can be disguised to look and feel very much like tough love, selfless enforcement of moral strictures, or even ethical responsibility, people can convince themselves that practicing hate is actually doing the right thing.

This insidious infiltration of moral, cultural, political, even regulatory environments is the nightmare every minority population struggles against. At a macro level, we see the fight and, thankfully, we can see some significant strides being made toward equality. Twelve states in the US now have legalized same-sex marriage or civil unions, to name only one example of progress. Activist groups and individuals all over the world are making a difference for equality every day. For this I’m thankful.

But on a micro-level, a selfish level specific to my own life, the corrosion that hate brings is manifesting in ways I never expected, though maybe I should have. The hate I fear to face from my family and close friends is bigotry in the form of homophobia. It is corroding my confidence in myself, in my family’s steadfast bond of inclusion, in my friends’ acceptance of me as a person, in my employe r’s commitment to equality.

My fear and reluctance to come out of the closet is rooted in this corrosive hate. Sure, some of that fear is simply irrational. I admit that. But not all of it. The break-down of bonds between individuals that bigotry against homosexuality causes is all too real.

That uncertainty that leads to trepidation, hesitation is the rust, the corrosion that is caused by exposure to hate.

As with so many of my recent posts, I don’t have a nice, neat resolution to tie it all up in a bow. This is where I’m at mentally and emotionally: rusting at the joints from fear of bigoted hatred. But I’m not stagnant. Though I fear, I stubbornly refuse to quit. I’m making plans to move forward in my journey. My progress may be slowed by hate’s rust, but it’s not stopped. I’m learning to be my own solvent and sealer to rid the rust…just call me WD-40. 😉

Intention vs. Expectation

Fair warning: this one rambles a bit…

Despite the old adage that good intentions pave the road to hell, and the analogous corporate-speak parable that ‘hope is not a strategy’, intention and desire for a particular outcome have powerful meaning in my life. If nothing else, having an intent, a meaning behind my actions and words, helps me in my quest for authenticity and spiritual wholeness.

But, intent divorced from action is worthless.

I think a part of that feeling of being a fraud that I’ve blogged about in earlier posts is rooted in a feeling of not doing enough…a feeling that if I don’t hurry up and do something, say something to specific people in my immediate daily circle, then my intention to come out and be authentic will die, leaving me forever a deceiver of myself and those I care most about.

Yet I sometimes feel cheated at this assumed obligation to come out. The petulant teenager that still lives within me rebels at having to disclose something so personal when others in this life don’t have to. Why is it required for gay people to declare themselves when straight people don’t? (Don’t worry, I won’t get off topic onto the issue of apparent/supposed privilege. My point is simply that gay = different from the accepted “norm”, so gay people are treated as less than. I get it. But I don’t have to like it.)

I object to the expectation of action or disclosure that ostensibly legitimizes the declared status of gay, but in actuality perpetuates the disparate treatment. By requiring this intimate disclosure, the individual is forced into a position of vulnerability vis-a-vis the mainstream culture, further reinforcing the separation of the heterosexual from the homosexual classes.

So, I’m caught in the middle between self-imposed intention to live authentically, and societally-imposed expectation in order to achieve legitimacy. Never mind that the intent appears to coincide with the expectation. The fact that there is an expectation is confining.

Not to mention the fact that there isn’t a single expectation, but a whole load of shifting, barbed, venomous expectations, that seem to send out runner vines to wrap around my freedom and self-direction, choking them off. And don’t forget the looming threat of crushing rejection that is a very real possible result of choosing to/complying with the expectation to come out.

It all just seems a hopelessly unsolvable riddle.

Or, maybe that’s a load of crap to rationalize the mixed rebellion and trepidation I experience at the prospect of vulnerability and the change that goes along with it. Because, fundamentally, that’s what this journey is: a roller coaster of vulnerability, fear and change.

A friend once told me that my personal world view was like a person standing in a cell, looking out through the bars, judging my experience by the steel in my hands, but not recognizing that if I turned around I’d find there was no wall behind me holding me in. In other words, my prison is of my own making and I have the means to free myself from the confinement.

Even if we accept this metaphor as true for certain aspects of my life and being, there is a difference between having the keys to my own cell and being free. And it’s not just the basic question of choice. Rather, when I choose that freedom and self-direction, I will be directly affecting the comfort, ease, peace of mind of those I love and live with.

