Monday, December 16, 2013

The Pixie Cut

I have wanted a pixie cut for as long as I can remember. Definitely since seeing Winona Ryder in Girl, Interrupted. There's only one problem: I am a chubby girl.

When I say chubby, I mean that I am a 5'6'' tall woman with wide hips and large breasts (40-42DD) that wears a size 18-20 in women's jeans (US sizes). I have a defined waist and I don't carry a lot of fat in my face, but still I am what most people--especially people in any business to do with appearances--would call inarguably fat.

And until a couple of months ago, I also had long, thick, baby fine, wavy-curly auburn hair that reached the middle of my back and was so heavy that it gave me migraines if I put it into a ponytail or braided it too tightly. It was gorgeous--tending to go to shiny princess ringlets if I braided it wet and then took it down at the end of the day--but it was also an incredibly high-maintenance, expensive, time-consuming mess to care for. On top of that, it was too hot in the summer and blew everywhere in the windy winter. For a while I put up with it, because it was pretty and made feeling ultra-feminine effortless, because I could do a lot of things with it (Katniss braid, oh Katniss braid), and because I just couldn't see myself as a short-haired girl no matter how much I liked the idea of it.

Then one morning, a funny thing happened when I looked in the mirror: I despised my long hair. It didn't look or feel like me anymore. It felt too heavy, and too warm, and I started to get this neurotic idea that my scalp was never clean no matter how much I scrubbed, because all my hair was blocking the water and shampoo from my skin. This is probably ridiculous, but that's how I felt. Ew. I was finally ready for my pixie cut.

Here's the problem: I have had pixie cuts before, but I have never had the pixie cut. I have never had a haircut that was short and sleek and made me feel pretty without giving me anything to hide behind. I have had plenty of indescribably awful bowl cuts, scene spikes, and even one crew cut that nearly put me off the search for the perfect pixie forever and ever, amen. Every single time I try, I end up with a horrible hair cut, and every single time it comes with some bullshit caveat about it being my fault for trying, because pixie cuts are for skinny girls.

I am here to tell you, that line is the biggest pile of fat-shaming bullshit in the universe. Any hair stylist that tells you that you can't look good with a pixie because your face is too round or because you're not the right "body type" isn't a very good stylist, and I would not trust them with my hair for even a second. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Having had my fill of stylists who try to femme it up and end up giving me some incredibly awful haircut that I never asked for, stylists who badger me and talk me down to something longer and easier, and stylists who give me a hatchet job haircut and tell me it looks bad because of my face instead of their utter lack of skill at their trade, I decided I didn't need a stylist. What I needed was a barber.

My logic went thus: I want a short haircut. Barbers do short hair all the time. They're not going to try to do a bunch of fancy, frilly shit to my hair. They'll keep it simple and do what I asked for, because that's literally all they do. And there just happens to be a barber in the building I work in, so I went down there during my lunch break and asked for an appointment.

The guy was terrified. He was actually afraid to cut my hair! Granted, I did have a lot of hair. But he was totally unwilling to believe that I actually wanted a men's haircut. I even brought him pictures of Misha Collins--the inspiration for the cut I wanted--and he still wasn't willing to cut my hair. The lack of confidence and the unwillingness told me all I needed to know. Even if I could talk him into it, this wasn't the place for me. I don't want to have to strong-arm someone into doing something they're not confident they can do well, especially when I'm going to have to wear the results of their work on my head for however long.

In desperation at this point, I went to my roommate and asked for her help. She always gets amazing haircuts that not only look great that day, but grow out gracefully until she has time to get them cut again. That was exactly what I needed, so I asked, and she directed me to Hair by Christine & Co. I browsed their site, checked out each stylist's portfolio, printed out about a dozen photos of Misha Collins from different angles, and made an appointment with Patrick, who had the most short hairstyles in his gallery. Then, to insure against chickening out, I came home from work the night before my appointment, put my hair in pigtails, and cut each pigtail off at my chin. I hyperventilated for a few minutes in front of the mirror, but overall, losing all that hair was a real relief. I thought, if six inches of it feels this good, imagine how great it'll feel when it's all gone.

The next afternoon I arrived at my appointment on time and armed with photos, ready to defend my cut of choice and cautiously hopeful--my roommate gave them great reviews--but in my heart of hearts fully expecting to be disappointed once again. I met Patrick, explained what I wanted, showed him the photos, and explained what I had done the night before. He looked horrified at the thought of someone cutting their hair off with kitchen scissors, understandably so, but he simply said he could do that, and we were off.

A good half hour later, I stared at the girl in the mirror. My hair was gone. I had watched as Patrick carefully snipped at each later of hair, removing the uneven bob I'd given myself to slowly reveal...my pixie cut.

The Pixie Cut.

It was the haircut I had wanted since I was fifteen, finally realized on my head a full decade later. It involved a lot of meticulous shaping and layering, a good bit of thinning out on top to keep it from standing up straight, and quite a lot of detailed work around my ears and in the back, at the nape of my neck. And it was completely worth it. It was exactly what I wanted.

I thanked Patrick profusely. Probably too much. I went home and spent an inordinate amount of time just playing with my new hair, seeing how many different ways I could comb and spike and flatten and curl it--using nothing but my fingers--to get different looks. I loved it then, and I continued to love it later.

Now, two months on, it's grown and thickened back up a bit. I have a hilarious rooster spike in the back of my head when I wake up in the morning, but a little water or light-hold pomade, and I'm ready to go. My scalp feels clean, and I'm pretty sure a normal-sized bottle of shampoo will now last me around six months. If I'm having a leather-and-biker-boots day (they do occasionally happen), I can spike the front up messily and feel like a total badass. If I'm having a day where honey badger don't give a shit, I can just comb it down and part it on the side, and have it be plain and simple. If I'm feeling extra girly, I can accessorize it with a headband or curl it forward over my forehead and framing my face. It's also fun, when I'm reading something and trying to concentrate, to run my hand through it until it sticks straight up and I look like a mad scientist, post-lab explosion.

It's also done a great deal, I think, for my self-confidence. There's no more hiding behind my hair. It's just me and my eyes, cheekbones, and smile against the world. I can wear dangly earrings without getting them lost and/or tangled in all my hair. I can do dramatic eye makeup without feeling like it's competing with something else. Or I can wear no makeup at all and just be, as a friend of mine once put it, "plain Jane and pretty." It takes so much less effort than all that long hair, and the end result is much more satisfying. A couple of weeks after I got it cut, I got mistaken for Kelly Clarkson on the train on my way to work. Even after I tried to tell the guy he had the wrong girl, he just nodded and gave me a sly grin like "oh, you gotta be discreet, I get it."

I love my awesome pixie cut. I can't imagine going back.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Act I, Scene I: Carrots and Beets

LIGHTS UP ON AN EMPTY STAGE, A SOLITARY FIGURE STANDING DOWN AND CENTER. THE FIGURE SQUINTS INTO THE CROWD, SQUARES HER SHOULDERS, AND BEGINS TO SPEAK.

