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Posts Tagged ‘gender’

black lodge 2

I loved it. Identified with it. Bought the soundtrack and made copies for all my friends.

Even so, something about it turned me off.

Every few weeks, my fellow freaks and I gathered in a friend’s living room to marathon-watch taped episodes of Twin Peaks on Betamax. We buzzed over Laura Palmer’s diary and even tossed around the idea of dressing up as the show’s characters for Halloween.

When they tapped me to wrap myself in a plastic drop-cloth, I balked.

Because something about it turned me off.

(more…)

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Dear Fairfax County School Board,

Please don’t stop.  You’re getting this one right.  When you decided in May 2015 to add “gender identity” to the non-discrimination policy, you took a step that will put our schools on the right side of history.  You’ve been facing some pretty loud resistance to the decision, and I want to tell you that those voices are not the only ones out here.  Also here are parents who are thankful that our kids go to schools that recognize the dignity and worth of all people.

I know the parents who are gathering to stop your momentum.  I saw them at a school board meeting in 1950 when they demanded that you preserve segregation.  They said it was about local control, about the autonomy of communities to determine their own futures.  They organized themselves and worked hard to push back the tide, until the tide came in.

I saw them at a school board meeting in 1970 when they demanded that you put a stop to mainstreaming students with disabilities.  They said it was about maintaining standards in the classroom and the ensuring high quality instruction.  They gathered their forces and tried to put the brakes, until federal laws passed and localities had to let the momentum carry change forward.

I saw them first at a state legislative session in 1990 when they argued to preserve archaic laws that criminalized sodomy, then the next day a school board meeting when they called for the firing of gay teachers for being “criminals.”  They said it was about morals and the safety of the children.  They blew lives apart and held their ground until the ground shifted enough to shear loose of their grip.

I saw them at a school board meeting in 2010 when they insisted that undocumented children be barred from the public schools.  They said it was about fairness and about national security.  They held children to detention centers until enough people recognized that our public education system can do better than imprisoning child refugees.

I know these parents who are trying to stop the school board from enacting updates to Policy 1450.  They say it is about respect.  They say it is about transparency.   They say it is about a predictable process.

But let me be clear:  these terms are hate in sheep’s clothing.  No matter how rational and polite the arguments appear to be, these are the same parents that have been showing up since the start of our public school system, denying the freedom and access of students who look different than their own.

They’ve chosen their terms with care.  Like all of the words they’ve used over the years – standards, morals, safety, fairness, and national security – “Respect” and “transparency” are positive yet vague.  People can line up behind their shield without truly owning the nature of their demands.

Their petition claims that there are sacred spaces in the schools that should be somehow omitted from this non-discrimination policy.  Bathrooms, for example.  And athletics.

Why not water fountains?  Why not lunch counters?

No matter where you land in the history of this country, you’ll find people who draw boundaries around the spaces they are determined to control.  We all know it’s not about the spaces.  It’s about the control. When extending privileges and freedoms to other human beings means the possibility of upsetting the structures that keep them dominant, they will rail against it.

They claim they are not biased, that they have nothing against transgender children – nor do they harbor any ill will towards Black children, children with disabilities, or children whose first language is not English.  This sense of magnanimity stops at the doorway of equitable distribution.  The advantages of democracy are theirs to maintain against any diffusion.  If their own children share a classroom with students whose needs are different or greater, they also have to share the attention of the teachers.  They have to share the resources of the school.  These parents have come to believe that it’s their job to ensure that own children should have every possible opportunity, even if it means barring others from the rights and freedoms of this democracy.

What might happen if their children have to learn to share?

If we extend to transgender students and staff access to an educational environment that recognizes and protects them, what terrible things might transpire?

The children of the petition-signers might have to try a little harder to be number one in sports.  They might have to walk a little further to a bathroom.  They might have to face the reality the people who are different than them still have bodily functions.  They could become more aware of their privilege and speak out against injustice and unfairness. They might befriend someone who is transgender.  They could become an advocate for their friend.  Well after graduation, they may go on to stand up for changes in laws, and call on their leaders and neighbors to do the same.  They could become lawyers or policymakers or senators who recognize the worth of all human beings.  They could become teachers or innovators or human right activists who create ways for people to learn and build a better world.

They could become more compassionate.

They could learn to be engaged citizens of a diverse, living democracy.

Along the way, they might have to sit in a bathroom stall next to Katie who still has a penis.

Along the way, Katie, who still has a penis, may win first in girl’s Track and Field, while their child takes second.

You know what?  Their children will be okay.

Their children will somehow manage to use the bathroom without trauma.  Their children will still win prizes and go to good colleges.

And all of our children will be better human beings for going to schools that stand on the right side of history.

I applaud your determination to move forward with the changes to Policy 1450.

