#CPR – Where the Buffalo Roam

Guest post by Devin.

Tumble weeds, cowboys, and a two million year old supervolcano that is overdue for an eruption, oh my. This is where I was born; the heart of the cowboy state. Well, almost. I’m directly from Casper, which is just a little East of the middle of the state, but an A for effort right?

I would be lying if I said part of my heart doesn’t still long for Wyoming. Nothing can compare to that wide open sky. The sunsets are phenomenal. But the people, oh man. While the state has, sporadically, done liberal things, it is still considered conservative in most ways. The state’s governor, two senators and the (only) house delegation are all Republican.

I mean let’s get to the elephant in the room: Matthew Shepard. I was living in Wyoming when that happened. I was young and didn’t hear about it at the time; I’m sure due to the graphic nature of the crime. But I was less than 200 miles from him. I know that is still quite a ways away and I didn’t know him, but realizing this fact; realizing that this horrific, brutal crime was committed in the same state that I considered home, was enough to make me sick. Continue reading “#CPR – Where the Buffalo Roam”

No Monsters Here

Mothers-in-law are seemingly the stuff of nightmares: they are the antagonists of horror stories told between friends and coworkers, and as villains in pop-culture, right up there with evil step-mothers.

I’ve had my share of horror stories concerning the parents (especially mothers) of people I’ve dated. I dated a Filipino guy in high school, and his mother would lecture him – right in front of me – about how he should be dating a nice, Catholic, Asian girl. I am neither Catholic nor Asian. It was about as awkward as you’d expect.

My only multi-year relationship (aside from my wife) was with a Canadian-Indian son of immigrant parents. His parents refused to acknowledge me once we started dating, and for two and a half years I was not allowed at his house. He would never tell them when he was with me. His parents frequently pressured him to not only leave me, but also tried setting him up with other women.

This was all before I came out – imagine the reaction if I had been openly queer, too! So it only makes sense that wading into the queer community’s dating pool was a little intimidating, especially concerning parents of prospective partners. Continue reading “No Monsters Here”

The Other Closet

My journey to accept feminism has been, perhaps rather predictably, deeply influenced by the women I’ve looked up to in my life.

My small-town upbringing showed more in the feminism department than many others, probably because I’d never cared enough to research feminism for myself. If I had researched it earlier, I would have realized that it was really about equality for all gender identities. Instead, I thought that to call yourself a feminist meant that you were also a misandrist, and I often ignorantly equated the term with women who verbally or physically attacked men.

Now that I call myself a feminist, I find these admissions shameful and upsetting. However, I think it’s important to be honest about it, because I know I’m not the only one who has walked a similar path.

From mid-2013 through to the summer of 2015, I worked as a receptionist and sales person in Edmonton, Alberta. I grew up a lot during my time in that job, although that’s hardly surprising since I was only eighteen when I started there. It just so happens that Mo (yes, that one) was my coworker at that job.

One day, feminism came up in the workplace. Myself, Mo, and our manager Barb were discussing the term. I honestly don’t remember the contents of the conversation, but I do remember saying my then go-to line when someone talked to me about feminism: “I’m not a feminist. I don’t like any sort of -ism. I want everybody to support each other. One gender isn’t better than the other…” and so on, and so forth. I’m sure you’ve heard this kind of response before.

I remember that Mo seemed pretty affronted, and I think that my declaration ended the conversation. It didn’t come up again in the workplace, but because I had always looked up to Mo and appreciated her opinions, I started to second-guess myself. Was I wrong about feminism?

I knew I had been wrong about feminism when I watched Emma Watson’s 2014 speech to the United Nations in support of the HeforShe campaign. I am very much a product of the Harry Potter generation, and I grew up worshiping Hermione. When Emma Watson left the franchise and set herself apart as an activist and talented actor, my admiration followed. Hearing the true definition of feminism from Ms. Watson led to a deep shift in my life. I remember crying when I watched her speech, both because of my awe at her strength, and because of the shame I felt for my own ignorance prior to that moment.

