What The Hell Am I?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the LGBTQ+ acronym, and the reasons why I think expanding the acronym serves to blur differences amongst identities that are actually quite vital and important. Since then, I’ve been thinking about a story I wish I’d told when I wrote that piece.

You may have noticed, if you read me regularly, that I talk an awful lot about dating men. I have written about at least a couple of ex-boyfriends, and I possess quite a few more than that. And yet, when I identify myself in these pages (and out in the world), I always call myself a “lesbian.” I rarely say “queer,” I occasionally say “gay.” I have never identified as bisexual. Even in the days when I’d begun tentatively dating women, I never once uttered the word “bi”. And the reasons were conscious and important. So I’ve realized that when I talked about identities and acronyms, I failed to address a crucial point – that identities are vital precisely because of what they say about our lives and our histories – and I’m living proof of that.

My early dating years were spent dating men exclusively – because that’s what you did as a girl in my home town. It’s what was available. It’s what the model was. Our lives and stories and televisions were filled with young women dating young men. Our houses were filled with mothers and grandmothers and cousins and aunts who had married men. Our churches and sex ed classes both spoke in exclusively straight terms. I called myself “straight” if I called myself anything at all, because “straight” was literally all I knew. Continue reading “What The Hell Am I?”

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Whither Thou Goest

I don’t think anyone ever taught me what it means to be a wife.

As my September wedding approaches, this is something I think about fairly often – maybe more often than I’d like to admit. My brain says it isn’t a question I should have to ask, isn’t something that can be taught. After all, there’s no one “right” way to be a wife. Isn’t the freedom to be anything we want – and to wife any way we want – part of what I’ve been fighting for when I shout the endless shout that is the call for women’s rights?

But the deepest parts of my heart sometimes wonder is this something I’m cut out to do?

Many, many things in my history suggest it is not. When I used to bring boys home in high school, my mom would say to them – jokingly – “Now, you know she’s messy, right? She’s messy and she can’t cook worth a lick.” Both of these things are true, and so even if I knew she was joking, they stung just the same. My mom has always been a brave woman, a tough woman, an absolute bear of a woman. She has never been afraid of doing anything wrong, of being anything wrong. And so she didn’t know the joke would sting. She didn’t understand, I think, how deeply I fear that I am constantly wrong, constantly a mis-fit for anything I try.

As a kid, I knew that I was smart. But that was the only thing I really knew about myself – smart and maybe a little stubborn. I held onto it like a shining talisman. “I’m smart. I can do anything because I’m smart. I don’t need anything else. I don’t need anyone else.” I said it to myself over and over again. But in the back of my mind were all those things I couldn’t do – the things that I thought might form a wife, might make me into someone a person could love. Because in the world where I grew up, that’s the true accomplishment for someone who is beloved – the accomplishment of becoming a wife.

I was embarrassed to want it, but somewhere deep down, it was the only thing I wanted at all.

Continue reading “Whither Thou Goest”

Finding Faith in “Unreal”

It’s no secret that there isn’t a lot of “gay” media out there. It’s why, if you’ve ever hung around lesbians or bisexual women, you’ll hear a lot about The L Word and Orange Is the New Black. Or you’ll hear us talk about shows that aren’t gay per se, but that made us feel better about being weird or different back before we knew why we were weird or different. In other words, we cobble together our own media history as best we can, looking for something – anythingthat looks like us.

And that’s why I was surprised to find myself in tears over my own reflection on a show that by all accounts is the most straight.

Last week I was looking for a new show to watch at the gym, and the writers on my favorite tv site, previously.tv, had been talking up a show called Unreal on – of all things – the Lifetime Network. Unreal is a scripted, fictional show about two women who produce a reality program called Everlastinga not-very-covert stand-in for The Bachelor. If you’re familiar at all with old reality staple The Bachelor, you’ll know the rumors that the program is heavily produced, that the women on the show are sometimes manipulated into saying and doing things they might not otherwise do at will. You know that they’re pumped full of alcohol at every opportunity. You’ll know that one is always picked to be “the villain” and another “the wife”. In short, if you’re familiar at all with the program, you’ll know that it might be hard to work as a producer while maintaining any semblance of self-respect.