Most Sincerely,

Parent of an FCPS student

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cave woman

Downstairs is the Cave of Dudes.  It is where the free-weights line up in rows by the mirror, where contraptions pierced through with grimy iron bars and corsets of straps hunch in the corners and dare you to approach.  Someone has squeezed a couple of treadmills in at the back.  They are the wireless kind that run on human power instead of electricity.  The robot machines are quartered in the vast gallery upstairs, a whole army of them blinking out their perfectly calibrated, simulated tracks on LED screens.

Down in the cave, incline benches.  Pull-up bars.  Clangs and grunts.  Some days, most days, I’m the only gal down there.

The Cave of Dudes skews young.  They cluster in packs, spotting each other and counting off.  Their tattooed calves flex with effort.  When they finish a set, they pace, flushed and breathless.  They turn their arms just so to see the cut in the mirror.  They try to look like they’re not looking.

The few older men who dare to visit are made of sinew and focus.  They grip through fingerless gloves.  Intensity makes their neck veins pop.  Even though they lift less, they seem stronger.  Grounded.  The old dudes are more likely to end up on a mat doing the peacock pose.

I am a 42-year old woman with cellulite and stained sneakers.  It takes an enormous force of will to peel myself from the whirring breeze of the elliptical and descend into the Cave of Dudes.  It stinks of testosterone.  The man-juice is thick as brine and you’ve got to churn your way through the miasma to get to the dumbbells.

I go because I love the place.  It’s a playground, full of toys to mess around with.  Yet every time I start down, up drifts the bass dialogue and the metal bang.  With it, a clench of dismay.  Couldn’t it be silence?  This time, couldn’t the room be mine alone?  It never has been, not in all the years I’ve been going.  There’s no reason to believe it would be now.  Still.  Traveling has offered up enough deserted, junky hotel fitness rooms that I know what a blast it can be to bounce around by myself.

Better yet, how about a gaggle of gals?  If my girlfriends in their saggy capris and cheap Reeboks joined me, that would be a party.  We could shut off ESPN and crank Throwing Muses and Flogging Molly.  We could do all the wrong things with the iron maidens in the corner.  We could dance between sets.

But in the Cave of Dudes, antics are unwelcome.  Talking, unless it’s about muscles and stuff, is also rare.  Dancing?  Who would dare to try?

To will myself through the throatfuls of male musk, I’ve learned to man up.  Every gal has a store of Dude inside her.  She knows how to act remote and invulnerable.  How do you think she survives the subway, the office, the bar, the street?  When it’s necessary, she taps  the supply, adopting tunnel vision and shooting straight for the target.  No distractions.

Even when — especially when — those distractions are the echoes of ancient patterns learned by a girl surviving in a universe of threat.

I know rationally that the dudes in the cave have things more compelling than me to capture their attention.  They may notice the arrival of a female of the species, but what’s it to them if I’m clumsy or old or weak?  What do I care even if they do care (which they don’t)?   I’m safe here.

I know all this rationally, but still, the sense of intrusion, of outsider-ness, as I walk in almost overwhelms me.  Among the dudes, the racks and incline benches look as sinister as they do inviting.  My toys, in the company of dudes, look like mistakes waiting to happen.

Stepping across the room, I try not to glance at the bench press.  It’s my favorite piece of equipment.  I started on it a year or so ago with just the bar.  Eventually, the weights went on.  Week by week, they increased.

It’s a strange kind of thrill to climb of my own free will under that iron bar.  Lifting it off the stand exposes my girly chest parts and delicate neck to a grimy mass, one that’s entirely in my control.  It’s danger, it’s power.  Nothing beats finding out how much this body can do.

Despite all this love, I start to stride past it over to the relative safety of the dumbbells.  A trio dudes are all gathered up near my beloved bench.  One of them is doing some sort of big-cock-lunge-squats while the other two watch with their arms crossed.  It looks like a dare.  Or a hazing.

As I pass, a little voice whispers, I wish he were here.

Oh, you again.

The voice accompanies me everywhere, all the time.  But I hear it right here, at this almost imperceptible moment of choice.  The timing makes me pause.  That wish is whispering up right as I am about to abandon my very favorite exercise on account of the presence of men.

I stop.  I let that wish bob and dance like a soap bubble , the little voice a song inside it.  Yes, we always got such a kick out of sweating together, punching stuff and finishing the run with a wind sprint.  Yes, this was one of highs we climbed together.  And yes, if he were here, every piece of equipment in this place would be fair game.  We’d mess around with it together.

All this wishing.  Wishing to be alone, wishing for the company of women, wishing for My Mister.  Wishing to be younger and stronger.  Or older and more free.  Can I actually change any of these things?  For the ones I can change, do I want them enough to take the leap?

Or do I choose this?

Wishing without action is a destructive habit.  It’s biting nails and picking at scabs.  It’s holding the fact of the terrain up against an ink-stained map of Rivendell.  It’s falling from a cliff then cursing the earth that’s caught you.

He’s not here, Smirk.  It’s just you, your grit, and your capacity to make your own bliss.

Get to it.

I touch that bubble with the tip of my courage and let it pop.