FIGURE: I dislike beets, but I like carrots. I dislike the texture, smell, and taste of beets intensely...but carrots are delicious and crunchy and wonderful.

Now, I could theoretically undergo therapy in order to come to terms with eating beets on a regular basis, and denying myself carrots. I could learn not to gag when I smell beets and manage to force them down for every meal for the rest of my life. I could commit to a life devoid of the crisp, sweet deliciousness of carrots.

But...why the fuck would I do that to myself? Why, when eating carrots makes me happy and has no negative effects on me, or anyone else? Why, when eating beets makes me unhappy and has no positive effects on me or anyone else? Why would I force myself to deny something I naturally want when it hurts no one and is nobody's goddamn business anyway?

Moreover, why is so much of the world so fucking worried about what kind of vegetables I eat? Don't you people have lives?!

THE FIGURE'S FRIEND STEPS IN FROM STAGE LEFT AND CALLS TO THE FIGURE IN THE CENTER.

FRIEND: What if the beet economy is suffering?

FIGURE: But it's NOT! Beets are selling like hotcakes! 90% of the world's population just can't get enough of beets! In fact, there aren't enough beets to go around! And anyway, even if this were the case, how is the other 10% of the world switching to carrots going to crash the beet economy when literally everyone else in the world is dying to get their mouths around some beets? Not to mention that of the 10%, there are some who do still enjoy the occasional beet! Or some of them like beets just as much as they like carrots! Some of them don't like either and abstain all together...but some of them don't care for either and still eat one or both occasionally! Or some of them don't like carrots, they like only beets but don't fit into the gender binary! THE BEETS WILL GET EATEN, I PROMISE!

FRIEND EXITS STAGE LEFT, LOOKING FRIGHTENED.

FIGURE: JUST LET ME EAT MY GODDAMN VEGETABLES AND LEAVE ME ALONE!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

My character limits don't have time for your grammar police.

Grammar is a wonderful thing. It's a useful tool. It can make our attempts to express ourselves through the written and spoken word more elegant and easier to understand. But grammar is not universal. It's not all-important. And as part of the medium, it should never get in the way of the message.

Bear in mind, I am saying this as a writer, avid reader, and all-around lifelong lover of the written word:
  • Grammar policing text messages is elitist bullshit.
  • Grammar policing twitter is elitist bullshit.
  • Grammar policing most social media platforms is elitist bullshit.
  • 60-80% of grammar policing, in general, is elitist bullshit.
Why do I feel this way? Because most of the time when people grammar police in these situations they're doing it to feel superior, not because they're actually having a problem understanding the content of the message in front of them. It's intelligence-by-numbers, whereby if you don't do certain things that unintelligent people do (text speak, reading magazines or tabloids, preferring movies, playing Cafe World on facebook, etc), you will be correctly regarded as intellectually superior to people who do those things.

You call a friend and get their voicemail. A moment later you receive a text that says "@ work, call u l8er." Do you really have a problem understanding what your friend is trying to say? No. Would you have gotten the message any better if they'd taken the extra time out of their work day to type out "I'm at work. I'll call you later"? No. Was this message part of a document submitted in an academic or professional setting to an authority figure, with something important at stake? No. So get down off your high horse, text "k," and be done with it! The only thing you're doing is wasting time and synapse sparks on feeding your superiority complex.

One of the bloodiest battlegrounds in this (relatively quiet and extremely nerdy) culture war is in the realm of social media. In a given social media environment, its long-term denizens will develop quirks of language that often evolve directly from the form, function, and use of the platform. Twitter users learn to either be incredibly pithy or bend the rules of grammar back in on themselves in order to squeeze everything they want to say into 140 characters. Tumblr is effusive, emotive, reactionary...so when you've piled the hyperbole as high as it will stack and still failed to capture what you're feeling, you start taking out some words and intentionally misspelling and, somehow, this accomplishes your goal (WHAT? AIR!). Facebook, to some extent, becomes a conglomerate of every other platform's trend, because we all hate it and yet use it in conjunction with whatever corner of the internet we consider our forever home. And for a time, life is good.

Then, inevitably, in come two types of people that drive everyone else straight up the wall: old fogies, and English Lit majors who have been brainwashed into thinking that in order to be considered intelligent they have to act and think like old fogies. Instead of doing what any polite visitor to another place should know to do and learning the customs, they bring their Puritanical devotion to forms of language that are completely irrelevant to the place they now find themselves in and try to shove it down the original inhabitants' throats. In short, they come as conquerors, to show all us tech zombie simpletons how civilized folk are supposed to communicate.

Except that, again...their rules are largely irrelevant. Who cares that it's spelled Y-O-U when "u" gets the point across just as well and there are only 140 characters available in which to deliver your message? Why does it matter that a sentence began with "and" or "but" if it makes the article flow better? So the OP didn't use the Oxford comma consistently...well maybe they actually did hire two strippers named JFK and Stalin. Or, you know, maybe they had more than one sentence containing a list and some of the items were compound while others were not.

And no, I'm not saying that we shouldn't edit for typos, misspellings, and the like. We should all be conscious of what we're putting to paper or, in this case, screen. What we shouldn't do is nitpick about comma placement or the use of perfectly legible shorthand so much that we are incapable of absorbing messages rather than just words arranged according to a syntax. After all, perfect grammar is only useful if you actually have something worth saying.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The most wonderful time of the year (and Christmas can suck it)

I love Halloween. No, strike that. I adore Halloween. There is not a single other holiday that even approaches the level of enthusiasm I hold for this particular night, including Christmas.

Why? Well, I'll tell you.

As you may have gathered by now if you've been reading my blog before this post, I was raised in a very conservative, religious household, by my grandmother. She had a penchant for reciting Bible verses for any situation. Some of these, like the benediction she whispered over me before I went to sleep every night in lieu of a lullaby*, were beautiful. I still find comfort in them to this day. Others sat less well, and the older I got the more problematic they were for me. In the latter group, her absolute favorite verse was Philippians 4:8 (KJV):

"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."

This Bible verse was the basis for my grandmother's way of dealing with the hardships and darkness of real life: she ignored them as much as possible. If she were in a bad mood, she would divert her thoughts to good things. If she felt like crying, she would listen to happy music. She didn't like to watch the news because it was all tragedy. She didn't like to look too hard at the dark underbelly or the hidden, sinister meaning of anything. These things were not true, honest, just, pure, lovely, or of good report. So she didn't think about them. And it was a constant source of dismay and worry for her that I couldn't seem to do the same.

I love the dark underbelly. I'm not satisfied until I've sought out the sinister in the seemingly perfect and dragged it out into the light of day for everyone to see. I question everything until I have no questions left, and then I question why I have no questions. I don't listen to happy music when I'm sad. I listen to sad music, and I cry bitterly. If you think of emotions as a box of physical objects, her solution was tape that box shut, shove it in the back corner of a closet, and close the door. Out of sight, out of mind. My solution was to dump the box out on the floor, sift through and examine it all, and throw everything I didn't need away. Better out than in.