By the time I started university this past September, I was already identifying as a feminist. I didn’t know very much about the theory’s history, or its different branches, but I knew that I believed in equal rights and intersectionality. I hadn’t met anyone who had openly identified themselves as a feminist to me, aside from Mo, so Tumblr and Facebook were really my only outlets to explore feminism.

And then I started school, and the flood gates opened up. As I learned more and more about feminism, I realized that more and more of my friends were identifying themselves as feminists, and I was less and less inclined to keep myself in the feminist closet. In particular, two amazing professors helped me to embrace my feminism: Dr. Andrea Cuellar and Natasha Fairweather.

Dr. Cuellar covered women & gender studies for a significant portion of her semester-long class on Anthropological Archaeology. Her approach was one of ruthless honesty and critical thinking, regardless of the gender or theoretical standing of the authors we were studying. It’s no exaggeration to say that by the end of that semester, Dr. Cuellar had razed my ideas of gender in history to the ground, and then completely rebuilt them.

For example, my idyllic view of the glorious “Mother Goddess” who had supposedly presided over most of human history was destroyed. It was largely replaced with an understanding that humans have always been flawed and confused when it comes to the idea of gender identity. Even in cultures where sex/gender dichotomies (themselves questionable sometimes) seem not to have been important, there were usually other ways of dividing the population and subjugating the many in support of the few. Dr. Cuellar showed me that feminist theory is an excellent middle ground for archaeologists and anthropologists to take – and I could also see that it served as an excellent standpoint for me to take in the rest of life, too.

Likewise, Natasha Fairweather often used feminist theory as a more well-rounded alternative to the often polarizing extremes of Sociological thought. She was my professor for my first Sociology class, in the same semester as Dr. Cuellar’s Anthro/Arky class, and I could probably sing her praises for an entire article. It was Natasha who gave me a proper timeline of the waves of feminism, and introduced me to the various identifiers that feminists use (ie. Liberal, social, radical, etc.). It was also Natasha that showed me how one could actively integrate feminism into their life, both personally and professionally, without becoming a misandrist.

During this very formative semester, I posted something on Facebook about being a feminist. Shortly thereafter, Mo sent me a text that said she was happy to see that I was identifying myself as such. She told me about how shocked she’d been when I had actively denied being a feminist, back in Edmonton, because everything she’d known about me prior to that moment had indicated that I was a feminist. I felt intensely gratified that my friend had recognized this change in my thought.

My feminism is something I wear on my sleeve, now. I talk about it regularly. I do my best to educate my friends and family when they have questions, and I also shut up and listen in the more common event that they know a lot more than me. Hell, it’s even become a significant part of how I choose what TV shows to watch (Jessica Jones or The Ascent of Woman, anyone?). My feminism is central to my identity, right up there with my sexuality and spirituality. I am intensely grateful for the many amazing women who have guided me to this place, from friends, to coworkers, to professors. Because of them, I’ve learned that the patriarchy hurts all of us, regardless of our gender identity, and that we all need to actively work to eradicate it.

I’m proud to say that I’ve come a heck of a long way from the naïve girl who moved to Edmonton back in 2013, and I’m very excited to see where I go next. I want you to know that if you’re questioning your identity as a feminist, it gets better. Go ahead and come out of that other closet. We’re waiting to welcome you with open arms.


Author

small jay

Evolution of an Orientation

Guest post by Devin.

Both of my parents are artists. My dad is an illustrator and my mom a photographer, and they were married for the entirety of my childhood. Growing up I visited my fair share of museums. I loved them. They were so quiet and serene. The modern art exhibits were by far my favorites. I loved how different they all were; the styles were easy to differentiate and every one was beautiful. But it was the classical art that fascinated me. How open they were with their bodies, how the naked body was equated with innocence and purity. I had never seen the human form celebrated until I discovered them. Showing skin was at the time, and still is, thought of as sexual and vulgar.

I remember staring up at The Birth of Venus at six or seven years old and noticing how different she was compared to images of beauty of the day. Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez couldn’t hold a candle to Venus in my mind.