That’s the battle that the two lead characters, Quinn and Rachel, fight each episode. Rachel in particular has a feminist past; she mentions all her friends from school who work for public television; she sometimes wears a shirt that says “This Is What A Feminist Looks Like”. A portion of her wants to believe that she’s painting the women on the show in a positive light. But she is constantly undermining her own dreams of purity by putting the ladies in situations she knows, deep down, are manipulative or unfair.

I knew the basic plot of the show when I began watching. I expected to see women portrayed in a way that was complex and interesting. I craved the complexity offered by a show where women could be strong, but not always right. I wanted to see Quinn and Rachel struggle with real, complex life decisions. I wanted to see them make mistakes. And I was not disappointed. the show contained all that and more. What I didn’t expect, though, was for the show to gift me with a gay woman whose story felt just enough like home to make me cry and punch me in the stomach. Continue reading “Finding Faith in “Unreal””

A is for Acronym

Not long ago, I got into an argument on the internet.

Revolutionary, I know. But for me, it’s fairly unusual these days. As much as I love to use my words, and as much as my debate team history would imply I love arguing, I’ve never been good at comment wars. Maybe it’s something about the unending nature of arguing on the internet – the constant “ping” to let you know it’s still happening, and may continue in perpetuity. Or maybe it’s the stories from this election cycle of women being harassed for their political opinions on Twitter. Whatever the reason, when I start replying to a “hot topic,” I usually stop myself and backspace the hell out.

So when I found myself engaging in this particular debate, I surprised myself – especially given that the issue was one I’d never considered one of my “pet” topics.

The discourse centered around the LGBTQIA acronym, and whether it should be expanded. The discussion had been started by some straight allies who were genuinely concerned that they were using it incorrectly, that they hadn’t added enough letters, and that they’d be called out on it. Their concern was genuine, and palpable. They had the best of intentions, and were debating with one another what the current consensus might be among the gay community – and whether they were being bad allies if they weren’t sure what all the letters stood for.

Then, someone (who happened to be a straight man) popped into the conversation and said “Hey! I just heard about this great new version of the acronym! QUILTBAG! Isn’t it amazing! I like it a lot because the ‘quilt’ image evokes things like the AIDS quilt, and also it’s easy to remember. I think we should all start using it!” Continue reading “A is for Acronym”

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”

Journey Over Whiskey Bay

This week, I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw that a friend is having a book published.

Congratulations!” I messaged her. “You’ve worked so hard. I can’t wait to read it!”

And I meant those words. I’m proud of her. She’s brilliant, and she deserves all the success she’s had. She worked hard to get a tenured position in a field that’s openly hostile to women. She built her success increments at a time, and she’s finally being rewarded with the spoils of all that hard work.

But my celebration of her success was tinged with a sense of shame in myself.

There was a time when I’d planned to publish too. There was a time when I’d chased a tenure track career and the respect of a difficult field. There was a time when I’d hoped to travel the world and give talks and organize lectures.

There was a time when I thought I could control the way my life turned out. Continue reading “Journey Over Whiskey Bay”

#MLU – The Town That I Come From

I come from the land of Duck Dynasty.

Not the same city, exactly, but the same idea – the same roots. I grew up in South Louisiana, but my mother’s roots were planted in the same ground as Miss Kay Robertson, the matriarch of the bearded boys who rake in dollars for A&E. Miss Kay’s family ran a store in the tiny town where my grandparents’ parents ran farms and (*sigh*) plantations. My mother went to college in Monroe, LA and my grandparents taught in the North Louisiana school system their entire lives.

I have the stamp of the Deep White Shameful South all over me, is what I’m saying. And while I have never shaken the hand of a Robertson, I might as well be a family member. My mom’s cousins (whom I call my aunts, because it’s the South and everyone’s your aunt) are all big breasted laughing crying praying women who love their children and rule their kitchens. My cousins fish the lakes, grow out their scraggly beards, and run just short of trouble most of the time. They hunt with Robertson duck calls. They have babies and take those babies to church. They tease me for being the egghead with the academic father who moved us to the city and forgot how to fish. They pray faithfully to the pastel Jesus in the paintings, the one from Sunday school, the one who expects you to show up to service two days a week with your shoes shined and the dirt washed off your mouth.

The one who would turn me out of his heart and his house for being gay. That pastel Jesus. Continue reading “#MLU – The Town That I Come From”