I'm not saying one works better than the other, because I think both methods have their place, and one may work better or more often for some people than for others. I'm just saying that what worked for her never worked for me, and it was a source of a lot of contention between us during my formative years. This ranged from gentle admonishments to full-on screaming matches. At times, she claimed I was possessed by a "spirit of rebellion" that would someday lead me to destruction. Yes, she actually used the word "destruction."

This fight came to a head every year around Halloween. In addition to being an enthusiastic looker into the abyss, I was melodramatic, attention-seeking, and had a serious sweet tooth. And what is the current mainstream method of celebrating Halloween, if not a public performance of the macabre and strange in exchange for massive amounts of candy?

Around the time school started, I would begin planning my epic Halloween costume. I got ideas from books, from history class, from movies, from television shows I liked...I had a trunk full of dress-up clothes in my closet that I could mix and match to various effects. Over the years I have been Princess Leia, Queen Elizabeth I, Pippi Longstocking, Queen Amidala (I had/have a thing for Star Wars), Hermione Granger, Sally Ragdoll, and the angel Castiel, among other things. My favorite thing to do in class instead of listen to the teacher--aside from read scary books that I couldn't bring home because I wasn't technically allowed to have them--was to plan my next brilliant Halloween costume. And each year, inevitably, my plans fell short of the reality for one reason and one reason only: my grandmother vehemently opposed the celebration of Halloween.

She was convinced it was an "evil" holiday, and that celebrating it was "letting the devil get a foothold." She was forever on guard against such footholds, but I personally didn't see the harm in running all over town dressed in a costume and demanding candy from the neighbors.

I unfortunately have a people-pleasing bone somewhere in my traitorous body, so most of the time if she was that dead-set against something I would go along with it, if only to keep the peace. Halloween was not one of those times. I would argue and fight and sulk and eventually burst into tears because I was just so tired of having to fight this hard just to be able to celebrate a fun holiday...and she would relent, grudgingly, swear it was the last year I'd get to do it, and let me go. My costumes were rarely what I had originally envisioned, and the week before was always spent in absolute misery, but I didn't care. I would take what I could get. It was both a lesson in managing expectations, and the first instance I can remember in which I asserted my independence and determinedly let my freak flag fly.

I once had a boyfriend point out to me that I seemed to have an automatic affinity for anything subversive. I balked; it sounded like the same thing my grandmother used to throw at me, about my "spirit of rebellion." She often accused me of having problems with authority and rebelling just to rebel. I hated that more than anything. I hated having all of my convictions dismissed because I was a teenager who was apparently just trying to be rebellious because that's what teenagers do. And I hated it even more as a 20-year-old, being told by one of my peers that I was still trying too hard to be a rebellious teenager. So I rejected, automatically, the notion that I loved subversive things because they were subversive.

But in the last couple of years, I've started to see that he was right; I do. And why shouldn't I? If I love things for their subversive nature, maybe it's because I feel a kinship with those things that I don't feel with that which is deemed "acceptable" and "normal." My life, after all, is the constant subversion of both simply by being lived, because I am not an acceptable or normal creature. Perhaps I enjoy searching out the things the majority of people refuse to acknowledge because I am one of those things. And that's not my teenage rebellion-angst rearing its ugly head; that's just a fact.

No matter how much progress has been made, I am still a woman who wants things that women "shouldn't" want. I am still a woman who doesn't want things that women "should" want. I am queer. I find monogamy impractical and the notion of motherhood repels me. I don't understand why so many people buy houses and resolve to stay in one place for the rest of their lives, spending the majority of their time doing jobs they're ambivalent about at best. I don't have a practical career in mind. I'm spiritual but not religious, and I do have trouble recognizing authority figures if I don't feel they have earned the authority they claim. In short, I'm wayward as fuck. Why on earth would I ever be enamored or preoccupied by the trappings of a society that not only doesn't resemble me at all, but often defames me and people like me (when it's not flat-out refusing to admit that we exist at all)?

But I digress to nearly Hawthornian levels of "wait, where was I even going with this monstrosity?"

So now I'm seven years and a thousand miles removed from the house I grew up in. I have spent the majority of those seven years living with blessedly non-religious people (no pun intended) who understand the way I feel about Halloween, or at least can tolerate it. Granted, there was one exception: a Southern Baptist who saw no reason why her religion should interfere with her obsession with blood, gore, and darkness.

And I revel in it. I love it. I let my imagination run wild; I stop telling myself there's nothing there in the dark that isn't there in the light. I watch horror films and TV shows that heavily reference the occult and critique religion, and I wallow in taboos. I examine the reasons behind those taboos and question whether those reasons are legitimate. I think about the fact that we're all going to die someday, and it doesn't make me sad or afraid. Most of the time I'm just morbid in my own head, but for a couple of weeks at the end of each October, I'm at harmony with the rest of the world because 'tis finally the season to be morbid as fuck, one and all.

It's Autumn. It's a time of transition, nature-wise. Harvest season. It's a time to reap what you've sewn before and to anticipate the future, planning for what comes later. It's the one night of the year when all the bets are off and the rules no longer matter, when kids can dress up in anything they want, run amok all over the streets taking candy from strangers, stay out late, eat more junk food than real food, and believe in ghosts and monsters.

Parents and police lose their shit because it's this night that reminds them that the illusion of control they maintain the rest of the year is just that: a paltry illusion. Their angelic children become demons on a 24-hour sugar high. Literally anything could happen. People who are normally introverted and buttoned-up venture out into the world and show skin. Pumpkins have faces and that rubber mask you bought might just refuse to come off. You can transform yourself completely and be anyone you want for just one night, even if you can't do it the rest of the year. That much freedom...it's both amazing and terrifying. That's what I celebrate every year on October 31st.

Well....that, and massive amounts of candy.

*Numbers 24-26 (KJV)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Halloween Eve: Remembering Mema

I know that the title of this post is technically redundant, but let me explain.

For me, there are two parts of Halloween. There's the loud, fun, dance-in-the-darkness, embrace-the-chaos, rousing-and-carousing part...and the quiet, somber time of reflection, a time to think seriously about the brevity of life and honor the dead. And I give a full day to each at this time of year, because while tomorrow may officially be Halloween, today is also an important day for me.

Today would have been my grandmother's sixtieth birthday.

I have trouble imagining her at sixty. To me, she will always be young. She died at fifty-four of complications due to Rheumatoid Arthritis, and even when she was very sick she never looked as old as she was.

She always used to joke that if her mother didn't make it to Heaven, everyone else ought to just give up. She never would've guessed that people would be saying the same thing about her after she was gone. It makes me smile to hear it. No matter how true it is, the woman herself would never have believed it. And I wonder sometimes, if the people who say it have turned my grandmother into a saint in their minds, instead of remembering the whole woman for the complicated, difficult, strong, incredibly wonderful person that she was.