They say hindsight is 20/20 right? Maybe someone could have pieced together the clues and realized I was of the queer variety long ago, but probably not. Most of my queer cues happened when I was alone, doing things and not knowing why. Take, for instance, the time when I got new Barbie dolls and immediately stripped them of their clothes. I was entranced by the curves and smoothness of them. Innocent child curiosity. Continue reading “Evolution of an Orientation”

Bad Lesbian Advice

I was a late bloomer in the romance department. For that, we can blame my introverted nature, or my low self-esteem, or maybe just my lack of prospects. When I was 22, I left my rural homeland and moved to a big city full of strangers. I moved because, deep down, I had a sneaking suspicion that I might not be the only lesbian in the world.

Incredibly, the hordes of queer ladies I had hoped to be welcomed by failed to materialize. Day after day I would walk out my door to go to work, and I would fail to find the perfect woman waiting for me on my doorstep, or at my bus stop, or draped across my desk.

I didn’t get it. I was here, I was queer, and my city was like “so what?”

I spent my twenties in a sort of passive denial. I kept hoping that I would meet my soulmate organically, while living my ordinary life. Years passed, and friends kept insisting that I had to be proactive if I wanted to meet women. But taking good advice wasn’t exactly my “thing” back then. Instead, I opted for falling in love with straight friends, over and over again, repeatedly breaking my own heart. This proved super effective and healthy.

I finally gave in and joined a queer social group at the age of 31, in the hopes of making queer friends and finding women to date. This very straightforward approach proved incredibly successful (hi, Kate!) but the process wasn’t without its hiccups. As I immersed myself in the metaphorical hot tub of the gay lady community, I was given several pieces of advice from fellow lesbians that made me raise a roughly hewn eyebrow (or two):


SUGGESTION 1: STEER CLEAR OF BISEXUAL WOMEN

On the surface, the queer community is all about inclusiveness. Just look at our acronym! My goal was to meet gay ladies, but as I got to know the people in my women’s group, I quickly realized that calling everyone a “lesbian” was inaccurate. We had bisexuals, and trans women, and gender non-conforming folks. There was even a cis straight woman!

We met twice a month. Sometimes the room was bursting at the seams with women, and other nights there were only a handful of us. I noticed that, when the group was small enough, when it was lesbian enough, people were less careful with their words.

This group was meant to be a safe space for women to speak openly. That’s harder than it sounds. You can let people speak their minds without judgment, or you can allow everyone a space to feel safe and respected. But doing both can be tricky. And so I was warned away from dating bisexual women.

I heard all the old, tired stereotypes. Bisexual women aren’t trustworthy. They won’t commit. They’re just experimenting. You’ll only get hurt. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

The lesbians spouting this garbage assured me that they knew what they were talking about because they had experience with bisexual women. As if that allowed them to speak about an entire group of people. If that’s any different from saying “don’t date black chicks,” I fail to see the distinction.

Verdict: I ignored Suggestion 1.


SUGGESTION 2: HIT IT AND QUIT IT

Throughout the course of several meetings, I opened up about the fact that I was still a virgin at age 31. Since literally everyone else in the group had more experience with women than I did, I deferred to their knowledge base. I quickly became their “project,” which made me slightly uneasy. But I knew I would have to stretch out of my comfort zone if I wanted to achieve my goal of lady-loving, so I kept my peace and told myself humility was a good thing.

I had made a new friend during the Pride Parade. She was smart, and sensitive, and a good listener. We hung out a lot, and over time I came to realize that she had feelings for me. How simple things would have been if I’d felt the same way back! But the attraction just wasn’t there.

Some of my group mates believed that my only obstacle to getting some action was the fact that no one was expressing interest. They were delighted to discover that there was someone out there who wanted me. On two separate occasions, I was advised to “hit it and quit it” with this chick.

I had no desire to have sex with someone I wasn’t attracted to, especially someone who had feelings for me. It seemed mean, and I was pretty sure it would make me feel worse instead of better.

Verdict: I ignored Suggestion 2.


SUGGESTION 3: BE MORE MASCULINE

Once I told the group that I was interested in women that were somewhat girly/feminine, I was told that I had to dress and behave a certain way in order to get anyone to date me.  This included changing my wardrobe to more masculine clothing, being more assertive, paying for everything, and learning how to drive.  (Oh, and also buying a car to drive.)