So, what’s the upshot of all of this? Honestly? I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m coming to an inflection point. I can feel circumstances converging on a point where the choice to come out or not (or the illusion of that choice to which I still cling) will be taken from me. Because life marches on and either I go with it or get trampled by it. And, as I’ve said, I’m not into trampling. Expectation and intention notwithstanding, if I don’t do something, the universe will do it for me…and maybe not in a way that works or is comfortable for me.

Bottom line: I need to find a way, and quickly, to unite my intention with action and overcome my umbrage at the feeling of expectation foisted on me to do that very thing. Said another way, I gotta get over myself and get on with it!

Lesbians Pay Attention to Your Own Breasts, Too

Absolutely amazing! Read & pass it on!

ButchOnTap

The other day, I had a really neat encounter. I was in San Jose and headed to Monterey for the weekend. Before hitting the road, I had to handle some odds and ends, like picking up stuff from the pharmacy and cleaning up my super-scruffy hawk. I saw a salon near the CVS pharmacy I had stopped at and I headed over to hope for a walk-in shave. It wasn’t quite as nice as my normal place, and it certainly wasn’t edgy or cool. I was a little uneasy as I approached the door, with the small collection of jewelry for sale outside on the sidewalk. Like I said, I was super scruffy, though, so it had to be done.

While hovering just outside the doorway, I noticed a woman inside with a freshly shaved head. At quick glance, she did not appear to be a butch, or the rockstar…

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Catch-up Blogging

This is not an apology, it is a fact: my life has been one high-tension, fast-paced, emotion-filled bundle of blessings and challenges for the last six weeks. As a result, my blogging came to a screeching halt. Something had to give, or my sanity would have.

But fear not! I love this blog and the exercise in self examination that most posts turn out to be. So, I’m back (for today, anyway) to hit some highlights (in no particular order):

– Roller derby totally ROCKS! I got to attend my first match in person not long ago. I bought floor seats, got to shake hands with the teams as they passed my seat before & after the matches…awesome! Definitely going back!

– I can’t decide if I’m fighting a losing battle with trying to come out to my brother and his wife, or not. They show me daily how much they love me. But just as I’m about to pull the trigger, one or both of them makes some slur or slam against gays in general, lesbians in particular. EVERY TIME. It’s uncanny. Maybe they’re trying to tell me (a) we know already, and (2) don’t tell us, because we can’t handle it. *sigh*

– Discovering what you like, how much you can handle in a romantic relationship is both thrilling and terrifying. But, one thing is certain: letting fear stop me from taking a chance would have been a tragic mistake many times more painful than the sadness experienced with an amicable breakup. In the words of @KeepCalm as seen recently on Twitter: “Sometimes you have to let go of something precious
in order to get something priceless.” And I would add that letting go doesn’t have to be a”goodbye forever”. If you are as lucky and blessed as I am, you’ll keep that precious gift in your life as a dear friend even as you develop the priceless relationship into something amazing.

– I recently re-discovered a tiny urban nature preserve in my town. It’s a beautiful arboretum with walking trails and quiet little corners in which to sit and enjoy the beauty of an intentional green space. An added bonus is that it is paid for and maintained by the local public power utility–corporate responsibility in action. And even better, because it’s an engineered green space, it’s a perfect place to have an out-door Skype date without feeling like a jerk for using tech in the middle of nature.

– It’s essentially Summer, but still barely Spring weather here in fly-over country. My fruitless pears bloomed recently, giving me another reason to smile for a couple of weeks. And giving a cardinal a reason to make a rare stop at ground level in my yard.

– Recently, I’ve had cause to be extremely grateful for friends who accept me, despite my scars. One dear friend in particular has made a profound impact on healing one deep wound of my past. With her permission, I’m sharing this snippet of verse that weakly expresses my gratitude for her gift of love and support:
a burden shared, a load of guilt and shame lifted
your open heart reaching out to mine
comfort, strength, courage, peace
these gifts of precious worth have made all the difference

– Finally, can I just say that four months, 120 days, is both an unbearable eternity and the blink of an eye. Patience isn’t my long suit. But, I can wait…I think I can…

– Aaaaaand, this just in: had a wonderful dinner with a dear friend & colleague tonight. We hadn’t seen each other in more than six months, but he immediately spotted a difference in me, a happiness and excitement he hadn’t seen before. So, when he demanded to know what’s up, I told him. I came out to a person in my own circle of in-real-life friends!! And he didn’t even blink, just smiled and told me he was happy for me and gave me a hug after dinner. Just accepted what I had to say without judgement and was happy for me. What an AMAZING feeling!!!! Whew. One down…the rest should be easier from here, right?

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