I know it makes people uncomfortable when others talk about their dead loved ones. And I know it's considered callous to speak ill of the dead. But I've finally gotten to this weird place where I do miss my grandmother, but I can also remember her without hurting so much, and remember the good and the bad without feeling as though I'm somehow soiling her memory. I didn't pretend she was perfect while she was alive, and I feel that to really honor her, it's important to remember who she was, and not put her on a pedestal and refuse to look too closely. Because that saint on a pedestal is boring, but my grandmother? She was worth remembering. She was like Annie Oakley, some awe-inspiring figure that came from history or folk legend: not perfect, not pristine, but incredible all the same.

She was humble, in many ways. She firmly believed that she had deep, disfiguring spiritual flaws and that only the grace and mercy of God would save her from them. She had exactly two goals in life: to be a good God-fearing Christian woman, and to teach me to do the same. Unfortunately, she often despaired of the latter.

She was intelligent, practical, and strong. If she had grown up in a different time, or a different place, I honestly believe there is no limit to what she could do. In Northeast Georgia in the 1960s there weren't many options for women, and it wasn't that she wasn't motivated to further her education...she didn't even see it as a possibility. Despite this, there were very few things she couldn't learn if she put her mind to it. She played the piano and learned to paint. She read voraciously and could remember whole passages of scripture and poetry. She took to computers easily, though she never learned to type (she called her way of using a keyboard the "hunt-and-peck" method). She was a secret poet and the best cake decorator in the county. She made my Princess Leia Halloween costume by hand (even though she hated Halloween and discouraged me from celebrating it), and she could sing.

She could be narrow-minded and stubborn as hell about some things. She insisted to me that men and women were not capable of doing the same things. She didn't approve of interracial couples or same-sex couples, sex outside of marriage or wearing skirts that exposed your kneecaps. She thought she was keeping me out of Hell, but I'm sorry: being forbidden to wear tank tops and shorts in Georgia in August is the actual definition of Hell.

She was independent and self-sufficient. She worked full-time, raised three kids, played the stock market, managed her money well, knew how cars worked, and maintained her house and property on her own. She did all of this while dealing with a debilitating, chronic disease that caused her untold amounts of pain in her arms, legs, hands, and back. She did all of this until she couldn't do it anymore, and probably far longer than any doctor would have recommended. She absolutely refused to be cowed by anyone, no matter their age, sex, title, or station. She had no problem standing up to someone if she thought they were blatantly in the wrong.

She was terribly lonely. She wanted, like most people, to be loved. My grandfather died even younger than she did, and she always missed him. Whether she ever fell in love again is anybody's guess, and not my place to say. But I know that sometimes, being a parent wasn't enough. She missed having a partner.

She was kind. She was kind to people who deserved it and people who didn't. She was kind to people she didn't approve of. She was especially kind to people that only got cruelty everywhere else. She couldn't stand to see another living creature in pain. If she could do something to stop the pain, she would, and few things hurt her more than when she couldn't.

She had a temper. When she was a teenager, she would get so angry that she would go into an almost dissociative state, during which she was incredibly, even murderously violent. She never remembered what had happened during these blackouts, and they terrified her. She spent a tremendous amount of energy taming her temper, willing herself not to get angry, because these episodes terrified her. She described it as though "something just flew all over me," and she struggled with it until the day she died, though I never saw her have such an episode in the ten years I lived with her.

She took care of people. I didn't call her grandmother, granny, grandma, or nana. I called her Mema. But she wasn't just my Mema. She took in strays left and right. Technically, I was the first one she took in; it wasn't her responsibility to raise me but she did it anyway. She loved to cook, and she must have fed half the people in the top portion of the state during her lifetime at one time or another. Her home was always open to any teenager who felt they couldn't go home, or had no home to go to. She spent her weekends volunteering, doing house repairs for people who couldn't afford them before winter. Most of the kids I knew in high school have cried in her arms at least once, while she rocked them like they were toddlers and told them it would be okay.

She could tell some of the dirtiest jokes, and yet couldn't abide curse words. She could hold a grudge for years, but her last words to me were words of forgiveness. She loved the X-Files but thought Harry Potter was evil. She disliked the shy, withdrawn Kurt Cobain look-alike I brought home but gushed over the outgoing Marilyn Manson clone and wondered why I couldn't date boys more like him. She taught me to stand up for what I believed in and always be myself, but was frequently flummoxed and horrified by the things I chose to believe and the self I wanted to be.

We didn't always get one another. Most of the time we just baffled and infuriated each other. But for ten years, she was the most important person in my world, the absolute center of the universe as far as I was concerned. She took care of me. She took care of everyone. At her funeral, my aunt turned to me and whispered, "What are we going to do, honey? What are we going to do now?" I didn't know the answer then, and I don't have any better of an idea now.

What I do know is that my grandmother was my first hero. My Annie Oakley. My inspiration. I don't know that she would understand the person I've grown into, and I doubt she would be proud. But at the end of the day, she would love me anyway. And there's nothing else I really need to know.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Cussing Up A Fucking Storm

Let's talk about people who think curse words are a universal sign that the speaker lacks intelligence.


  • What the actual fuck is with those people?
  • What in the world are people like that thinking?
  • Please explain to me how someone can possibly think something so asinine.


Which one of those most effectively got across the utter incredulity, indignation, and outrage I was feeling at the stupidity of such a notion?

Mommies and Daddies don't like it, but occasionally a good, solid, pithy FUCK is the most effective way to get the point across, even with an entire dictionary's worth of words at one's disposal. Because it's not always about the length of the word or how fully it fits the definition of what you're feeling. Sometimes it's about the delivery, the form and the context of the word. Fuck is short and punchy. Fuck is still considered one of the worst expletives in the English language, therefore it comes with good shock value. Fuck carries with it a hint of violence and a hint of sex, so it's twice the pearl-clutching for the price of one. I've said it before and I'll say it again: connotation, connotation, connotation.

And fuck is one of the most connotatively rich words in the English language. I won't go into all the specifics; I feel that if it's been made into a poster you can buy at Spencer's, explaining any further is just beating that poor dead horse to a bloody pulp. Let's just say I'll be fucked if I can find another English word with as many uses. Fuck knows I can't be fucked to think of one off the top of my fucking head.

Are you fucking convinced now, you little fucks? Fuck me, what does a fuckwit like me know anyway? Sweet fuck all, that's what.

Fuck.

(Well, that devolved quickly.)

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Brief History of Failed Attempts At Relationships

The Slut

In high school I dated this guy named Joe who was really immodest. He had this habit of taking his shirt off, when he went swimming or when he mowed the lawn. He also wore shirts that were short sleeved and fitted, that showed off his arms. I tried to ignore it for a while but finally put my foot down and explained to him why it bothered me so much.

"You're my boyfriend," I told him, "and I don't want other girls looking at you. It's not that I don't trust you. It's that I don't trust them."

I just didn't understand why he felt the need to display his body so carelessly to everyone around him. But rather than listen to my concerns and respect my feelings, he broke up with me.