I didn’t feel butch; at least, not the idea of butch I had grown up with. But maybe I was wrong. I’ve always been quick to assume others know better than me in situations just like this. I was the novice lesbian, after all. What did I know?

So I listened as they told me I was meant to dress dapper, and pick my date up, and pay for dinner. Essentially, I was expected to “be the man.” This sounded very weird to me. Weren’t we a bunch of feminists raging against the patriarchy? Why were we including men in our lesbian activities?

Verdict: I dressed butch for a friend’s wedding, and I looked amazing. My behaviour, however, remained neutral.


SUGGESTION 4: BE MORE FEMININE

While half the group was telling me to embrace the butch aesthetic, the other half was insisting that I would never attract anyone unless I showed more skin.  Low-cut blouses and/or tank tops were suggested as a way to draw attention to my woman-curves.  Emphasize the goods, they said. Make sure people know they’re up for grabs (so to speak).  And would it kill you to put on a little make-up?  Can you at least look like you’re making an effort?

Obviously, I wanted date prospects to know that I cared about looking good for them. But I struggled with having the first idea how to do that.

I was accustomed to wearing unisex t-shirts, sweaters and hoodies. I shied away from anything hinting at cleavage, which left my top options (toptions!) pretty limited. The ladies assured me that showing a little bit of cleave would be flattering, and wouldn’t always be terrifying; it was something I would get used to and would help me gain confidence about my body.

I wanted to be seen as attractive. But it was starting to feel like the only way I could achieve that sort of support was through doing exactly as I was told. Would I have to follow someone else’s directions to the tee if I ever wanted to attract a lady? Wouldn’t that require an impossible level of upkeep?

I would have felt much more comfortable having someone interested in me based on the clothes I would wear everyday, or more to the point, based on things that had nothing to do with what I was wearing. I didn’t want to have to try so hard; not at this. I was willing to put infinite effort in when it came to sensitivity, and understanding, and making my woman laugh. But I was never going to be that girl who spent two hours “putting my look together.” Just, no.

Verdict: I bought a few tank tops that I rarely wear outside of the house.


SUGGESTION 5: SURPRISE THAT SPECIAL SOMEONE WITH SEXUAL ASSAULT!

I eventually started dating a woman (hi, Kate!) but this didn’t stop the all-knowing lesbians from offering tips. Now, instead of “how to get a woman” advice, I was getting “how to satisfy a woman” advice. I figured the ladies probably knew their shit in this regard, so I was all ears. At first.

Some of it was common sense. Some of it was logistics. Most of it I already knew. Still, I listened intently as the ladies described their sexual experiences and suggested fun things I might like to try with a partner.

Then one day, in a conspiratorial whisper, one of them suggested I wake my girlfriend up in the morning by inserting a finger into her.  Because she can’t say no if she’s not awake, amirite, ladies?

Verdict: *disgusted shudder*


The lesson I took away from all of this was that, in many ways, this group of lesbians was clinging to outdated stereotypes harder than the traditional-minded straight folk they were meant to be a haven from.  The importance of filling certain roles, of dismissing certain groups outright, of refusing to be myself, felt completely counter to what I expected from a queer safe space. I also found it decidedly un-feminist to suggest rape as a way of being “playful” in bed.

I had walked into that women’s group expecting to learn a few things, and I did. I learned that opinions can vary widely, even among lesbians. I learned that having romantic experience with women doesn’t make you an expert on them. I learned that even virgins know a few things.

People love to give advice. More often than not, they give it with the best of intentions, but that doesn’t mean you have to take it. Your inner voice matters, and you shouldn’t do anything that doesn’t feel right to you. Go with your instincts. You’ll do ok.

Trust me. I’m a lesbian.


Author

small mo

CLEXA: The Best Ship That Ever Shipped

Arrr ye matey, tharr be spoilers ahead!

A quick recap:

It’s been 97 years since a planet-wide nuclear war. A very small percentage of humanity escaped into space, and has since been biding time in The Ark, a space station orbiting post-apocalypse earth. It is ruled with the iron fist of the democratically elected chancellor, and any rule breakers above the age of 18 are “floated” – sent out an air lock to their death, floating into frozen space. Under-age rule breakers are kept confined, awaiting a retrial on their 18th birthday, when they will either rejoin The Ark’s society, or be floated.