Then I slide on right past the trio of dudes, grab two 10-pound weights, and rack up.


Image: “River in a Cave,” John Spies, Thailand

 

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#2

Before the tip even reaches
the scrap he’s set on the bar,
the pencil hums
a Cartesian chord
like a tuning fork
loose in his grip and streaks
two thick axes
across the plane. Pivoting now
at the corners, the silver
gray lead cuts those dicey
little circles
with their arrows
and Ts that come to mean
us
in the abstract.

Attraction
is a scatterplot at odds with offers,
men churning up a quixotic cloud
that claims a rarified horizon
well beyond
the gals who
know in their bones
the laws of gravity
and let their feet dance along
the trendline
until closing time.
 

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You mustn’t suppose
I never mingle in the world
Of humankind —
It’s simply that I prefer
To enjoy myself alone.
 
– Ryokan

Into the morning blue he wakes as dark-eyed as when he greeted night. He hurls himself at me, his hair like snapdragon stalks unpruned along the fence of his fury.
 
“Idiot,” he grumbles. I am at a loss. First I tell him if he’s old enough to use that word, then he’s old enough to make his own breakfast. Then I change course. Thorns will not be the texture of our day. I slide from the bed and crawl across the carpet to my splayed and scowling son. Right up close, I say, “I love you, baby, and you love me. I always know it.” I wrap my arms around him and tickle his sides. As he wrenches himself away, he bites back the smile I catch peeking. “Even if you don’t feel it right this minute, I know you love me.”
 
“No I DON’T.” Cold simmer cuts up from under the blonde cloak shadowing his gaze.
 
When he was two, he declared himself a girl. Rainbows on his underwear. Sequins in his hair. His third and fourth birthdays were pink crowns and princess cake. In his fifth year, he shed the tutu and snapped on a fist. He has not unclenched it since, except in moments belly-flat on the floor or twined sticky into me. Moments when he forgets.
 
While the oatmeal simmers under its skin of sugared cinnamon, he arranges a dinosaur jungle on the floor. The T-Rex pounds at the lesser beasts. A barrage of high-impact explosions upends all the palm trees leaving half a dozen herbivores strewn across the killing field.
 
I watch him wander into the tangled garden of his imagination and take corners I can’t see. I tiptoe to the edge and consider joining him there. Does he need the company of others, of playmates, of me? My only child turns away and blazes a trail alone among his hedgerows. Is it labyrinth or maze? He is not reluctant to find his own way in. I wonder what, if anything, compels him to follow the thread back out again.
 
Bug's Drawing of a Flower and a Watering Can
 
Returning home at the end of day, we trip our way to bed after fighting over dishes, teeth, bath. It is time to surrender to routine. Both of us need to waltz our way back to a rocking gait that smooths the friction at the edges where we meet. Three books. Three songs. Every night for six years.
 
He has a fairy blanket on the bed. It is the last vestige. He keeps it close even in the August swelter. With Tinkerbell bunched at our feet, we read Zen Shorts for the 400th time.
 
“Mommy, why is this book called that?”
 
“Well, the three stories Stillwater tells all come from Zen. And they’re all short.”
 
“What’s Zen?”
 
Oh geez. 
 
I guess it’s a way of living. It’s very old. Thousands of years, maybe? It has to do with making quiet places inside your mind and body.”
 
He twists away from me. Restless, ever moving. He is all proboscis and fire ant. A cement mixer. A quicksand man. I have had to learn to test my footing before every step. “You know how we talk about breathing when you’re wound up? Or when I heat up? Zen is about getting still. Like Stillwater in the book. Then you can accept things without needing them to be different.”
 
Zen Cliff’s Notes. Am I close? He’s humming and tapping his fingers in a pattern along the wall. I touch the edge of his leg just enough to make contact but not enough to capture his attention and raise his inevitable ire. “Even when there’s craziness all around you, even if a robber comes into your house or people say mean things, you stay peaceful inside yourself.”
 
“Yeah, yeah. Okay, okay.”
 
“It’s not just for kids,” I tell him. “Here.” I get up and go find the book of Zen poems a friend gave me back when time to play with meditation was there for the taking. Or rather, when we chose to see abundance in a clock face rather than just its pinching glare.
 
I open to Ryokan.
 

Here are the ruins of the cottage where I once hid myself.

 
“Okay, whatever. That’s enough,” he tells me. The gold ribbon marking the page hides down in the spine. He pulls it away and trails it down over the back. “Now you’ve lost your place,” he tells me.
 
“Good,” I say. “I was hoping for that. Now I can start at the next place.” I leave the ribbon free and close the cover. The cottage is far behind me. I am alone on my unmarked path but also tangled at the root with a boy whose opening is his own to burn or tend.
 
“Are you mad?” His grin crouches in the dry weeds. His eyes cut a path to me. He is ready to pounce.
 
“No, baby. I’m nowhere close to mad. I’m happy to be here with you, exactly like this.” I set the poems on the floor and open my voice for the first song.
 

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