The Friendzone

Then there was Andy. I liked Andy from the first moment I saw him. We could talk about anything and we had a lot of fun together. He really got me, and he said I really got him, too. He said I was one of the best friends he'd ever had.

So I could never figure out why, if we got each other so well, he would always date these total bitches who didn't get him like I did. None of them really appreciated him like I would or treated him as well as I would treat him. I was always there to listen to him and I was always ready to pick up the pieces when the relationship didn't work out. I did everything for him! I was the best friend he ever had! And yet no matter how much I gave, he would never give me the one thing I wanted back. He ruined our friendship because he was too blind to see that we belonged together. I was devastated, and so angry. I couldn't believe I'd wasted so much time on a guy who turned out to be a total asshole, just taking advantage and leading me on the whole time.

The Tease

And the most recent example that comes to mind is this guy I met downtown last weekend. I was having drinks with some friends and he was sitting there at the bar, wearing these great fitted jeans and this button up with the top two buttons undone and the sleeves rolled up to the elbows, practically begging for some attention. I offered to buy him a drink, and he said no. I asked his name, and he told me it was Robert. I tried a couple of times to draw him into conversation, but he just kept giving me one-word answers. I even offered to buy him another drink! Then--if you can believe this--he said he wasn't interested and got up, and walked out! What a total asshole. Who the hell did he think he was?

Look, I don't expect a lot from guys, but could you all stop the fucking games already? Why can't you just take it as a compliment when we pay attention to you? I mean, if you're dressed up nice and sitting in a bar on the weekend, you obviously want it, right?

So. Does any of that sound abso-fucking-lutely ridiculous? If it does, that's because it is. If it doesn't, you are part of the problem. That's the kind of bullshit women and girls put up with every single day.


PS: If you expect us to look like supermodels, please be advised that you need to start spending two hours a day in the gym, tanning just enough, wearing some concealer for the bags under your eyes, using Rogaine, and shaving your package. Just sayin'.

PPS: Although I did date a guy who looked exceptionally scrumptious sans shirts and also had a guy friend that I wanted to date but never did, this shit is entirely fictional. Because unlike the entitled "nice guys" of the world, I'm not that kind of asshole. I have never hit on a guy at a bar, although I've been the recipient of at least one surprise drunken kiss.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The number one most offensive thing my "supportive" friends say to me.

Warning: this post started out calm and nice and stopped being both about halfway through.

If you're a queer person with straight friends, I'm sure you've heard this one, or some shade of it: "Why does everything have to be gay?"

In my experience, this question often comes with a list of things that are already "gay" and the question "what more do you want?!" And although of course it comes from people who are unapologetically queerphobic (usually with the added cry of "stop shoving it down our throats!!"), far too often it also comes from straight allies who consider themselves progressive and accepting, yet are woefully ignorant of the extent of their own privilege.

I know I know, I said the P word. But seriously, hear me out. Let's take something lighthearted, something that's not even some Big Gay Legal Rights Issue. Something fun. Movies and television, for example. LGBT people looking for more queer representation in movies and television. To make it even more specific, my personal attempts at finding romances that I can relate to in movies and television, while my straight friends plaintively ask, "Why does everything have to be gay? I just want to enjoy a traditional romance, is that so much to ask?"

Oh my friends, I'm so terribly sorry. Please forgive me for smothering you with all my gay. How rude of me. I'll just step back into this closet and stop polluting your fantasy world in which straight people are the only ones who existed during whichever time period you think "traditional" romance comes from.

Except on second thought, no. Fuck you and the horse you rode in on. Pull your head out of your ass and realize that LGBT people are not an inconvenient social issue invented in the last ten years that you should be able to ignore when you don't feel like "dealing with it." We are people, just like you, who occasionally would like to see ourselves in movies and television...just like you do all the goddamn time.

LGBT people comprise a significant portion of the human population. Moreover, the most current information suggests that sexuality (like gender) is a continuum rather than a binary, and that if not for social pressures to conform one way or another, many more people would identify somewhere in the middle of 100% straight or gay. Despite this, and despite recent progress in civil rights and real-world visibility for the community, LGBT people are virtually invisible from a mainstream media perspective. A typical year in show business sees barely a handful of lesbian and gay characters, and we're lucky if we get even a single transgender or bisexual character. Asexual characters? Forget about it. In fact, you're much more likely to get shows like House turning asexuality into some medical dysfunction and/or punchline.

To quite literally add insult to injury, the LGBT characters we do get are almost never leads and almost always offensive stereotypes whose only storylines revolve around the "inevitable" hardships of being queer. This is assuming LGBT characters have a storyline at all, and not just a handful of off-color quips and pithy pieces of fashion advice to throw out in support of the lead (Sex and the City, I'm looking at you). When's the last time you saw a romantic film about two men or two women? Hell, leave rom-coms behind for a moment; when's the last time you saw a show in which the lead protagonist was queer? Okay, now raise your hand if you can remember the last LGBT romantic movie that didn't end in a tragic death that was the result of an anti-gay hate crime.

So here's a thought, you put-upon straight "allies": why don't you take your pick from the hundreds of thousands of novels, films, comic books, television shows, radio shows, and other media that have always showcased "traditional" heterosexual romance as either a major element or the entire plot--not to mention the endless plethora of well-rounded, interesting, dynamic, fully-fledged straight characters who don't exist simply for chuckles or to teach some kind of lesson--and stop bitching that queer people would like more than punchlines, side characters, unpublished fanfiction, and the two seasons of Glee that were actually kind of worth watching.

PS: If you're an ally reading this and thinking indignantly that you don't do that and I shouldn't generalize, pause and take a deep breath: clearly, I wasn't ranting about you. I was ranting about straight allies who say this thing, and have this attitude. But if it went through your head that there was a finger pointed accusingly at your face, maybe you should ask yourself why exactly that is.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Mulan and Aurora: Queer Representation or just Queerbaiting?

Since the ending to last night's episode aired, there has been a lot of speculation, interpretation, and misinformation swirling around. Upon first watch, I was giddy as a ten-year-old inhaling laughing gas at what I saw as a clear textual--as opposed to the more common subtextual--representation of a queer character on ABC's Once Upon A Time. But now that a few hours have passed and the internet has done what internets do best and blown the hell up, I think it's time to take a step back and really examine what went down last night, how it fits with what's gone on before, and whether or not the OUAT version of Mulan truly qualifies as a queer character.

A little background first


Mulan made her debut in season two's premiere, titled "Broken," as a no-nonsense warrior with little patience for princesses. She showed an immediate animosity towards Princess Aurora that was interpreted by many--including Princess Aurora herself--as jealousy over Prince Phillip. Before the episode was through, Aurora had accused Mulan of being in love with Phillip, something that Mulan denied firmly, not once, but twice. According to her, they were fellow soldiers and friends, nothing more...but Aurora (and admittedly, many of us watching) remained skeptical. It's important to note here that we remained skeptical not because of any textual admissions by Mulan to herself or another character, but because of subtextual cues--facial expressions and the like.