The air starts running out on The Ark. Dramatic, drastic measures are taken but little time is gained for the inhabitants of The Ark. There proves to be a chance that Earth is becoming habitable again, so the decision is made to send the juvenile delinquents down to Earth as an experiment. With futuristic FitBits locked to their wrists, 100 good-looking teens are shot down to Earth. The bracelets let The Ark know how their bodies react to the climate – and radiation – on Earth.

No surprise, it turns out to be habitable. The JDs get all Lord of the Flies and a primitive culture and leadership develops. One of these leaders is Clarke, a relatively goody-two-shoes who tries to maintain her moral high ground, but finds herself quickly devolving with the rest of the no-good kids.

But for a select number of people, it’s been habitable the entire time humanity has been waiting it out in space. In “modern” society’s absence, a primitive, tribal culture has developed. These are the Grounders. The JDs are the Sky People. Season one is basically Sky People vs Grounders. But then the adults from The Ark come to earth, and shit gets real. Continue reading “CLEXA: The Best Ship That Ever Shipped”

#YHZ – Small Town Homo

(Originally posted on May 12, 2013 at I Dig Your Girlfriend.)

I grew up in a tiny hamlet in rural Nova Scotia. Our backyard was big enough to play baseball in, and we lost more than a few fly balls in the woods behind it. My grandparents lived across the road from us, and aunts, uncles, and cousins were within walking distance. Flowers and blueberries grew wild, and on summer evenings the air sounded like crickets.

The beach was less than a ten-minute drive away. I would spend whole days there with my cousins, braving the cold water and painfully stumbling over uneven rocks to get to the wavy sand that waited for us waist or chest deep. We walked along the shore looking for shells, wearing our towels as skirts and letting the sun dry us. We chatted on damp picnic blankets, crunching slightly sandy potato chips and wishing the juice boxes had stayed cold.

Cable TV didn’t become available until I was seven or eight. Sugar cereals (beyond Alpha-Bits and Honeycombs) were almost exotic… we had to go all the way to “town” for those. Strangers weren’t really a thing – on any given Sunday drive, Mom and Dad could tell me who lived in every single house we passed. Whenever we needed a babysitter, my folks had dozens to choose from.

People knew whose kid you were just by looking at you. If you were getting into mischief in the afternoon, your parents knew about it by the time you came home for supper. For better or worse, you really felt like the whole village was raising you. Continue reading “#YHZ – Small Town Homo”

Family

The streets of New Orleans are bent with the memory of water.

If you know anything about us at all, you know that ten years ago the city suffered the ravages of Hurricane Katrina. When you drive through the streets today, you can see the dents left by the water and the turmoil. Potholes and sink holes are still cropping up across town, and in some areas when new rain falls, it collects in the center of the streets, which appear to have nearly bent in half under the weight of all the water they carried.

I wasn’t here during The Storm. I was away in California, where fires sometimes consume the mountains, but things are rebuilt and life goes on.

But I do know what it means to be bent under a weight, to carry memories that change the shape of your foundation. Continue reading “Family”

Losing My Religion

(Originally posted on September 23, 2012 at I Dig Your Girlfriend.)

I was brought up Catholic in a small, white hamlet in mainland Nova Scotia. This was pretty much the norm for kids raised in small, white hamlets in mainland Nova Scotia.

I was a very obedient child right up until I was a very obedient adolescent. I went to church every Saturday night until I joined the youth choir and started going every Sunday morning instead.  Week to week, I was there in both body and spirit.

My elementary school was not a Catholic school, but it was situated in an overwhelmingly Catholic community. As such, we had religion classes during school hours.

Whenever religion class was about to start, the one girl in my grade who wasn’t Catholic would be ushered to another classroom. I think she spent the time colouring in a colouring book or something. I was never really sure. The fact that she would get sent to another room always felt strange to me. I wondered how it made her feel to be sent away for not belonging.

This was the first crack in my Catholic shell. Continue reading “Losing My Religion”