Before any more interactions between Mulan and Phillip could shed further light on this matter, he got his soul sucked out by a Wraith and united the two women in their grief over losing him. Again, textually Mulan was grieving for the loss of her friend and fellow warrior; subtextually, there may have been more going on there.

Having been tasked with Aurora's protection by Phillip, Mulan sets about the task with gusto, defending her even when the princess is a royal pain in the ass (which at first, she really was, at least to me). She immediately puts herself between Aurora and any danger they happen across, takes care of Aurora when she's too busy being noble and self-sacrificing to take care of herself, and eventually their animosity turns to mutual respect and friendship.

Although Mulan is nothing if not pragmatic, she goes out of her way and puts herself in danger to get Aurora's heart back from Cora after Aurora becomes a liability to their mission. Aurora trusts Mulan and believes in her, and is willing to sacrifice herself to keep Mulan safe.

During all this time, there are few further mentions made of Phillip, and no more discussion of whether or not Mulan has feelings for him. We're given the story of how they first met, but nothing of how they went from that first meeting to Aurora's rescue. By contrast, we are given tons of interaction and development between Mulan and Aurora.

Textually, Mulan does what Phillip asked because it was her dear friend's dying wish. But by this point, there are two possible subtexts. The first, wearing a bit thin with age and lack of textual support (Phillip is hardly mentioned for most of the season following his demise), is that Mulan is granting the dying wish of the man she loved. The second, with much stronger and more consistent textual support, is that Mulan has begun to feel something for Aurora as Aurora, not just as an extension of Phillip. This something ranges from close friendship to budding love, depending on who you ask.

And one. more. time. for. the people. in. the back: The interpretations of both of these theories ("Mulan is in love with Phillip" or "Mulan is in love with Aurora") are largely based on subtext that is supported by varying amounts of text. Therefore, Mulan/Phillip is technically no more canon than Mulan/Aurora at any point, and one could make a strong argument for Mulan/Aurora having more textual and subtextual support, assuming one doesn't have their "no homo" goggles on.

I say all this to clear up one incredibly common misconception I see being repeated over and over in message boards, on tumblr, in comments on articles, on facebook, etc: that Mulan was canonically in love with Phillip. I'm sorry, but she wasn't any more canonically in love with Phillip than she was canonically in love with Aurora (before last night's episode). If you're going to judge one based on what was said directly, you have to judge the other by the same criteria. It was heavily implied at the introduction of her character that Mulan may have had romantic feelings for Phillip, through subtext. Mulan never voiced her feelings for him; in fact, she outright denied having any beyond friendship.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's take a step-by-step walk through the events in the last episode that led up to that goodbye scene, shall we?

The Scene(s) That Made Subtext Into Text


Before he flies off to Neverland hanging off the end of Peter Pan's shadow, Neal confesses to Robin Hood and Mulan that he waited too long to tell Emma how he felt about her, and that he deeply regrets it because even if he finds her and Henry, he doesn't know where they stand or whether they can ever be together as a family again. Mulan is visibly affected by this story, and by the notion that if you're in love with someone, you shouldn't keep waiting to tell them just because you're afraid...because someday it could be too late.

Then there's some heart-wrenching drama and gasp-worthy action, after which Robin Hood invites Mulan to join his band of Merry Men. She thanks him for the offer, but explains that there is someone she has to talk to. "A loved one?" He asks, no doubt recalling the conversation with Neal (as I'm sure we all were). Mulan tells him she hopes so, and sets off to finally confess her love.

Cut to Mulan, standing slightly in the shadows, gazing at the lovely...Aurora? Yes, Aurora. Who, when she notices that Mulan is there, embraces her happily and asks what she's doing just standing there.

"Gathering my courage," Mulan says. So she's been standing there for a little while, gathering her courage to talk to Aurora? Why should she be freaked out about talking to Aurora? Is she actually confessing her love to Aurora?!

But then, there's a moment of disappointment, because Mulan asks where Phillip is. Aurora explains that he's not there at the moment, should she go and find him? No no, Mulan assures quickly, there's no need because it's Aurora she came to speak to. And I'm back to squealing because yes, she actually did come to speak to Aurora. She just said so!

In case anyone isn't following me (and a fairly straightforward scene) so far:
  1. Mulan was moved by Neal's story of missing his opportunity for love by being afraid to be honest about his feelings.
  2. Mulan told Robin Hood she was going to speak to someone about love.
  3. Mulan found Aurora and held back, gathering her courage before speaking to Aurora.
  4. Mulan asked where Phillip was, but then deterred Aurora from finding him because Aurora was the person she came to speak to.
Of course, then Aurora is just bursting with news, namely the news that she and Phillip are about to have a baby. Which...well, shit. Mulan is visibly crestfallen, and despite having previously rejected Robin's offer, suddenly tells Aurora that she's leaving to join him. Aurora is hurt and doesn't seem to understand, but Mulan simply says she's sorry and that she has to go, and then walks away with tears in her eyes.

I'm pretty sure this is the point where I started screaming "boxblocked by a fucking baby?!" at my television screen, but that's not important.

What's important is that Mulan was going to confess her love to Aurora. What's frustrating as hell is that even though this is perfectly clear to my straight, arguably heteronormative-minded, non-shipper friends, my fellow queer, subtext-searching, representation-wanting, ship-all-the-things friends are dubious about whether it "counts" in terms of queer representation because they're convinced we're meant to think that Mulan was going to confess her love to Phillip and the whole scene with Aurora was just queerbaiting.

But wait...how...what?


I'm honestly not even sure where to start with this.

So you think the writers of this show looked at the subtext they'd built in two distinct directions and said "hey, I know, the best way to resolve that Mulan is in love with Phillip is to have her go confess her love for Phillip to Aurora, only to be thwarted at the last moment by the news that Aurora is pregnant!"?

Well, being thwarted in her love for Phillip by the news that he's having a baby with his girlfriend/wife (are they married? I was never clear on that) does make sense. What doesn't makes sense is why Mulan would go to Aurora to confess her love for Phillip. Why would she say it was Aurora she came to talk to if her goal was to tell Phillip she was in love with him? Why would she ask Aurora not to find Phillip, if it was Phillip she wanted to confess to? What was she gathering her courage for?

Okay, so I hear someone in the back saying "because Aurora's her friend and she wanted to explain it to her first!" Okay, so Mulan has feelings for Phillip and she wants to pony up and confess this to Aurora before she tells Phillip because, yeah...awkward. That makes...wait, no. It doesn't. For three reasons:
  1. She didn't ask Aurora not to get Phillip yet. She didn't say she wanted to talk to Aurora first. She said Aurora was the one she came to speak to.
  2. She was gathering her courage beforehand, but then she looked really excited. I don't know many people who would look excited at the prospect of confessing to a friend that they're in love with that friend's One True Love. I think "terrified" is the more appropriate emotion for that scenario.
  3. Aurora already thinks Mulan is in love with Phillip. She once hurled that thought at Mulan like a condemnation and refused to believe her when she denied it. Why would she tell Aurora something that as far as she knows, Aurora already believes?
This isn't a game of find-the-gay that we're only half-winning, half the time, guys (Supernatural, I'm lookin' at you). This isn't a moment where we have to dig deep beneath the layers of no-homo "bromance" bullshit (good afternoon, BBC's Sherlock). For this moment, I have to ignore logic and the surface text of what happened in that scene in order to even approach convincing myself she was going to confess her love for Phillip.

And more importantly...WHY?!


So, why on earth would I want to do that? Why would any of us? Have we been burned so many times by false representations, flat representations, non-representations, and plain old-fashioned queerbaiting that we're reluctant to accept a queer character when it's handed to us the way straight characters are...with show,  rather than tell? With a sincere moment of feeling for another person that fits seamlessly into the rest of the story, rather than an after school special-style Gay Issues Episode For Gays (labeled GAY in rainbow letters just to avoid confusion, and probably slapped with a Parental Advisory just in case we offend all the non-gays with all the gay)? Oh, sorry Glee, were those your toes I just stepped on?

It seems as though queer viewers are in danger of making a huge mistake in the way we view and validate representations of ourselves in the media: we've already decided there is one "right" way to represent queer characters, and that anything else isn't "true" representation. Guys, this is how "badass woman" went from a refreshing departure to another tired stereotype after two decades of women being told that if we're not Buffy Summers then we're useless wastes of space who are hurting feminism. I don't want to be in my thirties someday, being told that I'm a Bad Queer because I don't remind anyone of Kurt Hummel and Blaine Anderson and their adopted lesbian daughter on Glee: The Next Generation.

Already we have this burgeoning myth of the neon-sign queer, the queer who walks up to you and says "I'm here, I'm queer, go fuck yourself." The queer who wears rainbow pins and marches at rallies and makes their entire life into a political statement for queer rights and queer visibility. A queer who hits all those important queer landmarks: self-doubt, tearful attempts at hiding, having a beard, epiphany moment, dumping the beard, self-acceptance, coming out, getting bashed, unrequited crush on a breeder, gay married very fashionably in a state where it's legal, adopt a kid who might otherwise never know loving parents, etc.

I don't want to invalidate those experiences. They're so identifiable for a reason, and for some people that's the way the story goes. But by making plots that revolve around our sexuality the only plot points, and by buying in ourselves to the idea that all characters are straight until proven queer, we're really just perpetuating that heteronormative mindset and doing ourselves more harm than good in the process. For one thing, that insures that anyone sincerely trying to represent LGBT people in the media is going to stick to the approved gay script in order to avoid being misunderstood, whether or not that script actually works for the characters or the world they've built in their canon. For another, it requires that someone comes up with a definition for what a Good Queer Character looks like...which implies coming up with a definition of a Good Queer. Which inevitably will make some of us Bad Queers.

What about those of us who don't walk up to people and announce our queerness? What about those of us who don't consider our sexuality to be a cause or a political statement? What about a bisexual woman who's only ever had relationships with men and who feels nervous about dating women even though she's attracted to them? What about transgender people, and how a transgender person's story might change in a 'verse that treated gender differently than ours does? What about all kinds of stories that don't fit a neat little checklist of criteria for how to present a Good Queer Character to your audience?

And while we're at it, when is the last time you saw a straight character have to announce to the audience that they're straight in order for their romantic overtures--even the aborted ones--to "make sense" or be considered "real?"

Wait, you've lost me. What does this have to do with Mulan, again?


Mulan doesn't turn to Robin or Neal or anyone and have a Willow-moment ("I think I'm kinda gay."). She doesn't get to tell Aurora her news before Aurora makes it clear that Mulan's feelings will go unrequited. Does that mean those feelings never existed, no matter how well written, acted, and set up the story was to tell us that they did? Is anything less than a coming-out storyline and a same-sex kiss automatically queerbaiting?

The only way that makes sense to me is if we really do buy into the idea that every character on television is straight until proven queer...and not only buy into it, but also place lower limits on what constitutes "proof" of a character's queerness.

And I'm not saying queer people are the reason for heteronormativity here; far from it. We didn't create this fucked up system, I doubt any of us want it, and we sure as hell don't deserve it. But you know what? We also wouldn't be the first group of oppressed people to perpetuate the underlying problematic social constructs that oppress us in an attempt to gain more visibility and recognition in the mainstream (remember the Badass Woman, remember her well...and if that doesn't work, remember how the early feminist movement divorced itself from Black women, queer women, and poor women in order to look more appealing to those on the outside).

My point is to question everything...including why we think that Mulan's adamant denial of any feelings for Phillip should be accepted as evidence of her secret love for him while the scene with Aurora should be treated as queerbaiting.

Which leads to another set of serious problems I have with fan reception of Mulan's feelings for Aurora.

Queerbaiting and Bisexual Erasure


Because there were hints at the start of Mulan's arc that she may have feelings for Phillip--hints, remember, that were never made into canon facts any more than her feelings for Aurora before last night's episode--some fans have decided to ignore those completely in favor of the "Sleeping Warrior" scene and yell "lesbian" at the top of their lungs. The other camp, meanwhile, is acting as though the existence of subtext implying feelings for Phillip somehow makes the scene with Aurora less valid. That camp is yelling "queerbait" just as loudly. Meanwhile I sit here in my corner, timidly whispering "but guys...bisexuality exists."

Bisexuality exists, therefore Mulan can have been in love with Phillip at one time and still fall in love with Aurora at another. Bisexuality exists, therefore we don't have to pretend a certain set of subtexts didn't happen in order to make Mulan valid as an instance of true queer representation. Bisexuality exists, goddammit, so we don't have to write off what Mulan felt for Aurora just because Mulan--who is usually reserved and very focused on what makes the people she cares about happiest and safest--didn't act completely out of character in order to exposit her queerness. Bisexuality. Fucking. Exists. Write it a hundred times, and you can be ungrounded when you've thought about what you've done.

Now for my brief soapbox on queerbaiting. That scene...was not queerbaiting. I'm honestly tired of someone yelling "queerbait!" at every instance of queer subtext. It annoys me almost as much as people who call mild fears "phobias" and being neat and organized "OCD." It trivializes and minimizes a very serious issue that does exist, and makes it easy to dismiss real instances of it by treating it dismissively.

Queerbaiting is a thing that definitely exists and that is extremely hurtful to queer people and problematic for queer representation. But subtext is not queerbaiting. Subtext that never becomes text is not even necessarily queerbaiting. Queerbaiting is an intentional attempt by writers to capitalize on the appeal of a plot or characters to queer viewers with no intentions of ever including any actual queer representation in that plot or those characters.

Queerbaiting is Sherlock and Watson in BBC's Sherlock and in the RDJ/Jude Law films. Queerbaiting is not that scene between Mulan and Aurora, at least not at this juncture. So please, don't scream "queerbait" just because your ship didn't suddenly become canon, because the next time actual queerbaiting happens and needs to be called out, nobody will take your shouting seriously. And now I'll climb down off that soapbox.

Conclusion


Mulan's character introduction and development over the course of season two included subtextual hints at a deeper relationship than friendship between herself and two characters: one male and one female. Although the subtext of the male was dropped fairly quickly and never really picked up again, while the subtext of the female was carried throughout the season, when faced with the choice to believe the textual culmination of the subtext towards the female or allow it to be deterred by the existence of old subtext with the male, many queer viewers--as well as, I'm sure, many more straight viewers who wouldn't admit to gay if it made out in front of them--came down in favor of queerbaiting instead of representation. I am not one of those viewers. 

After reading transcripts of season two, re-watching the scene, analyzing the overall message of the episode, comparing the subtexts and texts of each possible interpretation, looking at what was actually said in that scene and everything that led up to it...I have to come firmly down on the side of Mulan being a canon queer character who went to confess her love to Aurora and was deterred at the last moment. I hope they will continue to explore this side of Mulan's character, and I look forward to seeing where it leads.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Playing House (Read: Playing Doctor)

Of my four closest friends, AJ is the last one I come out to. Not because I don't think she'll be understanding, but because I don't talk to her as often as I talk to Jen or Sami, and I just never seem to find the right time to say, "Oh, by the way, I also like girls on occasion."

What I don't expect, when I finally tell her, is skepticism.

"Are you sure you're really bisexual?"

"What do you mean?" I ask, entirely confused.

"I mean...you've been hanging out with Jennifer and all the people in the GSA lately. Are you sure you're not just thinking you're bisexual because you're around it all the time? Or maybe you're just so upset about what happened with Ben that you're afraid to trust men anymore."

I don't even know what to say. AJ seems to interpret my silence as offense, but I'm too stunned to be offended just yet.

"I mean," she rushes on, "how do you know? Have you ever even kissed a girl?"

Finally, I find my voice.

"Did you need to kiss a boy to know you were straight?"

She shuts up, but my mind refuses to shut down. The doubt is there. Does AJ have a point? The thought plagues me for days: am I just a poser of the worst kind, infringing on a community I don't really belong to because I'm lonely and they're accepting and I need somewhere to belong?

To some people, it might seem ridiculous that I would have to ask myself these questions. But for me, after growing up in a very religious environment that discouraged me from exploring or even admitting to having sexual urges of any kind, it was a necessary self-interrogation. When you're twenty-two and you spent the first two decades of your life suppressing your libido through prayer, intense negative reinforcement, and elaborate self-deception, a little confusion is pretty much par for the course.

At the time, of course, I think having to ask is just more proof that AJ may be right and I'm just another deluded straight girl. It's several anxiety-filled days later before I get my answer.

I'm driving down the Loop towards Wal-Mart when the memory hits me: Caroline Jefferson. We rode the same school bus when I was in ninth grade. She was the first out lesbian I ever met. She was older than I was, and had an extremely perverted sense of humor. She was loud and obnoxious, and I couldn't stand her. I also really, really wanted to know what it would be like to kiss her.

The thought  used to creep in slowly, usually right after Caroline got off the bus and walked up her driveway. I'd watch her go, and imagine going home with her. I'd think about curling up in a bed with her and kissing her all over, head to toe and everything in between. Then I'd realize what I was doing: fantasizing about a girl. The shame would hit, I'd push the thoughts away. I'd think desperately about the first hot male celebrity that I could bring to mind, and all the way home I'd say a prayer to God to make those evil thoughts go away.

Then there was Chastity. She liked to cuddle, totally platonically of course. I liked to oblige her, also totally platonically. We'd be at sleepovers with our friends, curled up on the couch in little more than our skimpy underwear--she had a thing for black lace and intentionally laddered thigh-high stockings--and insisting that there was nothing gay about it, we were just really close friends and anyway, it's really cold in here. 

Further back, there are more memories, things I've intentionally avoided thinking about all my life. Things we don't talk about so pointedly that I wonder sometimes if it's been forgotten by everyone but me.

When I was really little--no more than seven or eight--my best friend was a girl from church named Ashley. Ashley was an elfin princess; she had tiny pointed ears and a sharp little nose. Her hair fell in blonde ringlets around her pale face. She lived in a huge house with a bath tub that had bubble jets, a giant trunk full of dress-up clothes in her room, and a playroom in the basement. When I was thirteen, I had my first kiss playing Spin-the-Bottle in that basement. But years earlier, there were other firsts.

I used to spend the night at Ashley's house all the time. We'd dress up like princesses, take bubble baths, play pranks on her little brother, Daniel, and play pretend. Ashley was a bully; she always chose what games we got to play, and who got to be what. If I ever balked, she'd threaten to tell her mother I was being mean and get me sent home. Since playing Ashley's games was almost always more fun than sitting home alone, I usually complied. I was always the hag, or the witch, or the evil stepmother, or--rarely--the dashing prince. I should probably thank Ashley, actually...she may have been shit at fair play but she definitely helped me develop my range.

One thing Ashley loved was playing house. She, of course, got to be the mom. Which meant I had to be the dad. I would go off to work while she would cook and clean. I would come home and kiss her on the cheek. We'd have dinner. And then, of course, we'd go to bed together.

This is where Ashley would suddenly change the game.

"I'm gonna be the daddy now," she'd demand. Tired of being a boy all day, I would eagerly agree.

"Okay," Ashley would say seriously. "Now we gotta do this right. You lay down first; the daddy always has to be on top."

I think you know where this is going.

No, we weren't two little kids getting naked and having sex in Ashley's basement. For one thing, there was never any naked. For another, we didn't even know what sex was. If I had to guess, I'd say Ashley had walked in on her parents at some point, and was just acting out what she saw as part of the game, because that's what mommies and daddies did. That doesn't change the fact that after a minute we had to stop the game, because we both had weird tummy aches. We told Ashley's mother about our stomach problems--although oddly enough, we both knew enough not to mention our game--and she just assumed that we'd had something bad for lunch and gave us both some Children's Tylenol.

Back in the now, I sat in my car at the red light on the Loop across from Subway, staring at the road with my hands clenched white on the wheel. I remembered the way I followed Ashley around and did whatever she said. I remembered how pretty I always thought she was, how much I always wanted to play with her hair, and how in my eyes she could do no wrong, even though my mom didn't really approve of our friendship and thought Ashley was a spoiled tattle-tale who took advantage of my shyness and complicity. If only she knew.

So...Caroline, Chastity, and Ashley. Not one girl, but three. Long before my long-term relationship with Ben ended horribly. Long before I met Jen or started hanging out with the kids in the GSA. Add that to my lifelong preference for girl-on-girl pornography--try as I might, I just can't get off to het porn--and I had my answer. Yes, I am actually bisexual. Yes, I have always had this attraction. No, it's not a phase. No, it's not because I don't trust men. No, it's not because I've spent too much time around gay people.

I'm just bisexual. That's it. That's all. It's just that simple.